The Cost to Be Free

What Do You Want - Freedom or Freewill?

Culture is a combination of five things: Food + Music + Art + Craft + History. I write about why I believe that here. Today's post is a new path, and I hope you enjoy it. Please share, comment or like if the mood hits.

Of the five elements of culture, all are important to me. Two of them are first among equals though. Food and Music. Those two elements have been the driving forces in human evolution and the growth of civilization. They have provided much comfort and stability in my life. 

Of course, music is suffering the reckoning that the rest of society is being hauled through, kicking and screaming. Efforts to remove “cultural” aspects of certain types and genres of music parallel the right/wrong thought divide of cultural appropriation. 

A great read on the subject by John McWhorter titled ARE WHITE PEOPLE USING BLACK ENGLISH WORDS BEING LIKE ELVIS STEALING ROCK AND ROLL? argues effectively that it is unreality and just hopeless and impossible to remove words and thoughts from usage. Get real! 

One answer to the fallacy of cultural appropriation: KOREAN TACO.  Another? Teriyaki Burrito. Play the game if you like. Food fusion disputes fallacious philosophy. Imagine a movement to make Guy Fieri break up the S-M-Cheesesteak Egg Rolls and divorce the ribeye from the wonton. It is enough to make one cry tears of sriracha.

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So this post will compare four songs that have been seminal in my life. This is a new feature I hope will foster some commentary. I am making an attempt at lowering the dystopia and raising the utopia. 


Four bands dominated my 16-year-old life in 1980: RUSH, DEVO, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. In 10th grade at Farmington NM High School, my two best friends were Richard Karst and Mark Hogan. I received a 1976 Ford Pinto for my birthday that August. 

What I got was freedom

The Beast was awesome. Tri-colored for conflicting eye-witness reports, with house-speakers hot-wired to a bastardized 8-track player, it was a rolling smoke-shop. That car was paradise on wheels that summer. 

I stole some Zeppelin 8-tracks from my mom (she got pissed) and found some cool ones at the record shop, but when I upgraded to cassettes, my music world evolved exponentially. Richard got me into RUSH with their seminal 2112 album, and Mark opened the black-box of Black Sabbath. Smoke a little smoke and roll a little dope. 

DEVO was all mine. I saw their album cover one day, and asked the guy to put it on. He laughed. Long-haired freak! They suck, don’t waste your money. I bought it without listening to it. Mark and Richard hated it. I freaking loved it. 

DEVO opened my mind to the DE-Evolution that was happening right before my eyes. It gave me a subversive mind-set and alt-outlook that I still possess today. And we have De-Evolved a lot since then, I regret to inform you. 

The entire album is amazing, with structures, melodies and madness all happening at once. DEVO was written off as a gimmick one-hit wonder, but have finally gotten the respect and accolades they deserve. One song in particular imprinted on my mind from this album

Freedom of Choice came out in 1980, contains 186 words and lasts a mere 3:26. Within that time and word span, my entire life changed. Freedom of Choice is a hollow shell of the platitude that it came to be as a marketing ploy. It let me in on the secret. I haven’t believed in much since. 

A victim of collision on the open sea

Nobody ever said that life was free

Sank, swam, go down with the ship

But use your freedom of choice

I'll say it again in the land of the free

Use your freedom of choice

Your freedom of choice

In ancient Rome

There was a poem

About a dog

Who found two bones

He picked at one

He licked the other

He went in circles

He dropped dead

Freedom of choice

Is what you got

Freedom of choice!

Then if you got it you don't want it

Seems to be the rule of thumb

Don't be tricked by what you see

You got two ways to go

I'll say it again in the land of the free

Use your freedom of choice

Freedom of choice

Freedom of choice

Is what you got

Freedom of choice

In ancient Rome

There was a poem

About a dog

Who found two bones

He picked at one

He licked the other

He went in circles

He dropped dead

Freedom of choice

Is what you got

Freedom from choice

Is what you want

What I got was freewill

The magnificence of RUSH cannot be overstated. The lyrical mastery of Mr. Neil Peart is other-worldly. When I first heard them, my head and heart exploded. The first side of 2112 is a prophecy of today’s hellish Now-Normal. 

The Temples Of Syrinx exposed a future that has arrived. Free thought expressed as music and art was banned by the high priests. All beliefs were given and deviation was outlawed. It is why I am an outlaw. 

In 1980, this song came out, and again, my concept of freedom and choice got confused. In 256 words across 5:25 of musical magnitude and melodious melancholy, I absorbed the reality that freedom of choice was an illusion. Given to us to distract. 

What the temple priests really forbade was freewill. That was the power-killer to be kept from the peasants at all costs. 

