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Old 02-16-2006, 11:07 PM
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"Freedom's just another word..."--meaning?


What does "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" mean? I've never been able to parse this statement. Has anyone else had trouble figuring it out?
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Old 02-16-2006, 11:13 PM
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I always understood it to mean that the only time you're really free to do whatever you want is when you have nothing to lose--there can't really be consequences if there is nothing to lose.
Or maybe I'm way off base....
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Old 02-16-2006, 11:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Janis
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing donít mean nothing honey if it ainít free, now now.

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing, thatís all that bobby left me, yeah,
I thought she meant that she is free of the relationship. but there is nothing left in her life.

Maybe you are free to make choices in your life, but you could make some decisions that really bite.
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Old 02-16-2006, 11:33 PM
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In other words, from a grammatical standpoint it should read, "Freedom's just another word for having nothing left to lose."

This has always struck me as one of the stupidest statements in all of pop culture, second only to "Love means never having to say you're sorry."
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Old 02-16-2006, 11:38 PM
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Actually, I think it's a pretty insightful statement. 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.
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Old 02-16-2006, 11:38 PM
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I have a friend who says man is a slave to his posessions. If you have nothing left to lose, you're not tied down to anything and you're free. You can wander around anywhere, just pick up and go like the two hobos in the song.
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Old 02-16-2006, 11:39 PM
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I alway's liked that line. I can really identify with it. I remember hitch hiking around Mexico with less than a hundred dollars in my pocket and a hammock in my pack to sleep in. I could do what I wanted, sleep on the beach, hang around the Zocalo, it was great. Nowdays I have a mortgage, health insurance to pay, a job to go to, etc. Being wealthy is better, but not necessarily "free-er".
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Old 02-17-2006, 12:01 AM
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Originally Posted by SeeNoReason
I have a friend who says man is a slave to his posessions. If you have nothing left to lose, you're not tied down to anything and you're free. You can wander around anywhere, just pick up and go like the two hobos in the song.
This is pretty much the way I take it too.
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Old 02-17-2006, 12:10 AM
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What Sam said.

"I've got nothing to lose. I can do anything."
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Old 02-17-2006, 12:10 AM
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Sure, having nothing to lose is a type of freedom. But it's a temporary type; freedom is certainly not synonymous with having nothing to lose. And if you really, no-shit have nothing at all to lose, you're not even remotely free; you're closer to slavery than freedom, since you'd better get cracking to find yourself something to eat within the next 24 hours or so.

Real freedom, it seems to me, lies in having enough "influence" (power, money, whatever) that you don't have to do what others tell you. Granted, possessions always bring responsibilities, but carefully chosen possessions can provide more freedom than they take away.

I've always thought a better statement is "Freedom means never having to say, 'I'm sorry, asshole.'"
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Old 02-17-2006, 12:14 AM
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The original lyric by Kris Kristofferson, is
Quote:
Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
*Nothin' don't mean nothin' hon' if it ain't free, no no
And feelin' good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
You know, feelin' good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee
from this lyric site

Other versions change *this line to: "nothin' ain't worth nothin', but it's free"
I don't know if that helps or confuses the issue even more.
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Old 02-17-2006, 12:50 AM
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From the Janis Joplin version. (My two cents only)

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

Quote:
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 essense, she is free, but she has nothing.

Ahh unrequited love, the saddest love of all .....
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Old 02-17-2006, 01:08 AM
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Mod Note:


Since this is about a song lyric, I think you'll see more responses in our Cafe Society. I'll free this thread over there for you.
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Old 02-17-2006, 03:24 AM
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I had a high school English teacher who was so enamored of the lyric in question that she spent a whole class period discussing its meaning, and even made us memorize the lyrics for the entire song and take a test on them!

