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NewCityNet Rock Fable

Paying the price of "Freebird"

By Mitch Myers

NOVEMBER 16, 1998:  It was a cool October evening in Chicago and Adam Coil was preparing to enjoy a night of music.

To put things mildly, Adam was bristling with anticipation. He had not been out to see a live show in more than a month and was anxious. For Adam Coil was no ordinary spectator. He had carved out a quasi-participatory role back in the late seventies and concerts were the only outlet for his singular behavior. It was a brief moment many years ago when Adam found his calling.

Some concertgoers encountered Adam repeatedly over the years, but they rarely realized it was the same man. You might say there was a "Zelig" quality to his appearances. Different times, cities, circumstances, but it was always Adam. His exploits were recounted until they became embedded in the fabric of our collective unconscious. Folks began to take Adam for granted without knowing who he was or what his purpose might have been. Adam Coil had discovered his own version of immortality. Adam's the guy who always yells "Freebird!" when he's at a concert.

The first time he shouted out his calling card was at a club in Cleveland, Ohio. Pere Ubu was performing and for some reason there was a lull between songs. Adam was with his college schoolmates and they were all drunk and feeling snotty. When Adam impulsively called out for the infamous Southern Rock anthem, the club exploded with laughter. Adam's buddies slapped his back in enthusiastic support.

That was all it took for Adam. The reinforcement filled him with grandiose confidence. From then on, Adam hollered for the Skynyrd classic whenever he could. Initially his pals indulged him without fail, egging him on and joining in on the game. Years passed and his circle of friends went their separate ways. His more recent acquaintances quickly tired of this conduct and soon declined to attend concerts with him. Adam lost three different girlfriends because of his "hobby" and took to going to shows alone. Adam became the lone purveyor of his ironic little sport. Despite the alienation, Adam doggedly refused to abandon his pursuit. He took great pride in his hobby and had a few accomplishments that he bragged about to anyone that would listen. One such incident occurred during a Keith Jarrett recital in Philadelphia. The famed pianist had just received a thunderous ovation from a wholly appreciative audience who were intent on an encore. Jarrett bowed repeatedly before seating himself in front of the piano. Just as Jarrett began playing, Adam yelled "Freebird!" Jarrett froze. He indignantly walked off stage without saying a word and refused to return. The following day, Adam was thrilled to find mention of this event in The Philadelphia Inquirer's concert review.

By the late eighties, Adam had his concert-going conduct down to a science. He scrupulously avoided shows where the musicians might actually perform "Freebird." Adam had other concerns as well. Sometimes he would be poised to shout his "request" at a show and someone else would beat him to it. There were implicit dangers too. One night at Red Rocks in Morrison, Colorado, zealous Iron Maiden fans cornered Adam and threatened to thrash him within an inch of his life if he dared to open his mouth again.

Adam had been living in Chicago for a year and had only visited the Jazz Showcase's new location once before. It was a Thursday and T. S. Monk's band was at the jazz club. Adam hadn't ever seen Monk's band but something told him that this was a golden opportunity. It was near the end of the first set and Adam was ready to pounce. They had just finished playing an angular version of "Little Rootie Tootie" and Monk was about to give another little spiel when Adam shouted loudly, "Freebird!!" The crowd tittered slightly, more or less apathetic to Adam's facetious quip. On stage, the musicians did not look amused. Monk stared at Adam as he and his band conferred together briefly at the back of the stage. A moment later, the ensemble resumed their positions and Monk counted off the next tune.

It took Adam a minute to realize that Roy Hargrove's brooding flugelhorn introduction was actually from the first verse of "Free Bird." He watched and listened in amazement as the song took shape. The alto saxophonist took hold of the second verse and his solo was sad, gently urging, and poignant. The band picked up the tempo until the entire horn section burst into an extended quote of the song's famous, frenetic solos. By that time Ronnie Matthews was comping like crazy on the piano and Monk was flailing the drums like his life depended on it. Adam Coil was crying.

Adam didn't know if he was happy or sad, but he had never felt such a sense of relief. Adam knew that he would never call out his ironic request again.After the song ended there was a thunderous round of applause. Monk graciously thanked the crowd and encouraged everybody to stick around for the second set. But for Adam Coil, the night was over. He walked back to the el stop and headed home, a wistful smile on his face. Adam got back to his apartment and was asleep well before midnight. It had been a long day.

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