Sunday, June 30, 2013
I was listening to music in my car the other day. This isn’t some new revelation; most people know I love listening to music in my car. In fact, I almost can’t drive unless I have my music—it’s as important to me as having the keys or turning on the headlights when it’s dark. I have music for the spring, music for a summer day, and even music for the night. And then I have the music that is a religious experience.
The way I tear up when I listen to Sufjan Stevens isn’t natural. It is, after all, just music. Right? False. Music is one of any number of things that can be sacred to a person, in a similar way scriptures are sacred to the religious (not to sound sacrilegious, as I myself and very religious), because of the message it contains, the way it makes your soul swell up. Not to say that there aren’t any Christian undertones to the work of Sufjan (there’s the mention of ‘The Great I Am” in Decatur, or the blatant religious activities mentioned in Casimir Pulaski Day), but he’s not Christian rock and there’s something about his lyrics that makes me cry when I listen to him. He’s the only friend I need as I speed down the highway and ponder, contemplate, pray, over my life and where I’m going, what I’m doing.
It’s the intimacy of the moment, the sincerity in which he sings those words, those personal stories. It’s not everyone who can do that and not sound unbearably awkward or whiny. Instead you can relate, it causes you to think. It’s also something you can’t share with others, no matter how badly you want to—part of it is fear that anyone else who listens won’t find it sacred as you do, and, instead, make fun of it. The other part is that no one will ever experience something the same exact way that you do. But you can relate, attempt to empathize in our own perfectly imperfect human ways. And although when we listen oh so carefully, and we believe “this guy knows me, he really knows me. How is he in my head?” the painful truth is that he doesn’t, he isn’t, but the comforting thought is that we are able to relate somehow. The beauty of art is that you can take that special something created out of an emotion, a situation, and apply it to yourself. That’s how beautiful things should be, how they should work on a proper level.
When Sufjan sings “I made a lot of mistakes, all things know/go/grow,” he’s made mistakes different than mine. In too much he muses “If I was a different man… maybe I talk too much, maybe I talk too fast,” I’m reminded of my own self musings. What if there were nine of me, so I could live nine lives and do all that I wanted to do? Act, bake, write, be an astronaut, a secret lover. When in Futile Devices he heartbreakingly reflects about his deep relationship with his friend who is like a brother, something he can’t put into words without feeling dumb, he’s not singing about my friendship, but I can relate, and learn, and have a catharsis and use his perfectly imperfect futile words to describe my own story, to catch the feeling of my life. It’s because of this that his music is sacred, even if that might sound dumb. But what can I do? Words are, after all, futile devices. Yet I make do, and do just fine. As futile as words might be, at least they still connect.