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Five Reasons Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan Gave Us Hope

on July 01, 2013, 12:00am

sufjanstevens Five Reasons Sufjan Stevens Michigan Gave Us Hope

Michigan can easily get swallowed up in the crippling problems of its eastern half. Weirdly, that’s the sexier news story: once robust, now fallen industrial cities. But Michigan is a big state that contains a great diversity of people, landscapes, and experiences. Luckily, Sufjan Stevens understood that 10 years ago when he ambitiously set out to write and record an album for every state in the country, beginning with his home state. Michigan was in good hands. Track to track, Stevens zips around serving not only as a tour guide, but also as an advocate. He translates multi-instrumental folk pop into a survey of the Great Lakes State, a campaign for why we all should say “Yes” to Michigan.

Here are five reasons Greetings from Michigan made us feel for the Great Lakes State.

1. There’s more to Michigan than urban decay

michigan Five Reasons Sufjan Stevens Michigan Gave Us Hope

The last time Michigan made the evening news, it was because the state decided to seize control of Detroit, a controversial last-ditch effort to save what was once the country’s fifth largest city. That’s not exactly board of tourism-approved press. One of the ways Stevens best paid tribute to Michigan was through his emphasis on the state’s scenic side. Greetings features odes to places like Tahquamenon Falls and Alanson’s Crooked River, as well as the beautiful Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Upper Peninsula. Where words fall short, delicate, layered arrangements of chimes and organs carry us the rest of the way.

2. Greetings is honest about the state’s problems

urbandecaymichigan Five Reasons Sufjan Stevens Michigan Gave Us Hope

Struggle is an undeniable part of Michigan’s modern narrative. Stevens found a way to address the state’s problems with songs like “Detroit, Lift Your Weary Head” and “All Good Naysayers, Speak Up! (Or Forever Hold Your Peace)” that reference bleak circumstances, but also contain the will not to be beaten by them.

3. It tells stories about people

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No portrait of a place would be complete without the people who inhabit it. For Stevens, that meant humanizing cities like Flint and Romulus by writing about folks dealing with joblessness or even the family strife many experience regardless of location. The most heartbreaking look we get comes from “Romulus”, a song about kids with an absentee mother and a well-meaning grandfather who buys them a VCR.

4. Greetings is a call to action

 Five Reasons Sufjan Stevens Michigan Gave Us Hope

In its quieter moments, like “Oh God, Where Are You Now? (In Pickeral Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?)”, Greetings from Michigan sounds like a prayer to preserve what’s precious and a plea for better days. At other times, it’s more of a rally. Stevens sprinkles in earnest thoughts of “what if,” envisioning those in power finally pulling it together in songs like “They Also Mourn Who Do Not Wear Black (For the Homeless in Muskegon)”. But the most assuring line he offers is the conclusion of “Say Yes! To M!ch!gan!”, where he sings of wanting to go back to the place where he was raised. You can’t change the “Made in Michigan”.

5. It requires patience

michiganlove Five Reasons Sufjan Stevens Michigan Gave Us Hope

Greetings From Michigan clocks in at around 66 minutes. It’s a great album, but you also have to want to see it through to the end. That patience could be well applied to the Great Lakes State. Answers might be far off. Widespread improvement might be even further. But in the end, Stevens wants us to stick with Michigan.

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