Early this morning, I went onto Itunes and bought Beyonce's astonishing new creation, it is called Lemonade, and it is a disservice to call it an album. I listened to it for a few hours before the sun came up. The New Yorker Magazine called it a "revelation of the spirit," and that is as good a description of it as any. It is a new cultural masterwork.
The music itself is amazing, soaring, shocking and exhilarating, but Lemonade is more of a historic and groundbreaking creative project, a window into the soul, a post-feminist narrative, a cry of pain and an explosion of emotion. An ode to the Openness Movement.
Beyonce is notorious for hiding her inner life in her interviews and much of her music, but she holds nothing back and makes her life ruthlessly clear in this work. The music centers mostly on her relationship with her husband, the rapper Jay Z, a celestial union of power, pain and joy. And also, a wrenching journey, a river of pain, and also, of course, the inspiration for brilliant creation.
The artist, like the writer, eventually takes everything around him or her, it becomes a part of their work, often to the discomfort of those around them. In one sense, we betray everyone we know, our thirst for fuel is insatiable.
To me, Beyonce is a prophet of openness, part of a new culture of openness I believe is sweeping the new media culture and also the political culture. Say what you want about Donald Trump, he is an avatar of openness, he is like a hot water faucet turned forever on, and many millions of people prefer it to the existing culture of lies, hidden, caution and pre-packaging that make his competitors seem so hollow and false.
Trump and Bernie Sanders make a habit of saying the things they feel, for better or worse, not the things people tell them they need to pretend to feel. People are not stupid, they can tell authenticity from corporate marketing. This an important subject for me, because openness is part of my faith, my way to live.
I think Trump's true guide was Beavis & Butthead, who believed strongly that because they didn't know what they were supposed to think, they were free to think. They inspired me too.
More than any other thing, people ask me how I can be so open about my life. I write openly about my life, there is little anyone can say about me that I have not said about myself. I used to dread exposure, now I never even think about it. I am free to just create.
I believe I am riding a powerful wave, almost by accident. This is the culture spawned by the digital world, a world that savages lies, pretense and hiding (civility also). One day, even a President will be free to talk about his or her life, and he or she will be stunned at the many millions of people who will relate to that and sigh and take a breath, and say, oh yes, I know this, this is a human being, just like me. You can almost feel that happening.
"On their own," wrote the New York Times, "the songs (in Lemonade) can be taken as one star's personal, domestic dramas, waiting to be minded by the tabloids. But with the video, they testify to situations and emotions countless women endure. It's not a divorce announcement…It's a quick cutting music video that intersperses the songs, and broadens them, with compelling poetry from the Somali-British writer Warsan Shire, poems that often extend women's physicality toward the archetypal."
It is a wildly creative and visual undertaking and it works. It is also a groundbreaking and highly profitable turn towards openness, even about the most personal pain. This is the stuff that men and women have always been taught to hide. An album like this would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. The fact that Beyonce argues any kind of traditional music marketing and simply drops her album on Tidal and ITunes tells us who one of the real producers is: the Internet itself.
I know the pain and struggle of hiding, of lying, of presenting a false face to the world. it is an awful way to be, to live. Finally, in my life and in my writing, I am free to be myself. Being open is the pathway to authentic writing, good and bad.
I write about many of the things that most people, especially men, are taught to hide. My bankruptcy, my sexual life, who I'm voting for, my fears and my anxieties, my mistakes and stumbles, my lurching towards a creative life. That has liberated me almost beyond description and helped me grow and learn to love myself. All of this was painful for me to do, at first and almost every time. It is second nature now, it feels clean and true.
If you have nothing to hide, you are free in a new and profound way. I am free at last, I have nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed about. My life is good and bad, as am I, and people who read my work will know the good and the bad. To me, that is being open, that is being authentic, I see the culture of openness breaking out all around me. People are drawn to openness, perhaps because they are starved for authenticity.
And I will be honest, being open angers and threatens many people. A group of people I thought were friends recently snuck away a creative group I was running without a world, apparently thinking me a ruthless and vengeful digital Mao. I wrote to some of them to say goodbye and asked them why they fled in this way, and they told me they were terrified because people told them I might write about them on my blog. I could not comprehend this fear for some time.
A possible new friend invited me to lunch last year, after reading my blog for a few days he told me he didn't think we could be friends, he was frightened I might write about him one day. What, I asked him, was he afraid I might write? He couldn't answer, perhaps because he was hiding much of his life.
