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Does the truth matter anymore?

It's been a week since the 49ers trounced Kansas City in the Super Bowl, and ... What's that, you say? The 49ers lost? Are you sure about that?

Probably, because yes, that's what happened. Kansas City won. But during the halftime show, something happened that reminded you to be wary of the Official Record.

Alicia Keys, standing at an absurd piano that looked like Godzilla's red shellacked tongue, fracked the first few notes when she sang. You can certainly understand why. Imagine you're performing live in front of 123 million people. I'd be so terrified I'd have to pretend I was improvising a commercial for Depends.

But here's the thing: When the performance was uploaded to YouTube, the notes were corrected. She sang perfectly.

This is literally Orwellian. This is the alteration of reality to supplant something real and imperfect with a version that never happened. Tell someone that she hit a wrong note, and they'll say, "Prove it!" OK, let me find it on YouTube ... except all the imperfect versions on YouTube are gone.

At this point you might nod, and say, "It's all a plot. It's like insisting the Fruit of the Loom logo never had a cornucopia."

That's the "Mandela Effect," of course. You swear a memory about the culture is true — the spelling of Berenstein Bears (it's really Berenstain) or the existence of a movie called "Shazam" starring Sinbad (there was no such movie) or that Nelson Mandela died in prison (that was a mistake spread by comedian Howie Mandel) or that Fruit of the Loom had a cornucopia in the label. It did not. You can check old ads and commercials.

Well, you say, there's a theory that says our entire civilization was reset in the early '80s by demonic overlords, our memories wiped and implanted with false memories, but the process was imperfect and some vestiges of the old true ways remain. That could be it. Or you did a lot of weed in college.

I'm not worried that the Alicia Off-Keys instance will join the Mandela examples, but I'm worried it'll be accepted and everyone will shrug. Who cares? We'd all like a do-over. AI will be smart enough in a year so we can go back to our family videos and correct them as we like. If enough people think Bogart said "Play it again, Sam" — he didn't — why not use AI to make him say it?

Because it didn't happen.

If anyone asks me what my favorite performance of Grieg's piano concerto might be — and believe me, that comes up all the time — I'd have to say Leon Fleisher with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. It has a spectacular mistake. The end of the 1st movement's cadenza has a long series of rolling chords that end in a rumble on the low notes, and Fleisher played them all at once in a sound that made you think the piano was dealing with the aftermath of a burrito.

It was like something from a Warner Brothers cartoon, with Tom the cat at the piano, holding up his hands to find his fingers all tied together. It's like he played the notes with his forehead.

(Oh no, you say, Tom was MGM. Reeaaallly? You sure about that?)

Point is, I've heard a dozen versions of the concerto, and that one sticks out because it's real. It's human. I've no idea if the mistake was a sign of the neurological condition that would make Fleisher's right hand inert a few years after the 1960 recording, or if it was a stylistic choice. Or he just blew it.

I'm sure AI could perfectly match his style and make it sound like Leonard Bernstein. But imperfection is human. People make mistakes. Singers blow a note. The wrong notes make you appreciate the ones we get right.

Yes, it's a small thing in the grand scope and sweep of humanity, but truth matters. We live in an age when the generally-agreed-upon truths have diminished to "water is wet" and little else. One day you accept that Keys probably meant to sing those notes, so it doesn't matter if the video's changed; the next day you're fine with a politician's speech adjusted by AI to edit his remarks for "clarification purposes." The end result is not suspicion and alienation, but something worse: resignation and indifference.

That said, there was a cornucopia, and WE ALL KNOW IT.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lilek