Sufjan Stevens: No Shadow in the Shade of the Cross

Stuff Aesthetic Fascists Like: Of all the singers populating my ears over the years, none has provided more habitual companionship than Sufjan Stevens. His music is a soundtrack to my life, which has a certain fittingness because we were both born in the same year. It is never easy to articulate why one singer becomes a resonant voice over another. But his voice has persisted for me when others have faded or disappeared altogether. For the sake of practicing aesthetic asceticism (try saying that phrase repeatedly), I will feature one of my favorite songs from each of the albums that I return to over and over again. Other songs could be highlighted, but self-denial has to begin somewhere.

Album Description
In Carrie and Lowell (2015), Sufjan Stevens is a child again or, more specifically, the child character in the family of man drama that often but not always centers on the story of love given, or love forsaken, but isn’t that the same thing to the poet? That the love Stevens sings about having left or given or been born to–thank you, Carrie–is a perceptible wound not only on the singer’s throat, but his sleeve: he wears love’s incomprehensibility, and the deep incomprehensibility of being a son, like a backing vocal on “Carrie and Lowell,” which is also filled with colors, hearts, trees, conclusions, and beginnings, all adding up to the kind of intimacy that caught my eye the morning I sat in the diner waiting for the sun to get stronger as I saw intimacy pass by while going about it’s business, like something sung and felt by Sufjan Stevens on his new beautiful solitary and rich record filled with faith and disbelief and the resurrection of trust and dreams.

No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross

Now that I fell into your arms
My only lover
Give out to give in
I search for the capsule I lost

Drag me to hell
In the valley of The Dalles
Like my mother
Give wings to a stone
It’s only the shadow of a cross

I slept on my back
In the shade of the meadowlark
Like a champion
Get drunk to get laid
I take one more hit when you depart

I’ll drive that stake through the center of my heart
Lonely vampire
Inhaling it’s fire
I’m chasing the dragon too far

There’s blood on that blade
Fuck me, I’m falling apart
My assassin
Like Casper the ghost
There’s no shade in the shadow of the cross

GENIUS: Annotation of “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”


3 Replies to “Sufjan Stevens: No Shadow in the Shade of the Cross”

  1. I love this song; and, every time I listen to it, I am forced to think about that very last line (and the rest of the song). Whether or not I always agree with the theology in Sufjan’s music, and whether or not I agree with him here, I feel wounded (as I am “wounded” by literature) by the lyrics of this song, and the music that Sufjan created in this track.
    I also really enjoy:
    Death with Dignity
    Fourth of July
    The Only Thing
    John My Beloved

    1. Of course, if a listener of a song feels wounded or a reader of a novel feels wounded, it is not merely because the singer or novelist has wounded us where we were not wounded before. We were already wounded and this fresh wound reminds us of our condition. The aesthetic wound is linked to our spiritual wound. But I wonder why we like to feel wounded. Isn’t there something perverse about that? I suppose reminders of our woundedness, at best, can encourage us to become patients of the Wounded Healer, but, at worst, they keep us wounded without the hope of healing.

      1. I think the way I said what I said led to a misunderstanding. When I say I was wounded by the song, I did not mean to use the injurious connotation of that word. I merely meant to say that this song has *affected* me in an intense way. That was my fault with using that word “wounded.” But some songs and books wound us. This last line actually does wound me a little bit because it is a line that shows us the doubts of Sufjan Stevens (a doubt that I have felt before).

        Your posting on these albums has had me think about which albums and songs stand out to me. Of all of his albums, I have been acquainted with these albums:
        Seven Swans
        All Delighted People EP
        Carrie and Lowell
        I have listened to Michigan, The Avalanche, and The Age of Adz once or twice through each, but I have not had extended exposure to these yet.
        Of the four albums, these are the songs that resonated with me the most from each album:
        A Good Man is Hard to Find (but that is such a hard choice!)
        Come on! Feel the Illinoise!… (again, a hard choice)
        All Delighted People (Original Version)
        The Only Thing

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