There’s a freedom in not fitting in, says Michael Hayman.
This piece originally appeared in Country and Town House
A ‘musical weirdo’ is how Vice magazine described Beatie Wolfe. But if you listen to her music, or experience her groundbreaking work, it’s likely you might use words like ‘amazing’ or ‘incredible’, instead.
It turns out that musical weirdo is about the only label Beatie is prepared to use to describe who she is and what she does. For her message is this: be yourself. Don’t let the need to typecast or stereotype put you in any given box. Create, don’t conform.
It makes me think about the age-old question: ‘What do you do?’. It’s one many find increasingly hard to answer and one that I always feel very limited by. But don’t mistake the freedom of not fitting in as a proxy for opting out. This year, Beatie played and spoke at the inaugural Nobel Prize Summit and is one of nine female innovators deemed ‘impossible to ignore’ by the United Nations.
Pioneering new sounds and ways of consuming music that bridge the digital and the physical worlds, she’s beamed her tunes into space, created a wearable record jacket, and co-founded a research project looking into the power of music for people living with dementia.
The late neurologist Oliver Sacks has influenced her thinking. He wrote that: ‘Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear.’ Orange Juice for the Ears is thus the title of Beatie’s 2019 documentary commissioned by the Barbican.
She also cites Mother Nature as her inspiration and uses the words of William Blake that ‘nature is imagination itself’. And for her it is in nature that we can find joy, happiness and meaning. Because it’s the thing that makes us real. That means a rethink about life and its direction of travel to find rhythm and connection, not rules or certainties.
Her quote for life belongs to Jim Henson (aka Kermit the Frog):
‘As you start travelling down that road of life, remember this: There are never enough comfort stops. The places you’re going to are never on the map. And once you get that map out, you won’t be able to refold it no matter how smart you are. So forget the map, roll down the windows, and whenever you can, pull over and have a picnic with a pig.’
After my chat with Beatie I left feeling that even a picnic with a pig might not be a weird thing to do.