Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Sunset, Music, and Identity. Oh and Also Johnny Cash.

So on the drive back from Provo to Bluffdale this evening I saw the most incredible sunset. I'd have taken a picture, but I was driving. But really, it was amazing. Luckily the traffic wasn't too heavy so I was able to watch as the sun's rays illuminated the golden clouds against on the darkening blue sky. The scene was made doubly beautiful because the whole scene was reflected over the lake, which reflection was visible even from the freeway. During the drive I watched as the clouds went from gold to orange to pink to purple, each shade and hue blending seamlessly into the next in an endless palate of color. Again, words and language fail to really illuminate the beauty of the scene, but they'll have to suffice for now.

But this post isn't supposed to be about the sunset, it's about music.

While I was enjoying the sunset the following songs (my iPod was set to shuffle through the whole library) played in this order:

Is There A Ghost - Band of Horses (best summertime-drive-fast-down-a-lonely-road song ever)

Rhapsody On a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 18: Andante Cantabile - Rachmaninoff (just the 18th variation and just the first 3 minutes of the video below)

Flamenco Sketches - Miles Davis (left me feeling Kind of Blue)

No Cars Go - Arcade Fire (another great summertime song)

I Love You Always Forever - Donna Lewis (I'm a romantic at heart and I secretly love this song. I know it's corny, and think less of me if you will, but there it is. Also, I know the video here is super cheesy, but the youtube machine won't let me embed the official video.)

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet - BTO (yep)

Over the Rainbow - Eva Cassidy (sweet merciful, that voice)

Strawberry Swing - Coldplay (this song has been coming up a lot lately when my iPod is set to random)

Variations on a Theme of Paganini - Rachmaninoff (yeah, the full thing this time, not just the 18th. Funny coincidence.)

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini took me to the driveway where I parked and I sat in the car listening until the piece was over. I was sitting there in the driveway for a good 12 minutes after I'd parked, and it was 12 wonderful minutes.

If you listened/watched all of those videos I'm impressed; I didn't expect you to. If you didn't, well, there you go.

Now I don't mean this post to be one of those, "hey look at me and my diverse music collection. I'm awesome!" type of posts. Not at all in fact. Rather, as I was driving down I-15 listening to this music and viewing this amazing sunset I was pondering to myself the question of identity as it relates to music. Identity is something that I've been thinking a lot about lately. I like to think about what aspects of our lives are true markers of who we are at our very core, and what aspects of our lives we think are the true markers of who we are. Sometimes the two coincide, but not as often as I think we might like to believe.

Speaking of this, I was once told by a good friend that this picture of me explained, for her, my character entirely. The very essence of who I am, Samuel James Dunn, Esq., the whole package deal, is here all wrapped up neatly with a bow on top (or rather a small child's stocking cap). I'm not sure what was meant by that statement, nor do I think I agree with it entirely, but it's interesting to think about.

A thorough discussion of identity and what aspects of our lives really make up who we are could be the subject of many, many volumes. That said, it's often told that the music we listen to is one of these defining markers. Now I don't claim to be any kind of expert on philosophical identity as demonstrated by music, far from it, but the idea is an interesting one to play with.

For a long time people only really listened to one genre of music. That's not to say that there weren't different genres, but each person typically would listen to one kind of music and that would suffice. I'm sure there was crossover, but doubt it was ever very drastic. The kind of music that you listened to was a tale-tell sign of who you were. The kinds of interests you had, what you liked to do in your spare time and the kinds of people you liked to associate with could all be surmised if you told someone what kind of music you liked to listen to. This was a true statement until Generation Y -- my generation -- came around.

One of the distinguishing features of Generation Y is its eclectic taste in music. While here above we have just a small sampling of what I listen to, if I had continued with this exercise I'm sure that I'd have gotten a taste of Duran Duran, The Avett Brothers, Diana Krall, Garth Brooks, Neutral Milk Hotel and Shostakovitch, to name a few. My music taste is spread across the map. So what does that say about my character and my identity? I could just say that I'm great because I'm able to appreciate such diversity, but I'm not sure that's an entirely accurate summation. And some of the questions that have arisen on the subject aren't entirely flattering.

If music is a marker of identity, but my taste in music in indefinable, does that mean that, my character is likewise indefinable and I don't have a handle on who I am? Am I easily swayed by every wind of music because I have no firm, anchored sense of identity? Or, on a slightly more positive note, am I just the physical embodiment of the hodge-podge, melting pot America that we always hear so much about? Perhaps something else altogether. Do I yearn for acceptance so badly that I shape my tastes, and thus my identity, to fit into any societal situation in chameleon-like fashion? Is it just that I've been raised in a cultural time period that refuses to see the world as black and white, good and bad in any aspect and so I feel incapable of passing such harsh judgment on any kind of music.

