A story about Bon Iver’s Holocene

So there’s this website I regularly read called song meanings, and I tend to go deep in the comments section of songs I really connect with to find out what other peoples interpretations are. Tonight I was looking over Holocene, by Bon Iver, and found this comment that moved me quite intensely, and I figured maybe it might have the same impact on one of you.

I’m not sure what the song means. I just wanted to share a story. It’s probably the most significant moment in my life, and I haven’t told it to many people; for some reason just tossing it out onto the internet to whomever comes across it seems fitting. I was in Baghdad a couple years contracting for some shitty part of the military industrial complex. I hadn’t made many friends in Iraq, but I made a couple. One was a guy in the Army who got sent out to D8, this shitty little Forward Base in the middle of Sadr City – 4 square blocks of Baghdad, outside of the Greenzone, separated from the streets by a box of 14 foot T Walls. June 8th (my son’s 12th birthday) I found out in The Stars and Stripes – the military newspaper, that he’d been killed by an IRAM attack. Just before this, my girlfriend, who I was more than in love with, left and moved across the country – she said she was coming back, but I knew. The last time I saw her was when I got on the plane to leave. I think, really, I just wanted to see her one last time. That couldn’t be goodbye, not like that. After the attack my department there all demobilized and left D8, meaning someone had to go. I volunteered. I guess I thought I’d get killed there too, or that I couldn’t get killed, I’m still not sure. I landed on the 4th of July. Every day I walked past the memorial cross for my friend but my sunglasses mostly hid the constant crying. It was a really dangerous place, so I slept in the bunker most of the time once I got there and it was real. At some point I broke, completely. The hardest part was the realization that my entire life I’d been an extreme narcissist – not just obsessed with my appearance, but the toxic kind of person so ruled by their own fear and insecurity that they poisoned every one around them, alienated them, hurt them and was always the victim of my own arrogance. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a profound selfishness, almost like people only exist when you’re around.I listened to this album on repeat, nearly constantly the entire time I was there – constantly shaking with anxiety, consumed with loss, and fear, and self hatred. It was the light breeze that kept my mind from drowning in it’s own panicked sweat. I couldn’t sleep, I’d chew the skin from my fingers until they bled, walk in circles, anything to keep moving, to think a little less.I got out, eventually, and on the Blackhawk ride back to my main base over Baghdad in the middle of the night – watching it glitter like billions of stars, watching kids swimming in pools, traffic jams, neon Ferris Wheels – all these people just going on living. It felt like “How could they”, after he died, after she left, after I lost, “how could they”? Then, out of somewhere, it just clicked – of course they could, and I just flew back, the desert stretching off forever with:And at once I knew I was not magnificentHigh above the highway aisle (Jagged vacance, thick with ice)But I could see for miles, miles, milesPlaying over and over in my head. I came back a completely different person, and I’m not sure, without this song, I would have. I think it was the first thing in my life I ever truly appreciated, was capable of appreciating. Probably the best and worst moments in my existence, tied together by this song.

 

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