Bon Iver: Bon Iver

This post is in the theme “Constructing an identity through media”. Read the first.

October 18, New York: This album represents a very specific period in my life, a period built by a confluence of factors. I had originally included For Emma, Forever Ago on this list, more for “Skinny Love” than anything else. But the truth is, this album is very important and very special to me. This is the story of why.

Jill and I were happily living together in a little apartment in San Francisco at the end of 2010. It was a time of transition— I was freelancing and finishing a book, she was back in school. We were both wanting to be on the East Coast— to live in New York, to be closer to family. The one stable thing in that time was our relationship, our love for one another. And so, at the end of 2010 we put a ring on it.

Soon after 2011 began I was offered a freelance job with the potential to become a permanent job in Washington. Starting in March, of the year that we would marry, Jill and I began to spend a lot of time apart. I would work for three weeks at a time in DC before returning home for a long weekend. The plan was that eventually Jill would join me, but there was more school to attend and “eventually” wasn’t until August. I spent many long weeks in DC corporate housing, missing my fiancée.

It was three months into this time that my back gave out. I’d been running on a treadmill every morning with no idea that I was tearing my muscles into string cheese. I was suddenly and painfully incapacitated by lower back muscle spasms. I continued to work, hobbling into the office in enormous pain for weeks, but exercise was out of the question. The doctor told me not to run or jog for at least three months.

And then my corporate housing ended and as we were saving for the wedding, I had to find a Washington apartment on the cheap. I ended up in a basement in the far northwest, nestled against Rock Creek Park for a long, hot summer alone. This period was a low point. I felt physically crippled, lonely, always sweating (DC summer!). But I had one regular activity that I loved: in the long afternoons and evenings after work I would go walk through Rock Creek Park. It was not strenuous exercise, but it kept me active. I would put my headphones on and listen to this album as I crept through the sun-dappled, long-light afternoon forest.

Unlike many listeners of this album, I love the final track “Beth/Rest”. Yes, it sounds like a 1980s Peter Gabriel or Genesis track that I would otherwise hate, but I feel like Bon Iver earns it. The sonic elements that comprise this song are scattered across the previous tracks (most apparent in “Calgary”, two before). And I take it with a healthy bit of irony (I mean, come on, that saxophone?). Walking through the forest in Washington, this would be the song that would pull me out of the sad reverie of the rest of the album, and return me to good humor. Grooving along to this crazy eighties jam. It still has that effect on me today.

Build up to the eighties with the self-titled Bon Iver album.

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