Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon told NPR that "Beth" represents paradise: "'Beth/Rest' is the death, but it's a good death. It's good winter. But it's a rest; it's not this final thing. 'Beth' seems like this really cool name for a place you just go to be in paradise forever... And it's a lady's name, too. Rest, it's this ongoing thing. 'Beth/Rest' the song, it just sounds like forever. It's kind of like timeless, and you can be lofted up into these very high places during that song."
Vernon added that the song prophesized his coming relationship with alt-country singer, Kathleen Edwards: "Eventually, you start waking up to the fact that you might be ready to spend your life with somebody and still feel good about who you are and what kind of changes you're going to go through no matter what. And 'Beth/Rest' is that reward. It's that place you get to be in for the rest of your life…what's weird is that the record was imagined before any of this new personal relationship stuff had happened. I'm in a really good, loving relationship right now. It's really rewarding. But what's weird is that the songs kind of came as this predecessor, as an invitation, to tell myself that I was open to it and knowing that there wasn't going to be somebody coming along who's going to change me and want to change who I was. And they were going to let me be who I want to be and like me for it. Then it sort of just happened as soon as I finished writing the song."
This was the closing track from Bon Iver's eponymous second album, and it is a surprising departure for the indie folk rock band as it finds them stepping into '80s AOR territory. Justin Vernon told Mojo: "Well it's easy to take yourself too seriously and I didn't want to dismiss sounds just because some people might not think they were cool. That's like disliking somebody because they're 40 - it doesn't make any sense. I love Bruce Hornsby's music and the way his records sound without thinking about whether they are very '80s or not, and I suppose that was on my mind a little bit when I was writing that song. It was like, I know this stuff is in me, so how can I explore this sonic space in an emotional way."
He added to NPR: "It's like my favorite song. It's the last thing I want you to go away with. It's like innocent. And I don't want it to be some '80s throwback song. I want it to be a current, I-get-lost-in-this song, and I love everything about it. It's just like, 'Gosh, this feels so good.' It's just happy, and I want to play this song all the time."
If there is a theme to Bon Iver, it's about people reconnecting with seasons and lifecycles. Vernon sees the album as one coherent piece, with "Perth" representing the beginning or birth and "Beth/Rest" the ending or death.
Q magazine asked Justin Vernon how the many critical comparisons between this song and '80s Phil Collins went down with him? He replied: "Yea, I saw that! I never take anything personal, whether good press or bad. It doesn't piss me off. On 'Beth/Rest' I'm definitely referencing some timbres from that era, but not necessarily him! I still think of it as a 2011 song, not an '80s song."
Justin Vernon directed the song's music video with cinematographer Dan Huiting, who also worked on the clip for "Calgary
." The visual, which features two angelic lovers in an ethereal wonderland, was filmed in the woods that surround the band's studio in Fall Creek, Wisconsin. Vernon based the clip on a treatment he wrote, and he explained in a statement, "It's kind of about two people who are truly meant for each other and what happens to their essence. How they connect is some other thing that we don't know how to really talk about."