On Sharon Van Etten
by Meridith Carroll on October 20, 2014
Posted in: Music, Rock
April 29, 2014– Christine Friar (the blogger formerly known as Drink Your Juice) posts “Every Time The Sun Comes Up” on a social media site. I listen to it and the second it finishes I know I am in love. Sharon Van Etten’s voice has a nostalgic quality, her drawn out vowels and easy delivery beautiful and smooth as whiskey. The song feels timeless; a track you can’t quite pin down temporally but know could be a classic. The sharp, funny lyrics contrast the atmospheric instrumentation, reminding me of the best music I loved in high school, even though Sharon Van Etten is not Isaac Brock. I want to drive around listening to this song until my eyes blur, but I am in England without a car and, even if I had one, I would definitely crash trying to drive on the other side of the road. I download the song to my iTunes and stare longingly out the bus window with my headphones in instead.
May, 2014– I add SVE to both my starred artists and my “May” playlist on Spotify. On the 4th, I Instagram a picture of the lake across from my dorm in England and caption it “Every time the sun comes up, I see double.” I worry about the comma placement and I can’t remember if “every time” is one word or two, even though it’s in the song title. It gets 17 likes.
I go to Copenhagen and spend a rainy day alone looking at colored houses. To stay dry, I sneak into a university building and google pictures of David Foster Wallace. When I get sick of that, I wander to a museum and spend 40 minutes watching the same 5 minute short film on repeat. It’s got this huge set of lips floating in a black void and it shows a woman who, when sliced in two, is made out of bread. Denmark is gorgeous but it is also homogenous and grey in an eerie way, which makes it a good city in which to walk in the rain while listening to Sharon Van Etten. I buy a hot dog for 47 Danish krone (8 US Dollars) and it is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.
I return to England and a girl who maybe wants to be more than friends kisses me in the smoker’s section outside of the dingy club on campus. I run away on contact. The next evening, it rains during the sunset and the whole sky goes pink. I cut most of my tshirts into crop tops and then I lie on my floor listening to Are We There in its entirety. Everyone says the album is too sad to listen to on repeat. I do not agree.
June, 2014– I fly back to America. The first thing I do after leaving Logan airport is make my parents bring me to a Pizzeria Uno’s because I want to take preventative measures against re-entry shock via the numbing of all of my feelings with saturated fat. The second thing I do is try to fool myself into thinking that I will listen to a diverse selection of music by making a playlist called “Kentucky” for my impending flight down south. It includes five Sharon Van Etten songs and whatever number of songs by other artists that do not matter. It is the only thing I listen to for the month of June.
I start reading Mary Karr’s memoirs and I consider chopping my hair off into a dark shag, but I am neither Mary nor Sharon and my face is pretty round so this will not be conventionally flattering. Sharon used to have a bowl cut and that wasn’t flattering either.
I work on a farm, harvesting garlic until my fingers blister. As I crouch in the sun for hours on end, I attempt mindful practices but I wind up repeating 15 second clips of “Afraid of Nothing” in my head until I feel like my head is an inescapable prison or until I can get home and listen to it in my headphones.
July 2014– I work at a beer tent for a musical festival that pays me in free booze. I begin drinking around 11am and by the time SVE’s set rolls around at 3:00pm, I am 35% Sierra Nevada Summerfest, 65% feelings. I go to see her alone and I am too afraid to push through people to stand right against the barricade so I settle for second row.
There are men around me- guys you would refer to as “bros” or “dudes”- and they are so excited to see Sharon Van Etten that they emit yelps every few minutes, in between discussions of a New Yorker feature on Sharon’s Brooklyn apartment and why Are We There is the best album of the year. They enthrall me so much that I could explode. Since when do bros talk like this??
