I’m not typically one to experience a great deal of FOMO (that’s “fear of missing out” for those of you not up date date on hip young lingo), but I certainly felt like I missed out this past Friday. After deciding months ago that I didn’t want to spend the money to attend Boston’s premier music festival “Boston Calling,” my friend contacted me Friday morning telling me he could get us tickets to the Friday showing for much less than list price. I was already long gone on a family trip and couldn’t make it, but that friend made sure to tell me how much I missed out on in regards to Friday’s headliner Sufjan Stevens. In his words, “It was unreal. He did everything in the style of Age of Adz (Stevens’ 2010 album), so even songs off of Illinois and Carrie & Lowell (both more acoustic based albums from Stevens) we real electronic with a KILLER horn section. So so good.” To put that comment in perspective, picture my favorite Sufjan Stevens song “Casimir Pulaski Day” with a heavy electronic feel to it. Honestly, I struggle to formulate what that would sound like.
Despite its calm, soothing nature, “Casimir Pulaski Day” covers one of the most devastating topics of any song I know. The song recalls Sufjan Stevens’ memories of a girlfriend’s battle with bone cancer and how the tragedy coincided with a a Polish holiday celebrated in Chicago on the first Monday of every March known at Casimir Pulaski Day (“In the morning, in the winter shade, on the first of March, on the holiday, I thought I saw you breathing”). Stevens is known for making his lyrics incredibly depressing, as he notes in regards to his songwriting, “I think of the saddest thing I can and then add a sick dog to that. If I think of a sick dog from the beginning, I just stop there.” On top of some of those depressing lyrics, Sufjan Stevens is often praised for his work as a “Christian artist.” Stevens, as a Christian and musician, will occasionally bring religious concepts into his songs, but often skeptically and whimsically in an attempt to emphasize the human struggle that tragedy brings when turning towards religious solace specifically in times of trouble. In Stevens’ words, “Christian music (as a genre) exists exclusively within the few insulated floors (cubicles and computers included) of some corporate construction in Nashville, Tenn. Otherwise, there’s no such thing as Christian music.” A bold statement indeed, but Stevens’ attempt to focus on the aesthetics of Christianity in music rather than the evangelism has earned him fantastic critical acclamation in regards to his unique songwriting process.