Saturday, October 12, 2013

Come On! Feel the Illinoise! (Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition – Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream)/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track Three

Part of A Series: Route 66: Sufjan Stevens: Illinois

To View the whole series as one LONG post CLICK HERE



Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track One:
The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, 'I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track TwoCome On! Feel the Illinoise! (Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition – Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream)/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track ThreeJohn Wayne Gacy, Jr./Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track FourJacksonville/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track FiveA Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane But for Very Good Reasons/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track Six

Casimir Pulaski Day/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track TenRock River Valley, Superman, Peoria and Drones/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Tracks Eleven to FourteenWasps and Zombies/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Tracks Fifteen to EighteenCelebrate The Few, Celebrate The New. It Can Only Start With You/Sufjan Stevens Illinois Tracks Nineteen to Twenty Two 
    Continuing our journey through Sufjan Stevens opus on Illinois, I am finding this album to be a starting point for a wide study of Midwestern history as well as a journey through some of Stevens spiritual beliefs. This third track on the album does not disappoint in this regard. Also, it is a pretty entertaining song and worth a little dissection.Here is a video with lyrics.









    Oh, great intentions
    I've got the best of interventions
    But when the ads come
    I think about it now

    In my infliction
    Entrepreneurial conditions
    Take us to glory
    I think about it now

    Cannot conversations cull united nations?
    If you got the patience, celebrate the ancients
    Cannot all creation call it celebration?
    Or united nation, put it to your head

    Oh, great white city
    I've got the adequate committee
    Where have your walls gone?
    I think about it now

    Chicago, in fashion, the soft drinks, expansion
    Oh, Columbia!
    From Paris, incentive, like Cream of Wheat invented
    The Ferris Wheel!

    Oh, great intentions
    Covenant with the imitation
    Have you no conscience?
    I think about it now

    Oh, God of Progress
    Have you degraded or forgot us?
    Where have your laws gone?
    I think about it now

    Ancient hieroglyphic or the South Pacific
    Typically terrific, busy and prolific

    Classical devotion, architect promotion
    Lacking in emotion, think about it now

    Chicago, the New Age, but what would Frank Lloyd Wright say?
    Oh, Columbia!
    Amusement or treasure, these optimistic pleasures
    Like the Ferris Wheel!

    Cannot conversations cull united nations?
    If you got the patience, celebrate the ancients

    Columbia!

    I cried myself to sleep last night
    And the ghost of Carl, he approached my window
    I was hypnotized, I was asked
    To improvise
    On the attitude, the regret
    Of a thousand centuries of death

    Even with the heart of terror and the superstitious wearer
    I am riding all alone
    I am writing all alone

    Even in my best condition, counting all the superstition
    I am riding all alone
    I am running all alone

    And we laughed at the beatitudes of a thousand lines
    We were asked at the attitudes
    They reminded us of death

    Even with the rest belated, everything is antiquated
    Are you writing from the heart?
    Are you writing from the heart?

    Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water level
    Are you writing from the heart?
    Are you writing from the heart?

    And I cried myself to sleep last night
    For the Earth, and materials, they may sound just right to me

    Even with the rest belated, everything is antiquated
    Are you writing from the heart?
    Are you writing from the heart?

    Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water level
    Are you writing from the heart?
    Are you writing from the heart?

    The track begins with a pounding machine-like melody on the piano joined quickly by the rest of the band who play in a fast rhythmic style that is evocative of the machines that powered a great yet emerging industrial powerhouse of a city. As Stevens begins chanting the lyrics the narrator seems to say that we as a people may have noble thoughts and ideals and we may even have programs in place to help us reach our lofty goals but when the ads come he seems to say we are diverted. He continues his reflection that entrepreneurial goals over shadow our intentions with its illusions of glory. The Exposition in Chicago, like all Worlds Fairs was a celebration of commercial success and as such becomes a example of the kind of glory that success can bring. As my last post showed, the Exposition was about as over the top and built to impress as any other in human history.

    After a few lines, a chorus replies in a call and response fashion to his introduction like ghosts from the era if the Exposition. The mood he creates here is quite interesting and suggestive of the feelings and sounds I have heard in my life when a crowd is surging towards the gates of some event or festival. Its a certain sort of exited murmuring that pulse and surges with the progress towards the turnstiles. The crowd doesn't seem to share the narrators fascination with the commercialism of the event. They are drawn by the exotic, the educational. To them it is a party, and if it provides a common experience to the nation so much the better.
    The narrator returns and observes that the Exposition had no permanence. The great White City is no longer standing.

    The chorus answers, and they will will not be deterred. The great White City may be gone, but lots of things debuted at the fair live on. Chicago was in fashion and the event helped solidify its greatness as a city in the worlds mind. Soft drinks were available and American expansion was celebrated. Even Cream of Wheat and the Ferris Wheel entered the scene at the Exposition.

    The narrator counters with a certain anguish that so much what could have been truly great was just an imitation lacking the genuine, He then seems to say that if progress only leads us to cheap imitation, it has been perverted and is not leading us to glory.

    But the crowd rolls on cheering the sights of the South Pacific, the excitement of the fair and noting only in passing a certain absence of the original by asking what would Frank Lloyd Wright say. Regardless of his opinion they love it and shout Columbia in celebration of its glory.

    Thus ends this first part of the song largely unresolved in its conflict in the mind of the narrator while the fair goers blissfully enjoy the fair with no apparent notice or concern for those things that trouble the narrator. Part I ends with a fun instrumental section that provides a sort of impressionistic sound scape of the fair that we are leaving behind before moving to part 2 of the song. Sufjan Stevens broke up the two halves of the song with this instrumental bridge, I will break the two halves of my analysis of this song with an imagined trailer for the White City if it were today. I figure that the advertising angle fits in well with the themes of the song.




    After this the narrator continues his reflections as he is visited by another ghost from a slightly later time, that of Carl Sandburg, The second half of the song I find to be a tough nut to crack. The narrator says he cried himself to sleep. The joy of the revelers could not escape his sense of loss. Carl Sandburg reminds the narrator of centuries of death leading us to were are now, in a shallow representation of true glory.The narrator realizes in spite of our confidence and ability to laugh at the quaint values of the past that the best that he can conceive is still leading to nothing but death. It saddens the narrator that he too is a product of his time and must make his own journey if he is to escape the cycle of decay he finds around him. He MUST act with integrity. And evil cannot escape true goodness "Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water level".

    Signing Off and Coming Attractions

    The darkness end of this track foreshadows the next track about serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Jr. Next week we will see where Sufjan Stevens takes that unpleasant subject. I'm not much of a true crime kind of guy so we will see how engaged I become on the subject as I study it. Temper your expectations.


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