Re: Stacks

After his girlfriend broke up with him, his band split up, and he contracted mono, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon exiled himself to his father’s cabin in rural Wisconsin and spent an entire winter there in isolation, creating “For Emma, Forever Ago,” his first studio album. “Re: Stacks” stands alone as the last song on the album, serving as a capstone to the album’s frozen, emotional exploration of the pain and beauty of being alone. 

A recurring metaphor throughout the song is the mention of gambling, or “stacks” of poker chips.

I keep throwing it down two

hundred at a time

And it’s hard to find it when you knew it

When your money’s gone and you’re drunk as hell”

This motif of “stacks” is referring to effort. Even though Vernon put in everything he had into his relationship, whether that be with his band or his lover, he still hit rock bottom and lost everything he had. Feeling robbed of all of the effort he put into his relationships, what little control he had over his life is gone. The mention of “stacks” recurs throughout the song in the chorus, as Vernon repeatedly tries to rid himself of the memory of the “stacks” he once had. 

Further descending into himself, Vernon continues his self-excavation, baring all of his emotions:

I’ve been twisting to the sun

I needed to replace

And the fountain in the front yard is rusted out

All my love was down in a frozen ground

Searching for a source of happiness, or light, he is twisting towards the sun. The word twisting implies a sense of pain or discomfort; Vernon is trying to get over his losses but he can’t and it’s painful. Even though he needs to move on and find someone new, he can’t because he is too grounded in the past. Ultimately, the culprit for all of his troubles is himself, as mentioned by his rusted-out fountain. Just like iron harms itself by producing rust, Vernon is a bad influence on himself. 

Ultimately, in the last lines of the song, Vernon is finally able to accept what has happened and move on. 

This is not the sound of a new man

or a crispy realization

It’s the sound of the unlocking and lift away

Your love will be safe with me

Although he has not gained a radical new insight or made a huge discovery, time has lent him acceptance of his misfortunes and he is finally able to move on. Nothing has really changed, but Vernon has forgiven his past.

The song, and the album, ends with a drawn-out silence, and then the click and beep of a reconnecting answering machine as he rejoins the world. 

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