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Now Only

by Mount Eerie

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TINTIN IN TIBET I sing to you. I sing to you Geneviève. I sing to you. You don’t exist. I sing to you though. When I address you who am I talking to? Standing in the front yard like an open wound repeating “I love you” to who? I recorded all these songs about the echoes in our house now and then walked out the door to play them on a stage but I sing to you. I picture you when we first met you were twenty two. I drove my truck onto the ferry to Victoria in the morning where we met and talked forever in your apartment. Evening falling, so I brought my blankets in and slept on the floor right next to your bed. In the morning, barely awake, I saw you standing right above me peeling and orange and looking hungry. “Do you want some?” you asked me and then just avalanched into me with pieces of orange and weight and kissing and certainty. I remember you a few days later in Tofino where we’d driven to play a show you set up for us at a surf shop to no one then we slept in the back of my truck and got woken up by the cops and so went down to the fishing boat docks to ask whoever for a ride across the water to Meares Island to just get left there for the day. And we did and brought some food to eat and went through the big trees abandoned and in love, totally insane, apart from the rest of the world. We had finally found each other in the universe. Lying on the rocks waiting for the boat to come pick us up I read the one book we had with us aloud with my head on your lap, sinking into you. Tintin In Tibet in French. We thought of devotion and snow and distant longing and the Himalayan air, high and cold with a bell ringing out. Right before you died thirteen years later in our house I remember through your gasping for oxygen you explained that you were thinking about that high cold air wrapping the globe. Singing above the mountains of the gods. And I do picture you there: molecules dancing. But I’d rather you were in the house watching the unfolding everyday life of this good daughter we made instead of being scattered by the wind for no reason so I sing to you.
Distortion 10:58
DISTORTION But I don’t believe in ghosts or anything. I know that you are gone and that I’m carrying some version of you around, some untrustworthy old description in my memories. That must be your ghost taking form, created every moment by me dreaming you so. Is it my job now to hold whatever’s left of you for all time? and to reenact you for our daughter’s life? I do remember when I was a kid and realized that life ends and is just over, that a point comes where we no longer get to say or do anything, and then what? I guess just forgotten. I said to my mom that I hoped to do something important with my life. Not be famous, but just remembered a little more, to echo beyond my actual end. My mom laughed at this kid trying to wriggle his way out of mortality, of the inescapable final feral scream. But I held that hope and grew up wondering what dying means. Unsatisfied, ambitious and squirming. The first dead body I ever saw in real life was my great-grandfather’s, embalmed in a casket in Everett in a room by the freeway where they talked me into reading a thing from the bible about walking through a valley in the shadow of death but I didn’t understand the words. I thought of actually walking through a valley and a shadow with a backpack and a tent. But that dead body next to me spoke clear and metaphor-free. In December 2001, after having spent the summer and fall traveling mostly alone around the country that was spiraling into war and mania, little flags were everywhere, I was living on the periphery as a twenty three year old wrapped up in doing what I wanted and it was music and painting on newsprint sleeping in yards without asking permission and eating all the fruit from the tree like Tarzan or Walt Whitman, voracious, devouring life, singing my song, but that December I was shaken by a pregnancy scare from someone who I’d been with for only one night many states away, who I hadn’t planned to keep knowing, a young and embarrassing over-confident animal night. The terror of the idea of fatherhood at twenty three destroyed my foundation and left me freaked out and wandering around, mourning the independence and solitude that defined me then. Though my life is a galaxy of subtleties, my complex intentions and aspirations do not matter at all in the face of the crushing flow of actual time. I saw my ancestors as sad and misunderstood in the same way that my descendants will squint back through a fog trying to see some polluted version of all I meant to be in life, their recollections pruned by the accidents of time, what got thrown away and what gets talked about at night. But she had her period eventually and I went back to being twenty three. Eleven years later I was traveling alone again on an airplane from New Zealand to Perth, Western Australia. Very alone, so far away from you and the home that we had made. I watched a movie on the plane about Jack Kerouac, a documentary going deeper than the usual congratulations. They interviewed his daughter, Jan Kerouac, and she tore through the history. She told about this deadbeat drinking, watching Three Stooges on TV, not acknowledging his paternity, abandoning the child, taking cowardly refuge in his self-mythology. When she spoke I heard your voice telling me about the adults who had abandoned you as a sweet kid and left you to grow precariously, and when she spoke I looked in her face and saw you looking back at me. On a tiny airplane seat screen at the bottom of the world I saw a French-Canadian resemblance and I heard suffering echoing. A lineage of bad parents and strong daughters withstanding. She had black hair and freckles and pale skin just like you and she told the hard truth and slayed the gods just like you. I saw the cracks in the facade of posterity. I missed you so I went home. The second dead body I ever saw was you, Geneviève, when I watched you turn from alive to dead right here in our house. I looked around the room and asked “Are you here?” and you weren’t, and you are not here. I sing to you though. I keep you breathing through my lungs in a constant uncomfortable stream of memories trailing out until I am dead too and then eventually all the people who remember me will also die containing what it was like to stand in the same air with me and breathe and wonder why and then distortion and then the silence of space, the Night Palace, the ocean blurring, but in my tears right now light gleams.
