How Should a Father Answer His Son's Questions About Southern Rock?

Be forewarned that the following is unrelated to University of Georgia athletics.

I have a three-year-old in my household, so it goes without saying that Lightning McQueen, Doc Hudson, Mater, and the rest of the "Cars" gang were a major component of this past Christmas. It also goes without saying that I have seen segments of the latest Pixar production more times than I would care to admit in the last two months.

The other evening, we were watching the scene at the beginning of the film where Lightning McQueen has to put in his contractually-mandated appearance with his sponsors before heading out to California for the season-ending race. He goes up on stage, the lights dim, and a spotlight illuminates him.

During the ensuing silence, a rusty car in the back of the audience yells out, "'Free Bird'!"

At that point, Thomas turned to me and asked, "What did he say?"

"He said 'Free Bird,'" I replied.

Thomas had a follow-up question: "What's 'Free Bird'?"

I want you to think about that for a minute. How would you have answered that question? What's "Free Bird"?

I told him "Free Bird" was a song. (I decided that using the term "Lynyrd Skynyrd" would prove counterproductive to my objective, which was to dissipate, not deepen, the boy's confusion.) I explained that, at concerts---concerts being somewhat analogous to "Jack's Big Music Show" on Noggin---the band sometimes will offer to play songs the audience asks them to play and that "Free Bird" is a popular choice for such a song request.

You can't really explain a song in the abstract, though. Thomas wanted to know what anyone would have wanted to have known: "How does it go?"

Those of you who have had the great good fortune of going your entire lives without hearing my singing voice should know that music is not among my talents. Moreover, "Free Bird" is hardly a song that was meant to be rendered a cappella. On occasion, I was known to use Skynyrd's "Simple Man" as a lullaby when Thomas was an infant, but this request was out of my league.

I replied with a line from a Drive-By Truckers release ("You know it's a very long song") and that ended the conversation for the evening. However, the following morning, after I buckled Thomas into the car and as I backed out of the garage, I told Thomas I had a surprise for him. Instead of listening to his "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" C.D., we would be listening to something a little different.

We listened to "Free Bird" on the way in that morning.

Was that the best way of answering Thomas's question? To put it the way Lynyrd Skynyrd would have, was I right or wrong?

Go 'Dawgs!

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