21 October 2008

'Skinny Love' & the Panic Hole

I know most of the music fans out there have already heard this, but I heard it again yesterday and it has been in my head ever since:


Bon Iver and 'Skinny Love', from For Emma, Forever Ago. The album title is what really got my attention a few months back, while listening to World Cafe. I suppose ever since my daughter Emma died in 2003, her name will always have a visceral hook in me, and when David Dye said the title I sat bolt upright in my car (I was listening to the radio on my lunch break), immediately intrigued. I don't remember what song was played (it might have been 'Flume' or 'The Wolves Part I and II') but I do recall being entranced. Even with all that, I haven't bought the album yet. There is a song on it, 'For Emma', that is holding me back.

Hearing 'Skinny Love' on the radio again revived my interest in Bon Iver or more precisely, Justin Vernon. So I did the Google/Wikipedia/YouTube thing to get the skinny (sorry, bad pun) and I found out that Justin had recorded most of the album while holed up in his father's cabin in northern Wisconsin. Even without having heard the entire album, I think I understand the process that created it. Sometimes my grief over Emma makes me want to sequester myself somewhere far away and quiet, wring it all out, make something from it. The creative result could be truly amazing.

This got me to thinking about Jim Harrison and the 'panic hole', which I read about in his essay titled (appropriately enough) 'The Panic Hole'. It is a concept he attributed to one of his favorite authors, Gerald Vizenor. I'll quote from the essay:

"Panic hole is self-defined as a place where you go, physically or mentally or both, when the life is being squeezed out of you or when you think it is, which is the same thing. A panic hole is where you flee to get back to the present as a wild season rather than a ruse."

Harrison gives as an example of a personal 'panic hole', a big, red Toyota Land Cruiser. Feeling the life squeezing out of him, Harrison drives the cruiser far north from his house to lie on the ice of Lake Michigan, watching three ravens feeding on a fish. This is a restorative event for Harrison, one that gets him back on the path to feeling human again. Reading it, I felt some of the restorative power myself. Harrison goes on to describe a roundabout trip, visiting panic holes, and slowly refilling himself with the stuff of life, getting air back in his lungs. Panic holes, it seems, may be a necessary part of dealing with what he terms the "sheer hellishness" of life.

I don't know if that cabin in Wisconsin was Justin Vernon's panic hole, but it sure was something like it. Jim Harrison's drive into a frozen landscape, to commune with the ravens, certainly served its purpose. I have my own reasons for feeling the life squeezing out of me, and I know my panic hole is somewhere nearby. Justin Vernon and Jim Harrison are going to help me find it.
('The Panic Hole' essay I quoted from is in "The Raw and The Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand", 2001 by Jim Harrison. It is a well I return to often for a drink.)


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Don't suffer your crimes
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-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

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