Saturday, December 21, 2013

Celebrate The Few, Celebrate The New. It Can Only Start With You/Sufjan Stevens Illinois Tracks Nineteen to Twenty Two

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:




Building The Tower of Babylon

Welcome back to Old Highway Notes as we continue our journey through Sufjan Stevens Illinois.  As we approach the end of the album we come upon the track the "Seers Tower". In this track Sufjan continues as themes of dissolution that that he is carried through the rest of the album. The song title is a play on words seer being a profit while at the same time the Sears Tower is one of the major tourist attractions in the city of Chicago. This is one of the most overtly religious tracks on the album. Here are the lyrics:


In the tower above the earth
There is a view that reaches far
Where we see the universe
I see the fire, I see the end

Seven miles above the earth
There is Emmanuel of mothers
With his sword, with his robe
He comes dividing man from brothers

In the tower above the earth,
We built it for Emmanuel
In the powers of the earth,
We wait until it rails and rails

In the tower above the earth,
We built it for Emmanuel
Oh, my mother, she betrayed us,
But my father loved and bathed us

Still I go to the deepest grave
Where I go to sleep alone

The title of the song is a pun relating Tower of Babylon, the original Seers Tower, and the modern Sears Tower. The Sears Tower is a tribute to commerce and material things. Again and again in the album we find Stevens showing a disdain for material progress as he has found the hollow aftermath of a post-industrial Illinois. As he says "I see fire I see the end" it can reference the biblical Book of Revelations, the Great Chicago fire,  the collapse of the Tower of Babel, or maybe just the end of the album. Again he leaves much open for personal interpretation.

Stevens continues by introducing Emmanuel as the Savior from the mother. I believe he's referring to the mother as being Babylon, whose full title was "Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth" which could again be reference to the way modern man prostitutes himself for superficial material objects . In making the statement that Emmanuel will save you from Babylon, he stays consistent with the themes earlier in the album. Once again he sees redemption in the spiritual as the solution to being let down by the material world.  But he is also making a biblical reference here to the turning against the mother with a strong reference to Matthew 10:35:
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35"For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household."
This quote talks about how a generation will need to break with the traditions of the past if they wish to embrace Christianity. A parallel likely applies to the State Of Illinois as well. For it to continue as a force on the American scene it youth need to break from the industrial modernizing past. "Oh, my mother, she betrayed us, But my father loved and bathed us" is his conclusion. The worldly comforts of Babylon are temporary and fleeting while a strong spiritual base, in his case his Christian faith in the Father, is what is true and comforting. Yet in the end we all die. Sufjan Stevens, ever the cheerful fellow.






Moving on through the gleeful wonderland that is Sufjan Stevens Illinois, we arrive at what is lyrically the conclusion to the album: "The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders" (Part I: The Great Frontier – Part II: Come to Me Only with Playthings Now)" This is where Stevens reaches the conclusions he has been building towards. Musically the song harkens back to "Come On feel the Illinoise" earlier in the album. Here are the lyrics:

I count the days the Great Frontier
Forgiving, faced the seventh year
I stand in awe of gratefulness
I can and call forgetfulness

And when I, and when I call
The patient, the patient fall
The Spirit, the Carpenter
Invites us to be with her

What have we become America?
Soldiers on the Great Frontier!
Carpenter and Soldier, one on one
It's the battle, volunteer!

Run from yourself
From your friends, from ya-
Run for your life
For your friends, for ya-
America, merica, meri-
Oh Illinois, Illinois, Illi-

The prairie, the frontier
The perfect farm, it's from here
The fortress, the faker, the cornerstone, the baker
The dancer, the fisher, audition and the disher
The boxer, the fetcher
The chewing gum, dreamcatcher

I count the days the Great Frontier
Forgiving, faced the seventh year
I stand and strain to make ends meet
Five Spirits on the Grand Marquee

And when I, and when I call
The patient, the patient fall
The Spirit, the Carpenter
Invites us to be with her

There was a man at the wall
He was grateful for us all
I saw the wise woman sing
She wasn't asking anything
She wasn't asking anything
How she made the nations sing!

What have we become America?
Soldiers on the Great Frontier!

Run from yourself!
From your friends, from ya-
Run for your life!
For your friends, for ya-
America, merica, meri-
Oh Illinois, Illinois, Illi-

The mattress, the floozies
The actress at the movies
The lantern, the lotion
The wind that wakes the ocean
The Standard Edition
The architect's rendition
The fashion, the fevers
The house we got at Sears

Oh, Great Fire of Great Disaster
Oh, Great Heaven, oh, Great Master
Oh, Great Goat, the curse you gave us
Oh, Great Ghost, protect and save us
Oh, Great River, green with envy
Oh, Jane Addams, spirit send thee
Oh, Great Trumpet and the singers
Oh, Great Goodman, King of Swingers
Oh, Great Bears and Bulls, Joe Jackson
Oh, Great Illinois

Given what you lost, are you better off?
Given what you had, has it made you mad?
Celebrate the few, celebrate the new
It can only start with you

The song opens with an appeal to join the spirit, the carpenter and the soldier on the plains. Once again this can be taken literally or symbolically as spirit, carpenter, and soldier are all terms realted to Christ, yet those are also the sorts who settled the Midwest and built the state. After the inroductory appeal, the song takes the sort of list approach that he applied to various cities though the course of the album and applies it to the state. Finally, closing, he asks the questions: ":Given what you lost, are you better off? Given what you had, has it made you mad?" He doesn't answer the questions but ends in a challenge to the the listener, and the people of Illinois: "Celebrate the few, celebrate the new. It can only start with you." Perhaps my favorite line in the album.





"Riffs and Variations on a Single Note for Jelly Roll, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, and the King of Swing, to Name a Few", the next track is just a short reprise and other example of Stevens splitting a song into multiple tracks so he has a place to use a clever title.





Illinois ends with a musical post script and an opportunity for Sufjan Stevens to give us one more long title before we go: "Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I Shake the Dirt from My Sandals as I Run" The song itself is very reminiscent of The Black Hawk War earlier in the album, which I still maintain is a shout out to Koyaanisqaatsi as I outlined in my post on the earlier track. Still, it is an entertaining little bit of minimalism:








Thanks for joining me in my exploration of Sufjan Stevens Illinois. Its been a bit of long journey through its lyrics, but next week I plan to get started on Chicago as we start to examine the cities of Route 66 (I bet you thought I would never get there!). Don't forget to visit on Sunday as well as we continue to explore musical border curios in Tijuana, Mexico off Old Highway 101.


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