024 :: SUFJANListen to "024 :: SUFJAN" on Spreaker.
The first thing I noticed was how familiar it all felt: this fingerpicking, these harmonies, this dear little voice. And more than that, the distinctive flood of emotions that was instantly stirred up inside me. This music felt – and still feels – like reuniting with an old friend, or revisiting an old home, or catching sight of an old lover, or recalling a loved one now lost – a resurgence of suppressed feelings and memories, suddenly foisted upon you. I've been listening to this songwriter for nearly twenty years; I can no longer imagine what it's like to hear them for the first time. I can only experience this music as a return, to a place of unbridled emotional vulnerability, that place this songwriter has brought me to so many times before. Though I'll admit, it is not somewhere I always wish to return. The thing about these songs is that they can almost be too tender, too fragile; and a heart can only endure so much ache. Listening to this music is like staring at the sun, a direct confrontation with the strongest and rawest of our feelings, feelings we typically don't dare to express. It can be tempting to avert one's eyes. But it can also be gratifying to be reminded of this capacity within us to hurt and to long deeply. In a way, this music is more honest with ourselves than we are, letting us feel what we so often don't allow ourselves to feel. Every time this songwriter comes to us with more of these songs, it's like a reaffirmation of life's true emotional weight – how it can wreck us, how it can humble us, and how it can, occasionally, show us grace. It is not a place we can bear to remain for too long, but it is comforting to allow ourselves to be held here for a moment, in the songwriter's delicate embrace.
This album was marked by two tragedies. The first – occurring (presumably) before the album was written, but only revealed on the day of its release – was the passing of Sufjan's "beloved partner", Evans Richardson. The second – occurring well after the album was finished, a mere month before its release – was Sufjan's sudden hospitalization and subsequent diagnosis of the auto-immune disorder Guillain-Barre Syndrome. (As of the publication of this episode, Sufjan is out of hospital and recovering.) It is difficult to listen to this record without hearing overtones of these two tragedies, even though the second tragedy did not, could not, figure into its creation in any way. But perhaps that's the power of Sufjan's music, that it can prefigure life's joys and sorrows, and speak to experiences we've yet to experience and feelings we've yet to feel.