Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Sometime between my initial addiction to Bon Iver in early 2008 and now, the band got itself rather famous. I still refer to the band as “he” (as in Justin Vernon), which is beyond mistaken, as Bon Iver is comprised of a boatload of musicians nowadays, or so I hear. At any rate, For Emma, Forever Ago is a desert island record of mine—a record of which I will never grow weary, and which accompanies many happy memories of very specific days in very specific places. And so I find it quite fitting that Bon Iver’s latest, Bon Iver, Bon Iver (curse those journalists who call it simply Bon Iver) is, for me, bound up inextricably to very specific days in very specific places.


On June 19, dear friend Kristie and I departed L.A. for Dublin, Ireland. For five days, our group of fellow students took up residence at Glencree Centre for Peace & Reconciliation in the countryside of County Wicklow. A couple of days into the trip, when all three of my roommates were taking an afternoon snooze, I in my wakefulness plugged my newly-acquired Klipsch earphones (snob alert) into my boyfriend’s iPod and listened to Bon Iver, Bon Iver in its entirety. Although my noise-canceling earphones provided measly defense against the loud squeaks that emanated from the beds at Glencree upon slightest disturbance, a big part of me loves that even now I cannot listen to the album without hearing the echoes of those Irish bed squeaks.

A few days later, as our coach bus approached the ancient monastic city of Glendalough, and then a few days after that as our van sped across the northern coast of the island, Bon Iver inevitably provided the soundtrack. Even now, when “Towers” comes up on shuffle in my apartment in California, all in my mind turns to a rush of greens and blues and greys and the reflection of my rain jacket splashed across the bus window.


Near the end of July, boyfriend Dave, friend Cody, and I travelled across the desert to Las Vegas for an Avett Brothers concert. Cody is a fellow appreciator of things Bon Iver, so naturally the new album garnered a few plays on the car stereo. Vegas, with its endless strip of factory outlet malls, fast food chains, $3.99 steak buffets, nudie shows, hot desert air, and all manner of indulgence could not be further removed from Ireland. Want to teach a child what the word “antithesis” means? Take her on a trip to Ireland, then to Vegas. Boom, word explained.

Somewhere amid the flood of not-so-positive emotions brought forth by my boyfriend’s spending habits and our friend’s texting-while-driving habits, I found in Bon Iver, Bon Iver an odd yet welcome antidote to the ridiculousness of road-tripping to Sin City to see a band I’d already seen twenty-two times.


How odd, that an album filled with song titles like “Calgary” and “Lisbon, OH” and with a song like “Holocene,” in which Vernon sings of particulars—Milwaukee, 3rd and Lake, Lip Parade, Christmas lights—transports me to places very unlike those and very unlike each other: Ireland and Las Vegas. Or perhaps it just goes to show that the good artists are the ones who eschew vague appeals to “the universal” in an effort to embrace more fully “the particular.” After all, it’s in the particularity of holding a Compline prayer service in a German cemetery in rural Ireland with thirty-five people and thirty-five thousand midges, of riding in a Vegas-bound Honda Fit alongside a young man steering the car with his knees and in front of a young man with a penchant for Lacoste shirts, that we are able to catch, however near-sightedly, glimmers of the universal, of the little foibles of human nature that make life so interesting. Oh, and it sure doesn’t hurt to listen to some Bon Iver along the way.

--Barbara (posted on her behalf by duke)

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