For Emma For Ever Ago by Bon Iver

Kobi reviews one of the albums that surely Jesus himself has on constant replay on his ‘Pod. Artwork by Kobi.

bon iver image

Here at the Rad Men office Sarah and I frequently re-run the Arj Barker metaphor;

Put a filing cabinet in your toilet and sort your shit out

It articulates the way we handle ourselves through the menial tasks of our day,  but most importantly  explains where I am in my life.  I feel like I need to spend a good couple of hundred dollars at Officeworks and get some plastic tabs to colour co-ordinate my life into a segregated box. But even that task (…almost as much as my life does) makes me feel somewhat defeated and very unhappy.

Many (Including The Rolling Stone) refer to Bon Iver’s debut album, For Emma Forever Ago as a break up album – and perhaps it was. The great thing about break-ups (and indeed break-downs) is that we are somewhat forced to get it together. It is like when the Bald Fledging Eagle chick is ready to fly, it’s parents coax it out of the nest by pushing it (*fun fact from year 9 Social Science Studies). In the moments of free fall and defeat the chick  is forced to succumb to the inevitable; whatever that may be. They are quickly and rather forcefully told (or pushed) to take a bit of Arj’s advice and put a filing cabinet in their toilet to sort their shit out.

In 2007, Vernon  was one sad, bearded dude who retreated to a cabin in Winsconsin following the break-up/break-down of everything in his life. Unknowingly his retreat from the world and subsequent birth of his first album was his way of dumping a filing cabinent in the bowl of his toilet to sort through the fecal matter of his life.  I imagine (or at least like to) that he  sat drunk with little intention and even less hope and just created everything and nothing. And yet, the nothing and the everything affected and continues to affect people.  I strongly believe that across any art form, to affect is the singularly most important thing. It doesn’t particularly matter if the affect is desired or accidental (positive or negative), as long as people, or even a single person has been moved, it has achieved something…and therefore matters.

The first time I listened to For Emma For Ever Ago in it’s entirety, I was fourteen and it absolutely shattered me.  Even today, almost four years on it still shatters me… in different ways, but ways which are just as significant. I think you know an album is good (I’m sorry what a fucking inadequate and yet totally adequate adjective) when it endures you.

The album is isolation in so many ways.  It was born out of isolation, but it also creates so much isolation. It isolates feelings and people and yet connects you to something else.  There are songs on the album which are imperfect and which just shouldn’t work; and yet… it is the imperfection that is perfection. And the perfection is isolation. And this is the circle of life said Simba.

This past month I have been thinking a lot about ambition and what it means to be successful….and happy. For me, the moments of isolation that Bon Iver created in some neat colour coordinated attempt to sort his shit into a filing cabinet is success. The album can make me feel successful, or at the very least see success in broke-ness. I doubt old mate Justin’s intentions were specifically to make make some miserable 17 year old girl in Brisbane, Australia feel vaguely ok about being not ok. But that was what happened, and that is the art of creation. And perhaps that is what ambition and success is, just creating. Just trying to matter… no matter how broken, defeated or shit filled your toilet may be.


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