Rule: It is no longer cool to request "Free Bird." It's been done and done to death. It's over. Stop it now. There is no longer any situation where it is amusing. Is it arrogance to state what is cool? Probably, so go ahead and resent me for it, but trust me on the "Free Bird." Give it a few years, let it die for a little while, and then you can bring it back.
Correllary: Since no one is listening to me, I'll go ahead and add that it is no longer cool to actually play "Free Bird" when someone who did not listen to me earlier requests it. It is less uncool if you are a band that would not traditionally play southern rock, say a steel drum band or string quartet, but that, too, has been done. Just ignore that guy, play some other Skynyrd song if you have to. Not "Sweet Home Alabama." Maybe "The Ballad of Curtis Loew."
Correllary: There is one time when it is acceptable to play "Free Bird," and that is when Artimus Pyle is your drummer. You have to play it straight then, not ironically, assuming you kids with your skinny jeans even know how to play a cover song non-ironically.
I'm sorry, Mr. Pyle, but I think I've changed. We met on a street in Asheville, NC several years ago, and I had no idea who you were. But my boyfriend did, and somehow he recognized you, even though I don't think he was particularly a Skynyrd fan. You were very friendly and could tell that I had no idea who you were, because I lack subtlety. You thought it was cute, and you told me not to change. Since then, I have remembered who you were, though I probably would not recognize you again unless you happened to be wearing the same black leather trenchcoat and cowboy hat. It rarely comes up, but I tell the story about meeting you sometimes, and I always make you sound like a real laid-back, nice guy.
As unlikely as it is, I now have two Artimus Pyle stories. I've met him on the streets of a mountain town and I've seen him play "Free Bird." Why should my path ever cross with that of Mr. Pyle, much less twice? Of all the famous people I could repeatedly run into, I might have picked someone else. I suppose he might have picked a different non-famous person as well. Sorry, Mr. Pyle, but it looks like it's you and me.
Josh's band was opening for another local band that they know, who was having a CD release show. Since it was a special occasion, they decided to go all out and get Artimus Pyle to play drums for them. Because that's what you do for special shows. You get obscure members of famous bands from long ago, and when people see your advertisements, they say, "That guy's still alive?" I don't know how they got him. Maybe their moms play bingo together. Maybe they sent him a Facebook message. Maybe they met him on the street and asked if he'd like to play.
Pyle's drum kit is impressive. I'm used to seeing the drum kits bought by hobby musicians or indulgent parents who hope their son will grow out of it soon. This one looked like it came from an 80s hair band music video. The cymbals were set up high, so the drummer would have to reach up to hit them. I asked Josh's drummer, Dave, about this, thinking maybe there was some sort of musical explanation, like it changed the sound when it was hit from a different angle. If there was a scientific explanation, Dave didn't know it. That's just how they used to do it, that's what used to be cool. Artimus also wore gloves, like the kind that golfers and NASCAR drivers wear. Is that necessary? Or does it just look cool?
Artimus liked the chimes. They're not a common feature on local band drum kits, either because they're an unnecessary expense or because they, too, are out of fashion. Dave has a woodblock and a cowbell, but no chimes. As for Artimus, I think he'd be lost without them. It was almost comical. As another opening band played, he set up his kit in the corner. He periodically ran his fingers through the chimes where he thought it might add something to the song. I wonder if those guys went home talking about how they needed more chimes in their songs. When Artimus played, there was a significant amount of chiming. After the show, people went up to him to have their picture taken so they could post on their blogs about how they met the guy from Skynyrd. As the cameras flashed, he would run his drumstick through the chimes, as if he thought you'd be able to hear them when you looked at the picture later. As for me, I will always hear the chimes whenever I look at a picture of Artimus Pyle.
It must be strange to be Artimus Pyle, like being that guy who told Buddy Holly he hoped his ol' plane crashed. He was in the crash that killed most of Skynyrd, and he crawled from the wreckage and hiked down the road with broken ribs to go get help. His would be more than just survivor's guilt. Because the long and successful career that he probably felt was in the bag had engine trouble and went down somewhere in Mississippi. Thirty years later, he's an oddity, invited to play drums for some band out of Greensboro, North Carolina. Me, I think I would feel a little bit haunted all the time, like there were ghosts on stage with me - the ghosts of my dead bandmates, the ghosts of the songs that was never written, the ghost of his lifetime fame. Maybe the chimes are to scare them all away.
And yet Artimus Pyle seems to be doing alright. He's had a while to get over it, or maybe musicians are much better adjusted person than we are led to believe. He gets paid to do what he loves and they treat him like a god. Pretty young girls come on stage to hug him, ring his chimes, and have their pictures taken. Maybe it's not the life he imagined when he was a young man, but for an old man, it's not so bad. He's probably pretty sick of playing "Free Bird," though.