19 December 2007

Sufjan Stevens/PENultimate Lit Event @ Southpaw, Brooklyn,12/17/2007

This story is about the PENultimate Lit event, but it's more about Sufjan.

A comi-tragedy, completed:

Act 2

The travel from Seattle back to NY (though O'Hare) was horrifying, but I was determined to make it there on Monday. I found the venue at 3pm (doors opened at 8) and spent most of my day standing outside in the 30-degree, windy weather to ensure a spot in line, with periodic trips to a nearby coffeehouse, chugging hot tea to defrost.

After that, everything was fantastic. I met at least a half-dozen people who recognized/remembered me as "omigosh! you're the girl who came out here from Seattle/carved that Sufjan pumpkin!"

At one point while waiting in line, I was blah blahing about how, at our wedding reception last year, we were playing some Sufjan stuff, "hoping no one would listen to the lyrics," when the line just froze like deer in headlights.

"Hey, it's him! That's Sufjan!" He walked right by us wearing a "disguise"-- big glasses, a fresh, tricked-out 'stache, and this ridiculous hat with three flaps (two worn up, one down). ...at least, we thought it was a disguise. (My big mouth: 1, Me: 0.)

Dear Sufjan, This new-hat-and-beard trick is fooling no one. Sincerely, your fans.

Don't remember who said it, but "People work hard to become recognized as celebrities, then wear sunglasses to avoid being recognized." While I doubt Sufjan's goal has ever been recognition, he's in the spotlight now for sure.

Hours of chilly, funny banter later, doors open, we flood inside grabbing seats. The right half of the first two rows were reserved so Jess and I grab the center-most seats in the second row. The two seats in front of us remained empty for almost the whole evening.

The stage was set like I'd imagine for a literary discussion: three chairs, mics, some dim orange lights. Oh, and a grand piano in the background. The three came out (Sufjan, Rick Moody, and Wesley Stace). Rick moderated a discussion asking questions about the bridge between writing and music. Sufjan was visibly nervous, fidgeting like crazy.

Rick read off a half-page biography of Wesley, and then one of Sufjan. As he did, Sufjan leaned way over and peered suspiciously at the page.
"Can--can you cut out that sentence?" Sufjan interjected.
"I--what? Why?"
"It's embarassing."
"You don't want people to know the names of your Majesty Eagle Tour and Butterfly Kite Brigade?"
Sufjan smiles and shakes his head, looking down. "No. Just, skip to the next part. Here." He points at a line.
"You wrote this!"
"I know, but I, uh. Just, skip ahead to the next section here."

First, they were mostly questions to Wesley, then he performed three songs. When Wesley performed, Sufjan and Rick came offstage and SAT DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF US in those 2 empty seats. [Insert fangirlish squeeing here.]

After, the questions turned to Sufjan--unlike every other show I've seen or heard he wasn't making up stories, he was telling the truth. We learned quite a bit about his bio & background. That intro he wrote to the 2007 Best American Nonrequired Reading, about how he didn't learn to read until the third grade? TRUE.

Then Sufjan played three songs. First two on piano, last on banjo:
Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois.mp3

Barn Owl, Night Killer (live).mp3

The Mistress Witch From McClure (or, The Mind That Knows Itself).mp3
"That first song, about the UFOs, was partly inspired by my dad," Sufjan said. "I had done a lot of reading about the UFO sightings over Highland. Even police officers had seen it. It was truly unexplained. But then my dad started telling me about how he had seen them. He told me they had visited him at one point, trying to convince him to come aboard as a specimen, and do tests on him. But I guess he convinced them that since he had a large family that he was responsible for then he, you know, wouldn't be a very good choice." He laughed. "So I guess they didn't take him! My dad was smoking a lot of pot at the time. I don't know what that stuff does to your brain."

I was THRILLED to hear Barn Owl, since I'd ony heard a fragmented recording of it before! Totally blew me away. And, Mistress Witch was haunting in its sheer, stripped-down gorgeousness.

The quintessential word for the night was intimate. It was already a small venue, but add seats and all eyes were on the solo acoustic act. When was the last time Sufjan has even done a solo acoustic act--2004?

"You know, after all these years, I still don't know my own lyrics," he said. "And I'm still not a very good speller," He laughed, looking at his lyrics. "I spelled 'shirt' S-H-I-U-R-T."

After, the floor was opened to Q&A from the audience. I asked a question! I turned to both Wesley and Sufjan and said "This is interesting, because we have one person [Wes] who has been writing long novels and one [Sufjan] known for short story writing. Do you think the future of fiction is going to get progressively longer, or do you think we'll be reverting back to the short-story format?"

Sufjan answered: "Long novels. 800 pages."
Rick laughed and said, "He's only saying that because he knows I'm working on a 800-page novel right now."
Wes said, "Short stories."
Cue laughter. Wesley and Sufjan were an excellent balance in this discussion, in outlook, style, personality, experiences and goals.

After the show, we were told they would come out and we could meet them. Eventually, one by one, they did. Sufjan hid for a good 45 minutes before he emerged, and was immediately ambushed by this creepy old guy who bogarted his time and was eerily trying to keep Suf to himself. Eventually another girl just barged in (which in any other situation would have been rude, but this guy was just, like, too much) and asked for a pic with him, which we tried to take and failed several times.

Then a guy comes up and starts impatiently whispering in Sufjan's ear and then Suf's all, "I have to go." A girl gave him a homemade card. And then suddenly in the crowd he's standing right there in front of me...

"Sufjan, I just came all the way out here from Seattle to give you this as an early Christmas present."
I hold it out and he reads it.
"Wow," he says taking it, "Thank you."
"I just... thought it'd be appropriate."
There was a short pause.
"I like the sticker," he says. It was a very "I love lamp" moment.
Then, I just sort of reached forward, grabbed his hand, and shook it and rambled "It's such an honor/I'm so glad to meet you/You're so awesome/I love you/we must make zee love now/etc."
For someone who plays a lot of stringed instruments, his hand was really soft, and really warm.

And, he's so short! I was wearing heels (I'm 5'3") and we were just about eye level. I was so close to him. But even though Jess had her camera and I had my book and pen at the ready, I didn't ask for a photo or autograph. I got the feeling he was overwhelmed by the crowd and just wanted to get out of there.

So, Jess and I packed ourselves up and headed out. I called my husband to squeal into the phone about how his Christmas Gift turned out just perfect, but there was a bad connection. I found myself on the corner of 5th and Prospect shouting into the phone, "AND THEN I MET HIM! AND THEN I GAVE HIM THE STICKER! AND THEN I SHOOK HIS HAND! AND I--WHAT? NO, I SAID, AND THEN I SHOOK HIS--"

And at that moment, Jess nudges me. Sufjan is standing right there on the sidewalk mere feet from us, just shooting the breeze with some guys. There's no way he didn't just hear me, seconds ago, shouting about how short he was (but even dreamier in person). My big mouth: 2, Me: 0.



Katie said...

HA! That last part had me laughing out loud. Just your luck! But that's so great you got to shake his hand and share a few words with him.

Please, Sufjan, do another intimate show again....pleeeease. Like, tomorrow.

It was nice meeting you and Jess there, and hope to see you both at another Sufjan show sometime in the future :-)

LMS said...

I couldn't get though that without manically giggling and hand-flailing.

Laura said...

I know this was long time ago but I just found this blog and that was the best story ever!!! Thanks for sharing, it makes me giddy just imagining myself in that situation.