Rather than subjecting readers to Derek Parfit’s (1942-2017) Reasons and Persons (1984) or three volumes of On What Matters (2011), one can read a Nautilus article by Alisa Opar, or the following summary, if that is still too long: a human being is not a consistent identity moving through time, but a chain of successive selves, each linked to, but distinct from previous and subsequent ones. Procrastination is a mechanism to postpone a jump into a new state, with its new self identity.
One of the major problems with visiting previous selves, is that one is dependent on memory. Daniel Schacter (1952 – ) asserts in The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers (2001) that “memory’s malfunctions can be divided into seven fundamental transgressions or ‘sins’.” Sins of omission are the result of a failure to recall an idea, fact or event. They involve transience, absent-mindedness and blocking. With sins of commission, there is a form of memory present, but lacking the desired fidelity. These involve misattribution, suggestibility, bias and persistence.
Because of these sins, I cannot revisit my self of, for example, 1962. In terms of musical taste, I suspect it involved The Highwaymen, not the later supergroup, but a Wesleyan University group that came to prominence with their 1961 hit, Michael Row the Boat Ashore. This music was melodic. Conveniently, I try to forget that I also listened to assorted LPs of Scottish music, bought by my father, Edgar McLellan (1906 – 1991), or that I attended ballroom dancing lessons that same year, that featured the forgettable Twist. Unfortunately, I have been unable to morph my memories of the Twist into a more socially acceptable Tango. Since then, and in different ways, I have sought out non-melodious music. This does not mean that music has to be discordant or grating.
First Aid Kit = Johanna (1990 – ) and Klara Söderberg (1993 – ), produce and perform melodic music, with Emmylou (2012) a typical example. In addition to the musical attributes they demonstrate, their stage presence also projects an assortment of conservative Scandinavian values. Fast forward from 2012 to 2021, and one finds a very different pair of sisters in an interview with Alexandra Pollard. It begins with a comment about their Women’s Day (2017-03-08) “three-and-a-half minute cry of pure rage.” It is still far too melodic for my current musical taste, but at least it is political. In both this track and the interview, they tell the world they are no longer conforming, polite girls, but – to use their term – angry, feminist bitches. In both forums, they display their ability to swear. They are doing what people do, inventing new selves.
The First Aid Kit album Who by Fire (2017) is a tribute to Leonard Cohen (1934 – 2016). Commenting on Cohen’s relationship with his Norwegian born muse Marianne Ihlen (1935 – 2016), they began to realised how problematic the ‘muse’ concept is. Being a muse is much like being a housekeeper. They further note that women are generally expected to be role models – princesses and angels, whose jagged edges have been sanded smooth. They, themselves, are expected to be accommodating and nice, even if it comes at the expense of their own comfort.
Unlike the 400 m long container ship Ever Given (completed 2018 – ), First Aid Kit may find it hard to change direction in mid-channel. Listeners have expectations and the music they choose represents part of their current identity. A musician cannot expect their listeners, sometimes known as fans, to shift direction in tact with themselves. However, they may attract new listeners, with different values and expectations.
Greta Thunberg (2003 – ), with her autism diagnosis, may experience less of a need to reinvent herself than the Söderberg sisters. Her diagnosis probably means that she finds it more difficult to hide her current personality behind a veil of politeness. If she decides that she is not going to fly, she is not going to fly. One can argue that sailing across the Atlantic is at least as environmentally damaging as flying across. She will express her truths, as she experiences them.
This weblog post started out very differently. It was initially about Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941), who died eighty years before the date of publication (1941-03-28). In an article about Woolf and music, Emma Sutton writes: “… [Woolf’s] extraordinary experimental uses of narrative perspective, repetition and variation derive from her close study of particular musical works and specific musical forms. Music provided Woolf (and other modernists including James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and Katherine Mansfield) with a vocabulary to imagine and describe their creative practice and formal innovations. Woolf, for instance, compares her diary writing to a pianist practising their scales. She describes her reading as a process of “tuning up” for her writing ….”
Sutton also states that the creativity of composers has also benefited from the reading of Woolf, and refers specifically to Dominick Argento’s (1927 – 2019) song cycle, From the Diary of Virginia Woolf (1974), Max Richter’s (1966 – ) music for the 2015 ballet Woolf Works, as well as a recent announcement that composer Thea Musgrave (1928 – ) is writing an Orlando inspired opera.
I am still unable to know the frequency at which new selves emerge, or the degree to which music inspires the creation of new selves. While music is influential in my life, technological innovations are even more important, especially miniaturization, but that will have to be a topic for yet another weblog post.