In Cicely, a small Alaskan town, its inhabitants had a habit: going outside to celebrate the first snowfall of the year. They were all heading to the main square, hugging, kissing, and wishing each other a good winter. Wishing someone a good winter in Alaska should be like wishing someone in the Caribbean a good summer. It is a wish that could be said that it never expires, although it must be renewed with a formal procedure such as the first snowfall or any other rite that reminds us that life everywhere has seasons, it maintains an order.
That ritual marked a guy who had lost them. A guy who lived without rules and who was evicted from himself. That guy was named Justin Vernon and in 2007 he was so close to abandonment that he no longer recognized himself. Justin loved music since he was a child and had a band with his friends, created in a town in Wisconsin, but he decided to leave it because he did not feel safe with the artistic direction after two albums. They continued, but he left and was alone. His departure from the band coincided shortly after with another break, even more painful: he and his girlfriend ended their relationship. As the misfortunes, they say, never come alone, there was one more in Justin’s life: he suffered a mononucleosis, with unexpected complications and that led him to look more dead than alive.
Justin was broken, like a glass smashed by blows. After spending a season living at the home of his friend Kelly Crisp, whom he had helped record his first album with his band The Rosebuds, he went to a cabin, lost in a forest in Wisconsin. I was desperate to find meaning in life. Alone, with no company other than his guitars and a DVD, Justin shut himself up as if the world out there, beyond the snow, claimed victims at all hours, already turned into an unreal place that conspired against everyone. Inside, in the cabin, perhaps he was safer. Or maybe he was simply running away.
Justin took with him the Serie Doctor in alaska and one night he saw the chapter in which the inhabitants of Cicely take to the streets to wish each other a good winter. It was a revelation. Did You Find What You Were Looking For. Going out to the main square to wish yourself a good winter with the first snowfall was somewhat revolutionary. If revolutions catch on for insignificant details, Justin Vernon already had his own.
With hardly any means and with precarious resources, he used his imagination to write confessional folk songs. An intimate, simmering recess with overlapping acoustic guitars, slides sizzling, whispered percussions, timid keyboards, light winds and a brittle falsetto chant with which he indicated his hurt state. Under this home atmosphere, was born For Emma, Forever Aug, an album that is an internal dialogue of Justin with himself and all his ghosts. In fact, Emma is a ghost. He is not his girlfriend, but he is the ghost of all his failed relationships. Emma glides around the cabin as snow covers the forest landscape. Justin talks to her, looks for her, begs her, questions her, sings her. Come on, consumed love, what happened here? / Hope dries up, badly subject to me ”, sings in Skinny Love.
Sometimes there are bull runs that manage to get the best out of the human condition. For Emma, Forever Aug It sounds fragile from its first song, but its ghostly folk chases the opposite territory: life. From the depths of loneliness, this album is a catharsis when it manages to show the importance of human warmth: the recognition of our own skin and the contact with others, with all those who also experience winter.
Cicely is a remote town, so remote that it is imaginary, as are its inhabitants. One of the locals once says how to get to this place: “You take the road and head north, with no fixed destination, and, just when you think you have lost contact with everything real, you meet Cicely.” Justin Vernon found it, so much so that Kelly Crisp recounted that one day a letter came to him from his friend’s cabin thanking him for his hospitality in those times of anxiety and at the signing place you could read: “Good winter”. Refugee between mountains of snow, Justin Vernon was renamed Bon Iver, which in French means “good winter” and was the exact term with which they wished each other the best in Cicely.