Lynyrd Skynyrd's Life Lessons

Simple ManEverything You Need to Know About Life in 5:57

By Paul Tinelli

The philosophers Kant and Nietzsche might have a lot to say about the human condition, but when I’m trying to answer the age-old query “What is the meaning of life?,” nobody says it better than Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Skynyrd may be the embodiment of the hard-drinkin’, hard-fightin’ and hard-rockin’ redneck world of Southern rock, but Florida’s own band also provided us with the ultimate road map to success in life with its song “Simple Man.”

The song begins with the late Ronnie Van Zant poignantly explaining,

“Mama told me, when I was young
Come sit beside me, my only son.”

That Van Zant wasn’t an only child and that “Mama” more than likely was an amalgam of various women in Van Zant and guitarist Gary Rossington’s lives is irrelevant. The tone of Van Zant’s voice immediately makes you realize you are about to hear something important, something that may change your life. Below is a breakdown of not only the lyrics to one of the best rock ’n’ roll songs ever recorded by a band from the Sunshine State – or anywhere else – but also a life philosophy that covers it all . . . from love to money to faith to priorities in life.

Now, in the words of Mama, “Listen closely, to what I say/If you do this it will help you some sunny day.”

“Oh take your time, don’t live too fast
Troubles will come and they will pass.”

If you don’t believe life moves by too quickly, just ask most of the original members of Skynyrd. Oh wait, you can’t because most of them have died. Lesson: Enjoy your life!

“Find a woman, oh yeah and you’ll find love.”

What’s life without love? Not much, really. Find the right woman and you will find love. By the way, for all of you “Simple Women” or “Simple Non-Heterosexuals” out there, just change the lyric so it applies to your particular sexual preference.

“And don’t forget there is someone up above.”

In the fast-paced world we live in today, it’s easy to forget how important faith in something bigger than ourselves can be while we’re typing away on our BlackBerry with a cellphone glued to the side of our head. Whether it’s God, Allah, Elvis or anyone else you worship, believing in something bigger helps make life complete.

“Forget your lust for the rich man’s gold
All that you need is in your soul.”

OK, it’s easy for cynics to scoff at this one, but at the end of the day the rich person who can’t buy happiness is a story we all have heard a million times. We all need money to survive, but the “lust for the rich man’s gold” has destroyed many more people than it has saved.

“Oh don’t you worry, you’ll find yourself
Follow your heart and nothing else.”

We all spend an incredible amount of time trying to find out who we are. We look to psychiatrists and we look to family and friends who are more baffled and clueless than we are. Hell, millions look to Oprah! We really all do know what we want in life, we just need the faith to follow our hearts.

“All that I want for you my son is to be satisfied.”

Being satisfied. While all the other sentiments in this song are valuable and useful, there is no more important all-encompassing theme covered here than the concept of being satisfied. Whether your satisfaction comes from family, career, sex or spending a day doing absolutely nothing and relaxing – at the end of the day, being satisfied is the only thing that matters. A truly satisfied person is a better person, not just to himself or herself but to everyone around that person.

If you’re wrestling with the bigger questions in life and are not quite sure where to turn for answers, you have a couple of choices. You can try locking yourself in a room with Tony Robbins, Dr. Phil and the entire self-help section of Barnes & Noble for three months and see what you can come up with. Or you can enjoy 5 minutes and 57 seconds’ worth of pure classic-rock philosophy from a band named after a high-school gym teacher (Leonard Skinner) while Ronnie Van Zant soulfully explains that life really is simpler than you think.

Paul Tinelli lives in New York and is a researcher/writer for the series and specials department at VH1, where he has worked for the past seven years.