All Delighted People is not about all delighted people

all-delighted-people

 

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.

Lyrics: http://genius.com/Sufjan-stevens-all-delighted-people-original-version-lyrics

 

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Simon & Garfunkel – America

 

United States, for all its imminent problems – worsening income gap, violent crime rates, persistent economic stagnation, and other countless things you may have to compile a list – remains a dream place not only for its young generation, but also for people across the whole world. Nearly 50 million people born worldwide have been residing in this country, excluding hundreds of millions of people still going after the dreams they relentlessly chase. At one point, this song by Simon & Garfunkel was an ironic statement about how reality slowly crushes away their dreams, forcing them to ‘wake up’, finding out all the promises made about America are no more than illusions. And this seemingly explains again about the waning power of this country, one that has been embattled by so many troubles of its own, excluding the world’s problems that many of the countries desperately need America to protect them. Its soul is becoming increasingly empty, and many people are slowly losing their life directions as reality intrudes and grinds their dreams further. That the America they are looking for is increasingly distant from their expectations.

Nonetheless, people still never stop chasing America. And they will never stop.

A lesson seriously learned from this song. We need to do our self-contemplation, a soul-searching journey again, on what our dreams really are.

 

Bonus: the song is covered again by Passenger (a vivid fan of Paul Simon), The Once, and Stu Larsen.

 

 

 

 

Understanding human affliction through Donna Donna

 

An originally Yiddish song, sung by Joan Baez, about ‘a calf being led to slaughter’. Written somewhere during the onset of World War II – and also the Holocaust – it firstly analogizes the mass annihilation of Jews by NAZI Germany. Now, the song can be used to describe any kinds of tragedies befalling humanity.