Beyonce has taken openness to a number of new levels far beyond me. Perhaps people will not think me so strange and unusual any more. I wonder if her husband saw the previews.
To some, openness is a terrifying, even evil, thing.
Beyonce has taken some of this fear and washed it down the street. Culture does that, it blows convention wisdom apart sometimes.
In his powerful piece in the Atlantic Magazine this month on the financial struggles of the newly impoverished middle class, Neal Gabler writes about how afraid men are to talk about their lives and their difficulties. He quotes a friend who is one of the few men he knows who talks openly about his financial troubles, and who once said "if anyone says he's sailing through, he's lying." This might not be literally true, acknowledges Gabler, but it is getting perilously close to the truth.
Personally I don't know any men but one – he is a close friend – who talk openly about their lives or acknowledge their fears and personal struggles. But I know this, it is not our perfection and successes that define us, it is our suffering and pain. If you don't share the latter, the former has no meaning.
When someone like Beyonce choose to present so stunningly open and honest a work as Lemonade, then the culture of openness, sparked by the digital world and its relentless move towards transparency, is becoming mainstream. "Are you cheating on me?," Beyonce asks, just after jumping off the top of a building and landing in an obscure body of water. There have been rumors for years that Jay Z was. "What a wicked way to treat the girl who loves you," Beyonce says, as she walks through the street smashing car windows with a baseball bat.
When someone attacks me in a cruel and false way, I do not hide and smolder, I put their name and their words right up on the blog so they, like me, can take responsibility for their words. I am happy to share the worse things that are said about me, because they force me to try to understand who I really am. Sometimes, they are true.
But most people are, invariably, shocked and outraged that someone might expose their cruelty to the light, drag them into the open. Maria and I share a commitment to openness, we even hold two Open Houses each year, so people can share our lives with them. We have no fear of it, they are all joyous days.
Openness is a powerful spiritual wind, it blows falseness and hatred and guile out of its corners and into the open. I lived in the shadows for so much of my life, now I live in the light, and when people like Neal Gabler – who confessed to years of painful financial difficulties, and Beyonce, takes openness and uses it so brilliantly to draw from every corner of popular music, new and old, to make so rich a collection of songs and feelings – something is changing.
Openness is no longer a freak curiosity that leaves people shaking their heads, it is becoming its own movement, its own culture, it has its own ideology. And it is gripping the public imagination, spreading like a wildfire.
Watching months of political and presidential appearances, interviews and debates, nothing strikes me more than the fact that these people who we depend on to lead and protect us have been forced to tell just another kind of lie all the time, one after the other, day after day. We can't even begin to grasp what their truth it, we are not supposed to know.
We wonder what they really feel, really believe, are really like because we can see and feel that they are not open, they cannot and will not tell us the truth. They have embraced a system that compels them to be what they think we want them to be, rather than what they are.
When one or two of them – Trump and Sanders come to mind – break out of this hoary tradition and simple reveal themselves for better or worse; admit mistakes, change their minds, say outrageous and unscripted things, it is considered a kind of thrilling new truth and ideology all of its own, people revel in the relief of seeing a human being admit to being human. It is part of the new Openness Movement.
I don't wish to inflate my role in any of this, Beyonce has never heard of me or read my blog, but I like to think I am a pioneer in this movement. If my name will never be on any plaque, I take comfort at being ahead of the curve, for once in my life. The Internet is good to openness. In case you haven't noticed, there are no secrets any longer. We might as well tell the truth.
When I declared bankruptcy last August, I told my lawyer I had to write about it. I promised to be open, I said, when I started my blog. He paled and gulped. No, he said, that is never done, wait, and so I did. He made me fearful too.
But there is no hiding anymore, even if I wanted do. Anyone with a computer can have any detail of my life at any time, from a bankruptcy filing to a speeding ticket or unpaid bill decades old. Who are we kidding when we hide the truth about our lives? The secret is dead in our world, and it has taken privacy with it. I wrote about my bankruptcy in August, the world did not come crashing down on my head, I got tons of mail from people who had done the same thing.
There are lots of ways to look at this. One is to lament this loss of control, this loss of dignity and privacy and carefully polished illusions and images we like to create. The other is to embrace openness before it embraces you.
You can hit your head against a wall or you can go and walk around it.
Secrets want to be free, and the big movers and shakers of our culture like Beyonce are sparking a revolution in openness, she has taken a big sip of Lemonade. It is even infecting our political system.
There is something profoundly revolution and liberating about it. Beyonce has reminded me that it is part of my faith.