What an interesting statement Kris Kristofferson wrote and Janis Joplin sang into immortality: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose; Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’, but it’s free.” I got to thinkin’ yesterday whether “Me and Bobby McGee” did any favors for the concept of freedom.
Not that it’s not true. There’s something liberating, in a desperate way, about being broke, or alone, or out of a job. When you have nothing to lose, no one else you’re responsible for, you’re free to try anything, go anywhere. It’s hard times, but you’re free, and that feels strangely good.
But that word just puts a big qualifier on the statement. If freedom is only accessible when you’re broke and alone, who wants to be free?
Joplin’s life seemed to exemplify the free spirit, and she died young. If it means working and playing so hard you’re dead before you’re 30, who wants to be free?
Please don’t get me wrong: I loved Janis Joplin. Not just her music; Wally Conger’s musings about his new Dick Cavett DVD set brought back memories of the first time I heard her sing “Move Over,” when she made my adolescent hormones rage, and then as she talked and I thought I felt an unspeakable sadness and loneliness behind her bravado, I wished I could rescue her from the demons that made her sing the blues so well.
But if freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose, maybe being a well-fed and comfortable slave is a better life.
The thing is, freedom’s not just another word for nothin’ left to lose. On the other hand, it’s a good inner image to have: If you treat life as if you have nothing to lose, you likely will find you have everything to gain. Our fears of losing our fat and sassy lifestyles lurk behind our reluctance to set ourselves free – and oh, by the way, it is you who sets the limits on your freedom most of the time, not some government or other external force.
Refuse to be afraid, live like you’re dying, live like you have nothing left to lose, and you’ll find the path to freedom.