A recent article about Chuck Berry in Rolling Stone gave me hope we can see a renewed commitment to truth in journalism. Certainly what’s happened in mainstream media in the last year has been unsettling. Reading this article showed me that, despite the challenges of weaving together the extreme highs and lows of Berry’s life, the author, Mikal Gilmore, was committed to delivering honest truths about the “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.”
As a true fan of Chuck Berry’s music, I was surprised that not more was made of his passing. Particularly since many consider him a – if not the – founder of rock and roll. I waited a few weeks for an in-depth article and got lucky. Gilmore’s was so rich I read it twice, the second time to drink in the power of the piece. I also wanted to confirm my feelings about the author’s objectives.
What struck me the second time through was this: Gilmore invested heavily in presenting an honest account of Berry’s life. It was a mission really, not only to eulogize the energy, talent and impact of one of the most influential musician-singer-songwriters of the 20th century, but to show Berry’s achievements right along with his sometimes pathological behavior – hence, the truth.
I’m sure Gilmore battled with himself over how much of each side of the story to tell. For me, the hard work paid off. He applauds the genius of the rock star and reminds us of the all-too-human nature of the man. He aligns Chuck Berry’s twin realities. In his closing, Gilmore reveals his own struggle with this full-bodied commemoration of the “father of rock.” “In the end, there was only one of him, monumental in his beauty and transgression, in his creation and fall.”
Balancing facts to state the truth is hard work, with possibly dire consequences.
After reading so much about Berry the man, I did quite a bit of soul searching. Could I still love and enjoy his music after learning about his indiscretions, errors and even crimes? I have to say I do and always will. To me, in the light of the truth, Berry’s art seems all the more important.
We can overthink topics we’re passionate about, but this story convinced me we can travel a new high road in journalism despite the complexity of our times. If Gilmore can deliver this much truth in his commemoration and still paint a glowing but honest picture of Berry, we should all commit to accomplish the same thing.
We need to make truth in journalism our renewed mission. It will take a little hard work – but the world really needs it. – LANGSTON