Bon Iver is a gift to this universe and is majestic with everything from the lyric meaning to the instrumental aspect, which is rare in this day and age. Their music is so relatable but yet sparks a notion in yourself that you might’ve not known. Bon Iver has always reminded me of the serenity of a snowy winter morning. In fact, Bon Iver has gotten their name from the French phrase, “bon hiver” which translates to “good winter”.
Listening to their songs brings me to a place of peace that reminds me of the goodness in the world. The artist behind Bon Iver, Justin Vernon, wrote and recorded the album while isolated in his fathers cabin in North-East Wisconsin, which gave him a lot of independent time to contemplate the meaning of life and all occurs. While Bon Iver was a good outlet for Vernon, he countered, “I’m really honored that Bon Iver gives me a platform to do whatever I want, but there’s only so much time you can spend digging through yourself before you become insular. I’m not in a hurry to go back to that temperature”.
While being away at the cabin was a good move for the music, it was also taxing on Vernon as he isolated himself in order to dig deep within himself. Constantly focusing on digging within yourself, is truly exhausting and requires a lot of energy. It is one of the most important things you could do for yourself, but there comes a time that it becomes excessive and detrimental.
One of the greatest and outstanding songs on the album Bon Iver is called "Holocene". Iver explains how it’s a prime example of the idea that “places are time and people are places and times are people. They can all be different and the same at the same time.”
At another time, he stated, “I could go on and on and on about how we use the word ‘place’ in so many different ways. About how somebody might ask you ‘where are you at?’ and they’re not asking where you are sitting, where you are living, they’re asking: ‘how are you doing?’”. It’s funny how we assign meanings to words but in reality, there are countless meanings to a countless number of words. The idea of a “place” is toyed with throughout this song.
The title of "Holocene" arose because Holocene is the time period in which we are in now and has been for the past 12,000 years. It is not the start of mankind, but it definitely has seen a lot of transitions in mankind. The amount that has been accomplished has been tremendous during these past 12,000 years. "Holocene" is about how we often see our own lives as something bigger than they are, but really we are dust in the wind. We feel like our own lives are epochs at times and we often forget that we are all a part of this greater "Holocene".
We often feel that our emotions are so great, sometimes we forget that they are just small activity in our small minds.
The song starts off about a breakup that seems to bring him back to reality and the idea that he isn’t larger than life. The song says, “someway baby it’s a part of me, apart from me” which basically means that the breakup means he is losing the girl that has been a part of his life and who he is. The song goes on to explain that he messed up and got kicked out of the house so while he is walking on the highway he recognizes “And at once I knew I was not magnificent… I could see for miles, miles, miles”.
This lyric explains that he previously had seen his life as being of major importance and value; however, in the grand scheme of things, he really is not that “magnificent”. If you have ever had the chance to experience what it is like to look at open land, you can understand the meaning behind “I could see for miles, miles, miles”.
Looking at the land around you and realizing how big the earth is and the amount of activity that occurs that doesn’t even have to do with you makes you realize that you aren’t the center of the universe. Being in an open space makes you truly embrace the fact that you are living inside of your own body and you are a part of this greater environment. You are not a waste of space because you are made up of every single inch of yourself. But it’s also important to realize that the world can go on without you. The breakup that Vernon felt doesn’t equate to how glorious and large the world and time are.
Vernon goes on to explain how his previous experiences have diminished in importance over time. He discusses one important memory he has of living with his roommate in Eau Claire and when he was in the relationship with his girlfriend at the time.
He may have been connected to his girlfriend and his roommate while living in Eau Claire previously, but he now recognizes all he has are memories. The night that whoever showed him the song “Lip Parade” is dust in the wind. It’s those nights that you realize someone you love is interesting and can bring great joy to your life.
To Iver, that was found through being introduced to a song that he felt emotionally attached to, most likely due to the fact that he felt incredible and indestructible at the time. Iver relates this time to finding the “lost decree” in his life. The missing piece that “saying nothing, that’s enough for me”. When you find a person you love, you get to a point where silence is a beauty. Silence represents the comfort and the opportunity to revel in the fact that your in immense bliss.
He goes on to reminisce of the love that he had with the girl he broke up with because he goes on to explain once again that he recognized he isn’t truly magnificent while looking at the miles surrounding him. He seems to snap back into reality and out of the memory of when he knew he loved his ex.
Oftentimes, it helps to accept the hardships in life if you know there is something greater than yourself out there. He seems to believe that being a part of the greater epoch means that what has happened to him is greater than himself. Using the miles around him to explain how he is not even that large proves that he believes he is a part of something greater than himself. There is some mastermind behind his life that he just can’t control at times.
Vernon also uses the illusion of Christmas to explain his realization that he is going to be okay after the breakup. He used the description of “Christmas night, it clutched the light, the hallow bright” to allude to him and his brother smoking a joint. The pot has helped Inver realize the reality of what occurred as he stated “we smoked the screen to make it was it was to be, Now to know it my memory” meaning that he saw the situation clearer as well as accepting it as now a memory rather than the present.
In a way, that could mean that Inver believes this radically new acceptance is a gift like a Christmas gift that he had previously and so beautifully used. Christmas is one of the most special holidays because it brings back childhood security to a lot of people. Most kids were able to wake up and run downstairs to open presents and later that day, they would be spending time with their family.
As you grow up, you still feel a special connection to those emotions; however, you lose the excitement and mystery of it. But that could be a prime example of how your life is dust in the wind… nothing lasts forever. Life is ever-changing.
Most people come across this song due to it’s instrumental genius at first listen. When I first listened to it, it stopped me in my tracks. I was so captivated by it that I had to research the meaning behind it. Researching this song (along with his many other hits) has always been a relaxing and reassuring habit for me.
Knowing that he has felt the same isolation and recognition of the hurt that accompanies many aspects of life, causes me to be contaminated with the confidence and beauty of accepting life and it’s challenges. It isn’t an easy thing to accept that you aren’t as great as you think you are, because that means that life is bound to be less important than you believe it to be. While we all make our own reality, it is also good to step out of the shadow of it and own your own well-being.