Been listening to For Emma, Forever Ago a lot, again, lately. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (Photo: upper right) wrote most of it while recuperating from an illness, another failed relationship and break up with the former band made of friends he was drifting from. Bearing a massive hurt and lost confidence, he headed to his father’s hunting cabin in the backwoods of Wisconsin because he had no other place to go. Needing to be alone to sort things out, he spent three winter months in the middle of nowhere eventually embracing the time and physical space to do so. What’s remarkable about his experience is that the period of three months is not a very long time. Yet he purged on and somehow ended up with words and sounds that make up For Emma, Forever Ago. That is astonishing especially since he didn’t go there with the intention to write songs and make an album. He went there to hide, to escape and put some distance from reality. Maybe cowardly, sure, but something enduring won out in the end. I find that just tremendous; the resilience, whether he knew about it or not, had its own plan.
The core essence of that album according to Justin is about “me and about how a love I once had sort of sabotaged relationships I had after that.” That sober admission instantly sucks the air out of me, leaving me lightheaded as I realize how deep his wound must’ve been and how difficult it must’ve been to heal from such trauma. Who amongst us can not relate to that sentiment? That very personal, painful and difficult process of recovery is easily audible in For Emma, Forever Ago. He has said that he had become a sad person several years preceding the three months in Wisconsin. Is that akin to hitting the rock bottom? Did he in fact need the convergence of several personal misfortunes and simmering sadness of many years to make the getaway?
I tend to romanticize that kind of isolation, that kind of anguish, mostly curious to see if I would have the strength to come through and recover. I don’t think I could. Man, if I were in Wisconsin backwoods for three months after a breakup and being tossed over by friends while being physically ill? I would’ve probably died. Ok, maybe not dead, but I would not have coped well. Thankfully, I have not had to be in that position. While I was a very unhappy and angry young man in my 20’s, wondering if I would ever escape the misery [sigh] (so dramatic and yes, super embarrassing, those of you who’ve seen the films know this), I’ve somehow managed to embrace and enjoy my 30’s. I feel more at ease, calmer about things in general and am happy about my life at this point. There are plenty of things to be miserable about of course, but there are more of good things in life right now, which again, thankfully tip the scale. I have numerous wonderful people in and around my life. I care about these people and they in return have stuck with me for all these years, despite my moodiness and tendency to be hypomanic when tired and hungry, which is too often. (Now if only I could get M to come back to LDN)
I think we all do need a break of some sort at some point. Would it have to be something like the three wintery months in Wisconsin? Maybe not literally but it is something to think about. But for me, when the thought of three freezing months in a hunting cabin becomes unbearable, I know I can call up few of those wonderful people and burden myself, at least for some time, till I get through whatever the fog. And I’d like to think that they know the understanding/arrangement is mutual. So, with that in mind, thanks and have a good night. Be seeing you soon-ish. (Sorry, got wordy & kerning ain’t right.) Photo of Justin Vernon from uberlin.