I’ve seen a good number of truly great concerts over the past few years. Surprisingly, I’ve been checking bands off my list of musicians I’ve got to see live at a remarkable rate. Between Bon Iver, The Civil Wars, and The National, I’ve had a number of unforgettable concert experiences.
Far and away, though, the best show I ever saw live was in October 2010 when Sufjan Stevens came to visit the Wiltern in L.A. It was his first show in years, as far as I could tell. That year, he released an album, an EP, and went on tour, after virtually a five year hiatus- minus a few side projects and instrumental releases.
For years leading up to that, Sufjan had been my clear-cut favourite musical artist. He still is, I’d say, and I’d immediately jump at the chance to see him live again.
While a lot of songs and albums tend to cycle in and out of my rotation, Sufjan’s seem to be in the elite group that become mainstays. His stuff doesn’t really grow old on me. Too many of his songs have deeply artistic and personal bits of significance with me- and I’ve always admired his lyrical artisanship.
A couple of his older songs have been stuck in my head lately.
Sufjan Stevens: John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
Even more, they were boys
With their cars, summer jobs
Oh my God
Are you one of them?
So, if this isn’t one of the creepiest songs you’ve heard, then you’ve probably got a pretty dark taste in music. While I don’t have very much of a taste for the dark, Sufjan puts it in its place and doesn’t overlook it.
The fan-made video above is something else, too.
When I saw Sufjan a couple years ago, after his main set consisted of mostly newer tracks, he led off his encore with John Wayne Gacy, Jr., possibly one of the more interesting and unexpected decisions. As creepy as this song is, it’s artistic brilliance can’t be denied. The gloominess of the fingerpicking sets up perfectly for his high pitched emotive crooning that caps off the chorus.
It’s a very eerie song though. Not eerie for the purpose of glorifying darkness, but for recognizing it, something that we’re all forced to do at some point- just look at my last post. In a mournful recognition of the darkness that encroaches into humanity, he digs into another great tragedy from the history of the state of Illinois. Back in the 1970s, John Wayne Gacy, Jr., the “Killer Clown,” assaulted and murdered nearly 30 young males, ranging in age from 14-21. As Sufjan narrates, he had them bound and hid in his floorboards. It was another moment in our country’s history where chaos, darkness, anger, and tragedy flared up.
Darkness is present in the world, and in order to return to the Light and Love we were meant to live in, we need to overcome it. The problem, however, is that it’s so deeply seeded as part of who we are. While we might not be mass murderers, we might not be too different from it. Once I gained a more global perspective, I understood how my actions here affected others around the world in ways that were literally killing them. The more I look for ways to completely eliminate living in a way that contributes to the destruction of others, the harder it seems. C.S. Lewis once said that nobody knows how truly evil they are until they’ve tried really hard to be good. When G.K. Chesterton was asked what the problem with humanity was, he responded simply with two words- “I am.”
And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid
As much as we sense that we were made to do great things, and that we seem wired for it, there’s also this sense that something’s gone wrong. The word “corrupted,” seems to describe it best. Darkness comes in many different forms, but its something that we all face. Darkness is simply living away from the light… living detached from the Love of God and a Love for others.
With that in mind, it seems pretty bleak. Once you’re aware of you’re own darkness, it’s hard to not feel enslaved by it. But…
Sufjan Stevens: He Woke Me Up Again
And he woke me up again to say:
Hold on, hold on to your old ways
Or put off, put off every old face
And I know, I know you are changed now
I hope, I hope you’re arranged out
A few recent writing projects and a speaking opportunity have allowed me to revisit my life since I committed to living it for God. Retracing my steps through darkness, my own darkness, have reminded me what my own faith is about.
It has nothing to do with opinions about what should be taught in schools. It’s worlds away from Chick-Fil-A and gun control and presidential forums at Saddleback. Faith isn’t a set of opinions, or even a theory.
My faith is a second chance.
It means I’ve gone through that period of waking up and having nothing to live for. It means I’ve endured intense loneliness. It means I’ve experienced living like a zombie, in light of death rather than life. It’s still tough to put into words what it was like to have lost your drive to live.
He woke me up again.
I’ve woken up with something to live for.
And a life of faith is a life where every moment is lived in light of that second chance. And it would take ages to describe that, only because that light is so all-encompassing.
It means you live with a purpose, like a man on a mission. Freeing people from darkness. Breaking the chains of the oppressed and untying the cords of injustice. Delivering light. Reconciling people to proper relationship with God and others. Running towards that community, and bringing along whoever wants in.
It means being thankful. Gratitude takes no second thought if you’re living out a second chance. I love the part of the song where Sufjan simply erupts into a “Hallelujah.” It’s worship, and it’s joy, and that doesn’t have to be limited to music, but to every aspect of life.
Everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
I write for free because it gives me a lot of joy to do so! If, however, you’ve been enjoying for a little while, I am currently raising funds for an internship with LiNK. If you would like to help me raise awareness about the North Korean Human Rights crisis around our country, I would greatly appreciate any donation. Thanks!