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Stuck in my head: Sufjan Stevens

I have a secret: I grew up listening to "contemporary christian" music. It was a common teaching in my church's youth group that most of the evil that enters a young person's life comes from the sin of listening to "secular music." I can vividly remember a guest speaker laying the blame for the nation's excessive teen pregnancy rate at the feet of Tina Turner. All the same, I have to admit that the relentlessly upbeat, sugar-coated lyrics of the likes of Micheal W. Smith, and the soldier's call to duty of Carmen held a lot of appeal for me as I struggled through my preteen years in St. Louis, MO. Yup, I couldn't get enough of the rock-n-roll stylings of Steven Curtis Chapman and the soothing acustic guitar of Rich Mullins. I loved the God rock!

But I've grown up since then, and I'd like to think that my musical tastes have as well. As I exited the world of christian music around 9th grade and took a look around me and found an vast, exciting musical landscape laid out before me. Sitting in my bedroom at 10pm secretly listening to worldly radio stations while my parents slept, I found that music didn't have to be good on one side, and evil on the other. Music could be about how opposites attract, or how we can use rhythm and dance to overcome poverty and drugs (ahhh, the day I smuggled my first Paula Abdul CD into the house). Not to say that Janet Jackson is the end all, be all of music. Far from it. It's just that through her dance moves I learned everything doesn't have to be about one's walk with god, or how Jesus is your best friend. Not to mention the higher production value, better lyrics and greater street cred.

After leaving home and entering college, I dove head-first into the gigantic music library at UMR's student radio station, KMNR. The more I splashed around, the more I fell in love with, gulp, secular music. The Cure (brand new to me in 1996), Stone Roses, Braid, EPMD, U2, A Tribe Called Quest, Blackalicious.

I credit my late arrival into the world of worldly music for my present-day eclectic music tastes. My iTunes library wanders from rap to country to punk even a little bit of christian music. But I should be careful with that description. You wont find Amy Grant in any of my playlists, that's for damn sure. But I do have music by people who call themselves christians: Pedro the Lion, The Danielson Famile and the guy in the video below, Sufjan Stevens.

There's not a lot of sugar in these lyrics. Tons of biblical themes, but very little cliched, modern christiandom. Just great music by grown-ups dealing with grown-up things--who happen to live by the teachings of a Jewish prophet who was killed for his crazy ideas of loving one's neighbor as yourself. I admit, it's enough to occasionally put a lump into the throat of this calloused non-believer!

If you liked that, check out Sufjan's version of The National Anthem


mama mia said…
Hey John,
The link to the national anthem led me to a you tube page that said "faulty (or something) url video link", but that was a lovely version of the song I first heard on one of the cds you and Erin sent me. Nice way to have "church up in here" in my car on the way home from Austin on a Sunday morning.
karinms said…
That Sufjan is sure good lookin' :-)

I wonder when he'll put out a new cd...and what state will it be next? I'm hoping for Oregon.
martha said…
I had NO idea we were so strict! Did we ever say you CAN"T listen to secular music? I think that must have been the youth leader. Were we ever that narrow? I don't think I would have been upset about you listening to Paula Abdul.
JohnJohn said…
Hi Mom,

Actually, I can't remember you ever being strict about such matters.
I think I just lived in perpetual fear of letting Dad down. And I think Dad stuck to the party line by default, being a church leader and all. Plus I don't really think he appreciated Paula Abdul very much--more due to personal taste than anything else I suspect.

But even so, I do remember thinking I was getting away with something huge when I brought that CD home, and I definitely listened to it only after hours.

I agree, the blame certainly lies with the New Covenant Youth Group leaders. They warped my fragile little mind!

mama mia said…
I noticed a wristband on Sufjan, SXSW2004, and wonder if that was filmed near Austin, where South by Southwest festival occurs? I really like that song.

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