Freewill

There are those who think that life has nothing left to chance

A host of holy horrors to direct our aimless dance

A planet of playthings, we dance on the strings of powers we cannot perceive

The stars aren't aligned or the Gods are malign, blame is better to give than receive

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice

You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill

I will choose a path that's clear, I will choose Freewill

There are those who think that they were dealt a losing hand

The cards were stacked against them they weren't born in Lotus Land

All preordained, a prisoner in chains, a victim of venomous fate

Kicked in the face, you can pray for a place, in heaven's unearthly estate

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice

You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill

I will choose a path that's clear, I will choose Freewill

Each of us, a cell of awareness, imperfect and incomplete

Genetic blends with uncertain ends on a fortune hunt that's far too fleet

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice

You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill

I will choose a path that's clear, I will choose Freewill

After hearing those words, and rolling them around a joint with the following passage from Syrinx, it’s not hard to fathom modern-day platforms occupying those hallowed halls. 

Never need to wonder how or why

We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx

Our great computers fill the hallowed halls

We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx

All the gifts of life are held within our walls

Look around, this world we've made

Equality, our stock in trade

I was just killing myself to live

If RUSH exploded my head and heart, Black Sabbath blew my mind and soul. Mark found an old 8-track in the penny bin, and the cover was the coolest devil I’d seen since reading Great-Grandma Waelbrock’s massive Catholic Bible. 

Waylon and Willie and the boys sang about drinkin and dopin, but this was a whole new hell. Ozzy and crew spent 5:30 screaming 184 words into my psyche. Out in 1975, that tape melted in The Beast. It was a sign. 

Killing Yourself to Live

How people look and people stare

Well I don't think that I even care

You rot your life away and what do they give?

You're only killing yourself to live

Killing Yourself To Live!

Killing Yourself To Live!

Just take a look around you, what do you see?

Pain, suffering, and misery

It's not the way the world was planned

It's a pity you don't understand

Killing Yourself To Live!

Killing Yourself To Live!

I'm telling you!

Believe in me!

Nobody else will tell you

Open your eyes!

And see the lies!

Oh yeah!

Smoke it!

Get high!

You think that I'm crazy and baby I know that it's true

Before that you know it I think that you'll go crazy too

I don't know if I'm up or down

Well the black and whites are blue and brown

The colors in my life are all different somehow

Little boy blue's a big girl now

So you think it's me who's strange

But you've never had to make the change

Never give your trust away

You'll end up in paying till your dying day

Black Sabbath turned my DEVO dystopia and RUSH ruefulness into malignant misery. The following seven lines still speak today, their prophecy only overshadowed by their pessimism.  

Well the black and whites are blue and brown

The colors in my life are all different somehow

Little boy blue's a big girl now

So you think it's me who's strange

But you've never had to make the change

Never give your trust away

You'll end up in paying till your dying day

I found Kashmir

Raging against the machine, one grows weary and searches for calm in the chaos. Before the 8-track melt-down from God, a song that got played over and over in The Beast lasted 8:31. Recently, Robert Plant put it in his all-time top three. 

I am sure when they penned these 276 words in 1973, little thought was given to a suburban teenager in 1980 America transporting himself across a sea of years over a strait of fears. 

Kashmir 

Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face

And stars fill my dream

I'm a traveler of both time and space

To be where I have been

To sit with elders of the gentle race

This world has seldom seen

They talk of days for which they sit and wait

All will be revealed

Talk in song from tongues of lilting grace

Sounds caress my ear

And not a word I heard could I relate

The story was quite clear

Oh, baby, I been blind

Oh, yeah, mama, there ain't no denyin'

Oh, ooh yes, I been blind

Mama, mama, ain't no denyin', no denyin'

All I see turns to brown

As the sun burns the ground

And my eyes fill with sand

As I scan this wasted land

Try to find, try to find the way I feel

Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace

Like sorts inside a dream

Leave the path that led me to that place

Yellow desert stream

Like Shangri-la beneath the summer moon

I will return again

As the dust that floats finds you

We're moving through Kashmir

Oh, father of the four winds fill my sails

Cross the sea of years

With no provision but an open face

Along the straits of fear

Oh, when I want, when I'm on my way, yeah

And my feet wear my fickle way to stay

Ooh, yeah yeah, oh, yeah yeah,

But I'm down oh, yeah yeah, oh, yeah

Yeah, but I'm down, so down

Ooh, my baby, oh, my baby

Let me take you there

Come on, oh let me take you there

Let me take you there

Five lines said the most to me, and still, today, right now, echo and reverberate with the moment we find ourselves stuck living in. 

All I see turns to brown

As the sun burns the ground

And my eyes fill with sand

As I scan this wasted land

Try to find, try to find the way I feel


Holy Shit dude, you said utopia, not suck my soul out. WTF?! Well, let’s end this on a high note, as it were. 

My take-away on Memorial Day is optimism. Those four songs used to fuel my rage. Now, they calm my nerves. 

The countless men and women whose memory we honor today believed in optimism. For sure, they knew well the hell of destruction. Some chose, and others were chosen. But they all served. And died. 

To ascribe unworthy motives to those killed on the battlefield is spitting on their grave. I, for one, will stand up and salute the noble sacrifice few make. 

Make this a meaningful day.

Ric