Now Only 05:54
NOW ONLY I remember looking around the hospital waiting room full of people all absorbed in their own personal catastrophes, all reading books like Being Mortal, all with the look in their eye. And I remember still feeling like “No. No one can understand.” “No. My devastation is unique.” But people get cancer and die. People get hit by trucks and die. People just living their lives get erased for no reason with the rest of us just watching from the side and some people have to survive and find a way to feel lucky to still be alive, to sleep through the night. I wrote down all the details of how my house fell apart, how the person I love got killed by a bad disease out of nowhere for no reason, and me living in the blast zone with our daughter and etc. I made these songs and then the next thing I knew I was standing in the dirt under the desert sky at night outside Phoenix at a music festival that had paid to fly me in to sing these death songs to a bunch of young people on drugs. Standing in the dust next to an idling bus with Skrillex inside, the sound of subwoofers in the distance. I had stayed up till three talking to Weyes Blood and Father John Misty about songwriting in the backstage bungalows, eating fruit and jumping on the bed like lost children exploding across the earth in a self-indulgent all-consuming wreck of ideas that blot out the stars. To be still alive felt so absurd. People get cancer and die. People get hit by trucks and die. People just living their lives get erased for no reason with the rest of us averting our eyes. When I was leaning on Skrillex’s tour bus waiting for the hotel shuttle in the middle of the night I barely knew who I was. I looked up and saw Orion wielding a club and a shield and there you were again, majestic, dead wife. As my grief becomes calcified, frozen in stories, and in these songs I keep singing, numbing it down, the unsingable real memory of you and the feral eruptions of sobbing, these waves hit less frequently. They thin and then they are gone. You are gone then your echo is gone then the crying is gone and what is left but this merchandise? This is what my life feels like now: like I got abruptly dropped off on the side of the road in the middle of a long horrible ride in a hot van that was too full of confident chattering dudes. The sound of tires receding. Taking in the night air, I say “now only”.
Earth 05:52
EARTH I don’t want to live with this feeling any longer than I have to but also I don’t want you to be gone so I talk about you all the time including the last day that you were alive and I hang your pictures around the house for me to surprise myself with and cry. Everybody who used to know us seems concerned but if they knew that when you enter my mind I am full of the love that illuminated our house for all those years and made this dancing child who tears through the days with a brilliance you would have deepened and sang along with but you’re sleeping out in the yard now. What am I saying? No one is sleeping. You don’t even have a dead body anymore. It was taken away. I went and wrote a check and got a cardboard box full of your ashes and a little plastic bag with your necklace and I drove back home truly alone. I guess I didn’t bury it deeply enough when I poured out your ashes beneath the three witch hazels that you planted in the yard a few years ago in a triangle for us where me and the kid were rolling in the grass the other day and I saw actual chunks of your bones, bleached and weathered, uneraseable, you’re still out there in the spring upheaving, coming out of the ground, into air. Is that exact fragment your finger that once caressed me? Not that long ago, I still can feel it. Is that other shard a piece of your skull that once contained the wild brain that used to overflow with loving? Undiscovered and gone. Now just shrapnel remains. Earth. Another place I poured your ashes out was on a chair on top of a mountain pointed at the sunset. I went back there last week after a year has passed and noticed that the chunks of your bones that haven’t been blown away are indistinguishable from the other pieces of animal bones brought there by coyotes, vultures, and gods. Against my will I felt a little bit of solace creeping in while I layed there on the moss. Compost and memory, there’s nothing else. (I can hear Wolves In The Throne Room singing “I Will Lay Down My Bones Among The Rocks And Roots”) At night I sit and picture myself curled up beneath ten feet of water at the bottom of the lake. I imagine trout bumping against me in the low diminished light, holding my breath, trying to be a boulder eroding to join you in re-mingling with the background of churned muck coalescing in the dark, to get ground back down to matter only. Eternal and dumb, becoming not-a-thing, abdicating form.
