Monday, June 27, 2011

A Month of Storms: A Review of Bon Iver, Bon Iver

It rained on Friday night, though very briefly. I stood in a backyard pleasantly drunk with a cigar in my mouth and a full stomach. The next morning it was sunny and warm so I felt the need to be outside. I sat on the roof of my apartment in the sun drinking water. I watched, as next door, a sprinkler tried to keep the machinery of the grocery store cool. I made a list of jobs I wanted, a list of things I wanted to do this summer and a list of ideas to use at my actual day job. Then, I wanted to play basketball. So I went to play.

After I had finished playing, I walked with a friend of mine along Franklin Street, following it until it turned into Kent Avenue in Williamsburg. At the junction where the streets swap names, beside the small garbage filled cove, I said to my friend:

“I think Greenpoint has some of the best looking girls.”

“Yeah, they’re your speed.”

“I don’t know. I really think so.”

“Let me ask you,” my friend said, “out of all of the girls in the world, how many are there that you think you could possibly marry? Like if the circumstances were right and everything.”

I thought for a second. “Ten.”

“Only ten? There are about four billion women in the world.”

“I don’t know if that’s true.”

“Maybe a little less. But let’s just say four. So out of that four, there have to be about a million women who are 18-30. Agree?”

I laughed. “That’s probably not true.”

“Fine, but just work with me.”

“OK, so out of one million women, how many do I think its possible that I could marry?”


“Circumstances have to be right? Have to be in same mindset? Same place geographically and spiritually or mentally or whatever?”



“No. Really?”

“I don’t think I’ve even really liked ten girls and even the ones I have really liked don’t count to your ten because it didn’t work out and I’ll probably not even marry them.”

“I guess that’s true,” he said.

We walked for a little longer down the street and buildings began to crowd us.  We passed the East River Park and a Mr. Softee truck piped its slow, cobwebbed tune.

“What if I said twenty?” I asked.

“Yes. That was the number I was looking for.”

I laughed and soon we were walking up to the Northside Piers condominiums. The buildings stretched to the sky with gleaming blue promise. It wasn’t so much the promise of achievement or of some kind of American myth, but more the promise of comfort or that you could be comfortable at some point. Maybe that is the American myth. In any case, the buildings were blue and bright and made of glass.

“Crazy how this place has changed,” I said.

“It’s more my vibe now.”

“I remember running around here like three years ago.”

“Pissing on the sidewalks and everything.”

I laughed. “I didn’t even like it then.”

Next to the condos they had made nice grassy spots that looked across the river to Manhattan. They had even built a wooden boardwalk. There were pretty girls with tans sitting on the grass and I smiled at them and tried to make eye contact and thought about what their lives were like just starting out in Williamsburg.  Along the boardwalk, there were Latino men hooking fish heads onto fishing hooks and throwing them into the river. A Spanish song played softly on their stereo.  My friend and I looked across the water to Manhattan. We peered down into the water.

“If you fell in,” my friend said, “how would you climb back up?”

I pointed to some ancient, broken wooden pylons not too far from the new boardwalk.  “I’d swim over there and climb up.”

“That far? I hate swimming.”

The clouds passed over the sun briefly, making the air somewhat cooler but still enjoyable.

“This is perfect weather,” my friend said. “You could play ball all day.”

“Look at that place.” I pointed to a big white warehouse on the water that had been converted to condos. “Crazy.”

“I like it. I don’t know. Sometimes its just nice to have nice things.”

The wind picked up a little bit across the water. I looked across to the park on the other side of the river. The sun was still covered by the clouds. He was right; the weather was really perfect.

“Let’s cut,” my friend said.


A few weeks ago it rained. There was a terrible thunderstorm. I was walking towards Madison Square Park and I wasn’t feeling well. It wasn’t that I was sick; I was feeling out of sorts and was waiting to go someplace to have a conversation. I was streaming Bon Iver, Bon Iver on my iPhone and the rain started to come down slowly with the first murky, jagged guitar riffs of “Perth.”

As I passed into the park, my eye was drawn to the sand pathway and circle that sits near the Broadway border. People were dashing across it to gain cover from the rain. I didn’t need an umbrella yet, so I walked casually with my hands in my pockets. The scene reminded me of an Impressionist painting, with children and women and umbrellas appearing in strokes before my eyes—objects distinct from each other, but not individually distinct. My heart immediately felt lighter and I continued my stroll. The trees swayed and the drums hit heavily in my ear. It was something greatly different from the first Bon Iver album. I could make out thunder overhead and felt the rain grow stronger. I walked under an overhang of trees and stood against a bench.

I needed an umbrella now and opened it above me. The rain smacked it. A couple sat on a bench near me, willingly getting wet. A man with headphones on ran past without an umbrella. Two college-aged girls skipped another way with bags of Shake Shack slowly getting wet under their umbrellas. Rain dripped off the trees and the music itself was murky and watery, with punctures of drums and saxophone breaking through. There was thunder again.  A girl, giving up the chance of staying dry, stood in the rain in her purple tank top and long black hair. She wasn’t close, but I felt I could make out the streaks of rain streaming down her chin and neck. And I looked down at my brown suede shoes to see how wet they had gotten.

Lightning flashed and then a roar of thunder hit amid the hypnotic beginning of “Holocene.” Rain started coming in sheets. I decided that I wasn’t going to give myself up to the rain. I held my umbrella ahead of me and walked toward Madison Avenue and 24th Street. The rain was soaking the front of my khakis. I saw a group of people huddling underneath the corner entrance of the Credit Suisse building. I took cover too, standing away from the edge where rain was slanting in. The top of the covering was decorated with gold and I thought of the Vatican for a brief second.

