“Oblivion – what a blessing…for the mind to dwell a world away from pain.”
― Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

FotoFlexer_SufjanThe ancient Greeks believed that the dead could come back as birds, and in his masterpiece, “Carrie and Lowell” poet/singer Sufjan Stevens references birds in nearly every song as he tries to makes sense of his mother’s death and life. From opening track “Death with Dignity” with images of chimney swifts and red hens, to the one-winged dove in “Drawn to the Blood,” the falcon of “Eugene” and the hawk reference to his mother on “Fourth of July.” Birds represent his mother, himself, his siblings, seemingly everyone who has touched his life. If this weren’t such an autobiographical piece, you might condemn him for Yeats like excess, but each bird has a clear reference point in each song.

Of course, the center piece of this record is “The Only Thing,” a meditation on his complicated relationship he had with his mother and the unbearable grief leading him to thoughts of suicide. How complicated? Well he does sing about “should I tear my eyes out now?” Like the Prophet Daniel, our narrator finds solace in faith, though, with a healthy dose of cynicism. Where Daniel is able to survive a den of lions through divine intervention, our Narrator survives “sea lion caves in the dark.”

And we shouldn’t pretend that the composer of “John Wayne Gacy” and “Casimir Pulaski Day” can’t take a song cycle about his mother’s death from stomach cancer down a notch or 2. He punctuates the bedside conversation between mother and son in “Fourth of July” with the cheery thought the “we’re all gonna die.” To bring the point home, the mother reminds the child of the terrible Tillamook forest fires in Oregon – a biblical like conflagration.

Personally, this record could not have been released at a worse time. When it came out on March 30th, we had already taken my mother back and forth between 2 hospitals and home. When her Mims, Max and I went to Cleveland on April 16th to see Sufjan at the Masonic Hall, we were hopeful that she was on the mend but we were also a lot on edge. As I write this she’s back in the hospital dealing with an infection, Afib, battle wounds and tremendous pain. Hey, at least Carrie could self-medicate. Too soon?

If you are planning to see the second leg of the “Carrie and Lowell” super-bummer tour take plenty of kerchiefs, both hand and neck. The first set is the entire “Carrie and Lowell” record not in sequential order, but with awe-inspiring orchestration and family videos. The second half of the show is nothing but the hits. He even played “Sister” from “Seven Swans!” See the attached link:


As an added bonus: please enjoy this magpie funeral service. I like to imagine it’s Sufjan and his siblings.