“Liberty Calls!” (Mike Watt)

Liberty appears in so many ways that it’s easy to forget how self-contradictory it is. As a civil institution, liberty is an entitlement undergirded by the power to shape and condition (y)our community. It serves as a concept in thrall to oligarchic interests (e.g. the Tea Party movement) and as a foundation for various strains of Occupy movements and libertarian causes. In rare and outdated usage, it can also mean that which goes beyond propriety or, literally, a district beyond one’s border that is still within its jurisdiction. For B. Traven in The Death Ship, it means shore leave, forced servitude, and the “opportunity” to be stateless. And Watt’s sailor’s opera/concept album equates the concept with the same boiler men Traven focuses on. Liberty here is secular, unwed to state-based aspirations. The sailors enjoy shore leave since they can escape the “hell-ride” in order to “learn” and to “take on fuel and burn!” Expenditure redirected, they visit “other lands” with “our” liberty. Constantly shared and appearing intermittently, we catch a glimpse of what liberty could mean: a “need[ful]” thing consisting of “histories” and “mysteries” that we simultaneously “figure” and, more positively, “trip” out over.

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