Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

5. Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell

I had been keeping my eye on Sufjan Stevens for a while. He’s always been surprising me and blowing me away. His song ‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr.’ has one of the best lyrics I have ever heard. On Carrie & Lowell he made an album that has no standout tracks – everything is just remarkable. Sufjan is a maverick and this album is a delicate, fragile piece about the death of his mother who had problems with schizophrenia and alcoholism. The lyrics are beautiful and he sprinkles in some almost Simon & Garfunkel-style harmonies to these folk songs, while others have an almost Sigur Rós element as well.

I took my ten-year-old son to see him play. My son had pretty sophisticated tastes. We sat there, holding hands and weeping at the concert. Sufjan drew an incredible performance from that record that was so full of life and death. Sufjan didn’t talk for an hour-and-a-half at that gig. It was like watching a sacred ceremony. The lighting and the visuals were the most profound I have ever seen in any concert. Then, after 90 minutes, he talked solidly for ten minutes. He was geeky, gawky and funny. I thought this must have been a pre-prepared speech. He had us belly-laughing. Then, he went back to the ceremony and it was such a bizarre contrast between this vulnerable boy during his talk, to this shaman performing in stillness. The only other rock musician I think can perform in stillness, to that level of profundity, is Leonard Cohen.

I went to see that show three times and it changed every night. His talk changed every night, so it wasn’t a prepared speech. He would end the show, after playing these beautiful folk songs, with about 15 minutes of noise, worthy of Sigur Rós and a lighting effect, which I can only describe as what I think the soul will look like when I die. It left me shaking and sobbing. It was one of the top five gigs I have ever seen – and I have seen the greats. Sufjan can get you on all levels. I think he will be seen as one of the greats of this generation.

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