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Seduced By Sufjan Stevens (Playing Tomorrow Night at Plush in Tucson) - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
Seduced By Sufjan Stevens (Playing Tomorrow Night at Plush in Tucson)
I've been struggling the last two weeks with the new Sufjan Stevens album Illinois. Kim called me from Lou's Records during her trip to tell me that she'd found me a cool compilation. I debated whether to say, "Thanks," and move on -- there were plenty of other things for us to talk around -- but decided that my desire to make a statement was not as strong as my desire to pick up the Stevens album with its original, Superman-festooned cover art.

When she came home the next day, though, I reacted ambivalently to the sight of the CD. Predictably, I couldn't extricate Illinois from everything else that was going in my life. After dropping her off at work the next morning, I put in on in the car, but couldn't concentrate. Even though I recognized its craftsmanship, something about it annoyed me. It seemed too neat-and-tidy, too abstract, too arranged. But people I respect kept telling me that I should be patient, that it would all start to make sense if I listened long and hard enough.

So I kept trying. One day I played it in the car while driving Skylar home and she was excited to hear a reference to Abraham Lincoln. Then I started to get a feel for the opening track's muted beauty. And then one day, scanning through the songs on another errand-running drive about town, I stopped at track 10, "Casimir Pulaski Day," Up until that point, I'd been paying most of my attention to the more layered, symphonic songs. But the spareness of "Casimir Pulaski Day" -- you can listen to it here -- gave Stevens's powerful lyrics greater impact:
Goldenrod and the 4-H stone
The things I brought you
when I found out you had cancer of the bone
Your father cried on the telephone
And he drove his car into the Navy Yard
Just to prove that he was sorry

In the morning, through the window shade
when the light pressed up
against your shoulder blade
I could see what you were reading
All the glory that the Lord has made
And the complications you could do without
When I kissed you on the mouth
As good as these words look on the page, they sound a million times better in Stevens's luminous tenor. All of a sudden, I was hooked.

Still, I wasn't ready to commit fully to the album as a whole. The more I played it though, the more it became the record I wanted to play most. Saturday night I met three former graduate students of mine -- DR, AW, and JW -- at Plush for drinks. As we said our goodbyes outside later, the topic turned to music. JW explained that he had just seen Sufjan Stevens in concert in Denver and that it was an incredible show, with one of the most intense encores he'd ever witnessed. I decided then that I was definitely going to see tomorrow's show at Plush. I thought the highly produced sound of the record might not translate to a live setting, but JW assured me otherwise.

"The thing is, I recognize how good Illinois is," I told JW, "but I've been in a radically different space of late. I want Sticky Fingers-era Rolling Stones. I want to be obliterated in a sea of bourbon and bitterness. I don't want precise pop that keeps its shirt tucked in." JW knew what I meant. "If you're looking for Sticky Fingers, Stevens is not going to cut it. But it's too awesome to ignore." In making my declaration, though, I'd already purged my ambivalence. I knew that my misgivings, which were largely the product of where I'm at in my life right now, had been reduced to ash. Even Stevens's Christianity -- he has suggested that Flannery O'Connor is a role model for his approach to spirituality -- stopped being an issue for me.

Yesterday, I played the record in the morning as we puttered about the house. Skylar came over to dance with me during the "Decatur" song that mentions Lincoln and stayed in my arms until "Casimir Pulaski Day" had ended. "He says, 'He took my shoulders,' dad, so I'm taking your shoulders to match the song." Kim walked in the room later to give her own thumbs-up.

Today I read Stevens's cleverly crafted biography -- probably an autobiography -- and thought about what an impressive achievement the album is. Tonight, as the three of us sat on the family-room floor making Lego creations, we enjoyed Illinois even more. "I know why you like this music," Skylar commented, "It's relaxing." And it is. But it also might break your heart when you're least expecting it. For those of you who live in Tucson, I vigorously recommend joining me and tommix at Plush tomorrow night. And if any of you are East of the Mississippi, you might be able to catch the tour as it continues there.

