Sufjan Stevens and the Curious Case of the Missing 48 States
July 16, 2019 6:32 AM   Subscribe

More than 15 years ago, a young indie folk artist set a course to traverse the United States of America through song, accruing acclaim, a fan base, and lots of anticipation along the way. Or did he?
posted by Etrigan (29 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Nah, it was very clearly a PR stunt at the time.

Though Carrie & Lowell and the Tonya Harding EP kinda combine as Oregon ...
posted by scruss at 7:00 AM on July 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

The marketing gimmick totally worked on me. It helped that I'm from Michigan and, not living there anymore, had surplus nostalgia ready for the right breathy-voiced pretty boy to come along and exploit.

And it clearly worked on a lot more people than just me. I remember the first time I saw him live, it was at the teeny Echo Lounge in Atlanta—just him, a guitar, a banjo, and a hand-drawn map of Michigan on an easel. There might have been thirty people there.

The second time I saw him was a sold-out show at the Fox Theatre. Not bad for a dude who came up playing coffee houses at Hope College.
posted by Maaik at 7:00 AM on July 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

A few months shy of twenty years ago, an indie rock legend charted a musical course through about 1/3 of the USA.

That 1/3 includes the two states Sufjan did albums about, so we can’t put them together and have a collection of indie songs about a larger selections of states.
posted by egypturnash at 7:45 AM on July 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

Stevens coming out with all fifty albums was always going to be as likely as Buckaroo Bonzai Against the World Crime League ever seeing the light of day.

And I know which I’d rather have, and so do you. /end credits, weird foot hopping thing
posted by Ghidorah at 7:52 AM on July 16, 2019 [25 favorites]

This one is all I need
posted by thelonius at 8:06 AM on July 16, 2019

With the benefit of hindsight and the wisdom of age I can accept that it was all just a gimmick that was never going to be fulfilled, but it still would have been nice to get more than 2.5 states out of it. At least I'll always have the idle time I spent thinking about how ludicrous What Did Della Wear or Frijoles Colorados would have been.
posted by Copronymus at 8:48 AM on July 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

That was some really nice writing, so coyly tongue-in-cheek. A couple of times I literally LOLed.
posted by sjswitzer at 8:51 AM on July 16, 2019

I am going to write a spy thriller set in each of the 50 states, as well as any overseas territories (if I get pressed for time, I may cram Howland Island and Johnston Atoll into one book. I think readers would understand.) and the District of Columbia. No bullshit. I'm going to do it!
posted by Naberius at 8:58 AM on July 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

It could be worse. Mystery author Sue Grafton wrote an entire series of novels whose titles were alphabet-themed ("A" is for Alibi, "B" is for Burglar, "C" is for Corpse, etc.) and died shortly after releasing the penultimate installment "Y" is for Yesterday.

We will never know what "Z" is for.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:12 AM on July 16, 2019 [8 favorites]

Wikipedia says this about Grafton's 24th in the series.

When asked about the title of book 24, Grafton told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that the title "almost has to be Xenophobe or Xenophobia. I've checked the penal codes in most states and xylophone isn't a crime, so I'm stuck."[4] Ultimately, Grafton broke the usual title pattern, naming the 24th book simply "X".

She should have started with A is for Accordion.
posted by sjswitzer at 9:22 AM on July 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

"We will never know what "Z" is for."

Zilch, apparently.
posted by Slinga at 9:31 AM on July 16, 2019 [8 favorites]

Zilch, apparently.

Mr. Dobalina. Mr. Bob Dobalina.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 9:33 AM on July 16, 2019 [9 favorites]

Z end
posted by spitbull at 9:36 AM on July 16, 2019 [8 favorites]

We will never know what "Z" is for.

Probably “zombie.”
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:53 AM on July 16, 2019

Piñataland scratches a similar itch with their songs about historic eclectica.
posted by aws17576 at 9:54 AM on July 16, 2019

Boston/Hawaii power-pop stalwarts The Dambuilders tried this before either of them and got the least far of all, but their music is my favorite of the three.
posted by mykescipark at 9:59 AM on July 16, 2019

I think The Gourds illustrate the difficulty of this task: They couldn't even make it though a single song . before just listing the states.

Of course there is another option. Outsource to different artists. Red Hot Chili Peppers have done California. Pat Green has written endless numbers of songs about Texas. Jimmy Buffet has covered Florida (not smooth, kind of crappy). Just need a few more for the rest.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:04 AM on July 16, 2019

Listen someday Sufjan will finish this, and I'll finish my analogous project, a Spotify playlist called "The Senate" with two songs about each state arranged in the order of ratification of the Constitution/admission to the Union. I originally made it to 2.5 states, but they took "You're a Square from Delaware" off Spotify so I'll see Sufjan and I are tied.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:11 AM on July 16, 2019 [8 favorites]

What's black and white and read all over? Sue Grafton's final posthumous masterpiece, Z is for Zebracide, coming this fall from G.P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Publishing.

