VAN MORRISON: BORN TO BE FREE, BUT AT WHAT COST?

With top musicians giving their voice to 2020 events, its time to hear the music

Van Morrison drew attention to himself recently when he described his trio of new releases as “protest songs against lockdown.” The first of the three, Born to Be Free, was released on the 25th of September. Boy, is there a lot to sink your teeth into.

In melody, the song is fairly unremarkable – catchy even. Under three minutes long, you could imagine it being the sort of tune a family may hum along to on a long drive home after a nice trip to the country; much like many of Morrison’s best-known hits.

It’s the lyrics, however, which make it so conspicuous.

Acts of rebellion have always been synonymous with rock music. And indeed, Van Morrison attempts this as he protests against the “new normal” with his own country-styled notion of defiant song writing.

It’s just, when Joe Strummer sung: “If Adolf Hitler flew in today, they’d send a limousine anyway,” in the Clash’s (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, he was talking about the radicalization of the UK. And when Van Morrison sings: “Everyone seems to have amnesia, just trying to remember the Berlin Wall,” he’s talking about having to wear a face mask in Sainsbury’s. It just doesn’t carry the same weight.


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The song begins: “Well, well the birds in the trees, know something we can’t see. ‘Cos, they know, we were born, to be free.” There is a well-known internet conspiracy which suggests many birds are not real but instead drones used by the government to spy on the public (don’t ask). However, to suggest that he is referencing that theory here, ironically, would be conspiratorial in itself – so it’s probably best to give him the benefit of doubt.

The next verse is more blunt and evidently self-explanatory:

“Don’t need the government cramping my style. Give them an inch, they take a mile. Take you in with a phony smile.”

Though he does punctuate it with an emphasised and sarcastic: “Wouldn’t you agree?”

This leads him into the chorus in which he crones: “The new normal is not normal, it’s no kind of normal at all.” He’s not wrong, but with one million coronavirus related deaths worldwide, the old normal isn’t really a valid option.

The lines: “Some kind of new old ideology, with new psychology,” are perhaps Morrison claiming the government restrictions are old fascism dressed up in new clothes – maybe? Though the repetition of the word “new” in the last few lines, and his apparent distain for it, does help him nicely fulfil the angry old man trope.

A song as catchy as it is harmful. It trails away as Morrison laments, “But it’s not for the benefit of you and me. We were born to be free,” failing to realise that the sooner he complies with the precautions put in place to protect us – lockdown, face masks, etc – the sooner he can have his freedom.