I think I’m rediscovering Sufjan Stevens again. I used to love him a lot when I was in college all those years ago. Michigan, Seven Swans, Illinois…all three of those albums were the soundtrack to riding my bike on campus, driving home on the 101, having those moments where I would just stare at the ocean during golden hour (guys, UCSB was heaven). But then, I abruptly stopped.
I kinda blame this dumb guy I met a few years after college. We were both working in San Francisco and the city became our playground. We had this really amazing connection. What I thought was him being “different” were ultimately signs of a brooding fuckboy. His favorite book was ‘On the Road,’ by Kerouac, his favorite movie was ‘The Motorcycle Diaries,’ the best time of his life was driving cross country, he spent half a year in India “finding himself,” he worshipped Nietzsche, and of course…he was a musician. Such a stereotypical brooder.
However he was from NYC and was only in SF temporarily. He ended up moving back but before he left, he got us tickets to see Sufjan in New York…which meant I had to visit.
After he left, I heard all of these awful things about him. He basically lied point blank to me over things I had questioned him about. It hurt really.
I ended up going to NYC like we had planned, but I never got in touch with him while I was there. The last time I saw him was the day he left SF. I don’t know what he ended up doing with the tickets…but that was the moment I completely stopped listening to Sufjan. To the point where I even forgot he existed. So unfortunate considering how great he is.
What’s funny, is that this is the same guy who bought me my first ever vinyl…Elliott Smith’s ‘Either/Or.’ He introduced me to most of his music which is odd because I was somehow able to disassociate him from Elliott. Elliott is mine. There’s only one song from Either/Or that reminds me of him but that is all. He has no association with Elliott…thank effing God! And if anything…people will associate him with ME! Haha kidding kidding.
Anyway, back to Sufjan. When we lost someone in our family last year, I would constantly listen to Death with Dignity which really helped me cope. If you haven’t heard the song, it’s about accepting death and realizing that “every road leads to an end.” I would listen to this song on those long drives visiting him in the Bay Area.
There’s something about watching someone slowly die that will forever affect you. You really have to come to terms with death, especially if it’s cancer…because you’re literally watching someone slowly transition from this life to the next. It’s one of the most difficult things…watching them deteriorate but giving them that dignity to live out their last days properly…despite how weak and frail they are. This song captures all of that so well. Coincidentally, after my brother in law passed away, Sufjan released the music video which follows three people living with cancer. It really hit home.
Then I read this memoir called, “My Lovely Wife at the Psyche Ward,” which broke my heart. In the book, the author referenced Sufjan so much. How his music helped him get through these awful periods when his wife would go mad. If you’ve ever loved someone who has suffered from a mental illness, this book is for you. As hard as it is to read at times, listen to Sufjan while you do…just as the author who lived it did.
Then…Call Me By Your Name came out and officially sucked me back in. I’ve been listening to him so much lately. Sigh, ‘Mystery of Love’ is just so beautiful and tragic. I’m going through this weird period right now, and he’s pretty much helping me get through it. I guess that’s what Sufjan is for…helping people cope. The difference with his music is that even though it can be sad, there’s still this hope in it. It has this way of making you feel alive even during the most difficult of times.
He’s having this amazing moment right now. He performed at the Oscars and is finally getting the recognition he deserves…just like Elliott did during his performance in 1998 for Goodwill Hunting 💔
I’m glad I can finally listen to him without thinking of NYC or that guy or that heartbreak and betrayal I felt at the time. I’m glad I can make his music mine again.
Sufjan, I never got to see you live. New York wasn’t meant to be, but we will meet one day…I promise ❤️
So this is pretty cool. I’m officially involved with the Sacramento music scene. I’m gonna be scouting bands and artists for Sofar Sac. Music is obviously my passion, so it’s a pretty cool side gig to have. And everyone there is so chill. Just a community of people who live for the music. Basically my people.
So, if you’re an artist or in a band, send your demos/work over. I can make it happen! 🙂
Also, if you haven’t listened to the last podcast episode of The Sound and the Story, do so. I’m so sad to see it go. It’s really inspired me to keep writing and to get involved with music. Maybe I should start my own podcast and begin with Elliott Smith, The National, Radiohead and The Smiths haha.
Not to sound so stereotypical, but there’s just something so deep and sacred when it comes to mental health and music. When those two are combined, so much creativity, meaning, and beauty come out. It’s not just a way for us to cope and not feel so alone…but it’s also something that inspires us to write, to create, and to see life differently (which is so important when you see it through a dark lens most of the time). I’m not saying that all people who create suffer from mental illness…but for those who do, art becomes survival.
For a lot of us who deal with these issues…it is hard to convey these feelings in person or out loud. A lot of the time, we don’t even know where this sadness and chaos come from. It just is. So what do we do? We write about it. We find a melody to describe these feelings through sound. We draw, we paint, we string words together that we call poetry. We take photos of places and things that move us, that inspire us. And when that happens…people who feel the same way, who find it difficult to explain these feelings…relate. People find connection through it…inspiration…hope.
Trust me. I wouldn’t be able to say half the things I write about out loud. I clam up anytime anyone even mentions this blog or my writing. So, cheers to the ones who channel art through complex feelings that society calls depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, borderline personality…or any other label that evokes shame or negative sentiment.
Anyway, it has been such a pleasure, David! Thanks for sharing your music, your words, and your journey through mental health. So many of my friends started listening to your show and we’re all so bummed to see it go. So bittersweet. Best of luck on your new novel! And…I hope you keep “dancing in the basement”…