Today’s song of the day just might have you questioning your own sanity.
This week’s theme is genre-bending and blending. We’ll be looking at songs that defy, fuse, combine, and all of the other verbs that genres can take part in together.
Yesterday, we took a look at Cake’s 2001 song, “Comfort Eagle”, from their album of the same name. That one blended the genres of rock, new wave, Indian music, and electronic.
At first glance, our artist for today, Sufjan Stevens, isn’t one known to blend genres. To those who believe that, you need to listen to Stevens’ 2010 album “The Age of Adz”. In this album, Sufjan Stevens breaks new ground, fusing experimental, electropop, art rock, and still manages to sound like Sufjan. Our song of the day comes straight from it.
I Want To Be Well
“I Want To Be Well” is the penultimate track on Sufjan Stevens’ “The Age of Adz”, and not one of the two singles released. At six and a half minutes, it wasn’t really radio material. Also, I believe this song includes Sufjan Stevens’ first f-bomb, repeated several times, of course. Almost as if he was excited to finally use it.
There’s an incredible, infectious kind of energy in songs like “I Want To Be Well”, an energy that courses through the entire album. Maybe it’s due to the frenetic percussive elements that create a source of constant tension. Electronic blips, scratches, and swells are juxtaposed with a choral harmonies and acoustic guitar. The song crescendos with a crashing of real drums and electric feedback.
All of it keeps you listening, wondering if this is what a broken mind would sound like after it was put back together.
The lyrics of “I Want To Be Well” deal with themes of isolation, death, love, life, and mental illness. Sufjan utilizes repetition for effect her over and over. One particular repetition is the frequent modifier, “extraordinary”, almost always followed by “ordinary”, like an echo. We can see this in as early as the first verse.
“To think that I would die this time
Isolated in the room where the bed rises
Photographic ordinary people are everywhere
Extraordinary histories, ordinary histories, ordinary histories”
There seems to be tension behind the repeated uses of extraordinary and ordinary, maybe the kind of tension that would preoccupy someone who considered those distinctions important. We see more of it later in the song, as well as Stevens questioning himself.
“Did I go at it wrong?
Did I go intentionally to destroy me?
I’m suffering in noise I’m suffering in (touching ordinary body)
The burning from within the burning from with (ordinary hysteria)
I could not be at rest, I could not be at peace (extraordinary hysteria)”
While we can’t cover all of the lyrics, I’ll include one more section that puts a lid on this extraordinary/ordinary repetition. This section actually comes directly after the one above.
“So do yourself a good, or do yourself a death from ordinary causes
Or do yourself a favor, or do yourself a death from ordinary causes”
“I Want To Be Well” is a complex song on nearly every level. I once thought that my job here was to give an answer, some meaning that you can take away from the song. But I don’t think that’s right. I think my real job is to bring up questions, highlight patterns, and let you think for yourself.