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Posts Tagged ‘Sufjan Stevens’

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If you were around in the 90s, you remember the story of Tonya Harding. The small-town working class American girl who became a figure skating sensation. But then things went sideways when her boyfriend hired someone to attack figure skating rival Nancy Kerrigan in 1994.

Sufjan Stevens has taken the story of Tonya Harding and pout it to song in a way that fans of the man can get behind. Stevens has often song about the strange, the weird, the mundane and the true to life. Here he paints a melancholy portrait of the disgraced figure skating star.

The song will be available as a limited edition cassette or blue marble 7-inch single. (YES of course I pre-ordered it…I have no shame)

Stevens wrote an essay about the song and what inspired him to create this future classic.

OK, no I am ready to see Margot Robbie’s I , Tonya.

TONYA HARDING, MY STAR

 

by Sufjan Stevens

I’ve been trying to write a Tonya Harding song since I first saw her skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1991. She’s a complicated subject for a song partly because the hard facts of her life are so strange, disputable, heroic, unprecedented, and indelibly American. She was one of the greatest figure skaters of her time, and the first American woman to perform a triple axle in an international competition. She was an unlikely skating star, having been raised working class in Portland, Oregon. Being a poor outsider, her rise to fame in the skating rink was seen, by some, as a blemish on a sport that favored sophistication and style. Tonya’s skating technique was feisty, fierce, and full of athleticism, and her flamboyant outfits were often hand-made by her mother (who was abusive and overbearing). (They couldn’t afford Vera Wang.) And then there was the Nancy Kerrigan incident. In January 1994, Tonya’s then-boyfriend Jeff Gillooly hired an assailant, Shane Stant, to break fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan’s leg at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Cobo Arena in Detroit, so that she would be unable to compete at the upcoming Winter Olympics. The after-math of the attack was recorded on camera and ultimately set off a media frenzy (and an FBI investigation). Gillooly and Stan were eventually found guilty, and Tonya pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution, and was subsequently banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Nancy Kerrigan recovered from her injury and won a silver medal at the Winter Olympics. Tonya Harding finished eighth.

But that’s not even half the story. When Tonya and Gillooly got married, they filmed themselves having sex on their wedding night and produced one of the first-ever celebrity sex tapes (which they sold to Penthouse for $200,000 each). Tonya also had a brief career as a boxer, and is most famous for her bout with former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones (whose sexual harassment suit against Bill Clinton precipitated his impeachment in 1998). Tonya was also (very briefly) in a band called the Golden Blades (they were allegedly booed off the stage during their first and only performance). She also raced vintage automobiles (setting a record by driving a Ford Model A over 97 miles per hours on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah). And in 1996 Tonya used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to revive an 81-year-old woman who collapsed at a bar in Portland while playing video poker. That’s a lot to accomplish before the age of 30!

Tonya Harding’s dramatic rise and fall was fiercely followed by the media, and she very quickly became the brunt of jokes, the subject of tabloid headlines and public outcry. She was a reality TV star before such a thing even existed. But she was also simply un-categorical: American’s sweetheart with a dark twist. But I believe this is what made her so interesting, and a true American hero. In the face of outrage and defeat, Tonya bolstered shameless resolve and succeeded again and again with all manners of re-invention and self-determination. Tonya shines bright in the pantheon of American history simply because she never stopped trying her hardest. She fought classism, sexism, physical abuse and public rebuke to become an incomparable American legend.

I admit, early drafts of this song contained more than a few puns, punch lines and light-hearted jabs—sex tapes and celebrity boxing make for an entertaining narrative arc. But the more I edited, and the more I meditated, and the more I considered the wholeness of the person of Tonya Harding, I began to feel a conviction to write something with dignity and grace, to pull back the ridiculous tabloid fodder and take stock of the real story of this strange and magnificent America hero. At the end of the day, Tonya Harding was just an ordinary woman with extraordinary talent and a tireless work ethic who set out to do her very best. She did that and more. I hope the same can be said of us all.

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Downloaded the new Sufjan Stevens record Carrie & Lowell last night. It is a perfect folk record. (Pitchfork review here)

The record follows his fractured relationship with his mother Carrie. How their relationship shaped him and how her death effects him.  Talking to Pitchfork Sufjan says,  “This is not my art project; this is my life.”

The language and poetry is crushing. Exceptionally beautiful. I love the line in this song near the end, “My brother had a daughter, A beauty that she brings. Illumination.”

As dark as the record often is, you have these uplifting moments.

Talking about the nature of art on his blog:

“To objectify art is to measure its commercial value and squander its transcendental powers of benevolence. Reciprocity demeans art; or, rather, it functions to incarcerate its powers, to judge it for its charity. Like putting Mother Theresa on trial, or in prison, for the crime of compassion. On the contrary, perfect art, as a perfect gift (without ulterior motive, without gain, without compensation) courageously gives itself over to the world asking nothing in return.”

Sufjan Stevens will be in Vancouver on June 9th for a show at the Orpheum.

Go with yourself.

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My favourite Christmas song is Sufjan Stevens‘ “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well You Deserved It!)”

I first heard the song when he released his Songs for Christmas boxset back in November 2006. The song is sad, but also so beautiful.  I like the part where he sings “I only grabbed your wrist, or would you rather we kissed?”

Merry Christmas.

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Last night, (now) local rockers Zerbin launched their new ep, Take Your Heart, at Lucky Bar.

Zerbin had a massive set.  These guys shine on the radio but they go super nova on stage.  Lucky Bar is not a big place, with a little cramped stage, but the guy bring what feels like a festival or arena show.

Encore time…. Zerbin does a beautiful a cappella “Human.” (orignally a song by The Killers.)  Then they dive into Sufjan Steven’s “Chicago.”

Sam Thom Photography captured it.

and the original…. because its amazing.

Go with yourself.

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I wrote last week about those records that at some time in your life, you loved. Capital ‘L’ LOVED…. but now, maybe you don’t listen to them all that much.

A record that did that to me was Sufjan Steven’s 2005 masterpiece, Illinois.

This record came out in the summer and at a time when I smoked a lot of pot.  I worked nights at the Zone and when I got home after a radio show Alex would be in bed or maybe still at work.

I’d pack the bong and plug my headphones into the stereo amp and hit play on this compact disc.

By the winter, Alex had moved back to Vancouver and I was all by myself.  My obsession with this album intensified.  I listened to it almost every night and thought it was a religious revelation.

But then something funny happened.  Well two funny somethings….

Alex and I broke up; and I stopped smoking pot.

Maybe it was the haze (or lack there of…), or time, or new music coming in…. but Sufjan got pushed aside and I really haven’t punched it up much at all in the past??? three years?  Damn, I’m getting old.

Today I am reading about chili.  Did you know that chili… the delicious meaty treat that many of enjoy from Tim Hortons or cooked at home… was first introduced outside of San Antonio to mainstream audiences at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893? (so was the hamburger, rag time music and neon lights)

Then I start reading about the Expo ’93… as I’m sure that is what the Industrial Age kids of the time called it.

Its an interesting story about this fair that made use of electricity and gave the world the Ferris Wheel.

I wondered about the music of the time and my wandering brain took me to discover ragtime. One of the great ragtime performers of the era played a show at the exposition and ragtime would go on to be the dominate music style in North America till jazz would develop after World War One.

This is fascinating because the Veneto Lounge styles many of their cocktails on this late 19th century culture and maybe ragtime would be the perfect musical accompaniment?

Right, Sufjan Stevens… there really isn’t a point to this rambling… as I am flying though the internet and iTunes, listening to ragtime and exploring the wonders of American exceptionalism.  The internet wants me to listen to Sufjan.  My searches and hyperlinks keep saying, “Do You Mean Illinios (album)?”

Um, no… but ok internet, I’ll bite.  I punch up the record and the music washes right over me. It feels good.  I remember all these songs.  I can’t listen to it loud enough! (though back in the day, one of my favourite things to do was put it on as quiet as possible and try to have the songs tickle my little ear hair things as lightly as I could make out sounds… like I said, I smoked a ton of pot).

Illinois is such an amazing record.  Its like an audio epic adventure.  After reading about chili, Chicago, ragtime and The World’s Columbian Exposition… I couldn’t imagine or have predicted a better soundtrack.

Go with yourself.

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