FWIW, her interpretation was the same as the majority of the posters in this thread.
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Old 02-17-2006, 03:54 AM
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Kristofferson 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. But maybe at the very end, when you leave, you will be free when you've nothing else to lose, you know, when you're gone.

when interviewed on Enough Rope With Andrew Denton last year. A transcript is here
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Old 02-17-2006, 10:19 AM
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It's a great lyric. You can't be truly free unless you aren't beholden to anyone or anything -- no obligations, no responsibilities. She and Bobby were living the free hobo life but they still had each other. Now he's gone and she's totally free but she's not happy because she misses him. Very bittersweet.
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Old 02-17-2006, 01:43 PM
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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.
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Old 02-17-2006, 01:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 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.
Well, then it's a good thing that Mr Kristofferson never did. It's a pop song, telling a love story. What do you want? Goethe?
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Old 02-17-2006, 03:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 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.
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.
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Old 02-17-2006, 04:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jackelope
In other words, from a grammatical standpoint it should read, "Freedom's just another word for having nothing left to lose."

This has always struck me as one of the stupidest statements in all of pop culture, second only to "Love means never having to say you're sorry."
I contend that "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world" is actually the stupidest statement in all of pop culture.
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Old 02-17-2006, 04:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pochacco
It's a great lyric. You can't be truly free unless you aren't beholden to anyone or anything -- no obligations, no responsibilities. She and Bobby were living the free hobo life but they still had each other. Now he's gone and she's totally free but she's not happy because she misses him. Very bittersweet.
In addition to the main interpretation here, I think there's another related meaning that's intended. Bobby may have told her that he was freeing her, and she's saying that this freedom he gave her is bullshit. "Nothing, thatís all that Bobby left me," she says: having everything taken away is an empty kind of freedom.

As such, it's not fatuously dismissing poverty or tyranny.

Daniel
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Old 02-17-2006, 07:21 PM
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How I wish she had grown old and could be interviewed about the lyrics by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.
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Old 02-17-2006, 08:20 PM
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I always thought it had meaning on several levels, one being that "freedom isn't all it's cracked up to be-- it's just another way of saying you have nothing left to lose." IOW, you'd don't have anything. No posessions to tie you down, but no one to count on, either.
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Old 02-17-2006, 09:07 PM
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Tom Petty sang, more recently, that "When you got nothin', you got nothin' to lose." I think that's one of the meanings of the line we're talking about. That can be freeing, but it's also lonely.
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Old 02-17-2006, 09:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marley23
Tom Petty sang, more recently, that "When you got nothin', you got nothin' to lose."
That was Bob Dylan and it was in the same era.
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Old 02-17-2006, 09:30 PM
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I think my favorite line was
Quote:
But I'd trade all o' my tomorrows for one single yesterday
To be holdin' Bobby's body next to mine
Sometimes the independence you imagine isn't truly as great as the interdependence you have.
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Old 02-17-2006, 09:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hajario
That was Bob Dylan and it was in the same era.
Ah, right you are. Dylan also said it, and Petty referenced it in "Climb that Hill" about a decade ago.
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Old 02-18-2006, 12:48 AM
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Originally Posted by bluethree
I contend that "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world" is actually the stupidest statement in all of pop culture.
I know what song you are quoting, but I have, by maintaining a very careful regimen throughout my entire life, so far managed to avoid hearing it.
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Old 02-20-2006, 06:01 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hajario
That was Bob Dylan and it was in the same era.
I've just realised: - Richard Thompson's song 'Beeswing' is 'Me and Bobby Magee' re-written but from Bobby's point of view..........


And I said that we might settle down
Get a few acres dug
Fire burning in the hearth
And babies on the rug

She said O man, you foolish man
It surely sounds like hell
You might be lord of half the world
You'll not own me as well.............etc
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Old 10-19-2006, 05:15 AM
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Mods, please chastise if I am resurrecting a thread that is too old...

But what does this part mean:

I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana
I's playin' soft while Bobby sang the blues, yeah

What is a harpoon? (apart from a whale thing)
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Old 10-19-2006, 05:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cicero
Mods, please chastise if I am resurrecting a thread that is too old...

But what does this part mean:

I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana
I's playin' soft while Bobby sang the blues, yeah

What is a harpoon? (apart from a whale thing)
Purely from context (it's small enough to fit in a bandana; you can play it and it sounds like harpoon), I'd guess 'harmonica'.
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Old 10-19-2006, 10:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by glee
Purely from context (it's small enough to fit in a bandana; you can play it and it sounds like harpoon), I'd guess 'harmonica'.
That's what I've always thought it meant as well.
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Old 10-19-2006, 11:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marley23
Ah, right you are. Dylan also said it, and Petty referenced it in "Climb that Hill" about a decade ago.
And Petty did pen the conceptually-related lyric:

And I'm free -- free fallin'
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Old 10-19-2006, 03:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by picunurse
Other versions change *this line to: "nothin' ain't worth nothin', but it's free"
I always liked the play on words involved-- This line versus the first line in the verse.


