Why Bon Iver lyrics are tattooed to model Sar Elle's leg

Categories: Tattoo You
Photos courtesy of Sar Elle and Brad Ogbonna

"Sold I'm ever / Open ears and open eyes... / Oh the demons come / They can subside."

When we hear a song, the message that we receive may depend entirely on the space and time we are in, the moment that the sound hits our ears. Some songs cut more deeply than others. For model and photographer Sar Elle, that song was Bon Iver's "Calgary."

Elle was raised in a small town in Northern Wisconsin, and moved to Minneapolis at the age of 19. Here she began to truly grow into herself. "I learned the type of friend I wanted to have," she says, "and in turn, what it took to be a person deserving of good friends." While she recalls the city knocking her down a few times, she still refers to Minneapolis as her true home. "[It's] the first place where I felt I could fully be myself, even when 'myself' wasn't the type of a person I really wanted to be," she says.

While Elle was in her early 20s and living in Uptown, Bon Iver released Blood Bank, and she became an instant fan. She remembers being introduced to the album by her roommate, Chris. Shortly before that time, Elle had undergone her first round of chemo-based injections for endometriosis. The disease persisted, and she was forced to undergo treatment several times more. The treatment regimen was excruciating, and caused her to become severely ill. Desperate for comfort, she turned to music and books to remove her from thought, pain and boredom.

"When I was sick and undergoing chemo, music and words were all I had for days on end. I'd be too sick to leave my bed. I'd find myself listening to the same album on repeat for two, sometimes three days because I physically couldn't find the strength to move. Bon Iver's Bon Iver happened to be this album during a rough patch of pain, sickness and depression. One day, the lyrics of "Calgary" just resonated with me. The words pulled me from the black abyss that was myself, my pain. I decided this was something I needed to remember -- that regardless of how bad things seem, I have the ability to open myself up to life and let the good in, and eventually, the bad will subside."

Elle decided that the best reminder of those words would be a physical one, in the form of a tattoo. When she was healthy enough to crawl out of bed she headed straight for A Brand New Tattoo in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with a girlfriend in tow. She chose to place the inscription in her leg, "so anytime I felt weak, or pain, or like succumbing to the darkness that is inside me, I could pull myself into me and look down on these words, and again, the strength in these words could help me rescue myself."

Free from the bondage of self, Elle was able to explore the freedoms of others by throwing herself headlong into her great passion: history. She traveled through the Netherlands, Finland, and Estonia, finding that her love for history had also birthed a deep appreciation for architecture. She became enamored by the manner in which the two correlate, and began compiling her photography to be published in a photo book that will focus on the architectural, cultural and economic differences in the Baltic states since their independence from the Soviet Union.

Next: Elle is now the picture of health.

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