Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Incongruous Music - Part II


A few mornings ago, I was singing one of my favorite songs, Chicago, from Sufjan Stevens' Come on, Feel the Illinoise album. The song has some really powerful first few bars - fit only for the first or last song of a concert, I would think - and catchy lyrics. But the particular line that caught my attention that morning was this: "I've made a lot of mistakes," repeated over and over again. It should come as little surprise that this reminded me of an earlier post about music with peppy tunes and depressing lyrics.

In the comments to that post we discussed various reasons for this phenomenon, with a general consensus that it began as a folk music reaction against the sorrows of life, as if to say, "This upbeat melody is my way of coping with the suffering I'm singing about. It's not so bad, right?" But Sufjan made me think there might be another possibility.

At the feet of the great Gregory Roper, I learned that the essence of tragedy is a world in which faults are punished, brutally punished, by the dark and primeval forces of nature; in a comic world, however, faults are overcome, defeated, mocked and transformed. If tragedy is characterized by the grim justice of death, comedy is characterized by the triumph of love over death.

Sufjan's lyrics reveal that his is a comic song, a song about love and redemption. True, mistakes have been and there are plenty of tears shed. But the peppy tune is not simply a rearguard against this sorrow or an attempt to ignore it. No, the music is a manifestation of the same redemption, the same triumph of love over death, that the lyrics - considered in their entirety - proclaim.


I fell in love again
All things go, all things go
Drove to Chicago
All things know, all things know
We sold our clothes to the state
I don't mind, I don't mind
I made a lot of mistakes
In my mind, in my mind

Chorus:
You came to take us
All things go, all things go
To recreate us
All things grow, all things grow
We had our mindset
All things know, all things know
You had to find it
All things go, all things go

I drove to New York
In a van, with my friend
We slept in parking lots
I don't mind, I don't mind
I was in love with the place
In my mind, in my mind
I made a lot of mistakes
In my mind, in my mind

Chorus

If I was crying
In the van, with my friend
It was for freedom
From myself and from the land
I made a lot of mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes

Chorus

You came to take us
All things go, all things go
To recreate us
All things grow, all things grow
We had our mindset
(I made a lot of mistakes)
All things know, all things know
(I made a lot of mistakes)
You had to find it
(I made a lot of mistakes)
All things go, all things go
(I made a lot of mistakes)


(Go to 2:00 if you want to skip the talking section.)
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