A day before our nation marked its independence from Great Britain for the 244th time, indie folk/rock artist Sufjan Stevens released “America,” the first single off his upcoming album, The Ascension.
While listening under the collective mental cloud of a global pandemic and national protests for racial and social justice, it’s impossible to overlook the song’s visceral message. But “America” wasn’t written in the present milieu. Sufjan penned the words to the song six years ago while making Carrie & Lowell. He said in a statement released by his label:
I was dumbfounded by the song when I first wrote it, because it felt vaguely mean-spirited and miles away from everything else on Carrie & Lowell. So, I shelved it.
But when I dug up the demo a few years later I was shocked by its prescience. I could no longer dismiss it as angry and glib. The song was clearly articulating something prophetic and true, even if I hadn’t been able to identify it at the time. That’s when I saw a clear path toward what I had to do next.
What Sufjan does next, in refining, re-recording, and releasing this single, is raise a lament over an America that has far too often fallen short of the ideals she claims to espouse. “America” is a funeral dirge and a call-to-action.
This article was first published in Equality Includes You on Medium. Click here to read in full.