I bought the album Carrie and Lowell because I had read that it was about Sufjan Stevens’ relationship with his mentally ill mother. Carrie, Stevens’ mother, suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. After she died, he wrote songs about his grief for her and his complicated relationship with her.
When I was three, three maybe four
She left us at that video store
I had a vague impression that Stevens was a Christian singer/songwriter. This is true in the sense that he’s both a singer/songwriter and a Christian, but turns out not to describe his songs (nor does he describe himself this way). While they contain religious imagery, it’s more the kind of religious imagery that you’d get from Leonard Cohen – tangled with varied emotions and accounts of his life – than the kind that’s straightforward worship and praise. The songs have a folk rock sound, with complex lyrics and simple, gentle tunes. The song with the most explicit religious allusions, “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross,” combines that cross reference with lines like “There’s blood on that blade, fuck me, I’m falling apart,” just as it combines the memory of his mother with reference to some newer romantic love. Emotions range from forgiveness to despair, and allusions are classical as well as Christian.
the only thing that keeps me from driving this car
half light jacknife into the canyon at night
signs and wonders, perseus aligned with a skull
slaying medusa, pegasus alight from us all
Am I right in seeing a reference to Oedipus in “Should I tear my eyes out now?”