Song: Casimir Pulaski Day
Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens, a Detroit native son, follows his own brilliant path. I'm a little in awe of this prodigious multi-instrumentalist and musical iconoclast. The first time I heard this tune, from Stevens’ 5th studio album Illinois (2005), it got to me; I’ve since come to associate it with the passing of a friend who succumbed to cancer, as does the girl referred to in this song - both individuals taken down by dint of inexplicable circumstance. This is not a despondent song though, it’s something else entirely: an eerily distilled, mysteriously radiant thing. I hear a bit of Neil Young in the gentle loping acoustic guitar introduction and Stevens’ plaintive, earnest voice throughout, but I also hear old timey Americana in its use of banjo and horn. There is, shimmering beneath the deceptively simple surface of this track, a quiet but abiding presence beyond words. The elemental persuasiveness of this tribute is the track’s most mesmerizing trait. You might want to look up the many live variations of this tune on YouTube - the superb studio version can be heard below.