22 (OVER S∞∞N) | A Search for Meaning

An analysis of Bon Iver’s song “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” from the 2016 album “22, A Million”.

Bon Iver’s third album, 22, A Million, is a masterpiece of existential exploration, a glimpse into a confused mind searching for self-understanding amid uncertainty and turmoil, grasping for comfort in religion, memory, and relations.

22 a million

Of all ten tracks, each one distinct in sound and theme, I find the first track, 22 (OVER S∞∞N), best expresses the album’s intention. It is the trunk, the other songs are the branches. It is the inciting incident, the other songs are the hero’s journey. It is the thesis, the other songs are the arguments.

As Justin Vernon roamed the Greek islands alone, on a quest to find himself, feeling helpless, he began humming those exact words—“It might be over soon”—and then it became the basis for the album’s heartrending opener, 22 (OVER S∞∞N). He did not find himself, but he found music.

Verse 1
(It might be over soon)
Where you gonna look for confirmation?
And if it’s ever gonna happen
So as I’m standing at the station
It might be over soon

Verse 2
(All these years)
There I find you marked in conste
llation

There isn’t ceiling in our garden
And then I draw an ear on you
So I can speak into the silence
It might be over soon
(It might be over soon)

Verse 3
(And I’m gonna shout all my trouble over)
Oh and I have carried consecration
And then You expelled all decision
As I may stand up with a vision
(Caught daylight, goddamn right)
Within a rise there lies a scission
(It might be over soon)

The first verse conveys the futility of fame, the brevity of happiness, how popularity does not equal well-being. It’s about choosing which way to go in life, not knowing where they will lead.

The second verse is the most abstract. It is a contemplation on the vastness of the universe, and how life is a trifling in contrast. The garden without ceiling reflects how our lives have infinite opportunities, if we decide to make it so, as a reference to Voltaire’s Candide. And speaking into silence means rejecting confirmation, not depending on other people.

The third verse begins with a sample by Mahalia Jackson’s How I Got Over, a gospel song about overcoming adversity. It fits into the theme of the song, and the verse keeps the religious theme, emphasizing that religion does not guarantee freedom from adversity. And the song ends with the realization of the reality of life: Life is one long struggle, but don’t be afraid, just keep going, because it might be over soon.

22 (OVER S∞∞N) is a great intro to the album. 22, A Million is a personal record about how to move forward through disorienting times. It is painfully sincere. It rejects comfort and expectations in favor of provoking listeners to make new discoveries.

It might be over soon.