Good stuff online: Bon Iver’s “Holocene” video

August 29, 2011


I’m a huge fan of Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, and have been delving deeply into his second album (called Bon Iver, Bon Iver). His voice is distinctive, the sound spectacular, and his songwriting very peculiar, haunting and yet impenetrable. Even his girlfriend, the very fine songwriter Kathleen Edwards, confessed to the NY Times, “I mean this respectfully, but most of the time I have no idea what Justin’s songs are about.” (Read Jon Caramanica’s very good profile here.) But I spent some time during the, uh, hurricane hunkered down with the headphones and his record company’s website, which very thoughtfully provides the lyrics to all the songs on the new album. (I purposely bought a hard copy of the CD just so I could get the lyric sheet, but with characteristic perverseness Vernon wrote out all the lyrics by hand and they’re almost impossible to read, just like Rufus Wainwright’s on his most recent album, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu.) Reading them while listening to the songs gave me a lot. Many of them absolutely scan like dadaist poetry, with lines I plan to memorize and spout at (in)appropriate moments, such as “Unpeel keeness, honey, bean for bean” or “Fuck the fiercest fables, I’m with Hagen.” Not since Van Dyke Parks collaborated with Brian Wilson on Smile has there been such a match of gorgeous melodies and sense-defying lyrics.

But I had a whole other experience watching the video Bon Iver made for “Holocene,” which opens up the song in a whole other way. The chorus, repeated three times with slight variations, leaps off from the line “at once I knew I was not magnificent,” which sounds somewhat abject and self-negating. But in the video, shot in Iceland, makes the line positively Whitmanesque — it captures the ecstatic moment when a sentient being abandons his solipsism for a moment and realizes that he is only a small part of something gigantic and wondrous. Notice how when that line comes up, the video cuts to the sky, the mountains, an eagle — indeed, they are magnificent.

Holocene

Someway, baby, it’s part of me, apart from me.
you’re laying waste to Halloween
you fucked it friend, it’s on it’s head, it struck the street
you’re in Milwaukee, off your feet

…and at once I knew I was not magnificent
strayed above the highway aisle
(jagged vacance, thick with ice)
I could see for miles, miles, miles

3rd and Lake it burnt away, the hallway
was where we learned to celebrate
automatic bought the years you’d talk for me
that night you played me ʻLip Paradeʼ
not the needle, nor the thread, the lost decree
saying nothing, that’s enough for me

…and at once I knew I was not magnificent
hulled far from the highway aisle
(jagged, vacance, thick with ice)
I could see for miles, miles, miles

Christmas night, it clutched the light, the hallow bright
above my brother, I and tangled spines
we smoked the screen to make it what it was to be
now to know it in my memory:

…and at once I knew I was not magnificent
high above the highway aisle
(jagged vacance, thick with ice)
I could see for miles, miles, miles

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: