“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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“Old Age Pension Check” (Roy Acuff)

The invention of social security “turned this country upside down.” All forms of needless striving dissolve: “drug stores will go bankrupt,” because people will feel well, and women will no longer need “cosmetics” to lure a husband. The attempt, today, to privatize the system is premised on our interest to “own” our own future; concerning this, Bush Redux says: “we’ve got to understand the power of compounding interest, the importance of savings, and the beauty of ownership in the American society” (3/1/02). But Acuff had hoped for a “second childhood” in which responsibility wasn’t premised on possession.  Otherwise, we’re all just going back to work (on our leisure).

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“Something for Nothing” (The O’Jays)

Both Rush and Joni Mitchell are worried that others, who have done nothing, desire to have “something” or “everything.” These are the takers, and they aspire to grab it from the song makers. Dire Straights wrote about these folks, too, but with a hint of masculinist satire: laboring men want “money for nothing,” just like the “little faggot” on MTV. But let’s step back a moment and remember that once upon a time all property came from nothing. One day everything was held in common, and the next–poof!–there was stuff. “Something from nothing,” as the Foo Fighters say. And once there was stuff, property became “theft” as Proudhon’s famous, “perfect” maxim reminds. Anyone who had anything was now a robber. Yet the O’Jays remind us that the capitalists still dream of “something for nothing” like Twain’s Tom Sawyer at the whitewashed fence, producing pure surplus value. We might say of this stack of trax that they finally have little in common. But they do have “nothing” in common, which in all these cases stands in for the communal–both missing and forgotten.


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“Hey Joe Where Are You Going” (Surfaris)

The first recording of “Hey Joe,” and perhaps the most undecided since Joe really can’t make the decision (to seek out his estranged lover, to murder her, or to escape the inevitable lynching). “I guess” riddles the track, and the only place to escape is to “where all those men are free” (and not the “Mexico” of later versions). Like the confused authorship/copyright, no lineage, no endpoint, but only a question of who holds/does the deed.

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