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"One of the things that finally got me off my ass to make a record was that people weren't going to book me anymore. 'So what do you do? Some '90s frock rock retro act?'"
-- Rebecca Gates
Sept.05 Cover - Sufjan Stevens PDF Print E-mail
Written by Susan Moll   
ImageAll Quiet on the Midwestern Front
Sufjan Stevens Finds His Own Private Illinois

From a wilderness of prairies, Illinois, Illinois,
Straight thy way and never varies, Illinois, Illinois
Till upon the inland sea,
Stands thy great commercial tree, turning all the
World to thee, Illinois, Illinois,
 Turning all the world to thee, Illinois.

 -- C.H. Chamberlain, Illinois
To a coastful of people itching to migrate West along the National Road two centuries ago, Illinois meant manifest destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery, the auspicious prospect of freedom, adventure and opportunity waiting on the other side of the Alleghenies that were supposedly ours and ours alone to conquer. Bordered by the Mississippi River on the west, Lake Michigan on the east and, further south, by the Mason-Dixon line, it's a state of frigid winters, tornadic summers and plains molded by glaciers during the last ice age. Though it's been mapped, charted, recorded, profiled and documented within an inch of its life, the story of Illinois has rarely if ever been relayed with such brilliant wit and cerebral elan as Sufjan Stevens does now.
For the second installment of his 50 States album series, the native Michiganian (whose name is more typically spelled Sufyan in the Arabic realm) created a bold, jubilant delightfully ornate ode to our nation's 21st state. A ferociously-talented songwriter, storyteller and multi-instrumentalist with an astuteness not only to books but to life - a rare combination - Stevens is as wont to ponder musical abstraction and the subconscious mind as he is a roadside oddity spotted during his recent tour. And, judging by the barrage of press inquiries that followed it, he's very much in demand. "That's not true," he insists, sitting down to dinner two nights before his five-night stint at New York's Bowery Ballroom begins. "I'm not on tour, and no one wants a piece of me!"

Stevens has cleverly dubbed his Bowery lollapalooza Spirit Week, conceptualizing each evening as one would high school homecoming theme days; it also doubles as an unofficial showcase for Stevens' label, Asthmatic Kitty, featuring Liz Janes, Bunky, Castanets and Half-handed Cloud as alternating openers. Friday was designated Backwards Night, yesterday was Pirate Night (yar!) and tonight is Fake Tattoo And/Or Fake Facial Hair Night. ("I'm going to do both!" Stevens gleefully announces, indicating an outline of the state of Illinois or an image of Abraham Lincoln would appear on either bicep.) If you're aching for an excuse to summon that taffeta nightmare from the fifth ring of fashion hell the final night will be Formal Night, complete with guy-girl slow dancing. The Bowery would provide a perfect setting were it not for lack of a disco ball.
Saturday, meanwhile, was Fake An Injury Night; Stevens, who was in reality recovering from a nasty cycling mishap on the Brooklyn Bridge, sported a bike helmet and bandaged elbows: "There was a couple of people with crutches and walkers, and some of the staff were kind of oblivious to the whole thing. They kept pulling out chairs or offering them a table upstairs. There was so many people with little limps and crutches, and they didn't figure it out until later."

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