The sun is out in full force, so when Sharon and her crew take the stage all clothed in all black, I break into the biggest smile. The Kentucky sun hits my blood alcohol level as she starts to play and I begin to understand how there are entire religious sects dedicated to finding God through various forms of intoxication. The sun glares in my eyes, as if I’m floating in the sea, and I begin to feel like I am going to pass out—probably from dehydration, but it also might be from reaching nirvana. I cry the instant I hear the opening strum of “Tarifa“. I feel that nobody will ever understand me the way Sharon does. Sharon, the woman wearing a black, velvet top in Kentucky in July. Sharon, with her casual, lilting stage banter that makes light of every dire song she sings. Sharon, deliverer of gospel. Sharon, our sweet angel.
After the performance, I beeline to the merch table and buy the only Sharon Van Etten shirt they have in stock. It is 3 sizes too small and I do not care- this is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. My brain feels like it is wrapped in a fuzzy sweater, so I eat a piece of pizza bigger than my face and spend the rest of the day lying on every surface possible. I fear that my brain will fall out of my ears and that my stomach is evaporating. I agree to see a TuNe YaRdS set even though I am barely functioning. I cope by drinking a cup of moonshine. It is a certifiable miracle that I do not die.
August, 2014– The second my foot touches Vermont soil, I make a playlist called “Bummer Summer 2k14” comprised of the same 5 SVE songs from my Kentucky playlist and a few St. Vincent tracks. I burn it onto a CD so I can listen to it while I drive around in my ’99 Chevy Malibu looking for something to do.
My family goes to a lake house in the Adirondacks and I spend most of my time reading Nora Ephron and looking at the lake. I kayak a few times. One night, there is a full moon and, in an attempt to synch myself with the tides, I read Sylvia Plath and listen to Sharon Van Etten. I become a parody of myself.
I drive to Burlington and I run into my ex boyfriend at a party. The next day, we go out for Thai food with my best friend and as we drive back to his apartment, he asks me what music is playing. I tell him and he responds, “Oh! I love Sharon Van Etten!” I scream internally for five minutes. He is the first person I’ve encountered who listens to Sharon. The next day, I sit in the passenger seat of his car as we drive to get bagels and he plays a Sharon song I’ve never heard. I am not sure I am okay.
I drive home. A different boy texts me that he has started listening to Sharon Van Etten per my recommendation and that she makes great driving music. I sit in the dark and don’t respond for a long time.
September 2014– Back at Middlebury, people know about SVE and this is a major comfort, but I begin to worry that people are annoyed with my one-track mind. I try not to bring her up as much, though I begin listening to Tramp with a voracious fervor. I try to wean myself by listening to FKA Twigs and Joyce Manor. It’s not the same.
Late one night, I drive to Silver Lake with a friend and we don’t talk much, Are We There filling the silence. She sings along to all of the songs as we drive under the starry Vermont sky, the air beginning to crisp as it flits into our cracked windows. All of a sudden, I am aware that I am Very Lucky. I feel giddy when I get to reveal to her that my favorite moment of the album is the lyric I wish it were seven all night and she understands the sentiment. There is nothing in the world as perfect as driving through Vermont at night while listening to good music.
I learn to play “Tarifa” on the guitar. When it’s warm enough to keep my windows open, people outside can hear me sing it. My few romantic prospects from the year flounder around in a way that makes me feel vaguely ill. It’s strange that I keep listening to this sad album and not feeling sad. I start most days by playing “Every Time The Sun Comes Up” as I lay in bed. It makes me feel invincible. In a year where I subjected myself to so much sadness, I feel the happiest I’ve felt in a long time. The leaves are changing color and I wake up to the most beautiful view.
October 2014– After years of wearing broken glasses, I buy myself a new pair and I can’t believe that everyone else walks around seeing individual leaves and grass blades. Everything looks new and sharp. One night, I look up at the stars and it stops me in my path. I’ve spent my entire life thinking stars are fuzzy splotches, soft and impressionistic. All at once, they are the clearest, sharpest pinpricks, and I realize: it is the first time I’ve ever seen the stars in focus. It feels like this should be sad, like stars have betrayed me, audacious enough to transform into something new and strange right before my eyes– but it doesn’t. It feels clarifying. I am finally seeing them the way they actually are rather than how I thought they were, and I hadn’t even known there was a difference .
It feels just like listening to a Sharon Van Etten song.