Thursday, October 28, 2010

Daniel Silliman on Ambition, the Age of Adz

As you probably already know, a few weeks ago I contributed a Sufjan song to a mid-week mix, which sparked a few questions, which prompted me to write this thing.

In all honesty, I mostly responded to Tony's question about Sufjan's general appeal. I hedged around Silliman's inquiry about The Age of Adz, trying to put the album in perspective, but I didn't address his question head on.

Well, I probably should have asked why Silliman was disappointed. He has written on his disappointment with Adz over at The The Poetry Blog (<--not a typo). An excerpt:
Which is why, and I know I’ve come here the long way round, I’m disappointed with Sufjan Stevens. This album he’s released, Age of Adz, is not a bad album. It’s not. But it marks, for Stevens, an abandonment of a project that was Whitmanian in its ambition, that was, like Leaves of Grass and Moby-Dick, an ambitious attempt to put a whole country into a work of art. There are not a lot of efforts on this scale, but Stevens, this indie musician who was known, at one point, for wearing wings in concert and signing surprisingly religious songs, started something with his “Fifty States Project.”
The post is titled "Trying to do something important: a couple of thoughts on ambition in a work of art," and it's definitely worth your time. While Silliman's thoughts do not diminished my ever-growing appreciation for Adz, it certainly has made me rethink my rather casual shrugging-off of the end of the Fifty States Project.

[I plan, by the way, to explain my appreciation for Adz more in depth in my 2010 albums post (is it a spoiler that Adz is going to make the cut?).]

Go read it.


I am not convinced that Sufjan is completely finished with states. I don't doubt that he never seriously intended to create fifty albums on the scale of Michigan and Illinois. The promotion may have been gimmicky, but the two albums were not. Sufjan need not pretend to have 48 more albums up his sleeve in order to tackle one more, or a few more, or a dozen more.

Sufjan seems in, or perhaps at the other end of, a rather dark period of discouragement and serious health issues. I imagine some of his cynicism over the project (and, I gather, his entire sound, really) will fade. He's not pop-music young, but he is only 35. I don't see him as someone who fades away, or stops making good music in middle age. He has, I surely hope, decades of music-making yet in him. He interrupted the project for Seven Swans, and perhaps he will resume states in future.

I think the main thing to get out of all of this is that Sufjan, like everyone else, needs to leave New York City.