Grief, eventually, arranges itself so as to be understandable. It settles, eventually, into an orderly sequence, a reason, a fact. This, eventually, is the sad lesson that death teaches us. Every death resolves, abyssal.
Tonight, however, I’m returning again to the beginning. I logged into my email account and searched for Geneviève’s occasional messages. A quick glance caught a “G” in the results, then I collapsed in tears. They’re lost forever, because I would’ve rather have kept a tidy inbox. Now I’m left trying to remember what we said to each other and why.
Above all, I remember her kindness. I remember her complete lack of self-promotion, her relentless humility in discussing her art, and her (always justifiably) righteous insistence that it be understood in her language and on her terms. Once, after a show, she wrote to me, “I felt like the nerd being invited to the high school prom.” I remember her disinterest in talking about gear and believing that her’s was shitty yet special, because it was haunted. I remember those mornings, too few, when I’d wake up to find her passing new music along to me, usually a day or two past its release date, with a note saying, “write about it if you’d like to.”
From the beginning, it’s been hard for me to find the words to write about Geneviève’s music. (Now, I’m truly speechless.) It’s affected me too deeply, too personally, in ways that resist analysis, abstraction, review. It has been foundational to the ways in which I came to understand the Pacific Northwest and made it home. Her music became an essential soundtrack for processing all the death I’ve come to know here, each life too young, too precious. It becomes so, again.
The last time I saw her play was, unfortunately, her last show — well over a year ago. It was cold and raining. It was a miserable, early spring in Portland. Geneviève was performing new songs to a largely inattentive audience. It was, as always, an amazing balance of ferocity and fragility. She was totally committed. Madison from Cloud Rat spoke to the crowd afterward and told the people there that they didn’t know what they were missing. They didn’t.
I still remember vividly the first time I saw Geneviève play, at the Port Warehouse in Anarcortes during What the Heck? Fest in July of 2009. Through the floorboards, you could hear the water shift heavily about; below all of us was the deep, the dark. In front of us, Geneviève performed an incantatory exorcism. I sat in restless awe for the entire set. When it was over, I felt like I had survived something.
After her set, I remember rushing like a little kid to the merch table to buy everything of Geneviève’s that I could. Phil Elverum was working at the table, alone. He proudly handed me everything and told me about everything: the music, the collaborations, the art (of which she was most proud, for which she always labored meticulously, up through the end). He sang understated praises about her, her work, all of it, with a smile you will only ever see, only ever know, as that indescribable smile of love. He handed me everything, and I haven’t stopped listening.
Requiem in pace.
Please consider donating to the GoFundMe campaign started by Phil Elverum.