In the present day, what confronts us is the need to seek what lies beneath the surface, and even then, we seem to underestimate what that really means. Although preceded by a culture of silence, the current generation has shown no hesitation in initiating pertinent conversations. However, we are still far from the destination we may envisage.
The decision to travel towards discomfort is not an easy one; yet it still feels as if there is more required of us. As a result, there is often a failure to see how much of the initial stages of anything are mostly chaotic, requiring us to shed and keep shedding, with no guarantee of light or improved identity afterward.
Singer and songwriter Leon John understands the risk of this natural phenomenon in his latest project, License to Feel, which explores themes of love, loss, growth, identity, and more. In a heightened state of confrontation and contemplation of surroundings and self, John, like many of us, begins to dream in questions and harrowingly realizes that things are not quite as they seem.
(Source via @theleonjohn Instagram)
Much of this project feels like an ode to the inherent lack of control that comes with vulnerability. Leon John, instead of applying a formulaic perspective to both his experiences and healing, quite literally falls and allows both himself and us, as his audience, to hear the echoes of what is beyond the superficial.
Our first encounter with Leon's ties to the past and disillusionment is through the album cover, a recreation of one of his childhood images, but John here is older. What we witness here is a strong pull of what the inner child and the adult have to talk about. John is intentional in how he shows us that there are clear conversations that need to be had here.
(Source: via @theleonjohn Instagram)
Following that, we travel into a deeper and somewhat darker room with John as he contemplates clinging to and being conditioned by his parents in the song Lies. When considering sequencing, Leon places the song second on the album and this somewhat strengthens the core message as one moves further into the album. If we start by realizing that the world we thought existed no longer exists, where do we go from there?
As Leon John delivers this song, he seems to be awakened, as one would assume that, as an adult, he has come to understand that life’s simplicity, the world, and his place in it are not as they were sold to the younger John.
How is it I have all these degrees, but still, I have to beg for a job? You said that I could be anything if I worked myself enough.
A lyrical repetition conveys to us the feeling of a back-and-forth movement, away from what was supposed to be, and into what is. In response to disillusionment, John repeats, "You told me lies, you told me lies," and what is interesting about Leon's use of this device is how confrontational and bold it is. This plays into the reality that when thinking about parent-child relationships, there is often a low probability that such a conversation can occur.
This opens the discussion about how unpacking and healing are often ways of giving oneself a voice and space that they did not have before. The purpose of this may not be for John to be soothed by mama and papa, but rather to get something off his chest, in some vacuum he has created for himself, that will allow him to move forward.
The Burden of Knowing
Like John in this song, many people are in a contemplative state. As the world moves too fast or too slowly, we are having to rethink the meaning of many things, including time, society’s politics, effort, worth, the work of our hands, and how we fit into the bigger picture of where the world is going.
I wish I’d known that life could be so cruel.
Rightfully so, we are seeking to cultivate inner and outer worlds that are intentional and that nourish both us and those around us and yet, in the process of that; we are also faced with the discomfort of undoing realities and versions of ourselves we, mostly, had identified with and had not felt the need to change. The question then becomes “Who am I, really, outside of influence?” and we open ourselves up to interrogate our ideas of a good life and sense of self and to whom those ideas and lives belong to.
What is to be appreciated most about John’s project is how it charges into this discomfort, in a way that offers no solution, just a place. A place perhaps we all need to scream, kick, shout, and maybe dance when the music finds us beneath the rubble of silence and darkness. Leon brings forth his and our innermost conflictions and says there is beauty in the vastness of dissonance.
Radical acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is. A moment of radical acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom - Tara Brach
In what is the last song on License to Feel, Leon pulls us into this acceptance, by delivering a lively, upbeat song titled What a Life. Although highly energetic, it addresses the burden of knowing and here; we gather we may be wiser, but we are no happier, and yet this doesn’t entirely mean the end of us. It is the ebb and flow of the life we live, and no one really knows much about living it “right”. Maybe facing it head-on with or without the fear is one fair way to do it, but regardless, John shows us that there is peace in truth, and there is much to build from nothingness.