It was one of those harshly warm autumn San Francisco days, a sort of final hurrah before the opaque gloom of winter rolls in. A few records left in a sunny patch by the window fell victim to the rays, vinyl warping and distorting Jerry Garcia’s vocals into an intolerable nasal whine. “Ripple” rippled, goodbye American Beauty! Listening to it now makes your skin stand on edge.
Around seven pm on a Monday after work, I walked to Corona Heights, a craggy hidden park that brings to mind a dusty lunar landscape. The hillside was crowded with admirers; we were grasping for the final dredges of summer, the last moments of sun on a dwindling day. We knew this was the last time we were going to feel this sensation for a while. The sense of change in the air brought almost a mournful feeling, warm breeze blowing across your skin.
San Francisco stood at our feet cast in a tangerine haze. The landscape felt incomprehensible in its beauty, like you have to shield your eyes from absorbing it all. It gave the sense that you could never fully take in all that it has to offer; just out of grasp but intoxicating in its promise.
I felt a sense of languishing dread, attempting to appreciate the moment while anticipating the inevitable bitter chill soon to arrive. Sort of like that feeling you get on Sunday evenings, puttering around to avoid thinking about the impeding week, a dull twist of anxiety in your gut.
While mourning the loss of the season, I simultaneously craved a reprieve from the suffocating warmth; enveloping your body in a saline stickiness and making you kick off your sheets in the night. The dreaminess began to turn to delirium; a cold slap of reality was needed. It was time for a change.
I’m surprised I’ve been able to restrain myself and not write more about Sufjan Stevens on this blog. This whole damn thing could be about Sufjan, ask my roommates or family, I never shut up about him! It would probably be a hybrid of Between Hipsters and God There is Sufjan Stevens, an RSS feed of his Tumblr, and Google Maps screenshots of his apartment in Brooklyn. Kidding! I don’t know what his address is… or else I would have made a shrine to him outside of it (maybe a bust of him made out of bubblegum a la Helga Pataki).
ANYWAY, in November he released Silver & Gold, a five-disc collection of Christmas music recorded from 2007-2011. This release follows Songs for Christmas (recorded 2001-2006), so we have a full decade of Sufjan Christmases, folks! Unlike his first collection of Songs for Christmas, the latter half of the aughts got a bit, uh, kooky for Mr. Stevens. He veered in the futuristic, chaotic direction featured in 2010’s The Age of Adz. it’s interesting to listen to his work and hear how his sound has dramatically evolved, from banjo and flute to drum machines and auto-tune (seriously).
One of my favorite discs from Silver & Gold was Christmas Infinity Voyage (2008), which shows the experimental, electronic direction he was heading in Adz. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” exemplifies Stevens’ skills in refurbishing seemingly soul-less Musak tracks, turning the choral bore into an metallic, psychedelic 9 minutes of near-insanity.
One respite from the madness is “Christmas in the Room,” which features that beautiful/sad hybrid that Mr. Stevens has crafted so masterfully (see “Casimir Pulaski Day,” “To Be Alone with You,” “John Wayne Gacy”). The video contrasts with the acoustic sound through a set of vibrant abstract images set against darkness, keeping in line with the spirit of Christmas Infinity Voyage‘s futuristic feel.
I visited my family in Portland for Christmas, and as our tradition of the last few years, we had a Sufjan-themed Xmas, dancing around to Infinity Voyage and his just-released Chopped & Scrooged rap mixtape (yes, that exists). While playing around with lights I noticed the delightful blurring effects against the Portland skyline, and forced my family to go onto the freezing sixteenth floor balcony for a midnight celestial photo shoot. (There was champagne involved, it wasn’t THAT bad.)
‘You must be a Christmas tree – you light up the room.’
We had a good time playing around and seeing the unexpected results from the light patterns… hopefully we captured a bit of Sufjan’s seemingly unending exuberance.
If you care to listen to more of Sufjan’s ** HOLIDAY MAGIC ** (even though, uh, it’s January), it’s all available to listen to on his website for free. He released it on the public domain for your listening pleasure because he is just that kind of guy. SUFJ YOU’RE KILLIN’ ME!
Venturing back into my long-dormant blog, just in time for the new year. I have a tendency to write posts as unedited, rambling drafts and then never actually POST them, so going to make a minor effort to push that Publish Post button.
Up first is a series of pictures taken on the rooftop balcony at SFMOMA in late November. My family journeyed from the damp reaches of Seattle and Portland to visit San Francisco for Thanksgiving, so I had a chance to play host and show off all of the city’s decadent amenities. Naturally we made a go for SFMOMA, that art-deco tower of modern artistic thought. Prior to our museum jaunt, we stopped for coffee and contributed to a letter to my sister’s pen pal, an architecture friend studying at Columbia. We added a pint-sized doodle of a bird’s eye view of San Francisco, with commentary added (“My house”, “HIPSTERS”, “HIPPIES”, etc.) Here is her reply:
Wow, that Gawon sure is a great pen pal. And what lovely handwriting!
After feeling particularly inspired by the celestial Field Conditions exhibit and Chinese paintings depicting the Maoist culture of the 20th century, we snaked up to the top floor for a pause from our arduous standing-and-pondering activities.
As we sat down on a side balcony, the clock nearing 5 pm, the last rays of the day cast a sharply incandescent glow. My family humored me as I went into amateur photog mode, cajoling them to “Stay right there! Now.. scrunch down a bit, yeah.” They both have such warmly amber orbital eyes that I wanted to capture their moment in the sun.
Fire eye’d girl.
It would be too easy to go into cliche-land and compare her ambiguous smile to a certain eyebrow-less Da Vinci, but I am NOT GOING TO GO THERE.
But really, what is she thinking?
Objects (and people, and things) found on the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley; spontaneous moments of whimsy and intrigue. A song for each picture to capture the mood.
“Beware.” Woolsey Street, Berkeley, April 2012. Musical Accompaniment: “What Do You Expect,” El Perro Del Mar.
“Sprouting.” Arguello Street, February 2012. Musical Accompaniment: “Phone Call,” Jon Brion.