Some songs tell stories just as vivid and intricate as any film or TV show. The Storyteller Series highlights those special pieces of music with lyrics that captivate the audience from beginning to end.


Really it’s hard to pick just one of Sufjan Stevens‘s songs to identify as an example of brilliant songwriting.  This is the guy who made a name for himself through his intricate concept albums.  The music world is waiting with bated breath to see what The Age of Adz will bring (check out “I Walked” on Listen Before You Buy).  Because of this though, so many of the songs on his albums weave together and its often hard to separate out individual tracks.  Off of Illinois, “Chicago” gained prominence largely because of it’s use in Little Miss Sunshine.  I also always recall “John Wayne Gacy, Jr” due to it’s morbid subject matter.  But for today’s Storyteller Series I thought I would highlight a particularly touching track for me – “Casimir Pulaski Day.”


Since Casimir Pulaski was a Polish born cavalry officer most known for his contributions to the U.S. Military during the American Revolution, the song is clearly not a folk tale praising his achievements.  Instead it is about an event that happened on the holiday, which is celebrated on the first Monday of every March in Chicago.  As I perceive it, it’s a story of a boy reflecting on love lost on this day.  He remembers special moments between them, when he found out she had cancer, the day she died, and resulting disillusionment and struggle with his faith.  Between the bird imagery and his ode to the fleeting nature of life, the song reminds me of an Emily Dickinson poem; it’s sensitive, melancholy, and innocent.    And like Emily Dickinson if you try to really analyze every verse you’ll miss the impression of the big picture, so instead I thought I’d highlight a couple of the verses that touch me the most…

Oh the glory when you ran outside
With your shirt tucked in and your shoes untied
And you told me not to follow you

It’s such a pure image and the way the it comes back in a later verse with a much more tragic meaning is so poetic and heartwrenching.  She is in a place where he cannot go and the distance is killing him.

In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window

The bird hitting the window is such a visceral visual it forces you to feel the abrupt pain of death, demonstrating that no matter how slowly and carefully one’s life ends – it still hurts like a bitch.

But boy, does Sufjan do a good job at convincing us otherwise.

Listen:

Sufjan Stevens “Casimir Pulaski Day”

Watch:

Lyrics:

Golden rod and the 4-H stone
The things I brought you
When I found out you had cancer of the bone

Your father cried on the telephone
And he drove his car to the Navy yard
Just to prove that he was sorry

In the morning through the window shade
When the light pressed up against your shoulder blade
I could see what you were reading

Oh the glory that the lord has made
And the complications you could do without
When I kissed you on the mouth

Tuesday night at the bible study
We lift our hands and pray over your body
But nothing ever happens

I remember at Michael’s house
In the living room when you kissed my neck
And I almost touched your blouse

In the morning at the top of the stairs
When your father found out what we did that night
And you told me you were scared

Oh the glory when you ran outside
With your shirt tucked in and your shoes untied
And you told me not to follow you

Sunday night when I cleaned the house
I find the card where you wrote it out
With the pictures of your mother

On the floor at the great divide
With my shirt tucked in and my shoes untied
I am crying in the bathroom

In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window

In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March on the holiday
I thought I saw you breathing

Oh the glory that the lord has made
And the complications when I see his face
In the morning in the window

Oh the glory when he took our place
But he took my shoulders and he shook my face
And he takes and he takes and he takes

Buy Illinois here, and get excited for The Age of Adz out on October 12th on Asthmatic Kitty Records.