Frankly I'm not sure I can fully support any of these propositions, but I think they might all have at least a hint of truth to them. I think I have a pretty good handle on who I am; like I said the question of identity is one I think about a lot and I've come to some conclusions about myself. But the question remains, how exactly does my musical taste inform my identity? Or perhaps more importantly, does it at all? Has all this contemplation just been an exercise in futility?

This is something I'm probably going to have to keep thinking about, and I welcome any input on the matter. For now, though, there is one thing I do know for sure: the sunset today was phenomenal. Also, despite all the music I've been listening to today, I've had "Ring of Fire" stuck in my head ever since dinner yesterday thanks to Lee and Melanie.

Addendum as of 8:40 a.m. 8/23/11:

I wrote all that about identity and such last night before I fell asleep. This morning as I came back to Provo from Bluffdale, and as my iPod went from "Return to Innocence" by Enigma to "La Donna è Mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto as performed by Pavarotti, and then to "Stand" by R.E.M., I decided that my basic assumption that music inflects character wasn't entirely accurate, and that I'm just awesome.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


It's currently one o'clock in the a.m. I'm not feeling super hot...

No, that's not entirely true; let's begin again (pronounced uh-gayne).

It's currently one oh eight in the ɛɚ̯ em (am), and I am simultaneously super hot and not feeling all that well. I came home from work today and 1- drank a quart and a half of gatorade then 2- slept for about three hours. After which time I 3-woke up and 4- ate a package of Ramen. I then 5- turned on a little Thelonious Monk while I 6- read What the Dog Saw on our new and extremely uncomfortable couches. While reading, I 7- fell asleep yet again until I 8- woke up thanks to Seth and co.'s entrance. Shortly thereafter, I 9- watched Danny Kaye in The Court Jestor and 10- laughed myself silly. I felt certain that steps 1-10 would help me feel a bit better, but instead they have merely left me unable to sleep. So I'm lying in bed with a cold, a headache, and a hope that blogging will invite the sandman. (Who gets a cold in August? I mean really.)

But all of this is beside the point that I'm trying to make here. That point is this: Borders is closing.

*moment of silence*

Borders has been one of my sweet havens that I run to when I need an escape. Something about the smell of the coffee and being surrounded by some of the finest written word the English-speaking world has produced fills me with a sense of belonging, of security and warmth that is difficultly found. I won't overly-romanticize the situation by not acknowledging the presence of some of the trashiest and kitschy-est works produced as well (how do people get their Pride and Prejudice fan fictions published?), but you have to take the good with the bad; that's life.

I have spent countless hours in the Provo Borders reading and perusing anything that struck my fancy. One evening a couple summers ago I went there fully intent on not leaving until I understood the hype about Orwell's 1984; I ended up leaving two hours and 50 pages later, bleary-eyed and completely nonplussed; I still don't get it. (Can you use two semicolons in one sentence? Because I just did.) There was the Saturday morning I spent scads of time looking through art books full of everything from mannerism to pointillism to Banksy. Last summer I spent several days on the Percy Jackson and Hunger Games series when I desperately needed something popcorn-y that wasn't too intellectually stimulating. Whenever I needed an emotional release I went and pored over any and all of the poetry I could get my hands on, glorying in the simple beauty of Collins, reveling in the imagery of Hardy, tapping my foot to the rhythm of Hughes and wondering why more people didn't read Cavafy. (While on the topic of Cavafy, sometimes I want to learn Greek to read his original work and not just translations) I went to Borders on numerous occasions to study for the GRE. There was the terrifying evening when I woke up completely disoriented and unaware of where I was; only after taking several deep breaths and finding a copy of Maus in my lap did I realize I had fallen asleep at Borders. I even considered applying for a job there at one point.

I could continue on reminiscing about the time I've spent at Borders (like the afternoon I dedicated to reading a reference book about Yiddish words and phrases that have been adopted into English) but I think this suffices.

People will probably think it's strange that I've grown so attached so some cold, nationwide chain-of-a-bookstore, especially after the thorough criticizing and reviling that such stores received in You've Got Mail, but I will be genuinely sad to see Borders close its doors for the last time.

...I've been laying here in my bed staring at that last sentence I just wrote for several minutes now thinking about its implications, and I've had a bit of a paradigm shift. Yes it's sad, but at the same time I'm now being afforded the opportunity to go find a new shelter from the storm. I'm being given the opportunity to go out and find a new place of comfort and reflection. Hopefully the journey to find it will be an adventure worthy of Ithaca.

I think I'll set off tomorrow, assuming my headache is gone and this cold has run its course by then.