Week 35: “Casimir Pulaski Day” by Sufjan Stevens

There are some things that, for reasons you can’t fully explain, make you cry like a baby on a transatlantic flight. For me, those things include videos about Terry Fox, commercials for the Olympics, and “Casimir Pulaski Day” by Sufjan Stevens.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. It’s honest about death. The main character in the song, though it’s unclear who that might be, is dying of cancer. The narrator (who we might assume is Stevens himself) struggles to reconcile his belief in a god in the face of the death of a loved one. Without being preachy, pretentious, or throwing a Bible at the listener, Stevens gets the point across: death is hard, and nobody is ever ready for it.

2. The trumpet at 2:24. Shades of “last post” at a military funeral.

3. The sudden ending. As the song enters its final minute, there’s a wonderful build-up of all the song’s instruments- the guitar, the banjo, the organ, and most of all the chorus of voices. Then, in the middle of a melodic phrase, it all cuts out, leaving only the organ on a minor chord. I may be reading too much into it, but I think Sufjan Stevens did it on purpose to mirror the experience of losing someone to cancer: you know the end is coming, but when it happens, it’s jarring nonetheless.

Recommended listening activity:

Raising a glass to someone.

Buy it here.