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Freedom

Three songs that get sung at karaoke a lot round here: and a connection that I noticed, regarding freedom and tradeoffs.

“Verdammt, ich lieb dich”, by Matthias Reims – the most popular German song of the last 50 years or so.

A very teutonically-honest song about being single again and thinking about one’s ex. The chorus is reminiscent of the old “he loves me, he loves me not” thing that English girls used to do while mutilating innocent flowers, except the singer’s asking it of himself: “Dammit, I love you, I love you not; dammit, I need you, I need you not; dammit, I want you, I want you not; I don’t want to lose you…” In the first verse he pretends he’s totally over her, right up until he can’t pretend anymore and he flips out. The second verse ponders life without her and the reasons he ended it: “So langsam fällt mir alles wieder ein, ich wollt doch nur ‘n bisschen freier sein, jetzt bin ich’s… oder nicht?” – “Slowly it’s all coming back – I wanted to be just a little more free – I am now, aren’t I?”

A similar sentiment occurs in Wolfgang Petry’s “Verlieben, Verloren, Vergessen, Verzeihen”, on the same subject:

“Verdammt war ich glücklich, verdammt bin ich frei” – “Damn, I was happy; damn, I am free.”

Milton’s Satan could utter that line, looking back on Heaven, with little regret. But the singer doesn’t have the pride of Lucifer (I doubt Lucifer would be seen dead with that haircut & mustache combo), and the trade-off sits ill with him (“I had everything, everything that counts; but live without you, and now it’s too late”). There are freedoms that exist to be spent like money: to be given away in choosing some specific option, or person. Reims and Petry have gotten their money back, so to speak (I think Petry got forcibly refunded, from the first verse), and found freedom is not all it’s cracked up to be.

These two songs are in the genre called “Schlager”, cheesy 80’s hit songs, delivered with a kind of upbeat teutonic cheerfulness even in singing about heartbreak. Chesterton’s “Ballad of the White Horse” made reference (in describing Elf the minstrel) to “the mighty people, womanlike, that have pleasure in their pain” – this is what that sounds like.

“Desperado”, originally by the Eagles – the only song here I didn’t first hear at karaoke (I encountered Johnny Cash’s excellent version first), has something to say on the subject also:

“Freedom, oh freedom, that’s just some people talking; your prison is walking this world all alone.” I suspect Reims and Petry would agree.

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