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Biography:

Justin Vernon is an American folk-indie musician who has founded and contributed to many music projects, and has become an international success as a unique singer-songwriter. He was born on April 30, 1981, in Eau Clair, a town of 60,000 in Wisconsin. To cure his boredom, he began learning to play the guitar when he was thirteen, and soon began to devout all of his time to music. He had a very normal childhood in a suburb area, yet was tempted to move out of the area and escape as soon as he could to.
In high school and early college, he founded his first bands, Mount Vernon and DeYarmond Edison. Although he was successful in Wisconsin, he decided to move to Raleigh, North Carolina with his band, in hopes of achieving fame among a more widespread audience. The move was detrimental to the band, and they broke up soon after their move. Vernon then faced a series of struggles, such as family tension, a serious break-up with his seven year long girlfriend, and illness. With these unfortunate developments, Vernon decided to move back to Wisconsin and spend a year in a cabin in the woods to contemplate his recent life changes alone. This time consequently became a time of reflection in which Vernon wrote songs in complete seclusion, and found relief in music. Over the past decade he has worked hard, being a member of seven bands as well as a solo career, and has developed a unique music style with his recognizable falsetto voice and guitar skills.

Trait Perspective:

The Trait and Skills approach is able to simplify personality to basic dimensions that effectively look at consistency within personality. This approach is able to broaden common characteristics, and create an applicable assessment based on a person’s underlying behaviors. The trait approach began with Hippocrates’ bodily humors, and developed with Darwin’s belief in the importance of scientific study of an individual’s differences. Later, the Modern Trait Approach developed to make it possible to analyze broad dispositions in the study of personality.
Raymond B. Cattell was among the first psychologists to utilize factor analysis, by creating the 16 Personality Factors Questionnaire (16PF), which looked at correlations between different traits and adjectives. He developed a spectrum that would compare primary factors, where one could be on opposite ends of a particular trait. Looking at some of these factors, Justin Vernon can be seen as high on abstractedness, since he is often imaginative and absorbed in unconventional ideas with his music, composing out-of-the-box ambiance and discord. Vernon uses many unique guitar harmonics, and has a vast amount of dissonance in his chords that are strangely attractive to the ear. Analyzing another one of these factors, dominance, it can be seen that Vernon is more humble than assertive, since he has received awards and greater fame, such as with his collaboration with Kanye West in “Lost in the World”, yet is gracious and modest with the recognition.
The unique qualities in personality were further developed by Gordon Allport, who believed that personality included a dynamic organization of behavior and thought that represented the real self, or propium. He looked at the core of personality, and by ideographic methods tried to see the distinctive traits of personality, categorizing them into common traits, cardinal dispositions, and central dispositions. The Big Five factor model was influenced by this and broadly analyzes some vital personality characteristics. Looking at these dimensions, Justin Vernon can be seen to fit some domains more than others. In the extroversion category, Vernon can presently be seen as high. He has been very assertive in being the main contributor and leader in the bands which he has developed, especially Bon Iver. His period of depression however had much less extroversion, since he was in seclusion and had little sociability. His extroversion is therefore seen with his dominance and leadership of the band, and the fact that he often organizes many well-known players to help write many harmonies for the band, such as Colin Stetson who contributes to the band Arcade Fire, and Greg Leisz, a famous pedal-steel guitarist. In the agreeableness category Vernon is relatively high, often noted as being very modest and trustworthy by anyone who has worked with him. His strong contribution to the band Gayngs, which is a super group collaboration of twenty-five musicians, shows his agreeableness when among various opinions, especially with controversies that arose in songs such as “The Gaudy Side of Town” where there was strong debate among band member over some rhythms at the start of the song. Vernon is relatively central in the conscientiousness category, due to his impulsive nature and need for new experiences with music. His primary band, Bon Iver, tends to tour little, due to Vernon’s struggle for balance with his personal life and his struggle to focus on one music project at a time. He has however been persistent in his music career and is hardworking and diligent to every project he is part of. Resultingly Vernon is high in neuroticism, and he is easily enthralled in anxiety over his desires to succeed and achieve perfection. He has gone through periods of depression, which is reflected in his album For Emma, Forever Ago, which he notes in the Alternative Music magazine interview as “A portrait of seven years of my life, and how it unfolded in the end. It was a long bottoming out – a really long, grey period.” The songs therefore often express his vulnerability in life situations. The last dimension is openness, which Vernon is incredibly high in due to the imagination and curiosity he has in exploring different realms of music, especially with difficult collaborations in the rock genre and rap genre, which are very different from his expected musical style, showing his incredible creativity.
In accordance to Eysenck’s Big Three Model, Vernon can be seen as highest in the extroversion biological system, primarily because of his extreme assertiveness. Although he is not extremely known as outgoing, he is very sociable in interviews, and enthusiastic to discuss his opinions since he is so passionate. He is apt to share many random things about himself as well, such as his tension release when he plays basketball. Many are surprised to hear about his love for the sport, and he enjoys discussing why such an activity brings him a similar calming feeling as music does, saying that “It shakes everything out”.
Henry Murray’s perspective in the interpersonal perception and accuracy of the Trait approach can also view Vernon as having an almost obsessive need for achievement. Although Vernon has some need for exhibition, he mostly writes his music for himself, so that he can accomplish the expectations he has set for himself. Vernon is incredibly diligent and conscious of the work he produces, and it is important to him to feel as though he created something meaningful. He attempts to be expressive of his innermost thoughts and feelings through sound, and has achieved this in many of his albums.
