The Best Song in the World


Seven Swans-Sufjan Stevens
December 25, 2008, 3:00 pm
Filed under: The Best Song in the World | Tags: , , ,

Before Sufjan Stevens became famous for claiming, and at this point, possibly never completing his 50 states project, he was still a friggin’ amazing musician. I once read an interview with him claiming that he didn’t like his voice very much in his early work, since it was so highlighted it with bare guitar and piano. Though I dig the anthemic, multi-orchestral music of “Illinois” and even “Michigan” as much as the next guy, Sufjan does not need bells and whistles (or trumpets and tubas) to make his work rock your socks.
This is a long ode, so hear the song and read
Sufjan’s music came into my life through a good friend who is responsible for introducing me to him and Iron and Wine which I feel is on par with opening the door directly to a higher realm of musical heaven. I originally ignored my friend’s sage advice because he’s Evangelical Christian and I was fearful of being drawn into some sort of Creedance Clearwater Revival cult. Granted, this was high school, I was very aversive to religion, especially religion dressed up in music (which sure seems to be a theme these days, sorry I’m sort of boring). Of course, I didn’t need a personal spiritual practice to flip out over these artist(Sam Beam of Iron and Wine isn’t even a Christian), but it has been sweet to enjoy Sufjan’s love of God in his music and feel resonance and not threat. He definitely is connecting to something dramatically heart-stirring in this song, whether or not we have the same sense of God.

In context, Seven Swans came into my life after I fell for Sufjan head over heels. I found this album, an older one of his, and got addicted for January and February of 2006. This was the same time I was becoming close with my special friend (!) and she and I listened to this album on repeat for several hours. Or, more, I listened to it on repeat for several hours and she enthusiastically, and then politely, joined.

This song is so eerily beautiful. I listened to a live recording, and my eyes stung and my chest felt tight in the opening bars. MAN SUFJAN! You are so good! In his introduction, Sufjan said that the seven swans were smokey birds that arose after his backyard caught on fire. Growing up he lived on the green line, the area of a direct line to the equator and North Pole, and many odd things happening, including this fire. The emotional weight, the fear and appreciation, and the humbleness to that which is way bigger than you is incredibly captured in this piece. In another interview, Sufjan was asked about the possibly creepy line of the songs “He will chase you/ If you run, he will chase you/ Because he is the Lord,” and replied cheerfully, “Oh, my God isn’t vengeful, he’s chasing you like he loves you!” I love that. But, my favorite line in this song is just the aching, simple imagery:
“We didn’t sleep too late
There was a fire in the yard
All of the trees were in light
They had no faces to show
I saw a sign in the sky
Seven swans . . . .
My mother saw it from afar
She took her purse to the bed …”

The best poetry, after all, is that which holds the most in the smallest hands.

And so is, of course, the best song in the world.

Have a Listen

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