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 รจ 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.


  1. i found your blog. creepy but true...and funny.

  2. Your friend was right about that picture! Also, you should probably know that I accidentally just typed "you're." We can't all be awesome at everything. But luckily you are awesome at finding music and literature and sending it my way. That is all.

  3. I once had a teacher who said she didn't like music. She also had no soul. So you may be right on

  4. I might be so random even commenting, but music has always been very important to me. I think music does define you to some extent. I have songs that will always be my favorite and remind me of awesome memories. Good Charlotte will always remind me of when I met Tigh, classical music will always remind me how much I love playing my violin and cheesy 90s will always remind me of growing up in New Mexico. I think some people stick to one genre of music because it's what they understand and it's what speaks to them. Whereas, you are a very dynamic person and different genres speak to different parts of you. For me, classical music is what moves me. I work out to Yanni, run to Jon Schmidt and google classical variations more than I should. I heard a quote once that said, "If you are done changing, then you are done." I don't know who said it , or where it came from, but not being narrow-minded and stuck to one type allows you to not just enjoy one type, but to enjoy many different types. You aren't tossing one genre aside for another, which would most likely imply you aren't sure what your identity is. You are simply continually adding to your identity-- in this sense. I think your ability to appreciate different genres shows by itself that you really are, just as you said, awesome.
    - I know, I am cheesy, but I question these things, too! And, I am a total orchestra nerd.
    Ha anyway, nice blog post.I enjoyed reading it.

  5. Jaqueline pretty much took the words out of my mouth.
    I’ve been thinking about identity a lot lately as well and whether our actions and essence are truly as we perceive them or want them to be, or if they are indeed very different.
    It seems to me, though, that we are shaped as much, if not more, by what we aspire to be than by what we are at any given time. Whatever we do with our spare time, our hobbies, our taste in music –they are all reflections of what we desire to be and achieve. Our pursuits in leisure and industry must more accurately represent what we would hope to become, rather than what we are. Because we are dynamic beings, it would follow that ‘identity’ is a fluid term.
    I think there’s a lot of truth in what you said about music as a reflection of our identity. But it I think that eclectic taste is simply the mark of a dynamic, changing, progressive individual. Not so much an easily-swayed or inconsistent person. What we are becoming seems so much more important and interesting than how we define our identity at any given time. And I think that more clearly identifies a person.
    Just some thoughts.

    On a related note, thanks for being the soundtrack to my morning :)

  6. Here's my take. Generation Y has an eclectic music taste because it is the first generation that grew up with the internet in addition to the radio as a free source for music. You were not limited to what the radio stations chose to play. Also, you could enjoy all of the songs you liked without having to buy the whole album. For the first time, it was easy and relatively inexpensive to experience a large variety of good music. Good music can be found in every genre, and today it is easily accessible.

  7. I sometimes wonder how much music is a reflection of who we want to be, or how we want others to see us. Do people have "when others are in the car" playlists and "what I REALLY like to listen to" playlists? I don't know the answer to that.

    Also, while I think defining our identity is important, to what end is it important? Aside from the universal truths and ethical codes we each embody or strive for, does it really matter what we find in our identity search as long as we're able to use that identity in contributing positively to the world around us? Maybe it's not all about us as much as it's about everyone around us.