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  • Rich Kassirer

Lyrically Speaking: Sufjan Steven's Casimir Pulaski Day

In a few days, I’ll be publishing and posting my Favorites of 2010 issue of Modern Acoustic magazine, but until then I thought I’d offer up another in the series Lyrically Speaking, song lyrics that, to me, go beyond just words to a song.

Sufjan Stevens is an odd cat. In concert he wears butterfly wings; early on, he wanted to make one album for each of the 50 states, etc. He has actually abandoned the idea (the states thing, not the wings!). But before he did, he released an album called Illinois, in which all the songs had some connection to the state. It’s a pretty great album, with cuts — many with long titles (like “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is out to Get Us!”) — that run the gamut from instrumental snippets to songs with sincere, heartfelt stories, all backed by his odd orchestra-like band. A song called “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” tells the story of the ’70s serial killer from Chicago and how we all have that instinct deep inside of us.

  As for our favorite song on the album, “Casimir Pulaski Day,” is about a girlfriend who is diagnosed with cancer and passes away, presumably on Casimir Pulaski Day, a state holiday in Illinois. The lyrics are heartbreaking, as he remembers memories of their relationship and the pain of his loss: “Tuesday night at the bible study/We lift our hands and pray over your body/But nothing ever happens.”

  The best lyrics are ones that move you, takes you into the author’s world. When the music fits that mood, you have a great song. This is one.

Casimir Pulaski Day by Sufjan Stevens 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

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