I remember sitting with my friend Casey outside of The Walnut Room, a tiny bar nestled off Walnut Street fittingly tucked away in a city that I once knew quite well. It was a warm – but not overly humid – June night. The back patio of the “Walnut” (as we called it) was alive with an influx of locals who’d learned to love the place as much as we did. A few scattered tables were strewn about, acting as giant coasters for the patrons and their chosen elixirs. A couple of trees, remarkably unscathed by urban development, allowed their branches to hang over our tiny wooden table like a awning, as if protecting Casey and I from some unseen danger the clear night sky may unexpectedly toss our way. String lights wove their way through the branches of the trees and along the upper trellis of a wooden pergola that encased the section of the patio, doing their best to illuminate an already gorgeous evening firmament. Yet, despite the blending of tête-à-têtes happening around us, we sat perched like archaic seraphs content to tranquilly enjoy life’s young triumphs.
With far away eyes, Casey lit a cigarette, seemingly losing himself to his own thoughts. I on the other hand noticed a couple locked in some version of an embrace on the corner of the street that the patio overlooked. I watched as the guy leaned in and kissed the girl. Then there was a moment of hesitation in her head tilt. Love? Regret? Don’t they always go hand in hand?
It’s funny how the first date and the last parallel so closely. The tension. The awkward touching. That moment when you have to part…
And part they did. The guy and girl retreated in opposite directions, their body language indicated an ending had just been written.
Casey continued his cigarette, lazily blowing smoke rings and I watched the girl, seemingly wounded, walk toward the gated patio entrance of The Walnut. After flashing her I.D. to the door guy, she strolled over and ordered a drink at the outside bar then stood alone nursing her vodka like an injury.
It was at this point – this instant – between her championless stance and my perforated assumptions – that I caught the sound of a song permeating gently from the bar’s outdoor speakers. The conversations at nearby tables bled into background noise as the simple percussion and scratchy guitars of the song became the preponderate sound snaking serenely into my ear canal.
This recollected thought is worth remembering because that’s the exact moment I first heard Bon Iver’s Blood Bank, the title track from the 2009 E.P.
Blood Bank takes off, seemingly unhurried, with its calm and whispery “woooos”. Lead singer Justin Vernon, in his trademark falsetto voice, croons – almost mournfully – with unrestrained lyricism and imageries that will most assuredly settle in your chest with a calcified ache.
Well, I met you at the blood bank
We were looking at the bags
Wondering if any of the colors
Matched any of the names we knew on the tags
The song is a reminiscent narrative, as told by Vernon, for the listener to experience and take part in. And while the melody lends itself to a sentiment of sadness, the actual lyrics, both beautiful and concise, capture a simple moment of right here, right now – making the song both plausible and genuine. Infectious and haunting – it’s the kind of song you want playing at a potentially pivotal moment in your life. As its said, unbelievable, life altering, and breath stealing moments so often take place when you least expect them – in places as unvarying as blood banks and the front seats of cars – sometimes even the patios of seedy little dive bars.
Then the snow started falling
We were stuck out in your car
You were rubbing both of my hands
Chewing on a candy bar
You said “ain’t this just like the present
To be showing up like this”
As a moon waned to crescent
We started to kiss
The line, “Ain’t this just like the present/to be showing up like this?” That’s how this crazy little world works. Always when you least expect it and have nothing charming to say. All you can do is watch and wonder, what if? That’s life though isn’t it? Bittersweet. It just goes to show you that fate is an unpredictable son of a bitch and can throw you as many curve balls as it can bones.
Though simple, Blood Bank harkens as an auditory ode to a winterized version of a Nicholas Sparks novel. And once you’ve finally steadied your breathing and that golf ball sized knot has worked itself free from your esophagus, low chords sustain and taper as the song crescendos and rattles to a beautiful, chaotic conclusion.
The night also concluded with Casey and me leaving the bar as the same greenhorns we were hours earlier when it came to idealistic romanticism.
And that girl? I never got her name because I failed to ask.
That secret that you knew
But don’t know how to tell
It fucks with your honor
And it teases your head
But you know that it’s good, girl
‘Cause its running you with red