I Heart Sufjan Stevens

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There are three I’s in Illinois

I am developing a small obsession with a folk musician from Michigan. I hear him all the time. But the problem is I just don’t like his music.

I want to like it. I really do. Critics roundly praise him. Public radio certainly loves him. (Find him on WNYC.org or NPR.org or MPR.org.) And I love public radio. So, there’s something, right?

But I’m just not feeling it. So I must be a joyless freak for not adoring him, I guess.

I bought Jeff his album Greetings from Michigan for Christmas. <!–(Take one look at Jeff, and you’ll see why.) –>The best thing about it is the cover art and the song titles — clever, promising numbers any Michigan nerd would love such as “Flint (For The Unemployed And Underpaid),” “For The Windows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti,” “Say Yes! To M!ch!gan!,” “Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head!,” “They Also Mourn Who Do Not Wear Black (For The Homeless In Muskegon),” and “Oh God, Where Are You Now? (In Pickeral Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?).” But listening to it in the car driving from Detroit to Saginaw was a rather depressing experience.

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More than a pretty picture

I like his guitar playing. I like his 50-state idea — the album after Michigan is Come on Bring the Illinoise. (I hope he makes it through all 50.) And he’s a total cutie-pie.

See? –>

But his music always leaves me with the feeling of having been at a high school music recital. There’s always a weird, unconnected brass arrangement or xylophone or something. His voice is cute but … shall we say unadorned. A whisper. A shadow. He uses layer upon layer of instruments and noise, but somehow it comes off sounding as flat as the Michigan sugar beet fields. It all adds up to a unique, very specific, practiced amateurish sound.

A sound I just can’t love.

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Sufjan Stevens and the Michigan Militia

But I will continue to try to love it. He’s more than a pretty picture; he’s clearly talented and prolific and musically versatile. Whatever he’s doing is deliberate, and that’s very cool. He is unique. I wouldn’t deny that I respect him. And I’m delighted that he’s getting so much attention.

The bottom line, I guess is: He’s a fellow Michigander — born in Detroit, raised up north. So I remain loyal to him. I wish him boundless success. I hope that I will begin to like his work very soon. And above all, I dream of the day he shows up at my doorstep, having been caught in a sudden rainstorm, his steaming t-shirt clinging to his lean, lithe body, asking me for a towel.

Let’s get you out of those wet clothes, shall we, Mr. Stevens?


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the untallied hours

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