To You, Somehow. 2015. Sound.
A cover of Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell, in which only Stevens' intakes of breath are performed.
The first in a series of covers; suceeded by Ever Leave
Hello. My name is Luis Mejico. Thank you so much for tuning in today, May 30th, 2015. If you’re here in person today, you’ll likely have noticed there’s some donuts outside of the radio booth- please feel free to have some! My treat. A special thank you to Will Krauland, Exal Iraheta, and everyone else on FreeRadioSAIC for their help and support.
Before we begin, a short message: The following performance work, titled To You, Somehow, is a non-commercial project distributed through a non-commercial channel with non-commercial intentions. I am not being paid to produce this work, receive no financial compensation, and claim no ownership over any music by Sufjan Stevens or Asthmatic Kitty Records. I hold no copyright over the album Carrie & Lowell; only a deep admiration for it.
“I just want to be near you,” pleads Sufjan Stevens on Eugene, the fifth track off of his latest album, Carrie & Lowell. This desire is further mused in the song Death With Dignity, in which Stevens describes his fear of nearness, yet expresses a paradoxical yearning for it. This ambivalent longing is considered and explored in every song on Carrie & Lowell, which was written in response to the death of Stevens’ mother and his subsequent reflection on their highly estranged and complicated relationship. Truly, Stevens is at war with himself, simultaneously desiring to rekindle his relationship with his absent mother through song, yet knowing the impossibility and toxicity of his task on his emotional well being. The action of recalling and translating Carrie’s life into lyric is perhaps an attempt to share his desire to have some form of connection with her; an attempt to fill the void that he feels in his heart left after his mother’s passing.
Stevens questions the purpose of this Herculean task in the lines, “What’s the point of singing songs / if they’ll never even hear you?” This self-interrogation is twofold. Stevens first wonders if his listeners are aware of the turmoil in his spirit, if his music communicates the complexity of his emotions to his audience. However, the second interpretation provides a fear of Sufjan’s that is much more tragic; what is the point of capturing his mother in song if no one will ever know her like he did? If all of us listening (and perhaps Stevens himself) will never fully access or understand Carrie as a person, what is the point of turning his relationship with her into poetry?
Despite all of the melodies, the instrumentation, the lyrics in his songs, perhaps Stevens fears all of these inevitably fail in capturing Carrie in her humanity, as a woman whom Sufjan loved but never knew completely. Her absence creates a character of mystery and melancholy in Stevens’ music and his life, one that Stevens understands he can never fully know.
To You, Somehow is born out of a desire to further understand and unearth the emotion within Carrie & Lowell, and to approach the fear Stevens feels in writing the album. When all of the instruments, lyrics, and everything else that contextualizes these works as songs to be sung fall apart, what can remain? To You, Somehow will be a cover of the entirety of Carrie & Lowell, in which the only material that is covered are Sufjan Stevens’ intakes of breath. These inhales, done before singing the lines of Stevens’ music, remove the poetry of his lyrics, yet retain the spirit of his tragedy, desire, confusion, frustration, joy, and heartbreak. Just as Carrie & Lowell is an attempt to embody Carrie’s life into song, To You, Somehow is a similar endeavor at capturing and understanding Stevens’ emotion in the album when removed from song.