The album played on seamlessly through “Towers” and “Michicant” as I waited out the rain. More people joined to take cover. We watched the trees of the park sway and cars swish by. There were flashes of lightning above buildings and thunder roared. Wet strands of hair fell across women’s foreheads and along their cheeks. A little boy happily tried to hail a cab for his mom and sister as the rain soaked his collared t-shirt. All the time I stood, quietly listening to Bon Iver, Bon Iver and slowly feeling better for whatever reason. Perhaps it had something to do with the rain and taking shelter with other people I didn’t know. Or maybe it was because I could momentarily disappear with the scene. In either case, I felt good watching the rain and listening the music.

Soon, the storm passed as they do most of the time. It was a summer storm. The rain slowed to a drip and mist and people moved out from under the corner covering. Men walked quickly along 24th street towards Park, or others resumed their route through the park. I walked on 24th on my way to talk with somebody, listening to the resonant piano strikes of “Hinnom, TX.” The sky was turning from grey to purple.


This past weekend I sat in my friend’s brother’s apartment in Chelsea. Outside, confetti from the Gay Pride Parade sat scattered and stepped on in the streets. We sat in the well-windowed apartment as sun shone in along the floor. We watched my friend’s cousin’s baby toddle around holding a balloon. My friend, his fiancĂ©e, his cousin, his aunt, his mom and I all watched as the baby held the balloon by its ribbon and it skipped along the floor, as though he were walking a dog. He would toddle and then fall on his diapered butt without making any kind of shriek. The balloon would bounce and he’d grab at it and suddenly make a chirp:

 “Goo ah gak!”

Someone would imitate the sound and the baby would fall on the balloon, grabbing for it and drooling on it; smiling all the time. We drank coffee and ate chocolate and Linzer tarts. My friend and I packed bridal shower presents on a cart—boxes of white, with blue ribbon, thin pink tissue paper, purple cards and red bags with strong white papered handles. They all talked amongst each other like family and gave the baby a bit of bread to chew on for his new teeth. Outside it was a sunny, hot, afternoon. It was Sunday in the summer in New York and the rest of the world.


A month ago the first summer storm rolled in on Sunday. The day was hazy, humid and grey. I ate eaten a big lunch and met the girl I was seeing. The sun began to burn off the cloud cover and emerge. We sat in the park with coffee and talked about Bridesmaids and then about ourselves. The conversation flowing from one topic to the next with laughter because it was nice to talk and we both liked each other.

It was Sunday and we each didn’t want to go to work the next day, so we decided to get some drinks to remind us that we could make it through.  We sat at a restaurant next to the park and drank mojitos. She talked about her family and I put my hand on her back and kissed her on the lips between talking points. The sky grew dark and soon it began to rain. A canopy covered us, so we watched the rain fall on the leaves and flowers in the park and on the sidewalk and street. We smelled the rising scent of the pavement.

“I need to buy groceries,” she said.

“Let’s go. I’ll help you after the rain.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I’d love to.”

We had another drink and the rain passed, giving way to more sun than there had been before.  We finished our drinks and decided to walk around some more. We walked on a street with trees that had white flowers.

“I like this street,” I said. “We walked down here one of the first times.”

“It’s a good street.”

I noticed a metal sculpture garden that was gated off behind a building. I pretended to be an expert on art and explained the sculptures in a high-minded voice. There was a sculpture of a motorcycle.

“And what’s that one?” she asked.

“That’s a commentary on the transience of our experience. How our transport, how the thrill of moving can suddenly be reduced to a stationary, static position.”

“You come up with the most ridiculous bull shit.”

We walked down to the park next to the river and I looked across to Brooklyn at the Northside Piers towers standing along the water. Thin clouds had covered the sun again and the twilight was setting in. There was a terrific mist hovering above the river. We leaned against the railing and I kissed the girl I was seeing. I pulled her in close to me and enjoyed kissing her. She told me about children’s books and her friends in publishing; she told me about her sister and swimming. We would take breaks and kiss and look at the mist on the water. Soon, it was getting dark.

“Do you want to get groceries?” I asked.

“Let’s just get beer.”

“You sure? I don’t mind.”

“I’ll be fine.”

We walked away from the water and the mist and back to the huddled streets with yellow signs and striped canopies. The night was warm and thick.


After my conversation, the night was dark and very humid. Water from the storm dripped slowly off fire escapes. The sky was slowly clearing. I walked to the subway in the purple-red light of the city night.

When I got into the subway, I turned on “Beth/Rest” on Bon Iver, Bon Iver, because I had read that it was the best song on the album, though it might turn out to be controversial because of its Bruce Hornsby influence. I didn’t quite know what that meant, but I figured it might mean bordering on cheesy or maudlin. Regardless, I turned on the song and got on an air-conditioned car.

I listened to the song with its emotional keyboard chord progressions, the high-pitched guitar weaving in the background and the saxophone lending some kind of pleading warmth. All of this surrounded in some kind of 80’s production sheen, while Justin Vernon’s voice carries the proceedings along without using his trademark falsetto. The subway rattled along and I got off at Union Square and switched trains. I played the song over again once it had finished. I played it two more times until I got back to my apartment. My hair was sticky from humidity and my socks were still damp from the rain. I listened to the final jagged guitar lines, the pedal steel that emerges and those too-cheesy-to-be-bad keyboards. I thought that I understood what the title of the song meant and, to me, it seemed like no matter what the song sounded like, it sounded sincere, which is what matters to me most of the time. I decided then that I liked Bon Iver, Bon Iver better than For Emma, Forever Ago. That was a Thursday.

1 comment:

  1. Your dialogue takes up a huge space in much of your fiction & nonfiction, slowing both the pace and interest nearly to a point of no return. Look at the way David Foster Wallace deals with extended dialogue in his novel Infinite Jest. You write so elegantly that a little economy would go a long way.