As of my writing this, we have done one song each from the top three albums on Billboard’s Holiday Albums chart. For today, then, we have album #4, Darius Rucker’s, Home for the Holidays. The album peaked at #2, however, so let’s take its 2nd song today: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” (Warning for Originalists: Rucker sings the happy line, not the sad line.)
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was originally sung by Judy Garland in the intriguingly-odd Meet Me in St. Louis. In the movie — during an absolutely heart-breaking scene — Ms. Garland sings:
Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow
Sinatra asked the song’s lyricist, Hugh Martin, to change the line, and that’s how we ended up with “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”
Sinatra, however, was evidently just carrying on a tradition of telling Martin that the song was too depressing, and he needed to change the lyrics. The original lyrics were even more . . . sobering. So, here’s the question: Is it even the same song anymore?
There’s an ancient philosophical puzzle called “The Ship of Theseus.” Imagine you are in a boat carrying lumber. As you sail along, you find yourself having to constantly replace pieces of the ship with new pieces made from the lumber you’re carrying. By the time you reach your destination, in fact, you’ve had to replace every single piece of the ship. So, is the ship you arrive in the same as the ship you left in? It has completely different parts. Does that make it a completely different whole?
With “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” we might say it’s the same song because only the lyrics were changed, while the melody remained the same. People often say something similar about humans. Even though every cell in your body supposedly gets replaced every seven years (I’ve never bothered to check if that’s actually a fact), your mind or soul remains the same throughout. So, you’re the same person now because a part of you has been the same the whole time.
Other people, of course, will say that because your body is always changing, your soul isn’t just a part of you. Your soul is you. But, then again, some people say there’s no such thing as souls.
So, what do you think? Are you the same being (the same whole thing) as you were seven years ago, even if all your parts are different now? Or do you need one part to be the same the whole way through? Or is that “one part” (your mind/soul) actually the whole you, with all the changing “parts” (your body) being more like clothes that your true self has been wearing and changing?
The Hidden Track
Q: What kind of philosophy were we doing today?
A: Mereology, Philosophy of Mind.
Continue your investigation at:
- The links above.
- “Personal Identity” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
- “Ship of Theseus” (Wikipedia)
- Ship of Theseus (I’ve never seen it, but it looks interesting)