The story of Lynyrd Skynyrd is an epic one, populated with extravagant characters and framed by dramatic events. No wonder fellow Southern rockers Drive-By Truckers once wrote an opera about them. But is it a tragedy or a comedy?
We know from the start of this documentary how it will end, the night the band’s plane plunges into a Mississippi swamp, killing founder and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and two other musicians, leaving the remainder of the band broken and bereft. And yet there is also farce, as this bunch of blue-collar Southern stoners make their improbable way from a rehearsal barn in an alligator-infested Florida swamp to the rock arenas of the world, blaring triple-guitar rock anthems such as ‘Free Bird’.
There are Spinal Tap moments, particularly where perpetually disoriented drummer Bob Burns is involved. There is political incorrectness: Skynyrd were famous for their confederate flags, substance abuse and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, a riposte to Neil Young and his stance on Southern racism that became an anthem. Yet by the end of this astonishing, shattering story I found I cared about Lynyrd Skynyrd a whole lot more than I ever expected. — Nick Bollinger