On November 2nd, 2004, I spent the day checking the internet for news, and reading a book by Martin Heidegger entitled "The Essence of Human Freedom" while listening to Sublime's album "40 ozs. to Freedom", over and over. Surprisingly, the obvious connection of sharing a word in their titles escaped me, if any connection struck me, it was that the album featured a song that could have been directed at some of Dr. Heidegger's mistakes. There also exists a connection between the days events, the book, and the album, but the album is perhaps the easiest to explain.
Sublime is not spoken of much in the press, never being either popular or obscure enough to gain people's attention. Their CDs and mp3s are still widely listening to by most people under the age of 30, at least in the United States. They are not taken as seriously as they should be, because in some ways Sublime has addressed cultural issues that were just arising in the early 1990s, and are just coming to a head now. Sublime may have been party music, and they may have never been pretentious enough to do concept albums, but they keep on returning to concepts on this album, and if they do it unintentionally, it only makes it more meaningful.
Back to the events of November 2nd, 2004. There is one theory, overstated but not at all to be ignored, that the election was about the cultural issues of "God, gays and guns". If you listen to any Sublime album, particularly this one, you will see that Brad Nowell makes many references to his religious belief (that, although perhaps not doctrinal, and far from puritanical, are obviously very emotionally intense), and to his possession of firearms. And while homosexuality is not something he touches on, and he probably would not condone homophobia, many of his songs are a celebration of his own male virility. So in some ways, Brad Nowell is the ideal candidate for the idealized "Red Stater". This shows not only in his lyrics, but in the music, which is often of a very invigorating nature, the type of music that makes you either want to dance or smash stuff. The music, unlike much music of the 90s, is robust and masculine. It is quite possible that Brad Nowell could have turned out as quite a proto-fascist, it is after all, a turn that did happen to some of his friends.
And yet, Nowell and his band were strongly opposed to fascism in a way that seems to me to go beyond the normal political correctnes many rock starts espouse. There is one song dealing with underclass youths being seduced into fascism, as well as songs angrily denouncing political and interpersonal violence. It contains a strangely lyrical song whose words can be interpreted as being about the crises of Western societies. And in the final song, it contains one of the most beautiful memorials to the Diaspora, an event that is on some ways the birth tramau of Western society.
What, exactly, is going on here? There could be any number of explanations for the combination of "macho Brad" and "nice Brad", starting with the fact that artists like to capture different moods. However, if we were to try to place a reason for this split, it might be that Brad Nowell is capturing a split that occurs in his personality and in his culture. The concept of the Dionysian and the Apolloyian is probably familiar to the reader. Sublime's music, and this album, seems to capture two moods: the Solar and the Lunar. In the Solar, we see a celebration of sexuality, virility, agressiveness and celebration itself. And in the Lunar, we see the memory of pain, suffering, regret, and compassion with oppressed peoples. Indeed, at least three times on the album, I noticed Nowell being unsure of what he is feeling at the moment:
I ain't never been right as I ain't never been wrong...
Ain't nothing wrong, ain't nothing right...
And, in the song that the album takes its name from:
40 ozs. to freedom is the only chance I have to feel good, even though I feel bad
In some ways, the entire album could be about the possibility, and the experience, of feeling both good and bad, sure and unsure, right and wrong, at the same time. And I believe that this statement even extends to the cover art, which displays a Sun, a very obvious Solar Symbol. However, the sun, rather then shining, seems to be pensive, and closer examination of the art will show that the sun's picture is composed of a number of small pictures showing images of death and suffering. Even the sun may not be as bright as we see it.
The essence of human freedom is this, at its most sublime: the ability to feel good and bad at the same time.