LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY, a prisoner under arrest for treason faced his judge. The judge asked him about his beliefs and his political aspirations. “You can accuse me of wanting to be a ruler,” the prisoner replied, “but all I can say is that I came into this world to testify to the truth.” The judge was deeply scornful. “What is truth?” he said, and turned on his heel and walked away.
If you were working for a great empire, as was this judge and governor, you would be far more concerned about power than about truth. In fact, later in the trial, the judge reminded his prisoner that he had the power to release or execute him. The judge cared more about enhancing his own power and reputation in the empire than about meting out justice. The life of a powerless prisoner, along with the concept of truth, was expendable.
Today, truth itself may be expendable in the United States. A few years ago, comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness” to describe that reality. But in the power struggle of our recent presidential election and the resulting shift in leadership, truth is becoming more and more squishy. Thus the Oxford English Dictionary added a stronger word in 2016: “post-truth,” defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” As Oxford’s usage example puts it, “in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire.” No doubt the fake news we have seen and heard on social media is sure to continue.
"Oh Lord let me die on the back of adventure/ With a brush and an eye full of light."
These lines from the 10-minute "Constantine’s Dream" sum up Banga — the latest album from musical iconoclast Patti Smith — even as they aptly describe the career of CBGB's Queen of Punk.
For the better part of four decades, Smith has been all about adventure. The brush is a symbol of her broad artistic canvas (she sees herself more a poet than a musician, as well as an author and photographer), and she’s ever in pursuit of what the best rock music always is interested in – light, truth and better world.
Smith's “Oh Lord” at the start of that line is no accident, it would appear. This album particularly is full of God and religious images. The song "Constantine's Dream" finds Smith on pilgrimage to Assisi, following in the footsteps of St. Francis.