i. The birth of Freedom was in 1967. ii. The other birth of Freedom was in 2012. iii. Other, other subsequent births of Freedom have scattered and splintered since the conception of The Beatles. I think I heard Edgar Winter say something once at a festival show about how rock music means freedom, means liberty. He looked like he was about to croak, which must have been what he meant, like a form of release, like letting fly a pigeon whose leg had been cushioned back to health. Did Winter mean peace? Did he mean quiet? iv. The first Freedom might as well have been a cat, which is to say an incorrectly named blue Burmese cat, a name which the cat did not have the freedom or wherewithal to change, which is to say the band was actually just a repurposed Procol Harum. It took Freedom until their second album to be clever (and audacious) enough to release an album titled Freedom at Last (1970), which isn’t freely found much anywhere, not that I want to purchase any Freedom, though I wouldn’t say no if offered. I guess. It is freeing to know that I do not have to own any Freedom to be a music critic or true vinyl collector, but I do have to pay for it if I actually want it. To be free, I mean. I don’t know how much it costs. I don’t think Crosby, Stills, or Nash do, either. v. The second Freedom died in Detroit, specifically in the suburb of Hamtramck at The Sanctuary. Midwinter, last minute, like most death, but at least Mil-Spec opened for them. Historians cannot revise death, so we have to make it sound beautiful, or something like it. A sanctuary sounds like a place where freedom could happen. But that sounds like an action. As if me, a punk from anti-punk Northern Michigan, could find identity and belonging there. Freedom wore X’s on their hands, and so did we. Our legs an X as we two-stepped against the antithesis to freedom. We crowd-killed like we were shackled by three-minute pop song standards. We couldn’t beat up our bosses for being stuck in our shitty dead-end jobs, so we beat up each other instead. And we smiled, X’s in our eyes. vi. Clarification is due: nothing is emancipating about constant line-up changes, complete band overhauls, bandmates kicking each other out. The first Freedom’s final LP, Is More Than a Word (1972), is more than a bleeding title or a play on words–it’s a connotation that really can’t be explained. The band didn’t know how over their head they were to tackle a thesis like that. Perhaps it should be phrased as Is Less Than a Word. Consider how the jangly guitars might wilt like old cabbage. How Freedom could have lived beyond 1972. How the song “Cry Baby Cry” might have been released without any tears. How all freedom dies, which is the only freedom from the lie of freedom. vii. I remember now–it wasn’t Edgar Winter who said that. It was the guy from Hootie and the Blowfish. Probably. The guy’s name isn’t actually Hootie though. No one’s is. Not that it matters. No one in Judas Priest was a savior, after all. viii. Before you check out the second Freedom, whose discography takes under an hour to completely listen to, you should listen to whatever you want. It will help get you into Freedom without any restraint. “Being” punk is not required for punk music. Every thrash metal snob named Derek in Sterling Heights, however, will inform you to listen to Ringworm’s The Promise (1996), Mindset’s Leave No Doubt (2012), or Fire & Ice’s Gods and Devils EP (2009). You will also be swindled into reading many Ian MacKaye interviews. Moral: if you like punk music, you shouldn’t listen to punk music. If you don’t like punk music, do you think God will still let you into Heaven? ix. In The Philosophy of Freedom, Rudolf Steiner forgoes the notion that human imagination, knowledge, and perception have limitations. Schrödinger later explores the infinite possibilities of a box, how it encapsulates us, that potential energy lies like a sloth beyond its walls. Loneliness, to Schrödinger, is bipolar to freedom. Singularities and free particles sound nice to you and I, but where is the abandon of the ricochet? We mosh, flail our limbs without discretion, pick each other up when we slip on sweat and beer. There is a thought that aimlessness is a kind of freedom. There is a thought that any conformity, punk included, can’t resist binaries, that the free will to do and to do otherwise relies on the belief that humans are powerful. Or that we are moral. x. Gary Brooker, who kicked out two members of Procol Harum, loomed