Remaking Our Songs and Ourselves
Will Toledo — of solo-artist-turned-band Car Seat Headrest — recorded and released Twin Fantasy in 2011. He was a college student with few resources, going through a break-up, and the album was his outlet. He drew the cover art himself. He released it on Bandcamp.
- “Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh” — Bright Eyes
- “My Boy — Twin Fantasy (Original)” — Car Seat Headrest
- “A Little Light” — Sturgill Simpson
- “Po’ Folks” — Nappy Roots (w/ Anthony Hamilton)
- “Venom” — Little Simz
- “The Mighty” — Sweet Spirit
- “Becoming All Alone” — Regina Spektor
- “Time Walk” — Bnny
- “Aurora Borealis” — Meat Puppets
- ”Cornbread and Butterbeans” — Carolina Chocolate Drops
- “I Live in the Mess You Are” — Mountain Time
- “I Against I” — Massive Attack (w/ Mos Def)
- “Cats Van Bags” — Atmosphere
- “A Real Thing” — The Beths
- “Texas Hold-Up” — Prince Buster
- “A Little Light (Bluegrass Version)” — Sturgill Simpson
- “My Boy — Twin Fantasy (New Version)” — Car Seat Headrest
- “Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh (Companion Version)” — Bright Eyes (w/ Phoebe Bridgers)
It became a cult independent hit. And, in 2018, Toledo tried it again.
He didn’t remaster it. He didn’t remix it. He totally re-recorded Twin Fantasy, remaking it completely — leaving the lo-fi echos of 2012 in the past, opting for a more clean 2018 sound. In the end, it was the same artist and the same songs, but a completely different record.
With that, an artifact of the early Bandcamp era was reimagined, and in doing so it fulfilled a desire that many of us have when we look back on our lives: what can we do to fix our past mistakes? What can we do to present ourselves in a way that brings better results?
Where Toledo went for a reimagining, Connor Oberst — of another solo-artist-turned-band, Bright Eyes — didn’t want to fix his past. His late–90s albums (A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995–1997; Letting Off the Happiness; Fevers and Mirrors) were slight and powerful — a wavering voice placed over sweet and complex midwest emo. They are a snapshot of a specific time and a specific movement. Instead of wiping out the past, Oberst has embraced the past through these remakes, releasing them side-by-side as a kind of spectrum of growth and change.
Is the past always worth fixing? Is there any good that comes from trying to wash over something that might hold significance for its rough edges?
Of course, this betrays our assumption is that remaking is the same as reinventing — that one replaces the other, rather than providing a new look at a familiar frame. In this way, the remake itself has little to do with the final product, and everything to do with the intent of the final product.
Because, let’s be honest: all of us, at some point in our lives, have reinvented ourselves. We have changed our style. We have decided to take something more seriously (or less seriously). We have hidden from our past selves, erased it from our personality. Maybe it’s something small — admitting to ourselves that never actually liked what we liked as a kid.
Maybe it’s life-changing.
Reinvention happens for a lot of reasons. We’re not happy with who we were — or, who we were never represented who we really are. Our old self represented someone else’s control, and reinvention gives us the power to be ourselves. We want to forget the past, because the past wasn’t us.
This is all progress. We are all different people at different points in our lives, and we learn from each of the personalities we work with. The mistakes we made, the challenges we faced, the success we achieved — these are steps toward who we are now, and sometimes those mistakes still hurt and sometimes they’re embarrassing and sometimes they affect us in a way that forces us to shed skin and reinvent. But they’re all part of a longer road, and they all help us navigate whatever we’re doing now.
I look back at my life a lot, because my mind won’t let anything go. I look back in a “nearly had a panic attack because I remembered how I almost crashed a roommate’s car in 2000” kind of way. In a “still remembering the stone silence I was met with when I made a joke at a conference in 2012” kind of way. I think about how I might fix these situations, when in fact there’s nothing to fix. These small issues don’t register: beyond my head, they’ve been forgotten, completely. They no longer exist, with the exception of those sudden late-night memories.
There’s nothing to fix, because we can’t fix the past. Those horses are already let loose. There’s no going back.
But that’s not the point. It’s not about fixing the past. It’s not about touching up a coat of paint, but instead about navigating and accepting something deeper. Gaining ownership of a past mistake, or pulling some of that old magic into the current world.
We hear other people’s remakes — their reinventions — and we think about how it affects us. About how we like the old version better, or how this feels like a fight for relevancy or attention. We don’t typically know much of the background. We don’t think about how the reinvention affects them. About how it helps them live better. To breathe easy.
Change is good. And that’s not even the point, because the original is still there. Instead, we get a chance to live both lives: to understand where we come from while also making allowances for who we’ve become. Now that know how to connect to that past. Now that we’ve figured out how to finish it.