Free To Be You and Me, the 1972 brain-child of Marlo Thomas, is one of the hippy-dippiest things ever. Just look at that album cover. Starring Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Alan Alda, Gilbert Gottfried, Rosey Grier, Carol Channing and Shirley Jones (among others), it features songs, poems and stories celebrating body positivity, kindness, gender neutrality, the complexity of feelings, and how to live among our fellow humans.
I grew up listening to the cassette – in the car, in my tape player before bed. To be honest, some of the songs weirded me out. Free to Be’s message is anything but subtle, and at times the songs are so overwhelmingly unforgiving in their love that they could make me slightly uncomfortable. But the message has stayed with me. Indeed, it is difficult to know exactly what to think of art you experienced as a child. The passage of time often obfuscates why you liked certain things, why you even experienced them in the first place. Can I really say I liked something when, for instance, I had little say over whether or not my Mom popped in the cassette? Questions of agency abound.
Regardless, it is evident Free to Be is something special. We inhabit a time when compromises may have lost their utility – can we truly compromise on global warming? On anti-fascism? On universal suffrage? Perhaps now is the time to recognize Free to Be You and Me’s uncompromising, unconditional love for what it truly is: a blueprint for the future. As the eponymous title song states, “There’s a land that I see where the children are free / And I say it ain’t far to this land from where we are.” Which may or may not be true. But there’s only one way to find out.