I’ve had lines from two songs stuck in my head recently. One is Nina Simone saying, “And I sing because I know, yeah…I would know how it feels to be free,” and the other is Cee Lo Green saying, “And I sing because I’m happy, And I sing because I’m free.” It’s got me thinking about what it means to be free–a small word with a world of meanings within it.
“Freedom” means different things to everybody, and it means more to those who don’t have it. Freedom from oppression, freedom from prejudice, freedom from poverty, freedom to say what you need to say, freedom to keep quiet, freedom to lead an ordinary life, freedom to lead an extraordinary life. Freedom to do the work you need to do. To some, freedom means not having to work, to others it means being able and allowed to work.
It’s just a feeling. It’s just a feeling. It’s like, how do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love? How are you going to tell anybody who has not been in love, how it feels to be in love? You cannot do it to save your life. You can describe things, but you can’t tell them. But you know it when it happens. That’s what I mean by free. I’ve had a couple times on stage when I really felt free and that’s something else. That’s really something else! I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: NO FEAR! I mean really, no fear. If I could have that half of my life. No fear. Lots of children have no fear. That’s the only way I can describe it. That’s not all of it, but it something to really, really feel. Like a new way of seeing. Like a new way of seeing something.”
Nina Simone says, “Freedom means to me, NO FEAR!” And she talks about being free from all labels–from country, religion, race, even from herself. She defines freedom as a new way of seeing, as a chance to be a “little less like me.” She’d learn to fly, and she’d look down and see herself, and she wouldn’t know herself – she’d have new hands, new vision. She tells us that the Bible says we should be transformed by the renewal of our minds. As we don’t allow others to label us, we have to also let go of our own expectations and preconceptions.
James Baldwin, a friend of Nina Simone, echoes her when he says, “Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free — he has set himself free — for higher dreams, for greater privileges.”
I think Cee Lo Green would give a nod to their words, because the sort of ecstatic freedom he is describing is a freedom from self-doubt, a freedom to create, a freedom to be whoever you need to be, as eccentric and different as that makes you. NO FEAR. Jurassic 5 talk about actual freedom, from enslavement or imprisonment, and they also talk about freedom of heart and mind. All of the songs on this playlist explore the complexities of the concept of freedom, and the constant struggle to achieve freedom and to retain it.
I’m open to suggestions. If you have songs you’d like to add, let me know!