Sunday, April 26, 2015

thoughts about Janis Joplin's line "freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose"

Freedom might mean:
  • free to rebel against your parents
  • turn on, tune in, drop out (Timothy O'Leary)
  • free love
  • freedom to dump your lover
  • freedom without love (pain)
  • freedom to marry, have kids, buy a house and work hard to pay off the mortage
  • freedom to curse Kim Jong-un before being executed
  • freedom to take responsibility ... our right to self determination is ultimately the right to take responsibility (Noel Pearson)
  • freedom as the recognition of necessity (Engels,in Anti-Duhring, states that Hegel was the first to discover this principle but my googling indicates that Spinoza (1632-1677) may have said something like it before Hegel (1770-1831), see here and here)
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing don’t mean nothing honey if it ain’t free, now now.

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing, that’s all that bobby left me, yeah,

Here are some extracts from an interesting discussion about the line from a message board (link):

Sam Stone: When you've got nothing to lose, you can do whatever you damned well please. When I was young, single, and had no career to speak of, I could pack up and move to another city, or go backpacking on a whim, or really whatever I wanted.

Now I have a mortgage, a kid, a career, and I'm not free at all. I get up every morning, go to work, do what the boss says, pick the kid up from school, etc. And if I decide to chuck the job, I'd lose the house, maybe the marriage, family... So I'm trapped.

Not that I'd trade it away, but the fact is we give up a lot of freedom when we take on the responsibility of a middle class life. We become slaves to our commitments and to the cost of losing what we've taken years to build up.

Incantatrix: I always thought that the person telling the story, thought that Bobby and she were free because they were roaming around the countryside and exploring and loving each other, and she thought, having a good time.

But then Bobby slips away and she says

Looking for that home, and I hope he finds it

And she realised that they weren't free at all - that Bobby had always been looking for something and it was something that she as much as she wanted couldn't provide. And now she's trapped. Because she knows what she wants but she can't have it.

So in essence, she is free, but she has nothing.

Ahh unrequited love, the saddest love of all .....

Kris Kristofferson (the original author of the lyrics) said: I think when I wrote that, I was trying to show that freedom is a double-edged sword and that you may be free, but it can be painful to be that free...

Elendil's Heir: I always hated that line. Nobody who ever actually lived in tyranny - in Germany under Hitler, Russia under Stalin, Iraq under Saddam Hussein - would ever say anything so fatuous.

Rube E. Tewesday, in reply to Elendil's Heir: I'm not so sure about that. I once read a piece about North Korea, where a refugee mentioned that the only people he ever heard curse Kim Il Sung were being led to execution. It seems to me that having nothing left to lose, they were finally free.

chappachula: The first line ("freedom = nothing left to lose"): means that being free isn't the most important thing in the world. In the exciting atmosphere of new found freedom during the hippy 60's, that was an unusual statement. Being free was the ultimate goal, to defy the conformity of your parents and the 1950's . Wear jeans and a long hair, not penny loafers and brylcream. Posters proclaiming "do your own thing", " free love" were ,like, man, really deep. Very few young people then would dare to say that freedom ain't so great.

The second line ("nothing aint worth nothin' , but its free") is a great double entendre. It reminds you that, in your freedom, you only have a whole lot of nothing. But, you can still try to convince yourself that you've got something--'cause you've got your freedom. Sour grapes!--sure, you're lonely and lost without a girlfriend or boyfriend to love. But you can still love your freedom--for whatever it's worth


Tony Novak said...

Bill: Thanks for writing this. I came across it doing a little research for my latest blog project "". I see that we have some things in common like a passion/struggle with social justice issues. In my case I'm considering the line "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose" in the context of freedom from prosecution, or being "judgement proof". I've been sued and lost (i.e. "nothing left to lose") five times as indirect response to my environmental justice activism and outspokenness about corruption. Perhaps my actions as accountant/witness in decades old unsuccessful prosecutions of Trump are adding to the problems. I escaped an attempted political hit in 2006 that caused me to lose years on disability. But I'm back working again and my voice and activism is stronger than ever. There is a book coming out about it soon and I'm just searching and planning for the next chapter of life. Best regards, Tony

Unknown said...

Freedom in society has to be tempered by other people's freedom. Thus we have laws, and we have a common understanding about my freedom stops when it hurts you, and we litigate to get clarity on the issue. However, we all have a huge responsibility to maintain liberty and justice for everyone. Currently in the US we seem to have forgotten the mutual responsibilities of freedom, to have forgotten the mutual respect. Self-restraint is a major component of Freedom in a society. Instead, we have self-indulgence and mutual degredation.

hillel said...

This is a very interesting thread. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Love this! Thanks!