Oh my friends I’ve
Begun to worry right
Where I should be grateful
I should be satisfied
Sufjan Stevens’ song “Sister Winter” begins at a low point: in the midst of darkness, a slow numbness begins to creep into the narrator. When I had first heard the song, I couldn’t really picture winter; I simply imagined a frosty window. Then Amherst gave me a clear idea of what winter was. I would play the song whenever I’d wake up to endless clouds taking over my window. If it sounds as if I despise winter, I do not. It was Sufjan Stevens who probably put the idea of a desolation in winter much more than Ethan Frome. “Sister Winter” is the song that adapts to my mood. I alternatively feel the hope in the narrator or his melancholy. Stevens is one of my favorite artists and his “Sister Winter” ranks high on my playlist. But “Sister Winter” is not a weepy ballad; what makes the song so remarkably beautiful to me is that it is a crescendo. The song starts slow and mournful but gains beat and a much more complicated hopefulness. How I experience the ending depends on me.
Sufjan Stevens is a prolific artist. He has been releasing albums since 1999, his most recent a Christmas album, Silver and Gold. At one point, Stevens had an ambitious plan to release an album dedicated to every state. He finished two, Come Feel the Illinoise and Greetings from Michigan. The albums are kitschy Americana; they’re dedicated to blue-collar workers, childhood loves, and small towns. The artist has decided not to continue with the project (dashing my hopes for an album dedicated to the beauty of Alaska). His albums make several allusions to Christianity but his later work has varied from planets to serial killers (John Wayne Gacy Jr.). I’ve never seen him live and I don’t bring him up with friends. His songs tend to be slow and he isn’t the easiest to like. I listened to him when I was lonely, when I was rejected from colleges, when I celebrated being accepted to college, when I looked out and saw the fall foliage.
One particular song from Come Feel the Illinoise plots out the death of both the narrator’s cancer-ridden childhood sweetheart and his youth. His sexual awakening is intertwined with his lover’s slow death; they explore each other’s bodies as hers stops functioning. Their church group prays constantly for divine help but her death is inevitable. While this may sound like the trite plot of a young adult novel, there is a universality in his words. I still listen to him because he continues to touch some feeling in me; a sick relative, leaving home and coming home again. His songs, while dedicated to certain geographic points, smoothed out and added some poetry into my life. Perhaps, I’ll listen to him and be bored or indifferent but he will always provide the cinematic soundtrack to the life I’ve lived so far.