How a bunch of songs that weren’t written by Sufjan Stevens would be interpreted if Sufjan wrote them

How a bunch of songs that weren’t written by Sufjan Stevens would be interpreted if Sufjan wrote them

(With apologies to JT, Kelis, DJ Alligator & Sufjan)

SexyBack

It’s significant that at the very beginning the narrator refers to his romantic competitors as boys (“them other boys don’t know how to act”). Sufjan has always interpreted romance through the lens of his childhood, and the ache to complete that which is now irrevocably finished. The theme of yearning for that lost continues throughout the song. “Girl, let me make up for the things you lack”. Even the title of the song is pure nostalgia- it is about bringing sexy back, not bringing sexy forward.

The homoeroticism of the line: “If that’s your girl, better watch your back (yeah) ‘Cause you’re burning up for me, and that’s a fact” is evident, but to explicate for a moment, note that the subject of the sentence doesn’t change. It is the boy, who had better watch his back, who is also “burning up for me” (and that’s a fact).

“See these shackles, baby I’m your slave” – as is so often the case, sadomasochistic desire is a stand in for unresolved parental issues- Sufjan’s desire for punishment in a sexual context channels his frustration at a mother who was absent even negatively. Too absent even to punish him.

Ultimately then, this is a song about Sufjan’s desire for a lover who will- even if in a destructively, symbolically “complete” his childhood.

Milkshake

As always, Sufjan is being both more and less literal than we first think.

The narrator claims that their milkshake brings “all the boys to the yard” (again! The recurrence of childhood imagery). Now obviously “all” is a contextual term that can often be limited, but there is little reason to think the scope of the quantifier is being limited here. We must assume that the narrator means all the boys are bought to the yard.

We also know that the milkshake is “what the guys go crazy for”. Madness is often a holy thing in the work of Sufjan- though tinged with his ambivalence towards his mother (c.f. Age of Adz). What is capable of inflicting a sacral madness on all the boys? There can only be one answer.

The Christian heretic Origen proposed that all would ultimately be redeemed by God through a universal restoration to a sinless state- even Satan- a kind of universal salvation. We know such a viewpoint is attractive to Stevens (“all things go, all things go, to recreate us”) what could possibly offer such a universal salvation?

The milkshake is Jesus.

I wanna suck on your lollipop

The phrase “I wanna suck on your lollipop” has 24 letters, and is repeated ten times in the official lyrics. 24 is a number associated with the levitical priesthood, whereas 10 is the number of the sephirot, or modes of the God’s activity or self-revelation in the world- representing the fullness of his designs. “I wanna suck on your lollipop” then communicates a clear message- God’s instruments are sufficient for God’s purposes- no matter how things may seem. As it to emphasise this, the recurring line “go ahead and do it” makes it clear that we are all instruments of the revelation of divine justice & mercy who are not merely permitted but required to act.

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