This wasn’t music I wanted to listen to casually. I didn’t want to sing along to it while I got dinner ready for my wife, or play it in the car while we drove to the beach, or blast it through my headphones while I sweated on the treadmill. Prior to last night, I had only ever listened to “A Crow Looked at Me” while completely alone. The prospect of watching Elverum perform it live to a room full of several hundred fans made me uneasy, and not just because I’m not accustomed to contemplating death in the company of strangers. There is a fine line—perhaps too fine or jagged to ever locate with total certainty—between appreciating an artist’s emotional bravery and rubbernecking at his pain. There was something nauseating about the idea of a roomful of fans mentally mouthing along with Elverum’s lyrics, each of us waiting for our own personal favorite devastating line.
Peter C. Baker did a nice job articulating the strangeness of Mount Eerie’s current tour and press cycle for the New Yorker, and I think you should read it if that sounds like something you care about, which maybe it does not, I do not know you or what you care about. I saw Elverum sing his songs about his wife’s death and his now-motherless daughter last night in Brooklyn and I’m still not sure if my intention was far enough removed from that of the “Blackbird Dad” viewer to justify having gone. But I’d seen Mount Eerie a few times before and, though I can’t really listen to it ever, A Crow Looked At Me is beautiful and I thought it was somehow maybe important that I see him sing it, not that this is about me and not that I would ever speak about myself because you know I dislike that and I never do it. Everything about it was strange. So many people were on dates. A guy in front of me bought a poster? Another guy in front of me was very hot, which was gruesome of me to notice on an occasion like this. A person to my left let out loud sobs while the rest of us whimpered quietly. It felt like a very sad funeral for someone we did not know but I guess actually the point was that it was a very sad funeral for everyone we do know and have known. The relentless, brutally mundane sadness of song after song was almost comical. Unbearably sad song ends and then right away, “Sweet kid, what is this world we’re giving you? Smoldering and fascist with no mother.” Oh, my lord. “I’m sorry…for doing this to you,” Elverum said at one point, to much-needed laughter. “But also thank you for coming. It’s complicated.” It is very helpful that Elverum is funny and charming. I think it was good to see him sing his beautiful death songs, though I’m still having trouble placing it a comfortable distance away from grief porn. I guess a large part of grief porn’s thrill is in its distance, “better you than me,” but this places you directly in it, “me,” whether that is true or not. And it was genuinely beautiful. I’m not sure it left me feeling anything but sadness, but outside the venue I saw the hot guy again, which was nice.