“I’ll do anything for you, I’ll do anything for you
“I did everything for you, I did everything for you.”
The first Sufjan song I ever heard was “For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti,” back in 2003 or 2004. I remember being utterly arrested by it. Curiously, at the time I was going through a phase where I could love an author, artist or musician without trying to discover any of their other material. I can’t fathom the thought now — whenever I find someone I’m enamoured with, I tend to want to own their entire oeuvre. But there was something quite lovely about truly appreciating something on its own.
Because of that, I listened to “For The Widows…” over and over. I didn’t think about trying to find that perfection elsewhere. Sufjan, to me, has a curious, beautifully evocative voice. My reaction to his songs tend to be pretty visceral – I either love them, or leave them. There are songs that can knock me out, and I tend to know immediately which ones those are (though a few have snuck up on me. I’m looking at you, “The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!”).
I wish I could put it in less cliché terms than this, but: Sufjan almost transcends music. He gets under my skin and makes me realise both how uncomfortable and deeply soothing that is. There’s a lot of music that I enjoy in my head — by which I mean, through listening to it and enjoying or appreciating an aspect of it (especially lyrics). There’s music I enjoy to sing along to in the car on the way home. But a select few artists seem to escape any box you could possibly stuff them in. They can’t be contained — because you don’t listen with your head. You listen with your heart.
Sufjan has always spoken to my heart. I’m a poet, so when I pause to truly consider his words, I find him both utterly perplexing and profoundly inspiring.
I used to think I couldn’t really call myself a Sufjan scholar because there are songs of his I don’t like, there are things I don’t understand. But I’ve come to realise it doesn’t matter a whit. I adore the man. I love the way his brain works, the way his voice sounds, what he does with music. Even when he releases albums that flummox me, I know I’ll find something in there to admire.
I liked the All Delighted People EP a hell of a lot. I was more ambivalent about The Age of Adz — although that ended up providing us with the utter genius that was the WNYC Soundcheck session in 2011 (God, those versions of “Futile Devices” and “Pleasure Principle”).
But Carrie & Lowell is like coming home. Listening to it is heartbreaking at times. I was unprepared for “Death With Dignity”. It had me reeling. Sufjan’s grief is so tangible in this record. But listening to it is also like curling up next to a loved one on a quiet night and sharing silence. That’s how it destroys you.
“But I don’t know where to begin again I’ve lost my strength completely— oh, be near me.”