Death is real. Death is thieving. Death is senseless. It’s incomprehensible, in part because our minds simply fail to comprehend such finality. There’s no amount of time that can prepare you for the death of a friend or a loved one because there’s no absence as palpable as the one created by death. It’s just this massive, immutable abyss of pain that you can only ponder and never really know.
On his new song “Real Death,” Phil Elverum (as Mount Eerie) is staring into such an abyss and wondering just how the hell it came into his life. Last year, in July, Elverum’s wife, artist Geneviève Castrée, died at home after a surprise battle with advanced pancreatic cancer. And then, for Elverum, everything failed. “My knees fail. My brain fails. Words fail,” he attempts to sing over a stark backing of acoustic guitar and gently clopping percussion.
The music gives Elverum all the room he needs to not so much sing, but document. With a heart heavier than heaven, he reports that death isn’t “for singing about” or “making into art.” He captures how it obliterates any sort of creativity. Such a profound loss makes you catatonic and unwilling to do anything. “It’s dumb and I don’t wanna learn anything from this,” he tenderly warbles near the end. But then that understandable obstinance is tempered by a parting “I love you.” Such a love is something that death can never steal.
“Real Death” is from Elverum’s newly announced Mount Eerie album A Crow Looked at Me, which is out on March 24 through his P.W. Elverum & Sun imprint. Elverum says he will be playing these songs in front of audiences later in 2017. You can hear “Real Death” and Paste Cloud audio from Mount Eerie’s 2010 Daytrotter session below, preorder the album here, and see its tracklist and cover art, plus the statement Elverum made about the record.
A Crow Looked at Me Tracklist:
01. Real Death
04. Forest Fire
06. My Chasm
07. When I Take Out The Garbage At Night
08. Emptiness pt. 2
10. Soria Moria
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.) 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.