"I can't tell you anything but the truth." These words, sung by Jack Johnson in his latest studio album, To The Sea, define the ethos of a man born and raised in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
You could say it was a father's solo sail from California to Hawaii that opened his son's future fate and underpinned it with a personal mythology, but it was Jack's ability to learn his own lessons from life and the sea that birthed his astonishing alchemy of music and poetry.
Truth has found plenty of room to breathe in each of Jack's albums (and in all of his work, from surfing films to his nonprofit, the Kokua Hawaii Foundation), and it comes home to a deeper heart in To The Sea. Here, with his brothers in music - Adam Topol (drums), Merlo Podlewski (bass), and Zach Gill (piano and melodica) - he's on a journey to the center of himself, and to all of us.
It's a transformational crossing, a wide gyre (musically and lyrically) circling home. "You and your heart shouldn't feel so far apart," he sings in the album's opener ... and then:
Road signs were stolen Left here holding this flame Who stole my patience Who stole my way I'm lost I'm too tired to try
Jack is all about closing the distance, bridging the gap between who we are and the invisible stories that have shaped us. But even while his music is about bringing things together, he always seems aware of the larger truth:
You're so sweet to me In a world that's not always fair ... We could watch it from the clouds We can't stop it anyhow It's not ours
It's not ours ... and then there's the realization that all of this is transient, that this moment and this time will vanish from our lives as surely as our ancestors:
I don't want you to know Let's not go to sleep tonight It's not that it goes too fast It's just that it goes at all
Out there in the so-called real world, some things are inevitable:
These problems they breathe Their fire is real ... Even when you're asleep They'll be here still Breathing out or in
So the call is to dig deep, and then dig deeper:
Run my dear son We've got to get to the trees And then keep on going all the way ... We've got to get right down to the sea
"Water is the subconscious," says Jack, "and that water for me is the ocean. To get to the sea is being able to dig in and touch things that aren't on the surface. That reference - that ‘we've got to get to the sea' - is about a father leading his son to try to understand himself."
Inevitably, each of us is here to follow our own path, to discover the inner myths that have unconsciously formed us and framed our journey:
It said, shadows cut across the hero's face He falls from grace until a little bird sang ‘The truth is never ending we're just here pretending lets all laugh so that we don't cry' ...
Jack's music has a way of winning you over and bringing you back into yourself, which is to say that his music and lyrics have a universality. He's found a language that goes to the heart, borne on music that seems to bridge lost connections. If not exactly explaining, this effect at least points to his worldwide appeal and his way of bringing all sorts of people together. Jack Johnson's music is like something contagious that's also good for you.
So ... there's a myth about a young man who goes to sea, and he sails alone across the greatest ocean. He sails through storms. He catches fish, he learns to navigate by the stars ... he comes to Hawaii ... and he has a son, and the son, too, goes to the sea ... again and again, following and leading ... into the present ... into the very real and unknown.
I can't tell you anything but the truth. What is this place? Who am I? Why did we come here? I don't know. But I don't know that we're meant to know.