Death Is Real
April 12, 2017 9:37 PM   Subscribe

Phil Elverum has been recording music since the late 1990s, first as The Microphones and then as Mount Eerie. His most recent album, A Crow Looked At Me, chronicles "the feelings and events and realities" in the months following his wife Geneviève's death from pancreatic cancer. The opening words of the first song, "Real Death," are these: "Death is real. Someone’s there and then they’re not, and it’s not for singing about. It’s not for making into art."

Elverum, whose music has always reflected his own thoughts and emotions through a naturalistic lens, had this to say about the record:
August 31st to Dec. 6th, 2016 in the same room where Geneviève died, using mostly her instruments, her guitar, her bass, her pick, her amp, her old family accordion, writing the words on her paper, looking out the same window.

Why share this much? Why open up like this? Why tell you, stranger, about these personal moments, the devastation and the hanging love? Our little family bubble was so sacred for so long. We carefully held it behind a curtain of privacy when we’d go out and do our art and music selves, too special to share, especially in our hyper-shared imbalanced times. Then we had a baby and this barrier felt even more important. (I still don’t want to tell you our daughter’s name.) Then in May 2015 they told us Geneviève had a surprise bad cancer, advanced pancreatic, and the ground opened up. What matters now? we thought. Then on July 9th 2016 she died at home and I belonged to nobody anymore. My internal moments felt like public property. The idea that I could have a self or personal preferences or songs eroded down into an absurd old idea leftover from a more self-indulgent time before I was a hospital-driver, a caregiver, a child-raiser, a griever. I am open now, and these songs poured out quickly in the fall, watching the days grey over and watching the neighbors across the alley tear down and rebuild their house. I make these songs and put them out into the world just to multiply my voice saying that I love her. I want it known.

"Death Is Real" could be the name of this album. These cold mechanics of sickness and loss are real and inescapable, and can bring an alienating, detached sharpness. But it is not the thing I want to remember. A crow did look at me. There is an echo of Geneviève that still rings, a reminder of the love and infinity beneath all of this obliteration. That’s why.
posted by valrus (11 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I'm seeing posts tonight on my social media from his Mount Eerie show in my favorite venue in Hollywood (The Masonic Temple in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery) and I have never been as jealous. This post assuages the pain. Somewhat.
posted by carsonb at 10:15 PM on April 12, 2017

Thanks for this.

I find myself incredibly touched by Phil Elverum's lyrics, for years now. The grief is so present. From "Ravens," accessible through the link in the OP: "Now I can only see you on the fridge in lifeless pictures / and every dream I have at night."

Rest in peace, Geneviève.


And an old Microphones favorite:
I Felt Your Shape
posted by migrantology at 10:22 PM on April 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I went to high school with Phil, and I still see him once a week or so when he comes into my store. It's obvious that the pain is still there, but it's equally obvious that he loves his little girl and works hard to raise a happy child. Despite all that he has gone through, it's rare to see Phil without a smile, and he is one of the kindest people I know.
posted by xedrik at 7:23 AM on April 13, 2017 [11 favorites]

This is my first FPP! I just really wanted to talk about (and read other people's thoughts about) this album. I've only listened to it a couple times but it's had a powerful effect on me already. It's astonishingly, achingly, relentlessly sad.
posted by valrus at 7:30 AM on April 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Phil's music has always got to me, but this one hits hard
posted by scruss at 7:45 AM on April 13, 2017

valrus, have you read this article in Pitchfork about the album? I almost posted it as an FPP when it came out, but kind of lost track of it.
posted by terooot at 7:52 AM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I hadn't read it, teoroot! Thank you. It's really good.
posted by valrus at 8:25 AM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I saw Mount Eerie and Julie Doiron in concert many years ago, and it was great. For some reason I've been following this story a fair bit. I guess as an admirer of his music, and as a man with a 1-year old and a wonderful wife, it's hard for me not to feel deeply and sincerely sorry for him. I wish him luck, and from the pitchfork article it sounds like he might be okay.

I'm looking forward to listening to the album when I'm ready.
posted by Alex404 at 8:50 AM on April 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't think this is mentioned in any of the links - his wife was the amazing cartoonist Geneviève Castrée. The Comics Journal's obituary for her is here; it includes some images of her work.
posted by Awkward Philip at 9:19 AM on April 13, 2017 [8 favorites]

I listen to Mount Eerie so often. I heard this album was coming a few weeks ago and just started it yesterday. I confess I had to stop halfway through--it was too moving for me to listen to at work. I am sure in a quiet moment this weekend I will try again. I can't imagine what he is going through, but his words convey some of it, and manage to capture a feeling of wonder and honesty that is rare these days.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:04 AM on April 13, 2017

I loved his description of the game "Wad Lord" on Jordan, Jesse, Go!.
posted by rossination at 2:04 PM on April 13, 2017

« Older Thessaly   |   "It doesn't get more physics-y than that" Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments