Defined

Rock music occasionally touches on the dark side of liberty, but it has a hard time articulating it as such. After all, rock music was conceived in the blues music of African-Americans who suffered for centuries in America under a complete absence of freedom, and it came of age during the Era of Free Love of the late 1960’s, when liberation was an unquestionable virtue with no conceivable down side. Nature and nurture both told rock music that freedom is always a good thing.

Burdened with this philosophical myopia, rock music tends to gloss over the destructive roll of freedom in one of its favorite topics: the pain of failed romance. For example, take Fleetwood Mac‘s Rumours album, most of which is about the suffering that arises from a type of sexual liberation that is — less controversially — known as “breaking up.” The album occasionally comes close to indicting the culprit (check out the first verse of “Dreams”) but never quite nails it down.

The particular song lyrics that stuck in my head and inspired Defined, however, were from an Indigo Girls song called Love’s Recovery.

Early in the song, the Girls sing: “our friends we thought were so together, they’ve all gone and left each other in search of fairer weather.” But, having explored the theme of loss and suffering, at the end of the song they change the lyric: “tell all the friends who think they’re so together that these are ghosts and mirages, these thoughts of fairer weather.”

This was the closest thing I had ever heard in a rock song to a direct statement of the dangers of being addicted to freedom. The more I thought about how popular music was dancing around the subject, the more I was inspired to write a song that went beyond lamenting the pain and aimlessness caused by freedom obsession, and instead celebrated going cold turkey and making commitments in all aspects of life … defining who you are and what you care about.

And that was how I came to write Defined:

it’s your own shadow in the grass at your feet
that makes the grass around you seem like it shines
_but then, what the hell is going on?
_the greener grass keeps rolling on
your shadow follows right in your stride

we’re all just players trying not to get played
_so we’re palming coins and stacking our decks
we read our lovers just like mah jongg tiles:
_calculating how each one is going to lead us to the next

now i feel i’ll leave the leaving all behind
so, i flee from my freedom again
sometimes it’s by our shackles that our souls are defined

changing my mind ain’t changing nothing at all
_if it’s the same old changes time after time
a man who turns the wheel more than he holds it in the play
_he just ends up going nowhere as he burns away his life

now i feel i’ll leave the leaving all behind
so, i flee from my freedom again
sometimes it’s by our shackles that our souls are defined

i keep on crushing these grapes under my feet
_even though i know it’s years to taste the wine
gonna find my reason in the world beyond this day
_every thing, it has a season
_and the next one will be mine

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