They played “Perth” first. We are almost as a second thought, as they look out at the thousands of plaid shirts and skinny jeans gathered under the white tent, almost surprised to see us there. They turn their heads back to drums, guitar, close their eyes to everything but this miraculous emerging sound.
I hear the music, but I’m lost somewhere inside myself, inside my preppy clothes and self-consciousness. I scuff at the pavement, rub my hands up and down my striped cotton sweater, wish I had studied the lyrics or knew how to stand in the crowd with the music and the people and the cheap wine smell. Somewhere behind me I hear a couple giggle as they share a cigarette.
Then they play “Beth/Rest”, the song I love but don’t really understand. The words wash over the crowd and the strobe lights ricochet off the white faces, the instruments, the water to our left. I can’t see the moon but in the song, somehow, I hear the night, the landscape, the horizon line.
I sway my hips from side to side, conscious, still a bit out of place. I can’t quite shake the idea that I shouldn’t be here. This music is for the cool kids – the ones who knew this band years ago and followed Justin Vernon before Bon Iver. This is for people who live braver, more on the edge, who can actually play a guitar and who can sit on the beach in late summer humming “Calgary” while drinking espresso.
But then? Then they play Holocene.
The pavilion of thousands empties. All I can hear is Justin singing, and the drums battering my ribcage. The people behind me are still smoking, whispering that this song is “so good” but they seem hundreds of miles away. I close my eyes. He sings that line, the one that always gets me: And at once, I knew, I was not magnificent.
This is the song I played while I drove down side roads the night of graduation day, after all the leaving, before all the arriving.
This is the song I played to wake up on cold February mornings.
This is the song I played to sway babies to sleep in my apartment in the haze of the afternoon.
This is the song I played to make promises, and, sometimes, when they are broken.
He sings Holocene and I come back to myself. The guitar repeats its wandering journey up to that top note, the drums roll, and the night suddenly, wildly, is about growing wings.
We all have a Holocene. Isn’t that part of the reason we keep making music, even when we sing only to mirrors and each other, even when we try to hide our voices in the bigger swelling sound of a church choir, even when we only know how to play three chords on the guitar and the cello isn’t yet a part of our body, but an awkward dance partner?
We make music to remember the sounds of all the things we can’t put words to. We make music to imprint ourselves, to make snow angels across history, to grow wings. Yes, that. We make (and hear) music to grow wings.
Last Thursday I went to the Bon Iver concert. He played Holocene, and I grew wings. I stepped for a moment inside a bigger self, inside a self unafraid to be her self.
Dear readers, could I ask you something? Could you play your Holocene today? Could you let it repeat itself over, and over, growing your courage? I keep dreaming that with all these small gifts of brave things, someday we’ll all take flight together.
all my wild and winged love,
PS. Another one of those songs? This (“I Will Wait” by Mumford and Sons)