First, a little background about Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band formed in 1964 in Jacksonville, Florida and found their Zen between 1973 and 1977 with 4 of their 5 albums going platinum and one gold. They had 4 peak years, that’s great, I think I only had 4 peak days with my ex-wife. And during this time they recorded their live album, “One More from The Road”, an incredible harmony of mind, spirit, and sound. As you might know, the group settled on the name "Leonard Skinnerd", as a mocking tribute to a physical-education teacher at Robert E. Lee High School
, Leonard Skinner who was notorious for strictly enforcing the school’s policy against boys having long hair.
In October, 1977 the band lost two key members, lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant; vocalist/guitarist, Steve Gaines, and another member, backup singer Cassie Gaines. The band took a 10 year hiatus and several members tried to start new bands but although had some minor hits ended up failing for one reason or another. The band reformed 10 years later in 1987 with Ronnie Van Zant’s brother as lead singer and began touring again. The band was also abducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006, but only the original members were named. In the most recent lineup which is who I just saw, there is only one original member, Gary Rossington, who is mostly overshadowed by the two “new” guitarists.
There is story I heard about Ronnie Van Zant when he died. He wakes up and finds himself on a stage on which a number of instruments are set up. A door offstage opens and in walk Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, John Lennon, Otis Redding, and Buddy Holly. Each musician picks up his favorite instrument and begins tuning up. All of the instruments are taken but, to Tom’s immense pleasure, the drums. He walks up to Jimi and says, "Man, so this is what heaven is like." Jimi looks at him and says, "Heaven? You think this is heaven?" At that moment, Karen Carpenter walks in, takes her seat behind the drums, and calls out, "Okay guys, ‘Close to You’. One, two, three, four…" [smiles]
In their famous song, Sweet Home Alabama; one of the verses is an attack on Neil Young: "I hope Neil Young will remember a southern man don’t need him around anyhow." Young had written songs like "Southern Man" and "Alabama," which implied that people in the Southern US were racist and stuck in the past. Skynyrd responded with this, a song about Southern pride and all the good things in Alabama. The feud between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young was always good-natured fun; they were actually big fans of each other. Ronnie Van Zant often wore Neil Young T-shirts on stage and is wearing one on the cover of Street Survivors, the last Skynyrd album before his death. Ok, so now on with my epiphany…
One of several thoughts came to me while watching the recent concert. First, is their ability to find your Zen or “seed potential” through others that you share something with. You see, the band never had the same energy or peak performance after the plane crash of 1977; it seemed no matter what mix they tried they could never rekindle that mysterious chemistry that is so rare among a group. Still today the bands best music is from the period between 1973-1977. Three of the five albums they did during that period went double platinum, one platinum and one went gold. That was the Zen of the energy of that band.
Interestingly the idea of Zen in a band is similar to the martial art Karate, everyone expresses their own Karate, and so as a group during their peak years, they expressed their unique and powerful style of Southern Rock music which seems to only occur with that original mix of band members. So in a way, the Zen was found not as much individually but through the seed potential of the group. And through the group each member found their seed potential or Zen; the band was the instrument through which the music was played; through which their Zen was found.
This occurs in sports, business, relationships, film, shows, whatever endeavor that requires groups. Bill Gates hand picked those first people at Microsoft and if you likened them to a rock band they would have been cutting platinum and gold albums. The first Saturday Night team was amazing with each one going on to greater success. Sport teams when the mix is correct and the Zen is found they win titles and championships. We can find our Zen through a group as long as we realize that we are a part of the whole, just as we are a part of the whole of the universe and we are the whole itself. It seems like the sensitivity to peak performance is most in music, as many bands like the Rolling Stones work as a group but perhaps not individually as Lynyrd Sknyrd always did.
The other thought I was having during the concert was the “rebel” nature of the group and in the old days they use to have the confederate flag behind them. In a politically correct present environment they have removed it, but now have it folded up on a mic pole and wave it. But it is not what the confederate flag stood at its time, it was the fact that they were the rebels or “pirates”. I have always loved the pirate or rebel spirit and not because of their acts against authority, but because of the “freedom” from authority that they emanate. True freedom is what we all seek! Nobody wants to be told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Eventhough everywhere we look, we are told what to do, wear, use, buy, in every advertisement we pass…everywhere!
We look at freedom of choice and question that also. As we know we are conditioned beings and even recent studies have shown are brain processes our choices a half of second “before” we become aware of them. So where’s free will? I spoke about this in another newsletter. So there is the inner authoritarian rebel and the outer authoritarian rebel, I believe the band were the latter. Unfortunately, the outer authoritarian rebel can become fatal as they seek to release more and more from the world around them that they rebel against through alcohol, drugs, and excessive behaviors.
And what I was thinking was as I started out as the outer authoritarian rebel, I later became the “inner” authoritarian rebel through the practice of Zen. Essentially, that is the very heart of Zen is to rebel against your own conditioned ego-self and when you suddenly realize that you are not this ego-self and that you are the unbounded awareness that contains this ego-self, then Satori or enlightenment! That is the nature of the Rebel, to become free from what the rebel thinks is containing it or trying to define it. That is what I teach people to do is to change their interface from the ego-interface or I, me, mine, syndrome to the other-interface which is the pure awareness that we all have within us. The brain can be actually taught to do this.
The Zen of Lynyrd Skynyrd is about these two aspects of the band: the seed potential they reached collectively when the members were in sync and the outer and inner authoritarian spirit that they portrayed in their music, lifestyle, and lyrics. The Freebird flies free as long as their Zen spirit lives in our hearts and minds. As I was writing this my daughter walks in the room and ask me what I was doing, “I am writing about the Zen of Lynyrd Skynyrd.” And she replies, “That reminds me I am doing a project on 70′s rock groups, Dad can you name two of them?”
"Yes!" I said.
"Who?" she asked.
"There you go, there’s two of them" I replied.