Sight & Sound is an ongoing study of visual representations of music lyrics.
Bon Iver’s “Holocene” is one of those songs I didn’t think was possible. I’d already been thoroughly blown-away by Justin Vernon’s work on his album For Emma, Forever Ago, so, naturally, I assumed that he’d reached the pinnacle of his musical mastery on his first full-length album and that would be the end of that.
It hurts to think I’d seriously lost that much faith in someone who was clearly wiser than the sum of his work thus far.
My brother burned me a copy of his second album (Bon Iver, Bon Iver) a few weeks after it was released. I had just graduated college and was grappling with the emotional baggage I brought with me when I moved back to my hometown and starting working at a prestigious art camp (one that I was never prestigious enough to attend as a camper), uncertain about so many things in my life. My future was entirely undefined; I felt like I was drifting through a fog where opportunities were just beyond my vision, lurking somewhere nearby but with no tangible form that I could grasp.
The workday at the camp were short so I had a lot of time to run around the campus, take long walks in the woods, re-read all the Harry Potter books, and converse with other summer employees who seemed just as unguided, yet somehow less bothered by the weight of what happened when August ended. My boyfriend lived nearby, but I spent every night alone in my linoleum-floored dorm room, staring up at the bottom of the empty bunk above me, listening to the buzz of cicadas, a distant French horn practice session, and camper chatter outside my window as the long summer days faded into night.
It was the closest I’ve come to living alone–no roommates, no family, no boyfriend–and as someone who thrives off social interaction, it was a major adjustment for me to spend so much time by myself, with only myself. I did a lot of thinking and self-exploration, trying to listen to what my heart wanted, desperately pushing aside feelings of inadequacy and the fear of where I would be in the next year (or the next ten years). Perhaps this is what happens to all children who are loved and supported their whole life; perhaps this is not wholly unique to me. But during that summer, I felt isolated by my inability to understand what I really wanted now that I had the chance to do whatever I wanted.
It is a terrible thing to be alive for 21 years and still not know who you are.
“Holocene,” to me, is the epitome of the self-injected poison of personal inadequacy, a feeling of utter insignificance in the scheme of a whole big world. It’s the sudden realization that I am a microscopic speck in a universe expanding with every breath. And, yet, I am still as significant as I choose to be in the time and space granted to me in each of those breaths. It’s a philosophical push-pull that consumes me if I let it.
When I decided to use this song for a Sight & Sound session, I knew it had to be in winter and it had to convey the kind of vacant loneliness I felt that summer after college.”Holocene” can pull me down into the darkest of places sometimes, but the emotional journey I take each time to climb back to the top and understand myself better is why I still love listening to this song.