Friday, September 23, 2022

The Road: What’s Your Name?

Lynyrd Skynyrd: What’s Your Name?

Growing up in the 1970s, as I did, the life of a rock musician seemed pretty fucking cool. Especially the famous ones, who got to jet around the world, perform in arenas and stadiums, have all sorts of fun contract riders to attend to their every anticipated needs, and apparently make tons of money. (Although in reality, for most touring musicians, it wasn’t this great) It seemed like the essence of freedom (although it probably became a bit of a regimented slog at some point, or there wouldn’t be so many life on the road is a bummer songs.) Plus there were the drugs, which I knew could be deadly or at least damaging, but seemed like they could be fun in moderation. And the groupies. I’m betting that a large number of people who became rock musicians did so in some large part for the promise of sex, with a different conquest in every town. A concept which was different in the pre-AIDS era.

Which brings us to our featured song, 1977’s “What’s Your Name?” by Southern rock masters Lynyrd Skynyrd. I wrote a long piece about the band HERE, so if you want some background on them, including the whole Neil Young “controversy,” check it out, and we’ll still be here when you are done. 

The song, from the band’s final album recorded before the plane crash album (but released just after), Street Survivors, is based on a true incident (which did not actually take place in Boise, Idaho, however), when the band was thrown out of a hotel bar while on tour because, as the song says, “one of the crew had a go with one of the guests.” Repairing to their rooms, the narrator asks a woman (ok, a “little girl”) to join him upstairs for a “drink of champagne.” He’s not looking for a deep, meaningful relationship, but rather, as stated in the opening, he’s looking for “a little queen,” and he intends to “treat her right.” Which I think we can all agree, means sex. And, he’s not bullshitting her, either—he’s “shooting you straight,” about his intention. 

Fast forward to nine a.m the next morning, and our champagne quaffing musician is up suitably early to prepare for a 600 mile ride to the next show. Apparently, the night went well-as he says, “it sure was grand,” and offers to get his bedmate a taxi home. And he suggests that they get together when the band swings through town the next year. There’s only one real problem—he doesn’t remember (or never knew) her name, so he asks for this critical piece of information.

“What’s Your Name?” is a fun rocker, and reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, posthumously. 

Now, bear with me for a second. At the risk of blowing any feminist cred that I’ve achieved, I’d argue that by 1977’s standards, “What’s Your Name?” is fairly progressive, despite its hint of underage sex and anonymous coupling. As far as the underage part goes, I’m willing to consider that “little girl” is a term of endearment, not a literal description. And yes, it’s a bit sexist, but again—1977, and rock musicians. Secondly, I’d argue that the song depicts a fully consensual relationship—there’s no evidence that the woman was already incapacitated when the singer offers her champagne in his room, and he’s clearly “shooting her straight.” Third, the next morning, he’s complimentary and polite, offers to call a cab, and seems to sincerely want to see her again the next year. 

Look, I can also see how this could be interpreted differently (I found one source referring to the song as “perpetuating misogynistic fantasies”)—I’m not an idiot, and I have a wife and daughter (and mother-in-law) who graduated from women’s’ colleges —and by 2022 standards, there are certainly some issues here. But if you actually read some of the stuff linked to in the Cover Me piece about how (at least the pre-crash version of) Lynyrd Skynrd’s politics have been misinterpreted, again through the lens of the 1970s, I’d argue that simply tarring them as a bunch of sexists as a result of “What’s Your Name?” is at least a little bit unfair. I mean, they very well might have been a bunch of sexists, but not just because of the song.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022


Less on, more been, my excuse is down to the scourge of IT. (Others may vary.) As far as I’m concerned, the IT superhighway can go take one. Sure, sure, without the gift of information technology, I could not be able to waste time you could be better spending elsewhere, let alone my own. But, jeez, don’t you just take the bastard for granted. My laptop recently caught a cold, and has been in the computer fever hospital, getting the best of not inexpensive attention. Meanwhile I am wrestling with my phone to pick up the slack. Which, are you with me, leads inevitably to this post. Ever done Blogger or Wordpress on your phone? The dogs within this lesser tool seem far better able to eat your homework than my usual medium. And much more willing, eager, even, to throw the lovingly chosen words into the ether. So, a lot of roads to nowhere between Run and Road. Or that there were a song to hang on that peg……

Oh, there is, it being a latter day jewel in the crowned (Talking) Heads of popular music. But you knew that. Talking Heads were always either better than their hype or never quite matching it, making for quite the paradox.

In the beginning came Psycho Killer, I still in awe and of a tremble to the above clip. I remember it well, on the UK televisual “inkie”, the Old Grey Whistle Test, or Whistle Test as us teenage bedroom groovers called it. David Byrne looked such a dork, in his slacks and preppy polo shirt, yet the menace he imbued into this hypnotic throb of a song was intense. With Tina Weymouth plugging away on bass, and the other two being, well, the other two, it was nothing short of apocryphal. At home the punks had to look scary, ‘this guy was the real deal.

The album, 77, was good, but not so good as to disappoint around how much better than the other tracks was Killer. Which sort of summed up the band, their albums tending towards one standout track, and then the rest. Their version of Al Green’s Take Me To The River did that for the next, Songs About Buildings And Food, great title, by the way, but I lost interest.

I missed out on several intervening years, or maybe switched off. Meanwhile folk were raving about that film and that video, but not me, my eyes were averted. In fact, it wasn’t until the featured song came out, that I came off my Talking Head road to nowhere. In truth, I suspect it was Tom Tom Club that re-engaged interest; I loved Wordy Rappinghood. 

Little Creatures came out four years after the Tom Tom Club had their brief turn in the sun. Uncertain why, but I really took to And She Was, the first single, swiftly followed, as it was, by Road To Nowhere. I was back on the bus, big time  so much so I duly bought also the next album, Naked. From which I fell right off, in dismay. Even ahead the unavoidable implosion of the band.

David Byrne has, of course, gone on and on, regrouping, regaining and retaining acclaim. The rest of the band less so. The Heads album was a huge letdown, despite the guest singers, and, despite the critical plaudits, I always struggle to see beyond the artifice in Byrne’s solo art. Not for me. I still seem always to see through the facade of world music inspiration and icon, only seeing the jerky nerves of the psycho killer. Which is as good as any a place to leave.

Perhaps my laptop will be repaired soon. Until then, follow me