Revisitation, rememory: a feedback loop.
Sufjan Stevens grew up in the far north of the Lower Peninsula; he went to school in the lonely arts academy Interlochen, its cabins amidst pine forest, and to the college in my hometown, sleeping on Lake Michigan / factories and marching bands - memorialized in 3:26 on Michigan. The college station played it the last time I was home, driving through the old Victorian downtown with my sister, listening over the car radio to the overcast piano, melancholy and quiet.
I listened to "Chicago" looped again, today - the three versions off of Avalanche (the collection of outtakes and extras from Illinois. 48 other states have been promised, but are not expected) and I'm trying now to write around the unwritable feeling of recognition, of complicity, I get listening to Sufjan Stevens at all, to talk about the song itself for a moment.
"Chicago" lends itself to repetition, to revisitation. No wonder Sufjan Stevens recorded so many variations - "Acoustic"; "Adult Contemporary Easy Listening"; "Multiple Personality Disorder". Listen to all of them and each return, each version, does not detract. They pile on one another, cumulative.
You hear for the first time: I fell in love again / all things go, all things go / drove to Chicago / all things known, all things known. The song repeats itself internally, its refrains suffused with nostalgia: All things go, all things go. The complicity - I grew up where he did, I left as well. I've made a lot of mistakes, I've made a lot of mistakes / I've made a lot of mistakes, I've made a lot of mistakes. The song is a memory that resurfaces, a late-night kind of song, a song that by the end, whatever the version, becomes wordless - a trumpet repeating the theme, halfway triumphant.
And then, twice: I fell in love, again - but already in the past tense, another one already gone.
Three times: the "Multiple Personality Disorder Version," all buzzing synth and handclaps, and you're guilelessly optimistic, punch-drunk: I fell in love, again, - but we all know how this ends.
Somehow, though, you keep listening, you go through it all one more time, you recreate the song again, you cue that trumpet and multitracked voices, an implacable chorus that sings, comfortingly, over and over, All things go, all things go.
I can't quite describe to my satisfaction the feeling I get as the song loops around, draws a breath, repeats, that song sung by a man who grew up in the places I've driven to and camped in, the arts school my Upper Penninsula cousin attended, the college I played piano recitals at when I was little and passed every day, who traveled as I do to Chicago and espouses the quiet, taciturn Christianity of my neighbors - who left, as I did. I am hard pressed. The song comes up again over my speakers, cued up three or four times by accident, and starting again it hits me sideways, again.