Indeed, if I need to be honest, this is actually the saddest song I have ever heard.
If you are still not acquainted with why the heck ‘All Delighted People’ is not about all delighted people, you need to know who on earth Sufjan Stevens (spell: sue-fian – as in ‘fiance’) is. Perhaps I can describe him as a seriously underrated musical talent in the era of instant fame and pop culture. A Detroit-based singer and multi-instrumentalist, Stevens has been unusually productive in producing albums, oftentimes with shifting styles, tones, and musical instruments used. He can seamlessly shift from guitar to piano to keyboard to drum to oboe to xylophone, and others you better consult with Wikipedia. His genres also do not necessarily stick to one form alone; the songs span from indie folk to indie rock to avant-garde rock to electronica, or, to much of his own creative destruction as he pleases, deliberate random mashes of disorderly sounds and blasts of the instruments combined.
The lyrics are similarly deep in content and message, too. Say, a girlfriend’s death on a holiday (Casimir Pulaski Day), reflection on a serial killer that catapulted the current ‘creepy clown’ epidemic (John Wayne Gacy, Jr.), songs about dying towns and cities in Rust Belt (Flint – for the Unemployed and the Underpaid), unwavering – and deeply complicating – love for his mother (most songs in his 2015 album, Carrie and Lowell), or even something as absurd as a ‘reported UFO sighting’ (the flute-dominated Concerning the UFO sighting near Highland, Illinois). Other than these cantabile carols, he also released albums that highlighted his own musical scores (one of them is based on 12 Chinese zodiacs).
And there comes All Delighted People.
It is not the longest song he’s ever sung (the even longer one is Impossible Soul, which is nearly 26 minutes), but at over 11 minutes long, All Delighted People brings to you, indeed, a ‘homage to the Apocalypse, existential ennui, and Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence‘, as the album itself describes.
Never mind all the faces of the delighted people in the photo above, but none of this song contains any references about ‘brightening your day’. From my perspective, this song seemingly tries to raise one difficult, existentialist question worth self-introspection and some reminiscing.
Amid all the suffering in the world, can we still become a truly delighted people?
Looking again at all the faces on the picture above – all smiling, laughing, happy faces, the context dramatically changes once the song plays out. Everyone, and literally everyone, has had a fair share of delightful – and unpleasant – experiences throughout our lives. Some may be more tragic than others. Some may seem a bit too superficial. Some may seem like no different from ‘showing off’. Others may simply refuse to talk about them at all. The song itself is open for interpretation, but you can imagine all sorts of possible scenarios (as Stevens has put them into his own aria).
Someone losing their beloved ones.
Someone unsure to whom one can share one’s own difficult moments.
Some difficult choices that need to be made, possibly at the expense of what you currently possess – or maybe value so deeply.
Someone frustrated at the superficiality of the world. Regardless of whatever celebrations, events, or any joyous stuff, one can always perceive the ‘unreal’ out of these virtues.
Someone sensing the futility of prayers amid all the calamities, and how the cycle repeats itself.
Someone struggling to understand the true essence of the world (reminding me of Albert Camus’ philosophical essay Myth of the Sisyphus).
This is how All Delighted People out-Sound of Silence the Sound of Silence itself. Music background itself is chilling – and a bit horror-like, followed by a cantabile choir echoing the lyrics (as though ghosts were singing the song out loud). It amplifies what already exists in this, one of Simon and Garfunkel’s major masterpieces. About the emptiness, ‘hollowness’ of human interaction, the superficiality of human relationships, and again, the futility of prayers. This is not going to be an easy song to discern (that’s why most people return to modern, easy-peasy pop), but it certainly is one that will not easily leave your memory pretty soon, once you listen through it.
Again, this is not to encourage everyone to be all-out pessimists (neither being 100% optimist nor being 100% pessimist helps our lives). Stevens, possibly being a monist (or non-religious God-believer), wants us to constantly reflect on ourselves about our status, our relationship with fellow human beings, and of course, our own vulnerability. I suggest that you listen to it, only when you are willing to listen to it. It ain’t an easy piece.