Rectify

Jared’s Blog: Cat Power Essay

I think maybe the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt is screwing with me, because there is just no way I can write an essay about this: “Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both.” Nope. Not happening. Justice, injustice, all of it is just… Nuh-uh.

But I know I gotta write this essay, so here’s the deal. My sister used to play this Cat Power CD on her car stereo all the time, and especially this one song that went: “We won’t have a thing, so we’ve got nothing to lose. We can all be free, maybe not with words, maybe not with a look, but with your mind.” So that’s what I’m going to write about.

When I was little, my sister moved to Atlanta, but whenever she’d come home to visit, I’d go along with her on errands to the grocery store and stuff and I’d listen to her singing along with this line and wonder what it meant. And lately, this lyric makes a lot more sense to me.

What always confused me about those words is how hopeful they sound. I mean, if you look at them, they’re not hopeful — someone’s got nothing to lose, and they want to be free, but it seems like whoever they are, their life is so messed up that they can’t actually be free, they can only be free with their mind. Which, having been grounded a bunch, I can tell you, being free with your mind is nowhere near as good as being actually free with your body and your skateboard and stuff.

But the way the woman sings these words, they seem to make her hopeful, like maybe something good is going to happen. And that’s the way my sister sounded too — like the song cheered her up, somehow.

What’s weird is, I tracked down this song recently and listened to it again, and yeah, it cheers me up too. And I think it’s because it’s about someone whose life is messed up. A lot of songs on the radio, they’re about normal people — teenagers or whatever, guys who like some girl, or are mad some girl broke up with him, that kind of thing. There aren’t a lot of songs about people with a brother who might or might not be a murderer.

But whoever this song is about, they don’t talk about their crushes or their breakups, they’re talking about how they’re gonna get on with their not-perfect lives. Like, here’s some good news! It can’t possibly get any worse, because they don’t own anything, so they can’t have anything more taken from them. And no, they’re not literally, physically free — maybe because they’re in jail, or because they have a crappy job or maybe they have no money– but they’re just going to ignore that and be free in their minds. Whatever problems there are out in the world, the person in this song is like, whatever, doesn’t matter, they’re free in their mind.

And when I think about that, suddenly the screwed up stuff in my life doesn’t seem so terrible. I mean, it is still totally, completely insane. But it’s all out there, in the world. It’s not in here in my mind, with my thoughts and my memories of driving around with my sister, listening to her sing along with her car stereo. And like my sister, and like the person in the song, I realize, yeah, whatever craziness is going on with other people, that’s their craziness. It’s not mine. I can be free in my mind.

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