The Detroit of Sufjan Stevens’ Imagination

by William Skink

I’ve been listening incessantly to the new Sufjan Stevens album, Carrie & Lowell. It’s amazing. Stevens is a phenomenal song writer, and I’ve always been curious about what may have influenced him. I was surfing around earlier today, and came across an interesting rambling monologue from Stevens’ recent show in his hometown, Detroit. Here it is, enjoy:

We moved to Romulus for a few years in a little house that my grandpa built that’s still there. Then we got tired of the jet fumes. So we moved back to the city. A couple neighborhoods. Then we ended up in the north part of the city, just off of Jefferson on Parker Street, near Indian Village.

My parents — yes, they wanted to live in Indian Village, but couldn’t afford it, of course. So we just lived, like, a few roads down, in a little duplex. But they told all their friends they lived in Indian Village.

We moved out of the city when I was 9, and moved up north. But I remember a few things about Detroit — very obscure, kind of abstract and mysterious. I remember Devil’s Night, and my dad would stay up late with the dog. We had a Bouvier, which is a Flemish sheep-herding dog. It was genetically engineered to bite anything that moves. So he would stay all night to watch the house during Devil’s Night, but then we would sneak out to throw eggs and toilet paper at the neighbor’s house.

I remember fishing on the river, but we could never eat them because they were polluted. But we were so hungry that one day my dad said, “Maybe we will eat them,” and we did anyway. It was good.

I remember my grandma lived at Pink Flamingo Trailer Court in Farmington Hills. We would visit her, and she always had these glass jars of cinnamon candies, and she only gave us one. But she didn’t have good eyesight and I would just stuff every pocket with candies. She had a crazy collection of Cabbage Patch dolls. We weren’t allowed to play with them, they were just on display. I was so confused why a woman her age had so many Cabbage Patch dolls.

I remember when they imploded Hudson’s. The younger generation probably has no idea what I’m talking about.

I remember when Nancy Kerrigan got the shit beat out of her. I mean, I wasn’t there, but that was a big deal.

I remember “Give us some more of ’84.” Do they still say that? Or no? “Give us less of ’84,” probably. In 1984 there were more house burnings on Devil’s Night than any other year, I think. I think I read that like two years ago and somehow it stayed with me.

I remember going to the Detroit Zoo with my cousin. My parents took us, and we were so excited that we wandered off on our own and got lost for hours, and had no idea where we were. And instead of going to the security guards, we just collected pop cans. Because even at that age, we somehow believed — because there was a 10-cent deposit, you know, on every pop can — we somehow believed that money would solve all of our problems. Even the problem of being lost. When our parents finally found us, we had two garbage bags full of Faygo and Pepsi pop cans. They were like, “What’s going on here?”

Memory is such a funny thing, though, you know. It’s all colored by the imagination. A lot of people ask me, “Well where did you inherit the imagination for songwriting?” For a while I thought it was Waldorf School, because I went to Detroit Waldorf School for many years. And for a while I thought it was because my parents did drugs and were hippies and in a cult. And then for a while I thought it was because I didn’t start reading until I was like 15 years old. I was kind of an illiterate child, because of Waldorf School. So that cultivated my imagination. I’m not sure why.

Sometimes I think it’s just because I’m from here, from Detroit, because I started to think that this is the city of imagination. People talk about it like the city of industry, and you know, automobiles. The city of Motown music. And I hate when people call it, like apocalyptic, and refer to like, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. I think that’s bullshit, because I think it’s actually more like Dungeons & Dragons, which is a land of fierce imagination where anything is possible. We’ve got sexy ladies wielding swords and gargoyles coming to life. It’s Choose Your Own Adventure here. Anyway, I just wanted to say I’m happy to be back so thanks for having us.

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