A friend of mine who lived in California until about a year ago, and who has been known to call himself a music snob, recently made a Facebook post in which he said something like “Since nobody else is saying it, I will: Lynyrd Skynyrd was just okay.” They’ve never been my absolute favorite, I only have a greatest hits album of theirs, but I still think they’re better than “just okay.” I made some snarky comment, probably a little more rude than I should have been, about how nobody else is saying it because everyone else has good taste in music.
One of his other friends said that he is only saying this because he is not from the South. He replied something about how sometimes you need an outside perspective on things.
And then I realized that he’s right.
Lynyrd Skynyrd formed in Jacksonville in the late 1960s. I once heard someone say that Florida is the upside-down state, in that the farther north you go, it feels more and more like the South. Jacksonville is about as far north as you can go in Florida, just a few miles from Georgia, and the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd has often been considered one of the major examples of the “Southern rock” genre, blending classic rock with blues and country influences. My friend’s point was that Lynyrd Skynyrd is so iconic in Southern culture that many Southerners never think to question whether or not their music is actually good.
I’ve had a few outside perspectives in my life. I started college the same year that a TV show called Friends premiered on NBC. Friends was huge among my peers and classmates. It was the show that everyone related to and aspired to, with their groups of people they hang out with at home and at the coffee shop, sharing each other’s lives and gossiping about their significant others. But not me. I tried to get into Friends, but I came from an outside perspective. I didn’t have that kind of group of friends in real life; having friends in the first place was new to me in my late teens, and I still didn’t have much of a social life. All six of the main characters of Friends reminded me of the kind of Cool Kids who bullied and rejected me all through childhood. I don’t want to watch a show about them, unless it’s about them dying horribly painful deaths. And I couldn’t even relate to the coffee shop thing, because from my perspective, coffee tastes like crap. I always felt that my social life was stunted being a university student in the Friends era who did not drink coffee.
A couple years ago, I also remember having a conversation with an acquaintance in which I said that I don’t particularly like romantic comedies as a genre, although there are a small few that I’ve enjoyed. (Like this one, even though it’s not real.) She asked why, and I said because I can’t relate to romantic comedies. She said something like, “Really? I would think that love is something universal that everyone can relate to.” Maybe everyone she knows, but from my outside perspective, love is something that only happens in movies and books and other people’s lives. I’ve experienced all of the heartache associated with relationships with very little of the good times, and even the few good relationship moments I have experienced have not usually involved the awkwardly sweet giggling, long walks on the beach, or having sex with someone you just met a week ago that seem to characterize romantic comedies.
So maybe an outside perspective is necessary. And a good thing, so that people who aren’t living breathing stereotypes don’t get forgotten. And if my friend from the first paragraph is reading this, I’m sorry for insulting your taste in music.