Mode: ravished
Muse: Casimir Pulaski Day - Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise

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Comments
hollsterhambone From: hollsterhambone Date: August 2nd, 2005 05:37 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I was just talking to a musical friend of mine about this show. He says it's a must-see. All I've heard, however, is Illinoise so I am unsure about the other albums. Are they as good?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 2nd, 2005 06:09 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
There aren't that many. The Michigan one is really good, though a bit more folky. Seven Swans is religious, but in a weird, cool way. The thing is, I think most of the show will be devoted to the new one. But JW told me it was a must-see.
shadydeals From: shadydeals Date: August 2nd, 2005 12:08 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Even though I recognized its craftsmanship, something about it annoyed me. It seemed too neat-and-tidy, too abstract, too arranged. But people I respect kept telling me that I should be patient, that it would all start to make sense if I listened long and hard enough.

That is exactly what happened to me. Although for me it was the pretentiousness that dripped from it that also got to me.

The more I played it though, the more it became the record I wanted to play most.

That is exactly what happened to me. This will likely be my favorite CD of the year. It is beauty in aural form.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 2nd, 2005 02:15 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Wow! I guess great minds think alike. Seriously, I think it's a good sign when people can be patient enough to hear something out, a metaphor that in this case turns literal. We heard Illinoisout instead of turning away. And the art won us over.
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: August 2nd, 2005 04:29 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Maybe it's the same as "patience" (just differently applied) but I'm a big believer in going back to things that I did not initially like, once I am in a different mood. Different moods have different ears (eyes, taste, etc.) and I've learned that this "me" not liking something is not any indication that there aren't other "me's" that are gonna love it.

(If that makes sense. I'm feeling completely inarticulate today.)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 2nd, 2005 05:04 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Oh, that totally makes sense. I spend lots of time reading and writing about taste and end up precisely where you just did. Thanks for all the supportive words yesterday!
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: August 2nd, 2005 05:36 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
reading and writing about taste

Whenever I hear these [kind of] words, immediately pops into my head The Physiology of Taste by Jean Anthelme Brillat Savarin which is pretty much one of my favorite books of all time. It's one of my "comfort books" which I re-read parts of when I'm sick, or overly tired, or whatever -- the times when my mind still screams for *reading* (which is pretty much always) but I don't have anything I'm particularly suited to read (which happens in the above "comfort book" zones). I get the impression that you undoubtedly will have already read it however, if not, get it. I believe you'd enjoy it a great deal.

Thanks for all the supportive words yesterday!

:) No sweat.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 2nd, 2005 05:49 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Oh, yeah. That's a great book in all sorts of ways. I also spend lots of time reading cookbooks for fun. Weird, huh? Somehow my interests in music, literature, and food converged on this long-term project to think about taste, both as a physiological phenomenon and as a metaphor derived from the former. Like, you don't taste music -- unless you're on hallucinogens, I guess! -- but we still speak of a person's "taste in music." Obvious, on one level, but endlessly interesting to ponder on another.
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: August 2nd, 2005 06:13 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I also spend lots of time reading cookbooks for fun. Weird, huh?

::burst out laughing::

I read cookbooks for pleasure all the time. My current thrill is this book I won at the Satori end of year auction called "Get Saucey" -- 385 pages (not counting the Index) of only sauces. I love it. I've a bit of an obsession with cookbooks, of all ages and 'genres' -- buy them from every thrift store I'm in, pretty much no matter what the 'subject'. My favorites are the ones that have recipe clippings from various old newspapers and stuff jammed inside at certain pages and ::trailing off::

Yeah, I like cookbooks.

As to the rest:

I often find myself thinking such sort of things when faced with things I *don't* like -- upon reading a book and thinking "now, would I have liked this *story* had it been written by so and so instead" or "would I like this song if it had so and so's voice instead". Interesting to analyze the 'whole' -- particularly as it relates to individual 'taste' -- as it breaks down to 'specificity of ingredients', 'methods of preparation', what was added when and mixed just how?



cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 2nd, 2005 09:41 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
My goodness. I thought I was the only one who read cookbooks without a clear cooking-related purpose in mind. I learn things that I do end up applying in my kitchen improvisations, certainly, but that's not why I read them.