TWO PAINTINGS BY NIKOLAI ASTRUP I know no one now. Now I say “you”. Now after the ground has opened up, now after you died I wonder what could beacon me forward into the rest of life. I can glimpse occasional moments gleaming like bonfires burning from across the fjord. In a painting from around 1915 called Midsummer Eve Bonfire by Nikolai Astrup that shines on my computer screen in 2017 in the awful July night, the house is finally quiet and still with the child asleep upstairs so I sit and notice the painting of bonfires on the hillside and hanging smoke in the valleys wrapping back up through the fjord at dusk, hovering like scarves of mist draped along the ridges above couples dancing in the green twilight around fires, and in the water below the reflections of other fires from other parties illuminates the depths and glitters shining and alone. Everyone is dancing and there’s music and a man climbs up the hill pulling a juniper bough to throw into the fire to make some sparks rise up to join the stars. These people in the painting believed in magic and earth and they all knew loss, and they all came to the fire. I saw myself in this one young woman in the foreground with a look of desolation and a body that looked pregnant as she leaned against the moss covered rocks off to the side, apart from all the people celebrating Midsummer. I knew her person was gone just like me. And, just like me, she looked across at the fires from far away and wanted something in their light to say “Live your life, and if you don’t the ground is definitely ready at any moment to open up again to swallow you back in, to digest you back into something useful for somebody. Meanwhile above all these Norwegians dancing in the twilight the permanent white snow gleamed. (You used to call me “neige éternelle”.) The man who painted this girl’s big black eyes gazing, drawing the fire into herself, standing alone, Nikolai Astrup, he also died young, at forty seven, right after finishing building his studio at home where he probably intended to keep on painting his resonant life into old age but sometimes people get killed before they get to finish all the things they were going to do. That’s why I’m not waiting around anymore. That’s why I tell you that I love you. Does it even matter what we leave behind? I’m flying on an airplane over the Grand Canyon imagining strangers going through the wreckage of this flight if it were to crash. Would anyone notice or care? Gathering up my stuff from the desert below, would they investigate the last song I was listening to? Would they go through my phone and see the last picture I ever took was of our sleeping daughter early this morning, getting ready to go, I was struck by her face, sweet in the blue light of our dim room. Would they follow the thread back and find her there? I snap back out of the plane crash fantasy, still alive, and I know that’s not how it would go. I know the actual mess that death leaves behind just gets bulldozed in a panic by the living, pushed over the waterfall, because that’s me now: holding all your things, resisting the inevitable flooding of the archives, the scraps distributed by wind, a life’s work just left out in the rain. But I’m doing what I can to reassemble a poor substitute version of you made of the fragments and drawings that you left behind. I go through your diaries and notebooks at night. I’m still cradling you in me. There’s another Nikolai Astrup painting from 1920 called Foxgloves that hangs on the fridge and I look at it every morning and every night before bed. Some trees have been cut down next to a stream flowing through a birch grove in late spring and two girls that look like you gather berries in baskets, hunched over like young animals grazing with their red dresses against the white birch tree trunks, interweaving, beneath the clattering leaves. The two stumps in the foreground remind me that everything is fleeting. (As if reminding is what I need.) But then the foxgloves grow. I read they’re the first flowers that return to disturbed ground like where logging took place, or where someone like me rolled around wailing in a clearing. Now I don’t wonder anymore if it’s significant that all these foxgloves spring up on the place where I’m about to build our house and go to live and let you fade in the night air, surviving with what dust is left of you here. Now you will recede into the paintings.
Crow pt. 2 06:50
CROW pt. 2 A crow that’s being dreamed by a child who’s being carried through the forest sleeping, wondering in her twilight half awareness where her mother went. I know that you died. But in this child’s crow dream you survive beneath layers of magical symbolic wild animals inhabiting the edges of our fogged over consciousnesses grasping for something to hold, something old like a name cut into a stone or a bird that will make eye contact. That’s where you live now, or at least that’s where I hold you. We’re still here without you. Sleeping and the sun’s coming up. In the ruins of your household we wake up again, coming back into THIS. Every day that comes, the echo of you living here gets quieter, obscured by the loud wind of us now, wailing and moaning for you but also living, talking about school, making food, just surviving, and still containing love, waking up again. The baby that you knew is now a kid and when she looks at me with your eyes the shape of almonds I am stirred inside and reemerge. I go downstairs and turn on CBC and make some coffee and boil two eggs, make two pieces of bread into toast, open a window, give the child some clothes and get us sitting at the table where your chair still sits across from me, watching. I stand to put on music. Our daughter sees and asks for mama’s record. She’s staring at the speaker with a look of recognition, putting it together that that’s you singing. I’m sobbing and eating eggs again. You’re a quiet echo on loud wind. But when I’m trying to I see you everywhere, in plants and birds, in our daughter, in the sun going down and coming up, in whatever, in the myths that used to get told around the fire where a seal’s head pokes up through from underwater crossing a threshold between two worlds, yours and mine. We were skeletally intertwined once but now I notice ravens instead. I don’t see you anywhere. If you still hang in the branches like burnt wood I will go out beneath with arms reached and run my fingers through the air where you breathed, touching your last breath, reaching through to the world of the gone with my hand empty.


