Welcome back to the Voyage of the Mind Music Diary!
A while ago, I issued the first installment of the VotM music diary, and now I’m finally back with a second. I’ve realized that I tend to keep songs on repeat for weeks, so it would be too much to expect weekly entries, but I think that monthly will be quite manageable. Who doesn’t love their music, anyhow?
Today I’m going to be profiling two songs from Sufjan Stevens’s most recent album “The Ascension” and one song that I discovered by chance on my favorite Boston-based radio station, 88.9 WERS. Yes, I listen to the radio! My phone is too old to support any of those fancy streaming apps, so while I have Spotify on my computer for writing sessions and general use, 88.9 is my go-to choice for car trips.
All right, let’s dig in to some music.
“The Ascension” by Sufjan Stevens
This is the title track from Sufjan Stevens’s most recent album, “The Ascension,” which I could write a whole lot more about (and maybe will in the near future). In this review, Jon Pareles of The New York Times called “The Ascension” Stevens’s “poppiest” work yet.
I’m inclined to agree. I’m a fan of all of Stevens’s work, from the utterly surreal to the “poppy.” There are songs on this album that could almost be mainstream. Not quite, though. The lyrics benefit wonderfully from Stevens’s poetic touch.
There’s a divide between the songs in this album. Some of them, like “Sugar,” “Goodbye to All of That,” and “Landslide” are desperate, beautifully written numbers about love, an enduring theme in Stevens’s work. (And in everyone’s work, if I may say so myself.) But a couple tracks stand out, and “The Ascension” is among them. I daresay some of its lyrics make it sound as if the singer has gone through a time of trial in his faith. Given that I also have been questioning my faith (or lack thereof) throughout this time, it strikes a chord with me. Here’s the third-ish stanza:
And now it frightens me, the thought against my chest
To think I was asking for a reason
Explaining why everything’s a total mess
And now it frightens me, the dreams that I possess
To think I was acting like a believer
When I was just angry and depressed
And to everything there is no meaning
A season of pain and hopelessness
I shouldn’t have looked for revelation
I should have resigned myself to this
Yeah. Given that I regard a lot of Stevens’s work as this-side of Christian, these lyrics shocked me a little. You should give the song a listen if you haven’t already. I’ll say it probably isn’t for everyone, but you might think it’s a hit.
“America” by Sufjan Stevens
It’s Election Day today, and this is the closest I’m going to get to writing something political on Election Day. So savor it while you can!
I’ve stayed relatively uninvolved in the 2020 election, for better or for worse. There are a lot of things I could say about it and a lot of things I may say in good time, but the time hasn’t come yet. My only political action was to write postcards to voters in Texas encouraging them to vote. Just to vote, nothing more, nothing less. I have quite a few opinions about both candidates in the race, but I’ll refrain from voicing them now. If you’ve been reading my work for some time, you probably know which party I’m standing behind this election season. Let’s just say that choices aren’t simple, though, even if they’re easy.
“America” is a political song. It’s a song about our beautiful country. I’m talking about the land itself, by the way, not the institutions. This song inspires sadness in me, because in many ways Stevens’s take on the matter is that it’s too late. In the refrain, he sings Don’t do to me what you did to America — past tense. This is a view I’ve been fighting against in myself for a long time and, unfortunately, after the events of this past year or so, I’m having difficulty suppressing it. Which is part of the reason why I won’t be talking politics here anytime soon. Sometimes you need to give things a little time.
If you’re American, if you’ve ever been American, or even if you’re not American but have been following events in America or care about America in even the remotest sense, I urge you to listen to this song. Maybe it’ll inspire you to fight back against apathy and despair. Or maybe it’ll make you despair! No promises either way. It’s a little dark, so if you’re not looking for something dark, then maybe steer clear.
“Charasho” by Benny Friedman
I thought I’d close this installment of the music diary out with a good rollicking tune that’ll surely put a smile on your face. As I said in the introduction, I met this song by chance on 88.9 WERS, and I’m glad I did. Its lyrics are a mix of English, Yiddish, and Russian (I believe, correct me if I’m wrong). And it’s a fun tune! I really hope you’ll give it a listen, because it’s a great counterpoint for the two dark and despairing numbers I listed above. Here’s some hope to close out the post.
So if it happens that you’re starting to feel dreary
Or if your pot of borscht has gotten burnt
Before you go and start to get all sad and teary
There’s a very special lesson to be learned
Because not only when the sun is out and shining
Or when you’re acing everything you try to do
The Master Plan is more than just a silver lining
It’s a golden world created just for you
Thanks for hanging on to the ride, folks! I hope you enjoyed it.
If you have a favorite tune you’d like me to consider for the VotM music diary, send it my way! You can drop it in the comments, or email it to email@example.com. Don’t be shy!