The cooking metaphor is a good one for art. It has limitations, but all metaphors are only partial in their utility, not unlike the variety of "me's" you were mentioning. One parallel that interests me is the X-factor that people often reference. "I followed all the instructions, but it didn't taste like yours." Given your scientific bent, I'm sure you'd agree with me that most of those failures can be attributed to outright mistakes or differences in climate or ingredients. Still, it does sometimes seem that certain cooks have what I will call, for want of a better term, "instincts" that work better than those of most others do.
From: zokah Date: August 2nd, 2005 09:47 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I read cookbooks *all* the time and am quite sure there must be at least two in the pile of books next to my bed. I have rarely used them for any recipe at all, but read them a voracious er, appetite.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 2nd, 2005 09:56 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Is there a support group for people like us? :-)
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: August 2nd, 2005 10:18 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I don't know about that, but a quick google search shows we're certainly not the only ones!

http://books.forum.publicradio.org/article.pl?sid=04/10/11/1054236
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: August 2nd, 2005 10:15 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
must be at least two in the pile of books next to my bed.

:) *Yes*! I was going to say that I read them in bed as well. What is the appeal, I wonder. I've never actually analyzed the great pleasure I get from reading cookbooks...
From: zokah Date: August 2nd, 2005 10:28 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I'm not sure; I too, have often wondered.

I know I enjoy the visualization that occurs when I'm reading: the pans and utensils used, my fantasy kitchen complete with island butcher block, dishes, and the presentation of the meal. I enjoy wondering what to pair what with...

It's been a long summer: my porn is creative kitchen and cooking visualization!
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: August 2nd, 2005 10:12 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

A Debt to Pleasure.

This is just a quick reply (as opposed to my longer reply that will most likely be coming later) to ask if you have read the above-subjected book by John Lanchester. Given your interests, I am again mostly assuming you have, but if not...
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 2nd, 2005 10:38 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: A Debt to Pleasure.

No, I haven't. Most of my reading has been either in the realm of cooking or the realm of aesthetics. What's it like?
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: August 2nd, 2005 10:56 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: A Debt to Pleasure.

Billed as "A gorgeous, dark, and sensuous book that is part cookbook, part novel, part eccentric philosophical treatise," I found it funny, smart and very enjoyable. Can get a bit wordy at times, but to me that added to the appeal of it as a whole, rather than detracted. It suits it. And it's worth reading just for the food. :)
yourbestfiend From: yourbestfiend Date: August 3rd, 2005 01:06 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
oh lord. One of my two most bizarre textual obsessions revolves around reading cookbooks but not cooking the recipes. (The other is reading maps - atlases, Thomas Guides, mapquest.com printouts, whatever - even though I'm slightly dyslexic and and have little to no sense of direction.)
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: August 3rd, 2005 01:30 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I LOVE to read Thomas Guides and Atlases!!!

LOL
yourbestfiend From: yourbestfiend Date: August 3rd, 2005 01:04 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Allez cuisine!

doesn't Brillat Savarin also provide the show-opening motto of Iron Chef? "Show me what you eat, and I'll show you what you are."

The many brilliances of that program stun me into silence....
From: catfishvegas Date: August 2nd, 2005 05:53 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Reckon I'll see you there.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 2nd, 2005 06:02 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Cool!
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 3rd, 2005 08:53 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

reject sufjan stevens

you read the pitchfork too often. if i ever read another article about him, i'm going to die.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 3rd, 2005 09:02 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: reject sufjan stevens

Point taken. But I really liked the show regardless. Granted, it was strange. I kept thinking it was sincerity wrapped in irony wrapped in sincerity. And the G-d thing is odd. Anyway, there's plenty of unhyped stuff on my playlist of late too, so I'm not totally Pitchforked into the manure pile.
From: marcegoodman Date: August 4th, 2005 02:08 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: reject sufjan stevens

I was, of course, most reminded of Magnetic Fields circa 69 Love Songs, to which your irony/sincerity formula might equally apply. I was very moved by the entire proceedings. The quality I was most struck by, perhaps not so oddly given the explicitly Christian references, was humility.
I was "pitchforked" in the current instance by not much more than De File itself, for which I expect to remain grateful for a long time. I've been listening to Illinois all day, picked up per your suggestion at CD City with its now extinct original cover. I love the artwork (particularly the Sufjan Abraham Lincoln) as well.
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