I never wrote about the Sufjan Stevens Listening Party. Now, I will. Directly below, the premise, from Alec Duffy of Hoi Polloi World
In the winter of 2007, Sufjan Stevens dreamed up the Sufjan Stevens Xmas Song Xchange Contest. Over 600 people wrote holiday-themed songs and sent them to Sufjan in hopes of exchanging the rights for their song for the rights for a new, unreleased holiday song that Sufjan penned. I was the winner of the contest, with my song “Every Day is Christmas.” Sufjan’s announcement can be found here. You can hear my song here (just click on the box with the musical notes at the top of the page and it’ll bring you to the page with the song).
As promised, I received from Sufjan the exclusive rights to his own winter song of great beauty, called “The Lonely Man of Winter.” No one but Sufjan’s closest friends has heard this recording. Until now.
In an effort to counter the cheapening effects of internet all-availability, and to recapture an era when to get one’s hands on a particular album or song was a real experience, we at Hoi Polloi would like to share this song with Sufjan fans in a special way.
We would like to invite you to our Brooklyn home for an exclusive listening session of this gorgeous song, with hot beverages and cookies provided for your enjoyment. We’ll share some conversation, slip some headphones on you, and press play.
We’ll be holding the sessions every Wednesday through February 25th. There will be sessions at 4 pm, 6 pm and 8 pm, although some 8 pm sessions are currently fully booked. There is limited availability of four people per session. Please e-mail me back and let me know all the times and dates that work for you, and we’ll try to squeeze you in somewhere. Due to popular demand, we might also be adding Sunday afternoon sessions on February 15 and 22, so please let me know availability for those two dates as well, just in case.
The session will either be in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn or Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
After this month, listening sessions will be made by appointment. For those of you who are not able to make it to New York, both Dave and I travel quite a bit, and would be happy to take requests in the hope that we’ll be in your neighborhood at some point in the future and can share the song with you.
Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about finding a time to come over for a special listening session of this beautiful song.
So, obviously, I had to go, right? When I got there, I was very pleased to see how un-hipstery the whole set-up was. Dave and Alec were pulling fresh cookies out of the oven. I was offered tea and apples. The atmosphere was so earnest and pleasant, I wondered whether it was deliberate. Were they creating an event with the same tonal landscape they imagined Sufjan might, or were they actually so aligned with the Sufjan mindset that, without having heard the song, the atmosphere alone provided answers as to why Alec won the contest?
We chatted, other people came. We each revealed how we came to discover and love Sufjan and then, Alec passed around the package Sufjan sent to congratulate him. I read through it all and when I looked up I said, “He’s depressed. I’m worried.” I didn’t mean to be funny, and while it was vaguely amusing, I actually meant it. There was something very sad about the notes he wrote, as though he had given up somehow, or perhaps just given in. Maybe I was projecting but I was swallowed by a second hand depression. Then Alec put headphones on us all and we listened to the song. On the first listen I was hit only by its profound sadness. I wanted to listen to it again, and Alec let us. Sufjan has a knack for writing songs that make me ache and not always want to recover from the feeling and this song was no different. But for some reason, it was brutally sad to me. Underneath everything he was singing about something else and I had to wonder if there was a deeper reason he wasn’t releasing the song. Whatever the case, I wish I owned it. But, if I did, I’d probably never get out of bed.
All this said, we listened to Alec’s winning song and I must say, it totally kicked ass. I loved it. Sufjan and Alec are both lucky.
I do want to say that I think what Alec is doing is completely brilliant. I love the idea and think that there should be more listening parties and that music and literature and art should be passed around in this way more often, in more cities. I understand that people are upset that the song is only available in NYC, but the MET is only available in NY and so is MOMA and no one is bashing them. If you want to hear the song, it will always be with Alec. When you come to NY, send him an email. He’s not withholding it from anyone. He’s actually sharing it with everyone, free of charge. He should be congratulated and commended. So, all you naysayers, consider your hostility misdirected
Emails to me from some listeners:
I was just describing this unorthodox escapade to a friend; it’s been fun to relay. (I’m also in the middle of The New York Trilogy, so the concept of snooping about town and the ‘sneak peek’ is quite alive in my mind).
The Sufjan listening brings a handful of different appealing ideas together for tea: the parlor event, the mystery gathering, the treasure hunt. But what interests me is what’s backing the whole effort: a wee dollop of music that has not been allowed to reach mass circulation. It remains well-protected, in the custody of two keepers, and by extension, is transformed back into this magical commodity. Like many people, my music collection is ever-growing at a THE BLOB-like pace, and it’s lovely to approach a piece of music like something impossibly valuable, truly precious thing.
It’s amazing how music can be both terribly important to you, and yet acquired so wrecklessly. Following the listening, I immediately felt like my listening gauges were reset; the valves emptied.
A happy listener,
ps– a bonus (!) discovery from the listening series: I just took a gander at your website (I’m familiar with your reading series), and was delighted to see this Gareth McConnell picture. He and I are friends now, but I was the young fellow working with him that afternoon. It was our first job together.
I have a really lovely time. The cookies and the tea were super tasty and dave and alec were so much fun that emily and I stayed for a couple hours. I would recommend this to a lot of people. I really like the idea of creating a rare item in a world where everything is so accesible.
NAOMI’S LISTENING GROUP:
DAVE MALLOY has a blog for it here
MIMI wrote about it here
ANNIE SCOTT WRITE ABOUT IT HERE.