Last week we discussed songs (or the lack thereof) describing the alien landscape that made existentialism so easy in Werner Herzog’s documentary Encounters at the End of the World. While Keane’s song “Bedshaped” put into words the intangible feeling of haziness that enables this polar rumination, I had a hard time thinking up songs specifically about setting; that is, songs about place.
Then I saw Bowerbirds, opening for Bon Iver at Black Cat. Hailing from Raleigh, North Carolina, their docile, creaking folk keeps close ties to home, whether it be the North Carolina woods, a vague lakeside memory, or the very house they write in.
One scientist in Encounters says Antarctica feels like a living being, that its constant drifting and shifting — and its push-and-pull relationship with climate change — make him feel like he lives aboard a giant creature. (This quote doesn’t seem to be online; anyone have it?) In the song “My Oldest Memory,” off Bowerbirds’ album Hymns for a Dark Horse, the band sings about a natural haven preserved in memory:
And I dont know whose land we’re on
Is this an island that plots like a villain,
Or an old ghost friend we don’t believe in?
The verses flip like a photo album of a hike along the water: “Out where the waves wrestle with the dirty brine,” the band crosses sand and thicket to rest their heads in the nooks of a cypress. In the memory, recalled through the lens of a child, the land becomes a mystical character, large beyond comprehension. Now, looking back as adults, the picture is foggier: Is nature still an omnipresent spirit as it was during those barefoot and carefree summers? Or is it slowly dying at the hands of amnesia, fading like Tinkerbell as it disappears from our modern, responsible lives?