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 newfound 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





(sorry for over-analyzing, and sounding like an unemployed grad student. But, man, those lyrics meant a lot to me back then. Nostalgia just ain't what it used to be......)
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Old 10-19-2006, 03:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 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.
Good lord, lighten up. This is pop music we're talking about here.
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Old 11-05-2019, 10:19 AM
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Meaning....


I think the words ring very true. As having lost parents and a spouse, the pain from the voids created by the losses outweighs any increase in freedom from any obligations from the relationships.
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Old 11-05-2019, 11:12 AM
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Since this has been revised, and I missed it the first time...

You have to remember it was written in a time when hippies roamed the earth. It's written from the perspective of one of those free spirits. These innocent souls thought they could go on like that forever.

People could be free from responsibility and yet could still eat and hitchhike. Look at Lobo's "Me and You and Dog Named Boo". Look at The Girl in Two Lane Blacktop.

I wonder what happened to the singer character ("me") as she got older. I hope she didn't die young. It's been a long, long time.

Last edited by Just Asking Questions; 11-05-2019 at 11:13 AM.
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Old 11-05-2019, 11:15 AM
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Go at it from the other direction. Assume someone values freedom -- from tyrannical bosses, from obligations that cramp their style, from having to conform to the expectations of the neighbors, everything. They don't compromise.

There are price tags. People won't hire them, don't treat them like "normal folk", don't include them, dont' trust them because they aren't playing by the rules.

Fast forward a bit, let's say a couple years, and you find the uncompromising freedom worshiper hitchhiking, unemployed, no home, owns only what's in their bag or on their back. They're still free though.

A wry commentary on the price of freedom.
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Old 11-05-2019, 11:46 AM
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The flip side of the 2006 coin is the beginning of Pippin's finally song (words by Stephen Schwartz)

I'm not a river or a giant bird
That soars to the sea
And if I'm never tied to anything
I'll never be free

I wanted magic shows and miracles
Mirages to touch
I wanted such a little thing from life
I wanted so much
I never came close, my love
We never came near
It never was there
I think it was here
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Old 11-05-2019, 12:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Hamster King View Post
It's a great lyric. You can't be truly free unless you aren't beholden to anyone or anything -- no obligations, no responsibilities. She and Bobby were living the free hobo life but they still had each other. Now he's gone and she's totally free but she's not happy because she misses him. Very bittersweet.
And the flip side that if you are truly free, then you don't have anything either. That's always how I interpreted it; that having nothing left to lose was essentially negative, and that saying that you're free, means that you're also truly unattached/unengaged. Basically what AHunter3 says... (read it after my post).

Last edited by bump; 11-05-2019 at 12:22 PM.
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Old 11-05-2019, 12:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
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.
You're right in a way. This is very much a song of privilege, the ability to cut loose from society's expectations and live as one wishes, all the while knowing that utter destitution is an unlikely fate, that society will accept you back at their terms anytime you choose.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Just Asking Questions View Post
You have to remember it was written in a time when hippies roamed the earth. It's written from the perspective of one of those free spirits. These innocent souls thought they could go on like that forever.
But Kristofferson was the farthest thing from a hippie. He was a champion athlete, a Phi Beta Kappa, a Rhodes Scholar, and an Army Captain and Ranger who was offered a literature professorship at West Point. And he was also married at the age of 21 to a long-term girlfriend.

He gave that assured career up to try to make it in music, which resulted in his parents disowning him. It's true he got a job as a janitor in Nashville, but the standard fable leaves out that he split weeks there with weeks making good money as a commercial helicopter pilot in Louisiana, which is where he wrote "Me and Bobby McGee." This was about 1966, probably before Kristofferson had met many "hippies," although the music world had always held their like.

