There’s a song, the last song, on the new Sufjan Stevens EP, All Delighted People, called “Djohariah.” It’s seventeen minutes long and doesn’t have any words for the first ten or so. It’s amazing.
Over the past week I’ve listened to this song non-stop. The last time I became so engrossed with a single song was with the famous “take 20” leak of 2009. I’m seriously sick in the head about this tune; addicted. I’ve started measuring time in “Djohariahs;” how many Djohariahs can I get in at the gym in the morning?, before that next meeting?, while I wash up after dinner? Sharaun tells me we have to leave the house in fifteen minutes so we’re not late for church and my brain goes, “Oh, that’s almost one whole Djohariah,” as I fumble to hit play.
Those who know me would undoubtedly say hyperbole is no stranger to me, but I do find this track some kind of “transcendental.” I have listened to nothing but this song, over and over and over and over, for days. My last.fm profile says I’ve listened to it 113 times since the EP leaked on Sunday. That’s 113 x 17 minutes, or 32 hours of Djohariah; averaging over half of each of my working days this past week. This is an amazing statistic for me: one hour each morning at the gym, a couple hours combined each day at work, and evenings at home. Sharaun has been more than accommodating of this fanaticism, and I think even likes the tune a bit – although won’t likely get as much mileage from it as I can.
It’s not just the music here that’s amazing. Not just the eleven minute opening guitar-work, reminiscent of a set-closing “Cortez the Killer” and having all the magic spontaneity and wonder of a one-take masterpiece ala Emerson’s “Lucky Man” closer. Not just the swelling chorus of human voices used where others might simply use a synthesizer to fill the space. Not just the attention-grabbing changes in tempo and mood. No way y’all, this track says something. The more I listened the more I wanted to know what the heck the track was about. I Googled “Djohariah,” and found a link to some hippy-spiritualist lady… which, being that we’re talking about Sufjan here, sounded plausible. But a couple links later I learned that Djohariah is, in fact, the name of Sufjan’s sister.
Oh man it’s a song about his sister. That made it all the better. Would that I be able to write something as awesome about those that I love. Then I listened.
Djohariah got caught up with the wrong kind of guy and he did her wrong; left her and the child God gave them; split. Sufjan is writing to encourage her, his little sister, now a single mother. Her man has left her, squandered their money, neglected their house and yard, and she’s ashamed at how the neighbors see her. Sufjan asks her not to cry, reminds her what a blessing it is to be a mother, and implores her, “Go on! Little sister! Go on! Little sister! For your world is yours, world is yours! All the wilderness of world is yours!” I don’t know if it’s really biographical or just germane fiction, but it’s emotive and powerful and personal and it has all the markings of a heartfelt composition in both sound and words. I love this song, Ms. Stevens you must be one amazing woman to have engendered such an organic outpouring.
You can listen to Djohariah right here, and buy it for a buck while you’re there. Enjoy.