“Death is real/ Someone’s there and then they’re not/ And it’s not for singing about/ It’s not for turning into art/ When real death enters the house/ All poetry is done.” So commences Mount Eerie’s “Real Death,” a song that’s so sparsely and bleakly beautiful that it’s barely a song at all. It deals, openly and clearly, with the death of Phil Elverum’s wife Genevieve, who died of pancreatic cancer last year. The song is difficult listening, to be honest — it’s addressed to Genevieve, speaking directly to her in the second person, and listening feels like an intrusion on the most intimate and tragic of moments.
But Elverum has chosen to make it public, and one can only hope that doing so has helped him in some small part through the process of grieving and coming to terms with an unimaginable loss. And “Real Death” is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking, with Elverum’s trembling voice set over a simple acoustic guitar and a quiet, barely-there drum pattern. It’s the first song released from Elverum’s new Mount Eerie album A Crow Looked At Me, which is out on March 24. In a statement accompanying the song’s release, Elverum writes movingly about his wife’s death and about why he chose to make — and release — such painfully intimate material:
“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.”
Death is real
Someone's there and then they're not
And it's not for singing about
It's not for making into art
When real death enters the house, all poetry is dumb
When I walk in to the room where you were
And look into the emptiness instead
My knees fail
My brain fails
Crusted with tears, catatonic and raw, I go downstairs and outside and you still get mail
A week after you died a package with your name on it came and inside was a gift for our daughter you had ordered in secret and collapsed there on the front steps I wailed
A backpack for when she goes to school a couple years from now you were thinking ahead to a future you must have known deep down would not include you though you clawed at the cliff you were sliding down, being swallowed into a silence that is bottomless and real
And I don't want to learn anything from this
I love you
About the Singer
Mount Eerie is the musical project of Anacortes, Washington-based songwriter and producer Phil Elverum. Elverum (formerly of The Microphones) is the principal member of the band, but has collaborated with many other musicians on his records and in live performances. Most of Mount Eerie's releases have been issued on Elverum's label P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd., and feature inventive and highly detailed packaging with his own artwork.
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