It's part two of my regular guest blogger's thoughts on 'freedom.'
Popular music, through the last five decades or so, has, in certain ways, reflected what the young see as their desire for and, in some ways, their definition of freedom. It will only be possible to take a few examples as there are so many songs could fall into this category. I hope they will illustrate the point.
In 1965 the Rolling Stones recorded a song I’m Free To Do What I Want. The lyrics also tell of being free to get what “I want”. In other words it’s actually talking about probably the most selfish sort of freedom you can imagine: the freedom to do, get or possess whatever you want. The song makes no reference to any effect on anyone else. From the writer’s point of view I don’t think he has even given that any thought. What’s behind the words then? I think simply a rebellion of youth against what it saw, in those days, as the rules or way of life of the older generation. Is that the freedom you’re seeking – to choose to do & to get what you want?
Are you attracted by that archetypical image of the apparently free-roaming hobo riding the freight trains across America taking him wherever they’re going? Or the “southbound odyssey” of Steve Goodman’s song The City Of New Orleans, (recorded by Arlo Guthrie on his album Hobo’s Lullaby, & by a number of other singers).
Perhaps the Easy Rider type of journey appeals – on your motorbike, travelling free. The 1969 film is described in its Wikipedia entry as “the story of two bikers….who travel through the American South-West and South with the aim of asserting their freedom”. The song The Ballad of Easy Rider contains the aspirational phrase, “all they wanted was to be free”. The film certainly kicks off with a great travelling anthem as the opening credits roll (btw some 7 minutes into the film!): “Get your motor running, head out on the highway, looking for adventure and whatever comes our way”. Towards the end, after they’ve made their money (illegally, remember), they’re sat round the camp fire talking. Billy (Dennis Hopper) is rejoicing – “you go for the big money and you’re free”; Wyatt (Peter Fonda) says they blew it. Presumably, to him, they didn’t have the sort of freedom he thought they would.
Van Morrison has a song called You Make Me Feel So Free speaking of how another person can give you a sense of freedom. From his mid-eighties album No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, one song speaks of going to a town called Paradise “where we can be free”.
Some years later, Oasis spoke of freedom in their 1994 song Whatever (I’m Free). They wanted the freedom to say whatever they liked. Worryingly, they go further by not caring if it’s wrong or if it’s right! Fellow blogger, therabbitholez, made a comment on last Weds’ Freedom Rules piece which I agree with. If you have a look at that, I hope you can see there’s more to freedom than just the “I want” part which Oasis focus on. The B-side of that record, (It’s Good) To Be Free speaks of it being good to be free in the context of living where they want. Of course for those living under oppressive regimes the choice to live where they want is not an option. Popstars have enough money to be able to make the choices which make them happy. Others, less well off, don’t.
In case you think it’s only modern(-ish) songs that take this a theme – it isn’t. There is, for example, a 1933 Jimmy Rodgers song (also recorded by a number of others) called I’m Free From The Chain Gang Now. It has these words, by an innocent man, in one of the verses:
“Back home, I was known and respected then one day I was wrongly suspected,
So they put me in chains in a cold freezin’ rain but I’m free from the chain gang now.”
Much further back in history, there are examples of songs written in the 18th C about freedom & liberty. Some of those include a call to men to lay their lives down for the cause of freedom. Have a think on the last verse of American Hero (by Andrew Law, 1748-1821):
“Life, for my country and the cause of freedom,
Is but a trifle for a worm to part with;
And if preserved in so great a contest,
Life is redoubled.”
Of course there are many other songs referring to the freedom from oppression sought by people in various nations, not just the USA. Also, the verse above could apply equally to those who gave their lives in the two World Wars of the last century so that succeeding generations could be free from the control of a tyrannical invading power.
In Freedom Rules, I gave the 4 types of freedom specified by Roosevelt which, he said, should exist for everyone around the world. Gary McGrath at mcgrath.com/freesongs puts it this way:
“Freedom is the absence of forcible constraint on actions which do not violate the rights of others.”
Another good definition. It highlights what I think most people believe – that an individual’s freedom must incorporate an acceptance by that individual of responsibilities to the wider society. Our societies today focus very much on personal rights but not so much on those personal responsibilities. I wonder why?
The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins with these words: “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world..” Article 1, of the same document, opens with “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
I think that enshrines much of what we would like to go into a definition of freedom.
However, when we look at the record of some countries, within the UN, who’ve signed up to this there’s a big question – how, in reality, can it be enforced? And will it ever be?