Dangerous Compassions

new Sufjan Stevens song Sugar

Hopefully an artist leads you to a new place.  Hopefully they take you by the hand and are kind to you.  I always think a good poem teaches me how to read it.

Sufjan Stevens is my favorite, and I’ve let him lead me to some weird places.  He can do a lot of different things.  It was funny to see the spotify Sufjan Stevens channel–they seemed to believe he did Seven Swans.  They missed all the other aspects and albums.  I don’t know if it’s still like that–hopefully not.

video game

Recently he came out with Video Game, and I really liked it.  I’ve listened to it more over the weeks, and I like it even more.  It nourishes something in me I didn’t even know was there.

Now a few days ago he came out with Sugar.  I listened to it and was like–uh, I don’t like this.  Well, I kinda liked it.  I was telling Ming about it.

“It’s really synthy, futuristic, super modern.  It feels cool and reserved, kind of detached, but with a disturbing edge?  You know like how the video game song has that refrain, I don’t wanna play your video game. And it has some values of rejecting what culture wants to dish you.  I really like the ideas.”

Ming was driving us home, in our neighborhood–we’d run some nearby errands.  I continued.  “Well this song has a refrain–come on baby, give me some sugar.  It’s really sadly demanding, weirdly demanding, the voice that’s speaking it.  I think he went too far over there, like to the synthy modern detached side.  It’s too something.  Too slick, or stark emotionally, or something.”


I’ve listened to just about all of his songs, even the 12 or whatever Christmas albums.  I listened to Carrie and Lowell every day, at least, for more than a year.

So I’ve heard the religiousness and followed those threads.  I’ve heard the queerness, the brilliance, the twee articulate pulling on heartstrings, soaring angelic ridiculousness, low blows, and brutality of noise moments, when he really seems to be throwing a musical fit.

I’ve heard the lush layered gorgeousness, the songs with many parts and three different endings in the same song, his excess.  I love to hear glimpses of the minimalism that seems stubbornly latent, a flute flourish now and then, and when he plagiarizes himself, a musical phrase from a song he made ten years ago sneaked in there like no big deal.


Hearing the new song Sugar, I feel–I don’t like this; let me listen to it one more time to make sure.  There have been others things by him I felt like that too.  By the tenth listen, I’ve learned what it’s doing and gave myself over to it.  You won, Sufie.

I let it into my heart.  This song has some different stuff toward the beginning, with the human voices saying language-sounds that aren’t recognizable words.  There are some moments before the singing starts, to set the stage.  My first listen, I was like, will there be words?

Then the “come on baby, give me some sugar” is really distasteful.  When has anyone said that to me who I wanted to say that to me?  Never.  The imperativeness is painful–euphemistic sex demands, couched in pretend lightheartedness.  I guess that’s a huge part of life!  So in that sense, it’s perfect.

the video

I got used to that long version, and then I watched the video this morning–wow.  I got goosebumps on my legs; honestly, I felt sick.  The dancing is amazing.  It’s so painful, weird, and accurate.  The music box just about kills me, and when the kitchen is on fire.  Wow.

It’s kind of horror, and by the end, I’m like–ok.  I see what you’re doing here.  Go ahead–take me.  I had been resisting it, but at the end, when the family is in the field, it goes from horror to scifi, and I feel so seen: the violence, isolation, boredom, roles, trappedness, ultimate freedom, Americanness, those jerky juxtaposed with fluid body movements.

It’s really something.  The old fashioned tv, dinner tableness, pie.  The super-familiar made surreal with intensity, revisiting where trauma started, and feeling the hardcore harm sizzling there.

Thinking about the choices of wallpaper and clothing, the thin body of the lady, what’s beautiful, family, the Blackness, how much my life has been like and unlike what the video is about.  Sufjan Stevens’ projects and aesthetics now and over the years.  Is he being exploitive.

Why are none of the video’s comments mentioning certain things.  I guess they’re clever two sentence interjections, not a thesis.  I guess I need to get a Master’s degree in Sufjan Stevens.  Sounds like…a good idea.


But the video uses a shorter version of the song.  I think he didn’t trust the viewer–the song needed to be easier to hear, for the video to be acceptable.  So the video version of the song, three minutes shorter, feels like a teaser, or simplified, definitely missing something.  Feels like I’m getting away with less effort.

Sufjan Stevens is just the right amount of work.  Totally worth it.  I’d like to be that way too.  I’m always learning about what the reader desires, how far the reader wants to go, my own journey, and which parts of the journey others will want to witness.

Right now I’m feeling really glad Sufjan Stevens has faith in himself.  His projects–who supported him?  Who taught him the value of what he’s doing?  How did he get that brilliantly sensitive without getting totally destroyed?  It’s funny the amount of ego we need in order to keep feeding ourselves and making art.

This post brought to you by sweet potatoes.

sweet potatoes

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

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