Bon Iver Excavates Kumran on “re: stacks”

This my excavation and today is Kumran
Everything that happens is from now on

These lines open “re: stacks,” the final song on Bon Iver’s debut, For Emma, Forever Ago. Kumran (usually spelled “Qumran”) is the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. It symbolizes a personal catharsis for Justin Vernon, the band’s sole member; Vernon retreated to his father’s Wisconsin log cabin for three months to record the album, chop wood, and generally be alone. He explains the Kumran metaphor himself here:

When they found them it changed the whole course of Christianity, whether people wanted to know it or not. A lot of people chose to ignore it, a lot of people decided to run with it, and for many people it destroyed their faith, so I think I was just looking at it as a metaphor for whatever happens after that is new shit.

The song also hints at a slow shedding of the skin, rather than a complete catharsis. In the last verse, Vernon sings:

This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization
It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away
Your love will be safe with me

It’s not a “crispy realization” or a click of a lock in the door — a clean break from the past. In the final line he says that some of the past’s love will continue with him, like a pendant or a memory that won’t fade.

Not convinced? Vernon’s mom, Justine Vernon (real name, we assume), totally agrees. In this very adorable feature featuring several “indie rock moms” she says, “To me, it is not about getting over things and moving forward, it is about going through the sadness, taking some of it with you and being made whole because of it. I cry every time I listen to it.”

What’s good enough for Mrs. Vernon is good enough for us.

MP3: Bon Iver – “re: stacks”


35 responses to “Bon Iver Excavates Kumran on “re: stacks”

  1. One of my very favorite songs. I hadn’t heard that stuff about his mom. That’s awesome.

  2. Just been listening to re: stacks – it’s sort of become a habit to listen to it before heading to bed, when I am feeling wistful. Puzzled by the lyrics, I looked them up elsewhere – still puzzled by the definition of kumran, I looked at this and it’s an eloquent exposition, for which I thank thee kindly, Mr Wordsworth. I can’t wait to see Bon Iver at the End of the Road Festival. Keep up the good work. Right, back to the dance floor. Stevie Disco

  3. I listen to this song on repeat… reading the words (i have the vinyl) and crying. It’s not just the beauty of the melody…the sway and carry of his voice, but I feel like I’m feeling *exactly* the way he was feeling. I found this when I started searching for the meaning of Kumran… I stumbled on the Qumran definition as well as an urban slang definition of Kumran (a replacement for the word gimp, used in Sri Lanka). What Vernon’s mom said, it’s not about getting over thins, it’s the perfect caption to sum up my life this year… thus far anyway. It’s one of those years when the universe really just brings the shit down hard on you. It’s good. I’ll know myself so much better.
    Anyway, this song has been a constant comfort and I’m glad to bring further meaning to it.
    Thank you, honestly.

    hearts and thoughts in OK.

  4. One of my favourite songs, hearing it live was even better, this song is just so completely stuffed with emotion… This song gives me goosebumps each time I hear it. Definitely a keeper!

  5. I’ve been listening to this song on repeat for the past 2 weeks. Thank you for your eloquent explanation of its lyrics. “I cry every time I listen to it.” – Same for me.


  6. I listened to this album a lot throughout the last year. I listened so much I sought out other things that had been a part of Justin Vernon. DeYarmond Edison, Hazeltons, live tracks, and his Self-titled put out in 2006. This self titled cd put some things in my head about Justin Vernon that has made me hear For Emma in a different light entirely. Find that CD. Listen to Sides. Listen to For Emma Forever Ago. I think some new ideas might come from this.

  7. on new year’s eve in ljubljana, i cried, too – for different reasons – while this song played in the background. he asked me, “why are you sad?,” and i didn’t know what to say. the song seemed to strum the final whiteness of endings and the delicate pain of very, very beginnings. all at once. not only mine, but every beginning and ending in every place, for every lover…

    now THAT’S good songwriting.

  8. we all sang together with the band to close out their show at the fly by night club recently – a moment of collective bliss with For Emma the finale! Beautiful.

  9. Pingback: the most beautiful song: bon iver stacks « the most beautiful thing

  10. i love this song. bon iver has given me peace recently in my time of despair, confusion and utter chaos.
    i was curious about the kumran & this pretty much sums it up. thank you.

    i always listen before i fall alseep.
    i will always love bon iver.
    the music is beautiful.

  11. Pingback: Bon Iver–Re: Stacks « Chimney Smoke

  12. Monster thanks to you Wordsworth. This line in particular has piqued my interest since enjoying this sensational album, though personally I connect the reference to Qumran with an excavation of self, the unearthing of a profound insight which amounts to the same kind of contentious treasure. My take on the final stanza differs slightly to yours too, but that’s part of the magic isn’t it? Whatever the significance of these wonderful lyrics to Vernon, they produce diverse catharses for his fans-a thousand ways to love the one thing. Cheers WW.

  13. Googled “the meaning of Re: Stacks” and found your blog. I’m finding that I’m listening to this song on repeat too, like so many others…in my case: in the midst of my own semi-retreat of going-on-four months. I like what WW had to say about excavation of self…


  14. I was recently introduced to bon iver, and am looking up all the lyrics.
    All of the tracks are beautiful! his voice is soothing, and his words thoughtful, and reflective.
    i <3 it.

