I deal in dreamers
And telephone screamers
Lately I wonder what I do it for
If l had my way
I’d just walk out those doors
Down the Champs Elysees
Going cafe to cabaret
Thinking how I’ll feel when I find
That very good friend of mine
I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive
Nobody was calling me up for favors
No one’s future to decide
You know I’d go back there tomorrow
But for the work I’ve taken on
Stoking the star maker machinery
Behind the popular song.
– Joni Mitchell, Free Man In Paris
I hear a big song like this one a bit differently today than I did as a kid. Then I just heard the bigness of the song, the sonic beauty akin to a wall of sound production. Joni at her highest point in her career with one of the great side ones (back when side one mattered a lot). Now my attention locks onto the freedom of going cafe to cabaret and running into friends along the way, which seems like a grand way to spin about in Paris. And so different from the day-to-day grind of making a living and seeing things through. And maybe that’s why it was so popular, more than the inside look at David Geffen from the perspective of one of his biggest stars and closest friends.
At its root the song is a longing to break free from that daily grind, whatever ours happens to be, and to live that carefree life in lovely places. And that, friends, is the promised land. And doesn’t require a flight to Paris, as lovely as that might be for each of us. Being unfettered and alive is a state of mind achieved just as easily hiking the spine between bald mountain peaks or walking a quiet beach offseason as it is being part of the cafe and cabaret scene in the City of Lights.
And the question is, how much is enough? When you’ve earned enough to not be homeless or hungry, what more do you need? The restlessness in this song is the thing that’s so identifiable for anyone who climbs those corporate rungs, thinking about how they’ll feel when they find… whatever it is they think is at that next level of accomplishment. That next status symbol that shows everyone that they’ve really arrived this time.
Last year Geffen posted a controversial Instagram photo of his stunning yacht Rising Sun in the Grenadines with the sun setting behind as COVID raged and he “self-isolated”. You can see the beauty and smugness in that photo, all at once. As I understand it, that yacht takes 70,000 gallons of fuel and who knows how much in provisions. I wonder if he feels like he’s finally found whatever it was he was looking for?
How much is enough? Most of us will never have a comparable yacht or a private island or a ticket on a luxurious flight into space with a billionaire. I’m not condemning those who chase for more, but I don’t particularly want that for myself. Because being unfettered and alive isn’t about accumulation or status, it’s about being happy with where you are and what you’re doing in this moment.
Think how that might feel.