Lately, I have found the work of singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens to be a particularly powerful part of my life. I haven’t had all of the same experiences as him, but I’ve had enough of them that I feel like I’m looking at a mirror at times.
Earlier in my life, particularly in college, I struggled with questions of faith, though I ultimately went a different direction than Stevens. I moved away—yes, from Michigan—and forged my own path. (“Say Yes! to M!ch!gan!” gets me in the feels every time.) And I’ve experienced my share of loss.
In recent years in particular, his 2015 album Carrie & Lowell has become a comfort in tough times. While he famously failed to compete the project that made him famous, with others picking up the task more than a decade later, he ultimately did so for the right reasons creatively, making room for far more diverse and personal body of work.
His latest, Javelin, carries a heavy tone akin to his work on that 2015 folk watermark, while integrating some of the electronic stylings seen in 2010’s The Age Of Adz and 2020’s The Ascension.
There was a question that lingered in some of the songs as they were being dripped out. “So You Are Tired” and “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” seemed to suggest the dissolution of a relationship, a deeper loss, but they were just vague enough that it almost felt wrong to pry much further. The crafty, scissor-cut art, created by Stevens, also implied something vague, but deeply personal.
But on the day of the album’s release, Stevens—who has been recovering from paralysis caused by the debilitating autoimmune condition Guillain–Barré syndrome in recent weeks—announced that the album was dedicated to his late partner, Evans Richardson, a museum curator who died earlier this year.
What he wrote, in full:
This album is dedicated to the light of my life, my beloved partner and best friend Evans Richardson, who passed away in April. He was an absolute gem of a person, full of life, love, laughter, curiosity, integrity, and joy. He was one of those rare and beautiful ones you find only once in a lifetime—precious, impeccable, and absolutely exceptional in every way.
I know relationships can be very difficult sometimes, but it’s always worth it to put in the hard work and care for the ones you love, especially the beautiful ones, who are few and far between. If you happen to find that kind of love, hold it close, hold it tight, savor it, tend to it, and give it everything you’ve got, especially in times of trouble. Be kind, be strong, be patient, be forgiving, be vigorous, be wise, and be yourself. Live every day as if it is your last, with fullness and grace, with reverence and love, with gratitude and joy. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it
This was the first time Stevens publicly acknowledged a relationship of any kind, despite a large parasocial fandom that heavily speculated about this very kind of thing for two decades, giving his work an air of mystery. In a single message, he publicly came out, revealed a crippling loss, and shaped the way people would view his new album. That’s a lot to drop all in one Tumblr post—but Sufjan seems to be taking an open-book approach these days amid the recovery from the disease that paralyzed him and put him in intensive physical therapy.
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In this newly exposed light, the album no longer feels vague. Instead, it paints a challenging relationship filled with love, but forever broken by the loss of a partner. (Richardson’s cause of death has not been publicly stated. I choose not to speculate.)
In particular, “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” comes off less as a universal message, as it did upon its initial release, and more as the words of a man grieving, but still hopeful for a turned corner.
Stevens, as an artist, deserves to have a choice about how much of his personal life he shares with the people who experience his art. And we should not take for granted that any artist will just share this kind of information. We are not privy to it, nor should we expect to be.
But as someone who is experiencing that art, I find myself stunned by how much this announcement changes the shape of his creation. It introduces a level of directness to it that was difficult to access previously.
Art can live outside the context of the artist, even when, on the surface, the art seems personal. But sometimes, having that combination can be a really powerful thing. Stevens did not need to tell us about this. That he chose to was ultimately his choice, nobody else’s. We should respect that he was willing to share this deeply personal loss, on his terms, in a public medium.
But it makes a great album all the more powerful to see it coming from such a real, honest place.
This commentary on Twitter, which I refuse to call X, doesn’t really need to be said. However, my pal Philip Bump says it well.
Also something that shouldn’t need to be said: Protecting libraries in the digital age is really important, but we’re failing to do it. The Internet Archive’s Brewster Kahle should be focused on making the internet stronger, not re-litigating copyright law.
Pitchfork has one final thing that shouldn’t need to be said, but Jann Wenner is forcing it to be said: Joni Mitchell is a badass for the ages.