Vernon has done a vast amount of self-observation, and through his reflections in his music, it can be seen that he is motivated by personal strivings. In his song “Blindsided”, he states “Cuz blinded, I was blindsided” referring to his relationship, as well as his being blind to the struggles of trust within his band, and his struggles to succeed after being so successful in his hometown. He slowly has become a self-actualized individual however, as the Humanistic psychologist Maslow would analyze, and is achieving steps towards internal acceptance of himself.
Neo-Analytical and Ego Perspective:
Justin Vernon can also be analyzed with the Neo-Analytical Perspective, since this approach revolves around the importance of the goal-oriented nature of humans, as well as the significance of the impact of society and culture on personality. Vernon continues to develop as a person, which is another advantage of the Neo-Analytical perspective because it considers the entire life cycle. The emphasis on the self as it struggles with many emotions and outside demands is something that Vernon is particularly familiar with.
Carl Jung deviated slightly from Freud’s theories of motivation and ego, and tried to address the idea of the mind psyche being a part of the Ego, Personal unconscious, and Collective unconscious. Vernon can be seen as being conscious, and fully knowing his self and ego after a long period of reflection time within music. Jung’s idea of archetypes relates to Vernon, since Vernon can be seen as questioning the Animus and Anima archetypes. This archetype fuses the male and female elements together, where males can have many feminine qualities and vice versa. Often, a male’s sensitivity must be repressed, however Vernon is an example of a male who expresses his emotions fully within his songs. In one of his songs, “Sweet Sweet Magdalene”, Vernon states “the smallest part of me is an echoing cavern, waiting to be filled with the light of your lantern” which only exemplifies how much Vernon longs for love. His sensitivity to love and heartbreak is also shown in the Bon Iver song “Skinny Love” where he sings “Come on skinny love, just last the year” begging her to stay with him. His sensitivity is therefore outwardly shown.
Alfred Adler’s idea of complexes can also be applied to Justin Vernon. Adler states that the core tenant of personality is superiority, which is true in Vernon’s music career. He is constantly striving to be able to make a living off of his music and achieve personal success. Vernon however has a strong inferiority complex, seeing himself as incompetent and unable to achieve his goal of possessing true love. He feels as though it is hopeless for him to keep searching, and many of his songs show how he had to overcome weakness, and this feeling of inferiority, to recognize his idea of self. In his song “Re:Stacks” he recognizes his weakness saying “All my love was down in a frozen ground/Whatever could it be that has brought me to this loss?” Vernon has also felt the love tasks of Adler’s social issues, where Vernon’s libido lies mainly in pursuing his life goal of overcoming loneliness, as well as the occupational task of pursuing and succeeding in a career that makes him feel worthwhile. Adler also comments on how the core tenant of personality is superiority. This is true especially in Vernon’s music, where his main motivation lies in being able to make a living off of his music, and make it accessible to others who feel the same way. Also, the fact that he has been associated with so many bands shows that he wants to impress others with his music career and also prove to himself that he can succeed, which he finally did with Bon Iver.
Under Karen Horney’s perspective, Justin Vernon can be examined, especially because of his basic anxiety of loneliness, and his withdrawn style of coping with anxiety. When his life situation crumbled, Vernon moved to his dad’s cabin and secluded himself completely. He had no outside influences at this time, and was surrounded by woods, letting the environment influence his writing. He clearly had an ideal sense of perfection, and held many regrets such as moving with his band and consequently creating unnecessary tensions in various parts of his life, such as with family and friends. His shortcomings therefore became part of his despised self, and it took him a full year of seclusion and reflection to accept his real self, which is the goal of psych therapy. By using the neurotic coping strategies of moving away, withdrawing himself emotionally to avoid hurt, he eventually has reached a point where he moves towards, striving to make others happy and realize the importance of affection.
Erik Erikson’s identity formation can therefore show that Justin Vernon was definitely stuck on the Intimacy versus Isolation point of his life. He strived to find deep meaningful relationships, yet as soon as his relationship with his girlfriend, band mates, and family fell apart, he was lonely and felt that all his connections were superficial. He ultimately gained the ego skill of love and acceptance in his life after this time. The importance of balance is stressed by Erikson, and the lifelong process of identity formation is shown in Vernon’s constant work towards a better self.
Discussion:
Justin Vernon is seen as a complex individual who has gone through a long period of difficulties, yet has overcome this struggle and learned to find his real self, ultimately developing his personality. Through the Trait Approach, Vernon can be seen as a well-rounded individual, especially by looking at the Big Five Factor Model and seeing the distinct dimensions he exhibits, especially in the openness category. The Neo-analytical approach also shows that Vernon has learned a lot through his crises and doubts, and has achieved a true sense of self. It can be seen that Vernon has a road of success before him as well, as he continues to express his ideas and life lessons through his music. His life philosophy and realization can be seen in one of his lyrics, where he states “So try to be somebody, so try to feel somebody.”



APA Bibliography
Carew, Anthony. "Bon Iver - An Interview with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver." Alternative and Indie Music. 24 Oct. 2008. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. <http://altmusic.about.com/od/
McBride, Danny. "Justin Vernon Celebrity Profile, News, Gossip & Photos - AskMen." AskMen - Men's Online Magazine Web. 19 April 2011. <http://www.askmen.com/celebs/men/entertainment/justin- vernon.html>.
Serpick, Evan. "Why Bon Iver Had to Relearn Everything He Knows."Rolling Stone. 23 March 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. <http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/why-bon-iver-had-to-relearn-everything-he-knows-20110323>.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v =lNXYFKeHJrA&feature=related