Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sufjan Stevens.


Summer 2006, Boston. I and most of my friends have recently graduated from college, and in a few months, most of us will be heading separate ways. Kathy and I and Allie are sticking around for awhile, but Meredith and Zoe are headed to Portland, Kim and Cliff are going to Oregon, too, Steve and Sam (a little later) will soon be in LA, Sam and Luis are on their way to Kentucky; others have dispersed as well. But somehow magically most of us have the summer together, a summer resting between turning points: ending college, and then, starting the rest of our lives. Things feel weird and anxiety-inducing, but relaxed at the same time, for now; things feel exciting and hopeful too, new beginnings, and all that. We all work a lot at our insignificant jobs, and then we get together. We all sit around and sweat in un-air-conditioned apartments. We run around Boston. We watch movies, have parties, talk. We eat Anna's, order Pizzanini, stuff Starbucks' cupcakes down our throats until we are sick. [We are still all dispersed now, most of us to even different places than we were dispersing to then, but, they are all still my best friends.]

Throughout the summer, we all listen to Sufjan Stevens' Come On Feel the Illinoise! All of us. We listen to it a lot.

When I hear songs from that album now, it is almost near impossible to not think of that summer that was so full of all of my best friends and possibility, and my ribcage fills with all kinds of full, rich, only semi-bittersweet joy.


Sufjan Stevens at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, with Kathy, and Zoe, visiting from California now specifically for the occasion, and Ashley, down from Seattle. We are in the upper balcony, three rows from the back. I only remember once we sit down that, Oh, yeah, I kept meaning to buy and listen to those two new albums Sufjan has put out in the last year. But I, uh, didn't. And then, of course, song after song after song that he plays are only new songs from these albums I have never heard. The concert hall is full of pretty cool looking young Portland-y people. There are these two hipster-ish dancers/back up singers on stage who are rocking Really Cool People, ironic-ish dancing, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Ashley had warned us right before the concert that the new music was different than Illinoise, less, you know, happy and calming folk-ish wonderland sounds.

As each song segues into the next, my mind slides down into the mode it usually occupies during such events. In this mode, one half of my brain is solidly in the moment. Music is washing over me and down through my eardrums to my belly, where it feels warm and exciting and very present and good. Then, in the other half of my brain, I am thinking about tiny boring things that happened to me that day, things that I have to do that weekend, homework assignments, bills I have to pay, goals I want to accomplish, people I want to know better, things I've said in the last week that might have been stupid. It's like the normal every day thoughts that are in my head all the time, but almost heightened, and all at once, like an unstoppable madhouse of thought in my brain.

It makes sense, really, since music is one of the most personal artistic experiences there is, that listening to good stuff makes you simultaneously really self-absorbed.

But I start to get into the new songs, this whole ethereal, meandering journey of this new music. I am not really disappointed at all; I have accepted that I won't hear the tunes that soundtracked that summer of 2006, and that's fine, because it's 2010 now, anyway. Sufjan talks for fifteen minutes about this batshit crazy artist dude he was inspired by for the album, and whose surrealist, futuristic paintings have been splashing up on a backdrop throughout the night. Sufjan himself, the music, the whole night, is a little batshit crazy, but a very dedicated, focused, sincere batshit crazy, the kind that tugs on my heart and makes me feel glad for everything.


And then, of course, for the last song, right before the encore, when the buzzing self-absorbed half of my brain is dying down a little bit and it is finally getting to just be about the music, this new crazy stuff, and I am into it, I am there, present, not wrapped up in nostalgia for Boston, for summer, for friends, I am there - he plays Chicago.

And I cry.


  1. Aw Sufjan! What a lovely entry about him and musical nostalgia. I don't have quite the same set of memories for him or that album, but I do love it, and him, and the music. I think I'm going to see him play in two weeks in New York, and I'm very much looking forward to it. I'm glad you liked the show!

  2. oh my god, jill. unf. this entry makes me nostalgic for reading the stuff you used to write for school. wowowowow.

    also, WHEN WATER FLOWED LIKE CUPCAKES. yeah, i said it and brought this awesome blog entry down a few notches.