Geneviève Castrée was an author, a poet, a cartoonist, a musician, and a beloved part of the Northwest artistic community for the past two decades. On July 9 she passed away from pancreatic cancer. Those two sentences juxtaposed don’t begin to summarize her beautiful life nor the loss felt by the community in her Anacortes hometown and throughout the music community that was impacted by her. Words fail. Appropriately, it is a piece of music that might capture the beauty of her life and the sadness at her passing.
In 2008, Castrée and her husband Phil Elverum (Mount Eerie, the Microphones) asked Clyde Petersen to house-sit for them while his band, Your Heart Breaks, recorded at Elverum’s studio down the road. Petersen says now that he was at an emotional low, coping with depression. Castrée asked Petersen what he liked to eat and left him chocolate pudding in the refrigerator.
As may be expected, the sessions produced a collection of dreary and murky tracks. The music was so sad that Petersen opted not to release it at the time. But following Castrée’s death, he thought it appropriate to release the material under the title From Mount Eerie, and did so last Saturday.
The instrumentation throughout the six tracks (with two alternate versions tagged on at the end) finds Petersen’s vocals raising slightly above a whisper on top of plucked acoustic-guitar strings and slow-rolling bass lines. Opener “Live Wire,” a later version of which appeared on YHB’s 2012 album Harsh Jokes & Bong Tokes, may be the saddest song ever to name-check Mötley Crüe. The orchestral version of “Live Wire” indulges his nostalgic woes even further, heightening the drama with the stirring rumble of cellos.
Petersen spends the first minute of “Heavy Heart” repeating the title over and over before asking existential questions like “Oh heavy heart, are you still beating?” and “Oh heavy heart, are you still listening?” The sparseness of these songs weighs like grief. They sound like the hollowness that comes with loss.
Petersen never got around to eating the chocolate pudding left by Castrée. He was too depressed to even touch it. But that’s not the point. The point was that Castrée tried to ease his pain in some little way.
From Mount Eerie is not art as a reaction to death. Instead, it’s a glimpse at the grace exuded by Castrée’s life. Her willingness to open her home to a friend and make him chocolate pudding, knowing the pain he was enduring. Petersen’s choice to release these songs now is poignant. It tells only one of many stories that loved ones will continue to share in her memory. Castrée may be gone, but her love endures. Listen to From Mount Eerie here.