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Blowing through binaries

(Joe Giblin/AP)


Blowing through binaries

Two new albums pose the wrong questions

The late Ravi Zacharias liked to recount the time that a philosophy professor tried to convince him of the superiority of Eastern both/and logic over Western either/or. “Are you telling me,” Zacharias finally said, “that when I am studying Hinduism I either use both/and system of logic or nothing else?”

The professor responded, “The either/or does seem to emerge, doesn’t it?”

What does this have to do with Wynton Marsalis’ new Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra album The Ever Fonky Lowdown (Blue Engine) and the new John Lennon compilation Gimme Some Truth (Universal)? 


Running through both is the idea that one can transcend an either/or way of thinking and in so doing achieve a state of awareness and see through—to quote Marsalis’ libretto—“the fake binary narrative of Democrat vs. Republican, white vs. black, [and] man vs. woman.” Lennon, in “Imagine,” itemized a different binary roll call (religion vs. religion, country vs. country), but the impulse was the same.

It all runs aground on the same rocky shore: If one’s only option is believe in the aforementioned transcendence and achieve socio-political enlightenment or deny it and remain pawns in a game, the either/or has already reared its head.

Marsalis makes his case partially convincing. Voiced by the actor Wendell Pierce, the diabolical puppet master “Mr. Game” narrates The Ever Fonky Lowdown. He’s part prosperity evangelist, part snake-oil salesman, and 100 percent Big Brother. He insists he’s bigger than traditional categories but sounds a lot like the left’s caricature of the right.

The Lennon of Gimme Some Truth frequently sounds like a good fellow traveler too. Musically, the projects are worlds apart.

The Ever Fonky Lowdown is 53 tracks of dramatized satire with surreally distorted combinations of jazz, funk, and soul. 

Gimme Some Truth, released to commemorate Lennon’s 80th birthday, is 36 tracks of classic pop, rock, and folk, its hooks baited with Lennon’s unfiltered takes on everything from “God” (a title), “Love” (ditto), and Angela Davis (pro) to the Vietnam war, Paul McCartney, and Richard Nixon (all anti).

There’s also a lot of pain. Framed by meticulous remixes from the original tapes, the raw emotion in Lennon’s voice comes across more searing than ever—when Lennon intones “Shoot me” in the live “Come Together,” more eerie too.  

But there’s no denying the albums’ common ground: Immerse yourself in either/or, and you’ll see why the idea that we’re being played by global Deep State types who rob us blind (of money and humanity) while keeping us at each other’s throats and bombarding us with entertainment appeals to so many.

Immerse yourself in both/and, and you might even be tempted to believe it yourself.