This month’s theme involves two important concepts: radical transparency and authenticity. The notion of anything being “radical” is because of a lack of transparency in our daily interactions. Social media has not helped this trend: We can create vastly disparate identities that do not reflect who we actually are. We are also influenced by “ideal” lifestyles that make us feel unworthy. Both these trends are a shame and can only be corrected with a focused and concerted effort to be truthful.
Authenticity is not static. We are fluid animals; what is authentic to us one day might change the next. Being open to change and honoring what is necessary for the situation is part of the process. Being transparent does not mean being unwilling to change. The key is being honest along the way.
Music is one of the most honest means of communicating that we have. That’s why this month’s playlist honors one essential practice: truth.
As Sam Harris writes in his book “Lying” (Four Elephants Press, 2103), keeping track of falsehoods is emotionally and neurologically taxing. One lie begets another. Keeping track of what you said to whom and when you said it creates constant confusion. Pretty soon you struggle to keep track of what story you’re telling. Fortunately, there is one simple fix: Tell the truth.
Truth itself is not a fixed concept. It can often be relative. Through discussion, confusion can be cleared up. It’s important that we express our versions of the truth in an open manner so that we can engage in debates over what is best for everyone. By clinging tightly to what you believe to be true and not reflecting on it with others, too much room for error remains.
Besides, we all know we feel better when we honestly express what’s inside our heads. Like music, it’s therapeutic. Let’s now turn to some master musical therapists expressing their odes to truth.
There is no better place to start than a James Brown classic, “Don’t Tell a Lie About Me and I Won’t Tell the Truth on You.” As we begin in a soulful manner, deep cuts by Al Green, Otis Redding, Charles Wright, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Sarah Vaughan round out the first segment.
“Truth & Rights” is a reggae anthem by Johnny Osbourne, widely considered an essential song in this genre. The following two tracks by modern reggae singer Protoje and an upbeat version by Thievery Corporation aren’t exactly covers but instead head nods to the Osbourne’s soulful original. Since we’re gliding along to a hip-hop tempo, Gang Starr’s “Moment of Truth” and Brother Ali’s “Truth Is” provided perfect segues.
It’s been an upbeat journey so far, but it’s time to rock out a bit. Sting addressed truth with The Police, and my namesake—Derek and the Dominos—served as a stellar vehicle for Eric Clapton to express his take on truthfulness. Tom Petty stood firm in his refusal to back down from what he knew to be true, while Lucinda Williams had her own bluesy take on honesty. Another homage to the 80s—well, 1990, but the sound resides in the previous decade—rounds out the rock session, with Depeche Mode’s epic “Policy of Truth.”
Here, we get a bit abstract. Pretty Lights borrows from heady electronica and dubstep; “I Know the Truth” is one of his most intimate tracks to date. A little jazz—OK, at 13½ minutes, quite a bit—by Kamasi Washington is never a bad thing.
From here, things mellow out. Anthony Hamilton’s bluesy soul always hits the sweet spot. We close out with three acoustic odes to truth by Andrew Bird, Jack Johnson and Jack White before ending with a return to “Truth & Rights” by Zero 7, which has long been one of my favorite ambient songs, providing fitting closure to this music sojourn through a topic we all need a lot more of in our lives.
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