Thursday, January 5, 2012

Free Bird!

The hospice where I work has a small staff of music therapists, and a stable of young interns on their way to being certified. The other day I walked through their office area and heard a beautifully light, acoustic rendering of what sounded just like the opening notes of Freebird. "Is that Freebird?" I asked the 22 year old intern who was following chords from a fake book. Our interns pass along this sheet music book from one to the next, full of songs that hospice patients are likely to request. "It is." she paused to answer. As the tune continued, releasing 1970s memories for me, high school concerts, painters' pants and cassette tapes, I also started hearing how the lyrics could easily serve as a song for a dying person.

If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, now....

Amazing how that worked! I came closer to her and more memories of my youth shook down from hiding with each strum of the strings. Afterall, as time goes by, more hospice patients are closer to my own generation...huh. Wouldn't Lynyrd Skynyrd  - wherever they all may be - love that their song could transform during a person's life from a "sex, drugs and rock n' roll" anthem to a poignant end-of-life ballad? Cool. I looked at the notebook she was reading from, vaguely hoping to find some clue on the page about how it got into this book. I saw scribbled margin notes made in several hand writings. "Here are some interpretations people have used with this song." the intern explained. Without my glasses I could read none of them, but she shared one or two about goodbyes of various kinds. I smiled thinking how the lyrics were loose and free enough for many scenarios to work.

 'Cause I'm as free as a bird now
And this bird you can not change...

"This one here," she pointed out, "even says it could be a song about a man who is leaving a woman because he doesn't want to make a commitment." she glanced up, musing over the novelty of this. The laugh I held back hopefully didn't leak out of my pores. I forced myself to remember that she was being kind to this middle-aged woman by letting me interrupt her practice, allowing my memories to ride in on the echo of her notes. Of course this was the ONLY interpretation I'd ever, up until moments before, ever figured existed. I realized then how many worlds apart we were, looking at the same song and hearing entirely different songs. It gave me a little head rush, and I felt free as a bird.

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