Yeah, it became an archetypal hippie song. But it's a story about someone else based on his own life, having giving up all security to do the thing he loved. That's the interesting thing. Great art often includes a universal emotion that can be seized upon by people in a variety of situations, even if they bear little resemblance to the experience of the artist.
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Old 11-05-2019, 01:31 PM
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Go at it from the other direction. Assume someone values freedom -- from tyrannical bosses, from obligations that cramp their style, from having to conform to the expectations of the neighbors, everything. They don't compromise.

There are price tags. People won't hire them, don't treat them like "normal folk", don't include them, dont' trust them because they aren't playing by the rules.

Fast forward a bit, let's say a couple years, and you find the uncompromising freedom worshiper hitchhiking, unemployed, no home, owns only what's in their bag or on their back. They're still free though.

A wry commentary on the price of freedom.
I agree with this wholeheartedly.

I always felt that this line was uttered in a melancholy way. They have achieved their freedom - but at a cost that they are attached to no one, and no one is attached to them either. They have traded in human connection and all the good that it can provided for world in which they are invisible, and they've chosen to call it "freedom."
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Old 11-05-2019, 01:55 PM
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The freedom the singer is talking about is the freedom after Bobbie leaves. He/she certainly had something to lose before that - and lost it.

All we know about them is that they are broke and hitching to New Orleans. Nothing in the song implies that they've been running around the country.

Anyone who has ever felt tied down by a house and possessions knows what Kris was talking about. It's far from the only meaning of freedom, but I get it. And the singer is not that happy with this kind of freedom.
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Old 11-05-2019, 04:51 PM
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But what does this part mean:

I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana
I's playin' soft while Bobby sang the blues, yeah

What is a harpoon? (apart from a whale thing)
Since the zombie is lurching about, I'll add that a harmonica is often slangily called a 'harp' (from 'mouth harp' I think). From 'harp' to 'harpoon' (especially when you need another syllable for rhythm) is a short trip.
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Old 11-05-2019, 06:21 PM
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I also missed this first time around. The line in question is reminiscent (preminiscent?) or another line from Alabama: "She's got her freedom, but she'd rather be bound"
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Old 11-05-2019, 06:30 PM
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It's one of those phrases that sound profound but actually mean nothing. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to gain makes equal sense or nonsense.
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Old 11-05-2019, 09:38 PM
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Originally Posted by aldiboronti View Post
It's one of those phrases that sound profound but actually mean nothing. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to gain makes equal sense or nonsense.
No, it really, really doesn't make equal or any sense.
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Old 11-05-2019, 10:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Voyager View Post
The freedom the singer is talking about is the freedom after Bobbie leaves. He/she certainly had something to lose before that - and lost it.
That's always how I took it. The song is about regret, and about a lost time when she felt free. She thought that was about having nothing and no schedule or possessions, and it wasn't. It always about her now lost lover, and it pains her that she's now lost that as well*.

*While also wishing him well, which means wondering how he is without her.

Last edited by squeegee; 11-05-2019 at 10:36 PM.
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Old 11-05-2019, 11:36 PM
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While the 1960ís notion of Ďdropping outí is the obvious setting and the possible inspiration in this song, am I the only one who thinks that Kristofferson (the Rhodes Scholar and potential literature professor) is making a statement about Cynicism in general Ė and potentially about the meeting between Diogenes and Alexander? It just seems to me that the whole point of the song is that Bobby and the singer rediscovered the philosophy of Diogenes (independently of course, being too free in spirit to study classical lessons) of living simply and honestly.

It also seems to me that even if the song does examine the heartache of unrequited love, it eventually concludes that to be truly free and happy, you have to deal with loss honestly and openly. (Here I am reminded of another sentiment popular in that era Ė if you love something, set it free.) So she wishes him well on his journey even though it brings her melancholy feelings. See Bobby just wanted a little more sunlight so he moved on to where her shadow no longer fell across him.
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Old 11-06-2019, 08:43 AM
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A friend told this story at his mother's funeral:

When he was a kid they didn't have much money. They lived in a small house without lots of furniture or trinkets but there was a nice vase on a table. One day he was horsing around and broke the vase. He called his mother, sure that he would be in big trouble. She just said, "That was our last nice thing. Now we don't have anything to worry about."

That's freedom.
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