between March 14th and October 9th, 2017
at home in the same room

box 1561
Anacortes, Wash.
U.S.A. 98221


Now Only, written shortly following the release of A Crow Looked At Me and the first live performances of those songs, is a deeper exploration of that style of candid, undisguised lyrical writing. It portrays Elverum’s continuing immersion in the strange reality of Geneviève’s death, chronicling the evolution of his relationship to her and her memory, and of the effect the artistic exploration of his grief has had on his own life. The scope of Now Only encompasses not only hospitals and deathbeds, but also a music festival, childhood memories of conversations with Elverum’s mother, profound paintings and affecting artworks he encounters, a documentary about Jack Kerouac, and most significantly, memories of his life with Geneviève. These moments and thoughts resonate with each other, creating a more complex and nuanced picture of mourning and healing. The power of these songs comes not from the small, sharp moments of cutting phrases or shocks, but the echoes that weave the songs together, the way a life is woven.

The music, fully realized by Elverum alone at home, is fleshed out texturally and seems to react to the words in real time. In a moment of confusion, dissonance abruptly makes itself known; in a moment of clarity, gentle piano arises. On the title track, the blunt declaration of “people get cancer and die” is subverted by a melody that can only be described as pop. As Elverum reinvents his lyrical process, he is also refining his musical vocabulary.

Elverum’s life during the period he wrote Now Only was defined by the duality of existing with the praise and attention garnered by A Crow Looked At Me and the difficult reality of maintaining a house with a small child by himself, as well as working to preserve Geneviève’s artistic legacy. Consumed with the day to day of raising his daughter, Elverum felt his musical self was so distant that it seemed fictional. Stepping into the role of Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie held the promise of positive empathy and praise, but also the difficulty of inhabiting the intense grief that produced the music. These moments, both public and domestic, are chronicled in these songs. They are songs of remembrance, and songs about the idea of remembrance, about living on the cusp of the past and present and reluctantly witnessing a beloved person’s history take shape. Time continues.


released March 16, 2018


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Mount Eerie Anacortes, Washington

on Lummi, Samish, Klallam, Tulalip and W̱SÁNEĆ land

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