By David Werther.
Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty Records, 2015)
“Mother, you had me, but I never had you. I wanted you; you didn't want me." So begins John Lennon's first studio solo record, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Lennon had been raised by his aunt and was coming to terms with feelings of parental abandonment. John ends the album’s first song, “Mother,” crying out, "Momma, don't go; daddy, come home."
If loud cries are one way to be heard, soft singing is another and at least equally effective way. On Carrie & Lowell, Stevens takes the hushed approach. His songs are excruciatingly poignant and painful, delicate and devastating. The Carrie in question is Stevens' recently deceased mother, who, like Lennon's mother, left him to the care of others. On "Should Have Known Better," Sufjan remembers himself as a child being abandoned by his mother in a video store. In "The Only Thing" he confesses thoughts of suicide and wonders if his mother ever loved him. Even so, on "Death with Dignity" he tells his mother that he forgives her and longs to be near her.
Once in Sunday school, I asked a boy if his parents would forgive him if he admitted wrongdoing and said he was sorry. He said, "Yes, but there would be consequences." There is forgiveness in Carrie & Lowell, but mostly it is about consequences.