Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy reflect on civil discourse and the limits of human understanding

This evening Mr Neff and I ate dinner to the music of Mavis Staples in her new album, You Are Not Alone, produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame, who also wrote two of the songs.

Earlier in the day we'd been talking about Alan Jacobs' article in Big Questions Online, "The Online State of Nature."  Jacobs, a professor of English at Wheaton College, asks (quoting Thomas Hobbes): "Why has Internet discourse devolved into a 'war of every man against every man'?"

Well, Mavis and Jeff have a song for that.  It's called "Only the Lord Knows," and you can watch a version of it here.

Here's the refrain:
What can you do, what can you do when you can't trust
Anybody to tell you the truth?
Can't trust him, can't trust her - what to do, what to do now?
Only the Lord knows, and he ain't you.
"That's a wonderful example of epistemological humility," said Mr Neff.

Took the words right out of my mouth.

Though I've been in love with Mavis Staples ever since she teamed up with Aretha Franklin in "Oh Happy Day" in the late 80s, and with Jeff Tweedy ever since I met him, his wife, and their toddler son eating celery sticks backstage after a Wilco concert in the mid 90s, I would never have thought of putting them together. Two years ago, however, Tweedy joined a small audience as Staples recorded a live album, and two weeks after that, Tweedy and Staples did lunch.

The resulting album, the one we listened to tonight, was released this week, and it's a match made in heaven. Maybe literally. You can read positive reviews in the Chicago Tribune, Paste Magazine, Rolling Stone, and even Christianity Today. Or you can watch Staples and Tweedy chat. Or, of course, you can just download the album and enjoy the whole thing beginning five minutes from now.

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