For DeYarmond Edison, Forever Ago
A sizable contributing factor to the early allure of Bon Iver was the narrative. In short, it goes something like this:
In 2006, North Carolina musician Justin Vernon encounters a Kanye-esque patch of bad luck. His relationship ends, he falls ill with mononucleosis, and his band breaks up. Searching for rest and recuperation, he heads to his father’s cabin back home in the woods of Wisconsin to wait out the impending winter in solace. Instead, the isolation serves as musical inspiration and an album spills forth. After originally passing it around to his group of friends, the album takes on a life of its own and the rest is history. For Emma, Forever Ago becomes one of the most iconic and revered albums of the 21st century.
There’s a reason this story resonated with people. It’s gripping. Everyone wants to see what this grizzly mountain man came up with at his most broken. I fell in love with Bon Iver, and Justin Vernon is still one of my all-time favorite musicians.
But there’s a small part of that story that seems to get glossed over. What’s up with the old band? If Vernon is locked up in a cabin popping off classic music by his lonesome, surely he was at least making halfway decent music back in Raleigh, right? Right.
The birth of Bon Iver coincides with the death of DeYarmond Edison, a band named for Justin Vernon’s middle names. (Who has two middle names?) While Bon Iver is famous for flowery, falsettoed prose, DeYarmond Edison sees Vernon flex his naturally deep voice into much more accessible lyrics. A quick Spotify search will yield Silent Signs, a 2005 contemporary folk offering. It’s the band’s second album, and while it showcases a lot of what Vernon would mold into Bon Iver and is worthy of its own post, DeYarmond Edison’s self-titled debut is where it’s at.
It’s the perfect fall album. The kind that’s cozy, romantic, and nostalgic for… something. When recommending this album to people I always tell them it’s what would happen if Bruce Springsteen were reincarnated in North Carolina and was a really big Bon Iver fan. It’s a bold proclamation, but so much of this album sounds like what would happen if Springsteen took his operation from Jersey to Raleigh. There’s a rich, warm Americana here that we never get with the whispy, airy tunes of Bon Iver.
Racing piano, emotive guitar solos, and vintage harmonicas. Oh, and the lyrics. The album hits its glorious stride on “Dusty Road” and suddenly I’m reminiscing about a car ride I’ve never taken.
“On this dusty road again
Hallelujah, you’re my friend
It’s so hot in the cab of this truck
But with the windows down the warmth from you gives me so much
And I hold you in my arms
And I hold you in my mind
As you sit right next to me
On this dusty road, so kind
And all the dust flies up in our hair
The road rushes by so fast it’s hard to catch my air
The radio plays me some scratchy song
It’s keeping me moving on, keeping me strong”
“The Lake” catches Justin in simple admiration of the world itself:
“And in the hold there’s black, there’s red,
Orange and with the blue
Never mind the breeze, never mind the miracles,
I got me and I got you
I know that this is my fate
And if I was God
This isn’t even something I could create”
This album makes me feel things, and it did from the very first time I heard it. As much as I love Bon Iver, there’s something to be said for simple, soulful lyrics. Tales of highways, dogs, and the simple ecstasy of driving at nighttime often hit home harder than abstract lyrics like “In a mother, out a moth/ Furling forests for the soft.”
I suppose the whole argument is moot, because DeYarmond Edison has been dead for a decade, and Bon Iver appears to have all but called it quits in the last three years. But Justin Vernon remains one of my favorite musicians for making internal debates like this possible.