“Rocket” (Smashing Pumpkins)

Limitlessness denied. Similar to ideas from both Nikolas Rose and Jean-Luc Nancy, freedom, which comes with the free disposal of rights, is presupposed by both a State and psy- discipline; the result for singer: he “couldn’t stay free.” The human body becomes a projectile, hurling into celestial emptiness (instead of into another) to be rid of “those voices in my head.” Ingesting love and consuming hate becomes the necessary fuel to attain escape velocity. The catch: “no more lies” assumes that once future being emerges, the true, sovereign subject will materialize. The irony not fully realized—here or there.

 

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“Breakaway” (Kelly Clarkson)

Watching the Foundation for a Better Life’s commercial featuring this trax—a stitched-together series of royalty-free videos, it seems—one probably wouldn’t assume that it’s related to Philip Anshustz, notorious contributor to and advocate for causes aimed at defeating Kyoto Protocol compliance, overturning LGBT rights in Colorado, and an intelligent design think tank (the Discovery Institute). “Focused on our commonalities, not the beliefs that divide us,” the Foundation aims to “share [positive] values.” But it also tiptoes ever so gently onto the ground of Antonio Gramsci’s “good sense,” claiming that even though “people are basically good,” they need a “simple reminder.” Clarkson’s video, comes at this same point from the opposite direction, positing one’s younger self as the avatar of complete faith in the realization of emancipation. The difficulty is figuring out who the oppressors are. Willingly deaf parents ignoring the pleas of a youngster? Exurban/Suburban isolation and a temperate climate? Record company execs and rejection ad infinitum? Don’t be misled, because it’s not about being a victim. Saying “goodbye” to “make a change”—considering business propositions—is the “risk” to be taken in a world that rewards entrepreneurial moxie. Libertarian domination.

 

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“Wealth” (Talk Talk)

Mark Hollis, in full organ hymn mode, seeks the “wealth” that is a “sacred love,” and asks the gods or the fates to “take my freedom” in exchange. It is certainly true that the freedom-of-being cannot be squared with accumulation of any sort (its register is loss unremitting, and  not gain).

But to therefore seek freedom-from-being, and in the name of some half-baked romance. . . . Well, such talk is cheap.

 

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“Strawberry Letter 23” (Shuggie Otis)

One would probably want to worry about the numbering and disregard the LSD theories about the song for the moment. What makes #23 special? Nothing in particular, it seems. Letters are co-authored (anticipating another), and their meaning(s) resonate in unintended ways. All of this makes imagination (the sense of traveling toward an other) both impelling and dispersed. But: this experience comes from #22. So, #23, like the repeated descending arpeggio (with initial pull-off), is a missive about trax as ground(s) for flight. Only “sit[ting] in[side]” for a few moments, at ease: freedom as disposition (and to be spent).

 

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“Me and Bobby McGee” (Janis Joplin)

Of course: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” And this seeming misprision (when compared to the Kristofferson lyrics): “Nothin’ don’t mean nothin’ honey if it ain’t free.”  That is: nothing only gets interesting if and when it doesn’t cost or hurt. Until then, it’s not yet the promise of nothing, but a something of negative value. Misguidedly, however, the singer seeks a home for Bobby, and eventual reunion, through barter/trade, turning away from finitude’s infinite loss/gift. Thoreauvian, in all the wrong ways (though: are there any right ones, ontologically?).

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“Volunteered Slavery” (Rahsaan Roland Kirk)

Nothing is solved by acts of congress/Congress. Gendered (and racial) performativity experimented with, demonstrating how, for example, singer’s claim that women “be free” “by spending all day in bed with me” eventually leads to his plea of “don’t take it away”: supposed volitional freedom creates distraction, indicating failure of the performative without clear direction. “We all know” this, and double-instrument solo, at its end, produces screeching white noise underpinned by spaced-out, staccato jabs. Single-ness and identity will always know its place.

 

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“Freedom Death Dance” (Eugene McDaniels)

Tritone half-steps—no half-steppin’—lope forward then back, while a ballad alternates with admonishment. Apocryphal stories have either Spiro Agnew or H.R. Haldeman calling Atlantic Records and condemning the album, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse, leading to its burial. And it’s really a burial that McDaniels wants us to consider. Rather than “ignore the graves we dance upon,” there’s a question of praxis involved. In an easy vein, we could take the trax at face value. Take note, hedonists, hippies, and the young: nothing you do will stop nuclear destruction, global hunger, or the spread of unfreedom. You’ve lost your way and insult those revolutionaries that came before you. But hold on. In “The Parasite (For Buffy),” the Pilgrim’s domination of natives begins (and continues) an incessant narrative of power choosing division over “breath[ing] freedom.” Likewise, McDaniels pegs the military-industrial complex as the owners of the “chess board” in “Headless Heroes,” resigning Jews and Arabs, left- and right-wings, and “niggers and crackers” to duke it out among themselves. How should we properly memorialize the dead? By founding a new sense of experience and dancing in a different way. To “speak of the future,” the checklist of basic liberatory goals and desires should be recategorized as a basically banal bare minimum. The “amount of dancing” we do won’t “make us free.” “Be[ing] in touch with your own humanity” initiates dissatisfaction with a liberal recognition and a move toward some new “news.” “Gather ‘round” and “be free” if and only if what you want exceeds the possibilities that this limited sense of the world offers. That way, “justice and equality” won’t have to be brought to anyone.

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