as the godfather to the original Freedom. Having long out-survived Freedom, he passed away in February 2022. Would he have called death a truer shade of freedom? Isn’t being beholden to any belief a sigil of captivity? xi. During “Me and You,” I remember getting slammed into the merch table, my ribs shrill bells. My friend Noah threw elbows to create more elbowroom. The guy who was always wearing a giant banana costume at West Michigan hardcore shows kept sharing the mic with the vocalist. I didn’t fall with grace, didn’t expect to be picked up. But I was. My X’s smeared, blackberries bloodied on my La Dispute hoodie. A year later, my sobriety smudged off like body wash on Sharpie. For that time, I felt free. Eventually, I learned from Radiohead that a person could, in fact, disappear completely. I once felt that kind of freedom when I went missing in an abandoned nature preserve, part of my meager paycheck invested in pills meant to imitate an illusion of freedom in my liver. Three more years and I’d spin a straight edge record by Youth of Today for the first time since my drug overdose, since giving up hardcore punk nearly altogether. This too, the act of clearing my mind from substances that were becoming toxic to me, felt freeing. xii. Historians have spent their lives debating whether freedom existed before Freedom. Or after. Or in between. Or after again. If we repeat the word freedom endlessly, the beginning and ending consonants thrum like blank drywall sheets too heavy to lift. Historians have also questioned what came before Freedom’s youth crew anthem, “Anti-Poison.” Listening to Freedom sounds like a gun going off but not knowing what the bullet hit. Sounds like a stomp from a boot on particle board. Sounds like reliving the golden age of straight edge in the 90s. Sounds like a hurricane of punks that punk culture cast into the Atlantic. Historians have recently confirmed that what predated “Anti-Poison” was just the glam metal band Poison. Those historians then sighed in disappointment. xiii. Freedom has nothing to do with freedom. xiv. I like to imagine the first Freedom would have mistaken straight edge as just the symbol of the Christian cross turned diagonal. (An arm is a fragment of an effigy, after all.) Or perhaps Freedom might have thought people who professed as straight edge to be followers of a cult who just didn’t like having fun. To be pedagogically at arms against a band named Freedom seems like a bold statement. Or perhaps not at all, since Freedom never lived long. It’s probable that Freedom wouldn’t have been wholly right or wrong in either regard. Bobby Harrison, vocalist and drummer, lived in a time when booze and drugs were the prime incarnations of counterculture fun. But to counter the counterculture? I still don’t know what straight edge has totally brought to punk culture. Including, but never limited to: purity, clear-mindedness, internal rifts in the hardcore community. Straight edge can be cringe. Weaponizing substance use against non-users can also be cringe. Any subculture can be cringe. It would seem that there is no escape. xv. Historians have just announced that Freedom never existed to begin with. xvi. David Foster Wallace never got to see the first or second Freedom in concert. Seeing Freedom in concert was not an obligation, though I felt obligated to since they were from Michigan, which is ultimately to say that I was morally responsible. I don’t believe that Freedom was destined to die by the calluses of determinist doctrine. But if Wallace’s fatalism is to be considered, then I might be convinced that I saw Freedom only once for the sake of sacrifice. That the skull-sized kingdom Wallace purports in This is Water is all the freedom we’ll ever be able to witness. That every wound from hardcore shows I’ve suffered was not in fact suffering. That every wound was a privilege to be caring toward others. That for the twenty minutes during Freedom’s set I opened my eyes without closing them. That whatever freedom was present in those moments evaporated shortly thereafter. That we thrashed together in support of joy, of community, and of each other. That we were there as proof.
Liam Strong (they/them) is a queer neurodivergent straight-edge punk writer who earned their B.A. in writing from University of Wisconsin-Superior. They’re the author of the chapbook everyone’s left the hometown show (Bottlecap Press, 2023). They are most likely gardening somewhere in Northern Michigan.