"When we found the big red notebook labeled 'Z,' we knew right away we were dealing with something important," said Grafton's publishing agent, Nan Cartel. "What we didn't realize is that the contents of this mouldering old notebook could have been ripped from today's headlines."

Cartel enlisted the help of Grafton's longtime editor, Johnny Alphabet, to bring her vision across the finish line. "Sue always knew just how much alphabet and just how much crime it took to create the perfect blend of suspense. By the time she wrote her famous basketball mystery D is for D-Fens she had found her groove. Then she absolutely hit her stride with N is for Nine-One-One, What's Your Emergency: Hello Are You There or Have You Been Murdered. Ever since then I have had to do very little in the way of editing to prepare her work for publication. For this book I was basically just fixing typos and fact-checking zebra trivia. Did you know that zebras are more closely related to whales than rhinos? Normally that doesn't much matter, but normally you don't hear about a zebra who's sent to sleep with the fishes."

Grafton's rock-solid factual foundation for the book is thanks in part to her close collaboration with Studs Zooman, a former special agent who headed the US Fish and Wildlife Service's zebra-theft division until his retirement in 2008. Grafton consulted with Mr. Zooman right up until her death, when Z is for Zebracide was very nearly finished. "I worked the zebra beat for thirty years. I've seen it all," said Zooman. "Sue was a natural. She could have had a career in zebra forensics — but then the world would never know the genius of this final, thrilling mystery. All I can say is 'wow.' If you love zebras, you'll love this book."
posted by compartment at 10:19 AM on July 16, 2019 [18 favorites]

I can very much take or leave Sufjan (the breathiness, tweeness and Christianness are not my jam, but enjoy if they're yours).

But I would love to see John Linnell do another State Songs album.
posted by skullhead at 10:53 AM on July 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Huh, I woke up this morning whistling Casimir Pulaski Day.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:37 AM on July 16, 2019

humboldt32: "Huh, I woke up this morning whistling Casimir Pulaski Day."

The very best song from Illinois. A good choice on your subconscious' part.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:45 AM on July 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Another much more niche locale-centric music project that I am a fan of is Peter Peter Hughes' (you may know him as the bassist in The Mountain Goats) band DiskothiQ, who did two albums of songs about football teams, one covering the National conference, one covering the American conference. I do not follow football, but both are delightful
posted by Maaik at 12:13 PM on July 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

So, when that first album came out, I thought he was already a household name, a long established artist. Some old guy with a weird hippie beard. Didn't realize it was just some scrawny kid and neverh eard the promo gimmick. Honestly, I really expected all the albums but figured he ran out of steam or ideas or something, certainly I haven't heard a single peep from him since Illinois. I was waiting for the Texas album to check back in if it was any good or not. So, jokes on him, unless he hops back onto that abandoned concept, I probably won't need to back into early 2000s standard indie rock sound.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:42 PM on July 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

GoblinHoney, the albums he's put out since, especially Carrie & Lowell and Age of Adz, are very good
posted by Maaik at 1:14 PM on July 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

Michigander here. Completely satisfied.
posted by acrasis at 4:01 PM on July 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

humboldt32: "Huh, I woke up this morning whistling Casimir Pulaski Day."

The very best song from Illinois. A good choice on your subconscious' part.

The first time I heard this I was in work and going through a marriage breakup and my ex-father in law had just unexpectedly died, and it came on BBC6 music and I literally put my head on my desk and cried. I have loved him ever since because anyone who can get right into the core of my heart on first introduction is someone I want to keep.
posted by billiebee at 5:18 PM on July 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

I had the same reaction to "Casimir Pulaski Day" and also can't keep it together through "Should Have Known Better" from Carrie & Lowell
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:00 PM on July 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

I can very much take or leave Sufjan (the breathiness, tweeness and Christianness are not my jam, but enjoy if they're yours).

i see this take a lot but dude is capable of SO MUCH MORE than that. here's a song about his sister that starts with 11 minutes of "down by the river" style busted guitar soloing over cultish chanting before transitioning into a heartfelt song about escaping domestic violence. here's an ode to monogamy from his album length collaboration with rapper serengeti and producer son lux. here's a pride-inspired attempt to "write an upbeat and sincere love song without conflict, anxiety, or self-deprecation." here's a glitched out 25 minute suite from his left turn electronic album about mysterious illness, human connection, and civilization itself (where were you the first time you heard sufjan sing with auto tune?).

dude's actually pretty versatile, it's not all soft ballads about god and murderers and horn filled songs about city councils or whatever the stereotype is. this collection of random songs i like doesn't even touch the electro-classical album he wrote about a new york highway or the unnamed supergroup he put together to record a song cycle about the solar system.

what i guess i'm saying is that sufjan stevens is prog.
posted by JimBennett at 8:15 PM on July 16, 2019 [14 favorites]

« Older It's kind of an accepted practice.   |   I scream, you scream, we all scream for non-animal... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments