Carrie & Lowell

By Sufjan Stevens, released in 2015 • Posted at 24/03/2021

Ilha Comprida, 2015 © Danilo Leal

I did not know Sufjan before this record. I got to get ahold of some of his prior music after listening to this piece and it struck me quite a bit how different it sounds. As you get closer to the story behind this album, you start to understand more and more where he's coming from and things start to settle. A friend with who I used to live with showed me out of the blue the track No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross, and the calming almost sleep song melody type along with a peaceful shot of the ocean and it's tides in slow motion just hit me instantly so profoundly.

Dealing with death

Ultimately, that's what this is about to me. Carrie is Sufjan's mom and Lowell was his mom's partner that eventually grew to be a second father figure to Sufjan. I'm not going to go through the history behind the album here, so I'll link you up to some articles that expose details and interviews with the man himself about what's all this about for him. I'll try to develop a bit of what this is about to me.

So, yeah, death. What a thing. It's a certain thing. It's too hard to fathom that each and everyone I love will actually die sometime. They won't be here forever. And neither do I. Sometimes our roads will fall short and the trip will end. These songs make me think about this. The most striking unquestionable fact in everyone's lives. But it gets me in a very complex mood. At first, Sufjan expresses how painful it is to accept what has just happened. So many things come to mind, those moments where we could've acted better, where it could've been different. And now, it's gone. There isn't a chance to try again and reassess.

Somewhere in the desert, there’s a forest
And an acre before us
But I don’t know where to begin

Death with Dignity, track one.

All of sudden, death imposes a real immediate distance. That's the first feeling that strikes hard. Even though we might not be physically close to that someone right now, most people are a call away. When with the proper will, we can do anything to meet someone we love. But after dying, we can't. It's just impossible. And sometime it will happen.

I guess that naturally, we start to contemplate and notice some other aspects of this passage. Even understanding as a passage allows the process to be easier to deal with. We start to accept a bit more. And this is a real process indeed. It's painful. Recently I red an article from the New York Times that reflects beautifully about death, especially in the wake of 2020. The core question the article presents is that: if you think of the person who has died every day, and you remember them dearly, fondly, you recall them in all sorts of moments, are they really dead? Or they live through you? We still feel an impact of that person in our lives daily. How can we say they're gone?

Accepting

I don't know if this is a task that we can conclude with integrity. It's hard to really accept someone dying. Even though they might live in and through you, I feel like I'd also die a bit. There's some of me that isn't here anymore if someone I love so much is gone. It's like our bonds are exposed and then broken up aggressively. And I guess that Sufjan naturally goes through this as the record progresses. He exposes to us very hard moments where he takes on himself the blame.

I think that happens because when someone dies you start to recollect all the smallest details of the relationship you have with the person. All the tiny moments of joy and conflict. Forgotten memories come like the clearest movie. It's always possible to act differently, to be better. But life is a circumstance. Each moment is carried like a result of the previous. It demands hard conscious thinking to live up to circumstance.

For my prayer has always been love
What did I do to deserve this?

Drawn To The Blood, track four.

I think of everyone I know. Everyone I love. I feel them hard and suddenly, I miss everyone. I'm grateful for everyone's lives and I want to be better, I want to love them better. The song's melodies and overall mood of the album make me feel like I'm at this end of the road, on an empty beach. Starring at the horizon, seeing each and every people I love. Recollecting our shared moments, our shared love and conflict. I feel overwhelmed. A bit shattered into many pieces. I'm not certain if it's them or me that is passing away. I guess that's accepting their passage and also mine.

Should I tear my heart out now?
Everything I feel returns to you, somehow

The Only Thing, track seven.

Help(full)(less)

This album is a calling for help. It's an allowance to be helped. We need help when we're babies, for everything. Starting life is hard, it's not a plug-and-play thing. We need assistance. And when it gets to its end, there's the same amount of help needed. Sufjan poses a lot of questions throughout the album and it's not for us to answer but only to be aware of. We need to be aware of the help we need to deal with this spectrum of feelings when thinking about dying and death in general.

There will be moments where nothing seems worthy, where nothing makes any sense at all. But there will be those times when life hits you as you have just left your mother's belly. It's a complete feeling of being alive, overall.

Conclusion

This is a short piece of an album I've been meaning to write something about since I first heard it in early 2016. I guess it's a bit messy because it's just my reflections upon it. It isn't a conceptual review but a shot at describing the contemplative place I go when listening through these tracks. Sufjan managed to expose a very difficult moment in his life, in a personal way but also in a general way. It's human, it's real, it's deep. It's sometimes too raw, other times it's more emotional. I love this album so much and I have listened to it in hard moments of my life, serving as a strong friend. I feel very secure around these melodies. Hope you liked it and sorry for the overall mess!

Favorite tracks

1

Fourth of July

(4.38)

2

The Only Thing

(4.41)

3

Eugene

(2.25)

4

Death With Dignity

(4.00)

5

John My Beloved

(5.07)