Last month Sufjan Stevens released his incredibly long, hyper-ironic, and immensely listenable and yet at the same time un-listenable Christmas boxset Silver & Gold. Then, for the past few weeks he has been putting on his Sufi-jams Shark-yarns Christmas Concert Tour all around the country. I, on the other hand, have been chronicling my hatred of him and his work. So, despite the delay in between my last Sufjan related post, I now leave you with some parting thoughts about my Sufjan-loathing, some observations about his early Xmas gift (i.e., the new music), and the last of my reasons of why I (still) hate him. So, everybody get your Grinch on and get ready to spread some Christmas hate!
As you might have guessed by now (that is, if you have been reading the list so far), I do not really hate Sufjan Stevens. My rambling have really been a testament to how an unhealthy idolization can quickly (if I let it) progress into an insane jealousy, and when you want what somebody else has you begin to hate them and resent them for the very fact that they possess what you lack. As my awkwardly conflicted "reasons" for hating Sufjan have hopefully demonstrated I am completely enamored with the guy and his music. I pretty much think he is a genius. He is the soundtrack of my adult life. He has not yet usurped Rich Mullins and Keith Green (the soundtrack of my adolescence) as my greatest musical influences, but he is a close #3 or #4 (having easily risen past Radiohead and perhaps topping The Beatles). And yet I often feel this confliction when I listen to his work: will I allow my own ego to inhibit the joy I receive from Sufjan? My hope is that this series of (somewhat) self-deprecating posts will help me get past my jealousy and venture into a more fruitful age. Thanks for letting me work that out with ya'll!
It must be said however, there really is a small sub-section of the world out there who truly are Sufjan-haters. Just type in "I hate Sufjan Stevens" into Google and see what you find. There is actually some overlap with my list (which to me says that you can hate an artist or a work of art for the very reasons that others love it), but here is what you will typically find from those who have no patience for Sufjanese:
1. His music is too "precious," "twee," and "pretentious."
2. His compositions are bloated, over-the-top, cluttered, and excessive and he needs a good editior (There’s too much Sufjan in every Sufjan song. )
3. His songs are too long.
4. His song titles are too long (the titles are also too precious).
5. There are too many songs on his albums.
6. His lyrics are banal even though they seem deep and/or important.
7. His "State" albums are really just about him.
8. He's annoying and mediocre and overrated (or any such variation)
But I am seeking something higher than these glib inter-web whiners can muster. I want my hatred of Sufjan to be as ironic and over-the-top as his music is. And with that:
Why I Hate Sufjan Stevens: Reason #7
His Live Show Are ZANY
Sufjan's live shows are nuts. They always have been. They are a zoo, a circus, and incident, a happening. He has had his band dress like the Michigan Militia, the University of Illinois Cheerleaders, like great winged birds, like neon taped space aliens, and now like tinsel-covered unicorns. It is so hard to tell if all this is just sincere good fun, a self-consciously ironic pseudo childhood dress-up game, or a bewildering mixture of both. Anyway, a Sufjan show is always a psychedelic drug-free partay! And as these pictures demonstrate, his recent Christmas tour seems to be right in the same spirit. Here is a brief look at some pictures from Sufjan concerts past!:
Why I Hate Sufjan Stevens: Reason #8
Composing a Symphony
In 2007 Sufjan composed and performed a "symphony" of sorts, a programmatic piece called The BQE. So, not only is Sufjan a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter-producer, a (unsuccessful) professional writer, an avid amateur crocheter and cross-sticher, a photographer, and a graphic designer, but now he also composes "classical" or art music. Now, The BQE was not all that good, being kind of a mess that taxed the patience of the listener and too easily revealed his influences (Gershwin, Copland, Reich), but even so, the work itself is monumental and a tribute to Sufjan's genius, even if that genius is often a bit misguided. Let me say this, I will never be able to do what he did (apart from being able to take a few years of intensive music composition lessons and then being allowed to focus on nothing but composing for the greater part of a year), and so for that I say "I hate you Sufjan Stevens."
Why I Hate Sufjan Stevens: Reason #9
Recording Sooooooooo Much Christmas Music
I mean this is just incredibly annoying, especially to us lesser mortals. Back in the year 2003 when I had been dating my future wife for close to a year I decided that I wanted to start giving her a Christmas present each year that contains an original recording of a Christmas song along with a personal Christmas greeting. With what little time I had in between the end of my school semester and Christmas day I recorded her a version of "Away in the Manger." I slaved over that song and barely got it done in time. For the next few years I was able to fulfill my goal, recording "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," a really short version of "The First Noel," and an original song I had written to her myself. Did you catch how many songs that was? Well, it was not anywhere close to the gargantuan amount that Sufjan has given us in the last decade. I hate you Sufjan Stevens.
I will conclude with some of my thoughts on the Silver & Gold. There's no way I am giving a full review, but here are a few random smattering of observations about it:
1. Is Sufjan the musical equivalent of George Lucas?--OK, so a few years ago Rafter, an artist on Sufjan's record label leaked EP #8, Christmas Infinity Voyage (Sufjan actually admits to this in the liner notes on the album). I have come to love those songs, especially "Christmas in the Room" and "The Child With the Star on His Head," which I think are among the very best of Sufjan's Xmas originals. HOWEVER, on the new release of these songs, Sufjan has totally George Lucased those songs up (along with a few others). Meaning, he has replaced some of the original instrumentation and filled his songs instead with his bleepy bloopy digital tomfoolery, as Lucas has been much maligned for doing in the Stars Wars films. And in the case of "The Child With the..." he totally chopped off the last ten or so minutes of the song that contained a choir and the band going gonzo; that is, the section that was the most epic and moving. Now all we have is ten minutes of synthesizer noodling. Let us hope this does not become a trend for Sufjan. Check out the original version of "The Child..." if you don't believe me, that is, if it is anywhere to be found on the internet.
2. How Pomo can you go?--Back when I was learning about "Post-Modernism" in my literature and theology classes the work of "art" that is Silver & Gold would have been considered the epitome of self-conscious ironic kitschy pastiche. The juxtaposition of sacred and secular themes, beautiful and the profane imagery, and the eternal and the painfully ephemeral in both the album's art work, music, and related videos (here too) is so extreme that it leads me to think Sufjan is not merely trying to be post-modern but that he is in fact parodying Postmodernism itself (whatever that means), while also managing to simultaneously satirize our culture's understanding of Christmas and yet deeply reflect upon the holiday's most profound truths.
3. Worship pastor disappointment--Despite all the brilliant original Xmas tunes, there's not really anything that I would consider worthy of congregational singing, that is, a song people could sing together at church. I could be wrong, but Sufjan's original stuff tends to be either too weird in the lyric department or not approachable musically speaking by the 'normal' church-singer. This is disappointing to me.
4. Public Domain--Sufjan put all his original songs in the public domain, which means that the songs are not under copyright, which means that he will never make any money off of them. What a benevolent anti-consumeristic thing to do! I hate you Sufjan Stevens!
Everyone have a jubilant Christmas! And seriously, go listen to Silver & Gold, it's truly wonderful. And watch this video. Sufjan's thesis for the whole album is in this song: