Today we follow Paul Simon’s glorious, cinematic narration of traversing America by Greyhound bus, and jump on board another journey full of youthful hope and idealism. Sufjan Stevens’s song is semi-autobiophical and comes from the 2005 concept album (Come on Feel The) Illinois, (or Illinoise). It was second in his planned project of writing an album about every US state.
The album is packed with landmarks and historical references, but Chicago is perhaps his most personal. Rich, orchestral and expansive, the music has many influences used by this classically train oboist, including Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, Grieg, Philip Glass and Steve Reich, as well as Nick Drake, Death Cab For Cutie and the saxophone part from The Cure’s Close To Me. A variety of musicians are involved in all the parts, but Stevens himself does vocals, wurlitzer, bass guitar, vibraphone, piano, sleigh bells, tambourine, shaker, and all the arrangement and production.
The song itself is inspired by the poem Chicago by Carl Sandburg, but in this swirling complexity, there is a powerful simplicity, of a yearning for adventure, an optimism where “all things go”. Stevens has recorded three further versions of this work too, included on The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras from the Illinois Album.
I fell in love again
All things go, all things go
Drove to Chicago
All things know, all things know
We sold our clothes to the state
I don't mind, I don't mind
I made a lot of mistakes
In my mind, in my mind …
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