The title of this blog is my all time favourite line from any song, ever (excluding “up to my ass in alligators , let’s get it on with the alligator haters” by the great Anthony Kiedis).
Bon Iver music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine. In fact I’d go as far as to say it’s my gold blend English breakfast Waitrose special. There’s something about those songs, some power in Justin Vernon’s voice and his nostalgic melodies that taps right into my soul and makes me long for something just out of reach: some indeterminable point in my past that maybe never even happened.
On Thursday night, through sheer luck (the unexpected materialisation of a spare ticket), I went to go and see Bon Iver perform at the Hammersmith Apollo. It was the first time I’d been to a ‘quiet’ gig that didn’t involve jumping up and down in a crowd of hot, sweaty people screaming lyrics at the top of my lungs. There was a controlled, theatrical atmosphere to the evening – a definite sense that we were spectators, not participators in this performance. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact I think the detached aspect added to the intriguing surrealism of the set-up: the stage dressed in ethereal hanging webs that could have been inspired by underwater kelp, or gnarled roots beneath a giant tree; the criss-cross lights that zapped around the theatre like UFO laser beams; the fading in and out of dozens of orange glowing orbs reminiscent of candles in a religious rite. And of course there was the music.
I’m not a Guardian music journalist so I’m not going to bore you with talk of haunting melodies and swelling crescendos, but I will say it was really good and when I looked briefly around at the flashing, unblinking blue faces of my fellow audience members, I could see they were mesmerised by it all too.
Singing along wasn’t always an option. I know the tunes, I can make the right noises but it’s almost impossible to make out the lyrics in any of Justin Vernon’s songs. I read somewhere that this is deliberate. He doesn’t write songs that make sense in a linear narrative sense. He searches for words that sound right, or that he just likes. His lyrics seem fragmentary, with rare flashes of coherence and profundity. That’s what I like about the line I chose for the title of this blog. It’s from a song called Holocene, which appears like this:
You’re laying waste to Halloween
You fucked it friend, it’s on its head, it struck the street
You’re in Milwaukee, off your feet
Strayed above the highway aisle
(Jagged vacance, thick with ice)
I could see for miles, miles, miles.
To me this line is about that sense you get when you’re standing on the top of a hill, or under a black sky alight with stars – a sense of awe, of humility, comforted by the realisation that we don’t really matter in the scheme of things. The things we worry about at night, the fears, the stress of life…none of it matters. I don’t have to be the best at what I do, I don’t have to look a certain way or speak a certain way or wear certain things. I don’t have to be tied down to the pressures we all make for ourselves. Thank god I am not magnificent.
On another note, I really do recommend taking binoculars to your next gig. I may have looked like a bit of a twat but I could see everything the two spectacular drummers were doing, which was quite a treat. The funny thing was that at one point I glanced around and realised the woman next to me also had a pair of binoculars, and it felt a bit like some twist of fate had bought us together.