Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Sufjan Stevens wrings beauty from death

Illustration for article titled Sufjan Stevens wrings beauty from death

In Hear ThisA.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, because there are new Coldplay and Conor Oberst records, songs we put on when we want to mope.


I don’t put on any music deliberately to mope—I actually find that sad music makes me feel better, and I listen to a lot of it in spite of the fact that I’m a happy guy. (Former A.V. Club editor Kyle Ryan always claims that my favorite genre is “sad bastard music.”) But I can think of one song that always crushes me, and that I listen to rather regularly: Sufjan Stevens’ “Casimir Pulaski Day.” It’s a long, slow, spare story about a love interest who’s dying—and who eventually dies—of cancer. It’s simple and gorgeous and not at all maudlin: At the beginning, he finds out she’s sick; in the middle, they connect; in the end, she dies and his faith is shaken. (Of “the Lord”: “He took my shoulders and he shook my face / And he takes and he takes and he takes.”) Though musically spare—mostly just an acoustic guitar and an occasionally keening trumpet—“Casimir Pulaski Day” is so rich with lyrical detail and perfectly pinpointed emotion that it seems epic. There’s not a wasted word or phrase, nothing to overcomplicate (or oversimplify) such a heartbreaking situation. I’m probably not going to see The Fault In Our Stars, because I won’t be able to handle it, but I imagine this song is its aural equivalent.