  15. it’s hard to explain how much this song means to me and draws emotion from me. it is literally perfect. so simple and meaningful. his music is so full of emotion and is written in such a way that even when i didn’t fully understand the lyrics i could understand what he was trying to say. i actually feel like i know vernon. unbelievable. x

  16. I can’t believe someone wrote this song – Vernon’s in my head. The background here made this song even more powerful for me – thank you.

    It’s taken a year and a half, but I’m finally at the “This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization” stage. If only I had heard this song earlier! :) I’ve been listening to this on repeat for a while now – it rivals Blood on the Tracks as my favourite album – a previously unreachable height.

    Many thanks.

  17. I love this song. Its such a relief that there are artists like bon iver today. They are one of the very few who write songs with sensible and creative lyrics. re:stacks is sung and written by a true artist. I googled kumran and found this site. thanks for posting.

  18. the song is just so meaningful and soothing. it is my solitude escapee. i can interpret this in many ways.

    thanks to the poster. and thanks to vernon.

  19. I only recently acquired bon ivers album – for emma…. So beautiful.. I too find myself listening to re:stacks over and over again; especially before I close my eyes to sleep. I am blessed that I found this music. Cheers to justin vernon…

    Peace n prog

  20. I have been listening to this song for a long long time now.. I kind of felt the meaning.. even though at the time I could not tell exactly what he was singing word by word.. I am coming out of a break up and when I had to move out of the house we were sharing with my ex.. I moved abroad.. I remember at the airport.. I sat down with my bags and the feeling that there was so much that I was leaving behind.. so much that I was letting go cos things were changing.. I was crying my eyes out… and the only song that I could listen to was Stacks.. on repeat.. it healed the moment and I stood up like a different man, got in the plane feeling that more than a life left behind I was walking into a new life.. The power of music! Good Music. Bravo Bon Iver!

  21. This song is truely perfect, it hurts to know more ppl feel the same as Vernon but its great to know there’s only a few of us who can express it. Youtube me music by Jordan smith

  22. i cant get over how beautiful this song is
    its truely profound and sincere.
    everytime i listen to it i just cloes my eyes and let the rythym and his soothing voice carry me
    i really connect to the fact that its about not letting go but accepting the sadness and letting it become a part of you and forming the person you are
    ive experianced alot of difficult things in my life and im still holding onto them every day

  23. Thank you for the explanation of Kumran – It’s a wonderful, interesting symbol for the feeling he’s trying to capture. It’s profound – how the discovery of something leads to a regretful but necessary change; how the desire is to rid one’s self completely of the source of the pain or loss, but the heart doesn’t let you – and that’s normal; that’s right.

  24. What this blog comments section needs is the full lyrics to this beautiful song.

    This my excavation and today is Kumran
    Everything that happens is from now on
    This is pouring rain
    This is paralyzed

    I keep throwing it down two hundred at a time
    It’s hard to find it when you knew it
    When your money’s gone
    And you’re drunk as hell

    On your back with your racks as the stacks as your load
    In the back and the racks and the stacks are your load
    In the back with your racks and you’re unstacking your load

    I’ve been twisting to the sun I needed to replace
    The fountain in the front yard is rusted out
    All my love was down
    In a frozen ground

    There’s a black crow sitting across from me; his wiry legs are crossed
    And he’s dangling my keys he even fakes a toss
    Whatever could it be
    That has brought me to this loss?

    On your back with your racks as the stacks as your load
    In the back and the racks and the stacks of your load
    In the back with your racks and you’re unstacking your load

    This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization
    It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away
    Your love will be
    Safe with me

  25. Pingback: Re: Stacks « A Lack of Colour

  26. This album crashes a depth of knowing upon me that is overwhelming.

  27. This is the song I listen to when I want to cry. You know the times when something sad or bad has happened and you need to spill the tears to sob until its out your system.
    when I’m finishing a good book before the last couple of pages I put on stacks and listen whilst I read it is comforting to know that a song can run my emotions so high,its a truly beautiful song and it paints a beautiful scene in my mind that I can change at will. Basically this song is pure feeling.

  28. I heard this once (as a backdrop to the last few scenes of an episode of Silent Witness on the BBC) and had to find it. Some searching later and have been listening all afternoon. Just magical.

  29. My father passed away yesterday, almost three years to the day after the passing of my brother in a car accident. This song says exactly how I feel now. I love what Justin’s mother said and will share that with my mother. Even reading about this song makes me weep right now. It is truly beautiful and I’ll have it played at Dad’s funeral service.

  30. Love the song. Pretty much love everything that Vernon does. First head this song in an episode of House.

    But anyways, I’m really confused as to his comments on Qumran. I don’t know anyone, anywhere, that had their faith “destroyed” by the scrolls found there. It did nothing but REINFORCE things already believed. And why would it affect Christianity? The sect at Qumran (most likely the Essenes) were Jews. All of the writings found there were Jewish (read: Old Testament) writings. Nothing at all to do with New Testament Christianity.

    Just wanted to throw that out there.

  31. Pingback: Future Memories | Awake & Asleep

  32. In love with this song. Thank you for making me love it more. You have explained it very well. x

  33. The most accurate and touching breakup song I have ever heard. Thank you Justin. It’s cathartic for those listening as well.

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