Townsman Rick sent in the following piece.
On Tuesday, June 28, 2005, at 9:00 in the morning, I was in the Family Court, in the J. Joseph Garrahy Building to finalize and formalize the dissolution of my marriage. On Tuesday, June 28, 2005, at 9:00 in the evening, I was about halfway through a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at the Ryan Center, in Kingston, RI. These two activities may seem to contradict each other, but they’re also more similar than might originally appear.
Despite what I fervently hoped and believed as a child, Family Court is not a tribunal in front of which you could haul your parents when they continued to make you eat overcooked, mushy peas. It’s where divorces are perhaps not made but confirmed, and where the jealousies and betrayals that drive a couple apart are taken out for (hopefully) one last swing, this time with the force of law behind them. The single most important factor in the development of a human being is the time spent with his or her parents, and Family Court is where it is determined how much time your child will not spend with you.
As such, the J. Joseph Garrahy Building is a dingy place for dingy affairs to be conducted, with cinder-block walls and 1970s-era brown tile floors. For all its faults, it gives a look of dour impartiality, which is what you need to feel most when you’re in there.
The Ryan Center is another cinder-block palace that could just as well be set in Kokomo, Indiana, or Las Cruces, New Mexico. Maybe if your building has to play host to Ludacris, the Rhode Island Business Expo, and the Royal Lippizzaner Stallions, this is exactly the kind of drabness it needs. Like the Garrahy Building, it provides an impassive background for strong, loud emotions to be expressed.
Both proceedings began with an introduction of the person or persons we’ve all come to see – whether they be trumpeted as The Honorable (Name Withheld) or The Legends of Southern Rock – and their entrance to a crowd of people all of whom had risen to their feet.
I was brought to the witness stand, and in keeping with the laws of the state I was asked the question asked at all court proceedings – whether I solemnly swore or affirmed to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I replied, perhaps somewhat ironically given the circumstances, “I do.” Current Skynyrd frontman Johnny Van Zant asked the crowd at the Ryan Center the question asked at all rock proceedings, “How you doing tonight Rhode Island?” The crowd responded, “RAWR.” I detected no irony.
Thanks to a meeting with my lawyer, my future ex-wife, and her lawyer, I had already been forewarned as to what questions I would be asked, so there were no surprises. Thanks to nearly 30 years of classic-rock radio, all in attendance knew exactly what songs were coming, so there were no surprises.
The judge asked my name. Lynyrd Skynyrd played “What’s Your Name?”, from their 1977 album Street Survivors. The judge asked my age. Skynyrd played “Call Me the Breeze”, from 1974’s Second Helping album. The judge asked how long I had been married and how long we had been separated. Lynyrd Skynyrd played “Gimme Three Steps”.
Inexorably, she got around to asking what agreement we had come to about when each of us would see our son. Inexorably, Johnny Van Zant brought up the 1977 plane crash that took the lives of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines, Steve Gaines’ sister. Johnny Van Zant told the crowd that the goal in life of the remaining, and never, members of Lynyrd Skynyrd was to keep alive, and pay tribute to, the music of Ronnie Van Zant and the memory of all three of their departed friends and relatives, including Allen Collins and Leon Wilkerson, who had died basically from survivor’s guilt. Retrospectively, I wished that Johnny Van Zant had been in the courtroom with me at that juncture.
Afterward, my ex-wife took the stand. The judge asked her the same questions. She gave answers that were just as predictable, and, where applicable, retreads of my own, much in the way Skynyrd played “Tuesday’s Gone”, from Second Helping, “Saturday Night Special”, from 1974’s Nuthin’ Fancy, and most boringly “Gimme Back My Bullets” and “Cry for the Bad Man”, from 1976’s Gimme Back My Bullets record, by which time even the All Music Guide says that Skynyrd was “showing signs of wear.”
Each proceeding also had a boring, pro forma bit at the end, in which the judge, for the benefit of the stenographer, recited all our answers to all her questions and every bit of the agreement we had just attested to, while Lynyrd Skynyrd, for the benefit of Sanctuary Records, hauled out its jingoistic 2003 semi-hit “Red White and Blue”.
Then came the moment everyone had been waiting for, as the judge intoned “petition for divorce is granted” and pianist Billy Powell played the opening figure to “Free Bird”.
While I listened at the Ryan Center, I realized that, as much as this had seemed like an ironically hilarious idea at the time, reviewing a concert this night wasn’t such a good idea. I knew that the band had become a bunch of Southern-rock morons who hadn’t put away any money when they were making it, grabbing a couple of clueless young players and keeping a band name, or more accurately a brand name, alive well past its sell-by date, based on largely false nostalgia as well as a star-spangled perversion of patriotism that the real Skynyrd would never have gone for. But on this night all I could see was a bunch of guys who had been dealt a rough hand by circumstance and who were making the best they could out of it. The giveaway, as I now see, was the presence of ringer guitarist Ricky Medlocke, a first-generation white-maned, leather-skinned veteran rock loser. If I was thinking generously of a group he had hopped onto, I had lost a valuable critical faculty.
But I didn’t realize that then. As the song wound down, I was reminded of a question the judge had asked me that morning: “Have you pursued every avenue to try to repair this marriage?” I responded, “Yes, I have.” Or, as Johnny Van Zant was now singing, “Lord, help me; I can’t change.”