I feel like Bon Iver became a household name chucked into the indie music genre after the “Bonnie Bear” fiasco of the 2012 Grammy Awards. How sad. Fortunately, that most ironic and uproarious release of Justin Vernon’s songs to the masses did not deter from his music making or my obsession with it. Here’s a Tumblr post I created a couple of years ago that puts this into words:
The first time I heard the ethereal bliss that is Bon Iver, I was—seriously—in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Any Justin Vernon semi-fanatic knows he not only grew up in this little city, but he is completely dedicated to it. He even has an Eau Claire tattoo, and if that’s not hometown dedication, I don’t know what is. I digress. I was in Eau Claire, as fate would have it, and it was fall. I was 16 and had yet to have anything at all really “strike” me. You know, I was never awestruck. Never dumbfounded. Never inspired.
Although it’s admittedly unnecessary for me to do so, I feel compelled to describe Eau Claire. I’ve seen my share of the country and understand there’s nothing quite comparable to a Wisconsin town. It’s an exit sign off the highway. It’s grey skies and crumbling buildings. It’s a modest town square complete with Indian corn and jack-o-lanterns. It’s a smiling elementary school. It’s one Starbucks, a few gas stations and excess camouflage. (Something I still haven’t embraced, but hey, home is home.) That’s where I was. Fall in Wisconsin. How perfect.
As I drove through the residential parts with my friends, we passed by a typical suburban home. “Have you heard of Bon Iver? That’s where Justin Vernon lives,” said my friend from Eau Claire. “Nope, never heard of him,” I responded. My other friend said she had some of his songs on her iPod and would play them for me later.
My Eau Claire friend’s house was a glorious, old-fashioned, two-story masterpiece of cozy goodness. We created a giant makeshift bed in her room with a plethora of blankets and pillows. She handed me her iPod. “This one’s called Lump Sum.” I listened. I wasn’t immediately smitten and it wasn’t love at first listen. Like all great love affairs, it took time. I listened intently as the tempo picked up, the guitar was strummed faster and Justin Vernon’s downright angelic voice soared through the cheap ear buds. It sounded so foreign, yet somehow familiar. It sounded like nature and feelings. It was beautiful.
And that’s what Bon Iver is to me—beautiful. Bon Iver is the crushing of dead leaves under heavy boots. It’s snow falling at Christmas time. It has serenaded me at the beach, on road trips, while trudging through slush, walking to class and falling asleep. It’s my anthem when I’m homesick. It’s raw, heavy, light, joyful, sad, melancholy and serene. It’s a reminder of my roots and my struggles. It’s a representation of me. Bon Iver brings me back to where I need to be, on every occasion. Bon Iver brings me home.
I think I was 19 when I wrote that post, but I can say with utmost satisfaction that nothing has changed. Nothing besides Volcano Choir. Please listen to Volcano Choir—what I would consider to be Bon Iver’s more-developed, atmospheric older brother.
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