It’s 5:05. The street lamps spill amber through leaves of trees. This always reminds me of Jesus freak birthday cards: a sun peaking through clouds over a blindingly sparkly ocean with “God Bless this Day” written inside. My dad once said that MTV ruined the mind’s ability to associate albums with personal events and instead filled your head with things like Britney Spears dancing around in a red patent leather jumper. Sometimes I wish Hallmark hadn’t commandeered so many cliches so that they could, in my perception, exist as original beautiful moments and not something I can buy for $2.99 at Wallgreens.
We drive down Santa Monica, passing various crackheads loitering around suspiciously or bounding across streets for some unknown reason although I always suspect either drugs or thievery. Sometimes I wonder what these people’s lives are like, where they live, who they sleep with. But then I think that in order to know those things, I’d have to hang out with them and frankly I don’t mind being me and I possess a desire to live past the age of 32.
There are small groups of people walking into the Hollywood Cemetery, people like us who punked out on the previous six hours of DJ sets and a film or two leading up to Bon Iver’s sunrise show. It never feels like there are a bunch of dead people living here permanently. The vibe is more so Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, the headstones and mausoleums and nighttime fog merely props in extravagant display of decorating showmanship.
The driveway leads to a lawn of people. I’ve been here for summertime movies, but those are scheduled ten hours earlier than this. Everyone is horizontal or sitting cross legged, waiting for this seven hour event to come to a close. People sleep in sleeping bags, on blowup mattresses, and lie on jackets in the grass. Girls cover up with grandma blankets that probably have never seen the light of day before this show. There are beanies and puffy coats and boxes of cereal. It looks like a refugee camp for Santa Cruz granola hippies.
Above us the sky reflects an orangey pink haze, trapping the 6 am city glow. A group of Buddhist monks chant a blessing over the crowd. I sit wondering when I will make it to Tibet while the girl next to us talks in a voice to loud for this morning about being parched and her friend Christopher’s finals. If I learned one thing during my seven year entrapment at a Catholic school it’s to be respectful of other people’s religions. Talking over a mantra goes into my list of no-nos, despite the fact that most of these people are probably coming down from whatever drugs they’ve taken over the last few hours and that we are calmly partying on hollowed ground. It’s not necessarily the time one thinks about appropriate social conduct but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to slap her knuckles with a palm frond and then measure her plaid skirt out of compulsory habit.
As Bon Iver takes the stage, the sky shows an inkling of change and by the end of the second song half of the sky is a dusty periwinkle and the other half mouldy tangerine. By the fourth song a dense gray fog has obliterated all of the subtle vibrancy of the previous ten minutes. So quickly it does disappear. But the band plays on, drums charging them ahead with an almost unstoppable locomotion. Singer, Justin, howls sweetly and I remember when I first heard this album, dancing in a tree house with friends, watching Liza Minnelli and laughing at her nose and having Matt reprimand me for my harshness.
The crowd stays bundled up in their makeshift beds, some unfortunately appearing to be sleeping through the entire set. Pot smoke rolls in and out like the fog. I tap my feet on the grass that isn’t as damp as I thought it would be. I watch my crimson polished toes dance in my sandals. Tyler locks his arms around my knees and I lock mine around his. With each song the dense haze becomes less dim, revealing a sea of people lucky enough to be here.
We leave before the last song, walking past engravings and fake flowers, listening to the crowd sing along with him. I always do this, voluntarily or begrudgingly, leaving before the crowds pack up their beds and say goodbye to their friends. It somehow becomes more real. I see the event as this moment in time in its totality. How this happened here, in this place, to these people. How it will never happen again in the exactly the same way with the same air and the same friends. The irreplicable DNA of a moment. How time barrels on like the sun across the sky. Forward. Forever. Right as we are about to leave, Justin says, “Thanks for being here, really. We should do this again. Maybe. Or maybe never again.” And I know just what he means.