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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Jukebox - Sweet Freedom by Michael McDonald

What goes through your mind when you hear the word 'freedom'?

No, seriously. Think about it for a second. What goes through your mind when you hear that word?

Perhaps you think of freedom in the sense that you have the freedom to go wherever you like, or buy whatever you like, or do whatever you do. Or, maybe you see freedom as being left to your own devices as to what you feel is best for you and your lifestyle. Some people are given too much freedom in their lives. Some, not nearly enough.

To me, I define freedom as a goal in life that all of us ultimately want. Nobody in life actually asks to be held down by something or someone. The fact that there are quite a few people in this world who are tied down because of a number of factors is very sad.

There are a number of factors that may compromise a person's ability to achieve true freedom in this world. They could be tied up in an abusive marriage where their lives would be at risk if they ever fled. It could be being stuck at a dead-end job with no way of things improving. It could be living in a place where one does not feel safe walking the streets because of criminal activity.

Even throughout history, we have had instances where people have had to fight for their freedom. All we really have to do is do a little bit of research on Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad to see just how many slaves managed to find their way to freedom back in the 19th century. The Underground Railroad is just one of the many symbols that could be used to describe the word 'freedom'.

There are other examples of objects and places that could also symbolize freedom. Taking the scenario above where I talked about someone being tied in an abusive marriage, there is a way out. There are hotlines and resources available for women and men to use (in fact, if you click on this previous blog entry that I did, you can visit some of these resources).

Perhaps one of the most recognizable symbols of freedom that many people might know is the Statue Of Liberty, which sits on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. The green tinted statue of a woman wearing a crown and holding a torch high in the air has been one of New York City's most visited monuments.

This October, Lady Liberty celebrates her 125th birthday. The statue was a gift to the United States from France, and was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, and was officially dedicated on October 28, 1886. The statue is of a robed female figure designed to resemble Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. She carries the symbolic torch high up in the air, and underneath her arm is a tablet with the date that the American Declaration of Independence was crafted (July 4, 1776).

The Statue Of Liberty became a symbol of freedom for the people who immigrated to the United States via New York City, for the statue was one of the first things that they saw upon entering America. Over the years, new immigrants to the country exhibited their pure excitement and jubilation over arriving in the United States to a better life. One immigrant from Greece said this upon viewing the Statue of Liberty for the first time;

I saw the Statue Of Liberty. And I said to myself, 'Lady, you're such a beautiful! You opened your arms and you get all the foreigners here. Give me a chance to prove that I am worth it, to do something, to be someone in America.' And always that statue was on my mind.”

Doesn't that sound inspiring?

I guess it could be of some comfort that the shining light from Lady Liberty's torch guided the way for many people who were new to America, and sort of gave them that comfort that the freedom that they wanted for whatever reason was within reach.

The reason why I brought this up is because the lyrics of the song that I want to talk about today are kind of related to this. No, the song isn't really about the Statue Of Liberty, but the song's chorus could be one that kind of relates to the dreams of freedom that many have that many others take for granted.

ARTIST: Michael McDonald
SONG: Sweet Freedom
ALBUM: Running Scared Official Soundtrack
DATE RELEASED: June 14, 1986

Michael McDonald has had a rather lengthy musical career, although many people may not even be aware of it. At the age of 22, McDonald got his first big break by singing backing vocals for Steely Dan. He sang backing vocals on the band's albums between 1975 and 1980. During this time, McDonald was recruited to fill in for Tom Johnston, who was the lead singer for The Doobie Brothers, who had become ill while they were on tour.

McDonald's stint as the singer of The Doobie Brothers was so successful that he ended up joining the band on a full-time basis in 1976. For five years, Michael McDonald sang lead on a number of hits for the band including 'Real Love', 'Takin' It To The Streets' and 'What A Fool Believes'.

After The Doobie Brothers disbanded in the early 1980s, Michael McDonald decided to embark on a solo career. He had a few minor hits, but he managed to build up his resume by working with a lot of top-notch acts. He had a number one hit with Patti LaBelle with 'On My Own' in 1986, and he co-wrote songs for Carly Simon and Van Halen. In 1985, he won a Grammy Award along with James Ingram for the duet 'Yah Mo B There'. Even now, he writes and records songs, and with his cover versions of classic Motown hits, he has still managed to keep a profile in the music industry.

The song 'Sweet Freedom' (ironically enough released on Flag Day, an American observance that celebrates another symbol of freedom in the United States) was actually released on the soundtrack of a movie. The movie was 'Running Scared', and starred Billy Crystal and the late Gregory Hines. Both actors make a cameo in the music video for the song, as you've seen up above.

The movie itself actually depicted the two main characters seeking freedom of their own in some sense. Two police officers in Chicago have made the decision to relocate to Florida with the dream of opening up a bar in a tropical paradise.

Think Cocktail, only two years earlier and without Tom Cruise.

The reason they made the decision that they did was because of the fact that both of them were almost killed on the job, and because they feel as though their superiors didn't respect them as much as they should have. However, due to a twist of fate, they find that they have to take down the person who almost killed them. Before they retire, they must find a way to bring him down (while faced with the humiliating task of training their replacements) so they can go after their freedom.

Of course, that's all I'm going to tell you about the movie, because this isn't a Monday Matinee post. All I'll say is that in the end, the two detectives get their freedom, but not exactly in the way one might expect.

Anyways, back to the song, I think if one were to really examine the lyrics of the song, they would see the reason why I brought up the opening paragraph about freedom. As McDonald describes it, he talked about how he wasn't going to do any more running down the wrong road. He also kind of wanted to tell us that if we looked deep inside our hearts, we would find that the key to having the freedom we wanted was always inside of us, as long as we believed it.

I have to think that Mr. McDonald knows what he is talking about here.

I'm sure that change is a difficult thing for all of us to go through. Lord knows I have struggled with making the effort to make positive changes for myself. Why that is the case could be a combination of a fear of failure and a lack of self-esteem with just a little dash of disbelief. But I don't need a gourmet chef to tell me that recipe is one that can be toxic under certain conditions. Like any master of their trade, one must experiment with their surroundings. Perhaps by moving away to a different city, or taking up a skill, or going back to school. Sure, it can be rough going, but as the song says, freedom can be achieved provided that you believe in yourself that you will make it.

Just like all of those people who looked towards the light that Lady Liberty held in her hand for years and years did. They looked to the Statue of Liberty to lead the way for success, but in all actuality, they were looking deep inside themselves and telling themselves that this would be a sign that a better life was possible.

I guess I need to start believing that more often.

Shine sweet freedom, shine your light on me
You are the magic, you're right where I want to be
Oh sweet freedom, carry me along
We'll keep the spirit alive, on and on.

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