KEXP is celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year, and our writers are commemorating a song from that year that resonates with them. This week, KEXP's Rachel Stevens reflects on heartache, homesickness, and the 2009 compilation 'Dark Was the Night.'
Read or listen to the piece below.
At the end of 2008, I was in love with a guy who only loved me back when I was out of town. So, I left in the biggest way I could, hoping that his love would follow me just as far. I moved to Sydney, Australia. (Spoiler: Weirdly enough, this worked in the short-run—with that said, I wouldn’t recommend this tactic. Being heartbroken is one thing. Being heartbroken in a foreign country is another.)
Come January 2009, I was living in a family’s home-, as a nanny. It was 106 degrees and I developed heat rash all up and down my legs. I had no friends and an impossible time making new ones. Australia didn’t have any of my favorite TV shows. Australia was so hot and bright, but it was my darkest time. I was invisible. No one knew who I was. Where I was. What made me sing. What made me cry.
Thank god for, Triple J radio. It’s Australia’s best radio station. I was listening one day and they played a new Arcade Fire song, “Lenin.” My heart soared, hungry for this new familiarity.
As soon as I finished making dinner for my host family and sorted everything for the evening, I took the train to Newtown. That’s the neighborhood in Sydney with the cutest baristas, the best pub theatre, and the closest music shop. I say “music shop” because it was 2009. I was definitely buying CDs to put on my iPod.
It didn’t take long for the hot guy at the record store to tell me that the new Arcade Fire song was on a compilation album. This is how I discovered one of the best albums of all time—Dark Was the Night. It also featured Bon Iver, Yeasayer, Sufjan Stevens and so many other indie hits that created the soundtrack to the late 2000s. It was all my friends. Well, no, it didn’t replace my actual friends, who were over on the other side of the world, but wow was this album there for me. It was the perfect soundtrack for trying to find myself — whether I was going to the market, a random beach, or ESPECIALLY when I rode the train just to hear myself think.
Dark Was the Night was a benefit project for the Red Hot Organization. It’s a non-profit dedicated to fighting AIDS and the stigma around it. Dark Was the Night peaked at #3 on Billboard’s Top Independent Albums of 2009. It got an 8.6 rating on Pitchfork. They ended up recording a benefit Dark was the Night concert at Radio City Music Hall.
Dark Was the Night was the lovechild of Aaron Dessner of The National. Before The National took off, Aaron was part of a company that worked closely with the Red Hot organization. For years, Aaron went to the organization and the record label, 4AD, begging them to make another album, even though streaming and file sharing made a benefit album feel hopeless — especially during an economic recession. Eventually, though, Aaron convinced Red Hot to make their first compilation in seven years. They got all their friends together to help to release Dark Was the Night in February 2009.
As of May 2012, Dark Was the Night had raised over $1.6 million for AIDS relief.
John Carlin was the executive director of the Red Hot Organization at the time. He said, "Dark Was the Night encapsulated the spirit and creativity of a new generation of musicians whose work struck a chord and got people to actually purchase the album and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight AIDS."
Despite the comfort that this album brought me, I didn’t last six months in Australia. I pawned a ring to my grandmother had left me in her will to afford the flight home to the States. Okay, before you get too upset by that, first of all, don’t judge people for what they do when they don’t have money. Secondly, in the will, my grandmother had left a note that said, “You can pawn this. I said no.” And thirdly, I sold it to my own mother. She decided she didn’t want it to leave the family just yet, so she gave me the money.
In mid-2009, I came back to the States—single, broke, and broken. I cobbled together odd jobs and places to live to make it work. Through it all, I was listening to Dark Was the Night on my faithful iPod and trying to forget Australia.
In 2011, I landed a job—a real career—in Missoula, Montana. I moved into a bare apartment and invited my new-ish boyfriend to join me in Montana, if he wanted.
The weekend he moved in, we found a broken mid-century entertainment console on the side of the road. You know what I’m talking about: It was huge, had a top that opened and revealed a radio dial, a turntable, and even an 8-track player. It needed a lot of love, especially the turntable, which was broken. For about a year, the record player was just used as a radio in our apartment. But for our second anniversary, my boyfriend fixed up the turntable and gifted me Dark Was the Night on vinyl. I cried. I felt seen. Finally, I was no longer invisible.
I married that boyfriend. We recently celebrated seven years married. We’ve moved that record player a couple of times and it is now the centerpiece of our living room in Seattle. Dark Was the Night still plays on heavy rotation.
Sound & Vision's Rachel Stevens looks back at the group's landmark sophomore album and reflects on her childhood memories.
KEXP is celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year, and our writers are commemorating a song from that year that resonates with them. This week, KEXP's Dusty Henry looks at Jeff Buckle…
KEXP is celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year, and our writers are commemorating a song from that year that resonates with them. This week, KEXP's Martin Douglas looks back at vis…