With his manic playing of an oft-open tuned guitar, folkie Richie Havens exhibited a passionate intensity among 1960s performers. He more like drummed, not strummed, so percussive was his style. Havens was into his music and we believed in his lyrics because of that commitment. Wow then, when he would breathe new depth into standards like Here Comes the Sun and Just Like A Woman; he demanded we acknowledge that songs mattered not just on a chord sheet but in the way they could be delivered afresh and made even more timeless and important.
Now: apparently Havens improvised this song, Freedom, for the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Vamped from the spiritual Motherless Child, he repeatedly chants a word like freedom as if how he sings it alone defines it.
Freedom, usually synonymous with liberty, is a multidimensional word. It can mean absence of coercion in our lives, thus granting us free speech, private property, freedom to worship as we choose and the like. Freedom also came to be about being able to achieve our goals in life. Thus without opportunities, without food, shelter and funds, how can one enjoy a decent life? One has to be able to get their freedom to enjoy it.
Havens was probably singing about this latter definition of freedom. What are the chances in life for a motherless child, who feels like he’s almost gone? Yet we still debate the best ways to help people reach for their own stars.
Sadly, Richie Havens died this week. Rest in Peace.
More on freedom from this blog: