Between hipsters and God there is Sufjan Stevens
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Michigan Stories
Theme by Stijn
Jun 7th
5:52 AM

Sufjan Stevens - Vito’s Ordination Song

We have been known from the very start. Our eye color, our hairline, our jawline, the shape of our big toe, the tone of our voice. These things have been designed from the very beginning.

What kind of music we listen to. The sort of skirt that looks good. The sort of cap that fits right. We have been made to find these things for ourselves and take them in as ours, like adopted children: habits, hobbies, idiosyncrasies, gestures, moods, tastes, tendencies, worries. We are all these things. They have been put in us for good measure.

Perhaps we don’t like what we see: our shapeless hair, our loss of hair, our shoe size, our dimples, our knuckles too big, our eating habits, our disposition. We have disclosed these things in secret, likes and dislikes, behind doors with locks, our lonely rooms, our messy desks, our empty hearts, our sudden bursts of energy, our sudden bouts of depression.

Don’t worry. Put away your mirrors and your beauty magazines and your books on tape. There is someone right here who knows you more than you do, who is making room on the couch, who is fixing a meal, who is putting on your favorite record, who is listening intently to what you have to say, who is standing there with you, face to face, hand to hand, eye to eye, mouth to mouth. There is no space left uncovered.

May 20th
11:22 PM

Sufjan Stevens - Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)

Bless our grandfathers and grandmothers. The work of their bodies, the work of their hands. The homes they built, the swimming pools and picture frames and wax candles and Christmas decorations put in the window. Bless their children and their grandchildren, the small faces, the hard faces, the frowns and eyebrows, the hair braids and aprons and gifts wrapped in newspaper. Bless their business and their sleep. Their labor, their watching of TV, their bowls of peanut shells and orange rinds and red grapes washed with water. Bless the omelettes and the cigarettes and the scotch in the freezer, the money given away. Put their hearts to rest, their spirits to rest. Give them sleep. Give them rest.

Apr 27th
11:05 PM

Sufjan Stevens - Oh God, Where Are You Now?

I am never satisfied with just one thing. There is one thing and then another. My life is occupied with worry after worry. The business of living complicated with projects, principles, financial matters, bills, taxes, songs to write, stories to edit, friends to call, family to consider in prayer, letters, lottery tickets, garbage days, the landlord’s voice mail, work, doctors, astrologers, bike messengers, exercise, eating, drinking, book design, door locks, indigestion, parking tickets.

These things have set themselves on me like a big denim jacket. I am heavy with the signs of death. I am heavy with the work of the world that is death. I am not going to make it to the end. I have been put aside by the great big arm of God. He has gone somewhere else, in a different country, in a different language. I have walked all over the state, town to town, city to city, in search of meaning. The empty logging camps, the polluted rivers, the vacant parking lots, the burned out buildings, the bridges collapsed, the dysfunctional families, the potholes, the flat tires, the city taxes.

Then there is the devil, with his convincing opinions, his euphemisms, his friendly chatter, his considerable presence. When all else has left you, he is waiting: patient, quiet, informed, good looking, articulate. I like this guy. He looks like me. He talks like me. We agree on everything. We eat the same foods. We watch the same movies. We think the same thoughts. We are exactly the same person.

Apr 9th
6:59 PM

Sufjan Stevens - They Also Mourn Who Do Not Wear Black (For The Homeless In Muskegon)

Children mourners must wear pleated pants or skirts and must not speak loudly indoors for two weeks. There is to be no talking during meals, and hands must always be folded in laps in the sitting room for six days. Pets must be taken to the shelter, or stored out of sight, for a month. Siamese cats are acceptable as long as there is no shedding. There will be no drinking of carbonated beverages for eight weeks. The next of kin wear black, long sleeves, cardigan or wool, and a veil tied at the ankle with a black ribbon. Shoes with heels are to be avoided. A paper armband is optional. A black shawl must be worn by the widow for seven moths, after which a dark blue or green one of the same variety is permissible. Parents of the deceased are to speak softly and in complete sentences. They are to arrange the viewing, the visitors brunch, accommodations for the priest. Thank you notes should be written no later than seven days following. Mourners are required to observe the appropriate dress colors, as follows: Mothers and daughters: black. Fathers and sons: black or dark gray. Grandfathers: maroon. Grandmothers: beige. Second cousins are permitted to wear summer colors. Great uncles: black. Close friends may go either way. Loved ones who are not able to attend the viewing may wear what they like. Those unrelated, or uninvited, are permitted to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes, cotton slacks, a tank top, a tunic, or boxers, perhaps. Just try to be yourself. 

Mar 22nd
9:14 PM

Sufjan Stevens - Sleeping Bear, Sault Saint Marie

Long ago a great famine spread over the land. A mother bear and two famished cubs walked the shore on Wisconsin, gazing across the great lake at Michigan, the land of plenty. Finally hunger overcame their timidness and the bears launched out, to swim to Michigan. As they approached the shore, the mother’s words of encouragement urged on the weary cubs. With only twelve miles to go, the mother’s heart was rent as she saw one cub sink and drown. She struggled to gain the beach with the remaining cub behind her. After two miles of slow dragging, the second of her beloved cubs also perished.

The mother reached the beach, alone, and crept to a resting place where she lay down facing the restless waters that covered her lost ones. As she gazed, two islands rose to mark the graves of the cubs. The Great Spirit Manitou created these two islands (North and South) to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared. The Great Spirit also shaped a solitary dune to represent the faithful mother bear, where she remains today, watching the waters.

Mar 10th
6:25 PM

Sufjan Stevens - Alanson, Crooked River

We would steal quarters from our dad’s pants pockets and go down to Andy’s to buy Charleston Chews and Laffy Taffy, which would cost five cents a piece. If there was no change, we took back cans of pop. You could buy a pack of gum with two cans. Bobby would play pretend WWF at the bandstand in the park, doing choreographed body slams, pinning himself down under the imaginary weight of Hulk Hogan, who was the only wrestler I recognized by name. We didn’t watch TV at our house, except The Smurfs on Saturdays and MTV the one time we hooked up cable illegally. For a year, the swing bridge was out of service. Someone spray-painted “Zilwaukee Jr.” under the railings. This made it in the papers.

One time my brother got his leg stuck in the docks. He said he was bug hunting. He said he chased a preying mantis to end of the pier and fell through. He was pinched between two planks of wood. It started to rain, then it started to hail. He dropped our sister’s insect guide in the river, for which he apologized later. Then he started to yell. The firemen had to come and chop him out with an ax. They brought him home naked, shivering, wrapped in a wool throw, his lips ice-cream white.

There was also the time one of our trees got stuck by lightning. My little brother saw it happen from behind the screen door. We spent the next day pulling splinters out of the ground. The papers came and took our dad’s picture. When our dog bit our boss we had to put it to sleep. Our mother cried all day.

Sherry and I picked wild peppermint at the creek and made tea. Sometimes we played tennis. Even though she was in my class, we never talked at school. She was in Special Ed. There was some kind of understanding. We wouldn’t even make eye contact. But after school, in the park, or by the sand bar, we were best friends.

Feb 21st
2:50 PM

Sufjan Stevens - Romulus

Our parents do the best they can, under the circumstances. They do what they can, and it is always the very best. Who’s to say if you were not loved or touched. There was too much to do, there were too many children, too many meals to prepare, too many sheets to fold, too many socks to match, too many floors to sweep. Oh the terrible burden, each of us doing the very best we could. Try to imagine yourself in their shoes. Living their lives, mowing their lawns, hanging their laundry, cleaning their clothes, arguing their arguments. You would do far worse. You would fail completely.

Feb 11th
7:50 PM

Sufjan Stevens - Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)

Oh Detroit, you complicated old man, nearly dead, with your shoulders arched over the river, polluted and grey, the threads of your shirt worn down with disease and car exhaust. You have grown fat and thin with industry, car factories, Motown music, riots, raids, transportation nightmares. You have eaten Coney dogs with relish and onion. You have built magnificent buildings only to burn them. Your children’s children have squandered their dowry. They piss on the streets. They throw trash in the trees and hang their laundry on ropes fit for hanging.

Oh Detroit, what have you done to the black man, his wife and kids, his cousins, his music, his hairstyles, his shoes with white tips, his pleated pants, his elbow slung out the car window, his basketball courts, his officers downtown, his nightclub, his shirtsleeves tucked over a pack of Pall Malls, his imagination, his industry, his sense of humor, his home?

Oh Detroit, what have you done to city hall, the public trains, the workers’ union, the Eastern Market, Boblo Island, the Ambassador Bridge? Where have you put your riches, where have you hid your treasure? Your concrete over-passes, your avenues as wide as rivers, your suburbs bloated with brick homes and strip malls and discount liquor stores and resale shops. Where have you hid our grandmother’s ukulele, the swimming pool out back, the lawn chairs, the car seats wrapped in plastic? Where are the rain shakers and the basketball nets? Where are the full court presses, the sneakers tied to phone lines, the windows broken in, the crazy old man on his porch yelling profanities, the old woman with the African statues in the stairwell, the kids with bikes with flat tires, the stray cats and guard dogs and prophylactics thrown in alleyways.

Oh Detroit, when you are dead and gone, who will care for your children’s children. They have run wild with the bastard boys around the streets, reckless car rides downtown, rigorous dancing, drug taking, knife-stabbing, pillow-stuffing, tail wagging restlessness. They have been drunk with this for years. They have been out of their minds. They have been left with nothing.

Feb 5th
6:02 PM

Sufjan Stevens - Holland

This was the summer it got so hot we put a fan in each window. At night we teamed up with the Palestinian students and stole tulips from Centennial Park. We used them as garnishes: we arranged bouquets on table ends and desktops.

We burned a wicker chair on the beach at night. We cooked steaks and pork chops on sticks over the fire. We went skinny-dipping. We huddled under the towels. We told stories about our fathers, about our first kiss, about that one uncle who was always drunk at family reunions.

We bought guitars and accordions and played them under blankets in the park. We tried to follow the Dutch dancers. We mowed lawns and stole flags from construction sites and kissed on the lips at the drinking fountain. We drank Boone’s Sangria and cried and cried and cried on the couch.

We sewed shirts for our friends, with decorative borders made from ribbons, with zippers, with billowing collars, with floral patterns. Nothing fit right. We went around shirtless, even the skinny ones, even the fat ones, even the ones with terrific arms and shoulders.

We took our time talking things out; we listened carefully, with a serious look. We prayed. We read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. We tried very hard to understand this.

We went to a church that was in English and Spanish. We tried very hard to understand this.

We made omelets on the weekends. We whittled wood. We knitted hats. We smoked cigarettes. We gave each other gifts. Elaborate, handmade, complicated passive aggressive gifts.

We were afraid to be left behind. We were afraid to be loved. We were afraid this would come to an end, as all things do. We sat on the couch and cried and cried and cried.

Jan 31st
7:44 PM

Sufjan Stevens - Tahquamenon Falls

We went with Cassie to pick pine cones at the falls. She gave us each a paper bag and cotton gloves. These were the small cones, little burnt rose bud cones, from Hemlock. We weren’t allowed to pick them off the tree. This would be stealing, Cassie said. We were to pick them off the ground, and only the ones that were symmetrical, round, soft to the touch. Look for blemishes and knots and deformities, Cassie said.

There were thousands around us in certain places, clustered around each other like friends at school. I remember thinking this because I had no friends at school. I wasn’t teased. I wasn’t disliked. But there was something about me that kept people at arm’s length. Sometimes girls flirted, or left notes in my gym bag, but the boys went down to the IGA at lunch without inviting me. They planned sleep-overs and fishing trips and weekends snowmobiling at the tree farm, but I only heard about these things after the fact.

Behind us, we could hear the falls mumbling something, moving over rocks and moss and silt. Cassie told us that these trees produce cones only once every few years. This was a special occasion, she said, and she sprayed bug spray on our necks and on our arms.

Cassie’s husband set up the tripod and took pictures, only of natural things —stones, sky, trees, mushrooms, mold — never of people. Finally, Cassie had us line up on a log and pose, one after the other, and he took our picture too.

When our bags were full, we walked to a clearing by the water and Cassie put down a sheet on the grass and made our lunches: pastrami with mustard, lettuce, Swiss cheese, pumpernickel bread, and potato chips. There were so many bags of potato chips. She had two liters of Faygo pop and plastic cups. We ate fast. We were always hungry then. But Cassie knew how to enjoy her food. She would take off her sandals and roll up her sleeves to get a little sun on her shoulders. She would close her eyes when she chewed, as if she was thinking about something important. She wore wicker hats, and reflective sunglasses and denim shorts. For a few years, she was like a mother to me.