A modest proposal for Sufjan Stevens regarding the completion of his 50 States Project

Dear Sufjan,

The other day my friend Erin Hennessy saw you on the F train in NYC, but she couldn’t get up the nerve to say anything to you.  That got me thinking of what I would say to you if I ran into you (even though I never would, as I live on the other side of the country).  The first thing that came to mind was to talk to you about your 50 states project, which you began so beautifully with Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State and Illinois/The Avalanche.

Now back in the day (the early two thousands or so), I took your proclamation to make an album (or EP, maybe?) for each one of the 50 states seriously, even though some of my more cynical friends would mock me saying it was impossible for you to do in your lifetime (they would start with some calculations, ask your age, etc. PS We share the same birthday!).  The reason I believed you was because I saw this limitless sort of creative genius in you, and even beyond that, it was as if you were the Emersonian “Poet” for this generation of Americans–seeing and showing us the beauty and agony and the divine in the everyday, transforming the mundane into the sublime, telling us stories full of wonder and longing and brilliant details from towns like Ypsilanti and Holland and Romulus.

You made me suddenly attentive to the people and places of America: you imbued them with a magical luster simply by naming them in the midst of your deeply moving, melancholic, and rich melodies and arrangements, or by inserting them amongst such evocative mystical lines of verse:

When the revenant came down
We couldn’t imagine what it was
In the spirit of three stars
The alien thing that took its form
Then to Lebanon, oh God!
The flashing at night, the sirens grow and grow
(Oh, history involved itself)
Mysterious shade that took its form
(Or what it was!), incarnation, three stars
Delivering signs and dusting from their eyes

-“Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois”

All that to say that I really, really wish the 50 states project would continue–I think it could become one of the national treasures of our country for centuries to come, a Leaves of Grass for the 21st century that American kids would listen to to understand where they’ve come from and what kind of people we are.  I heard at one point that you said the 50 states project was “such a joke,” but I would challenge you in earnest, if only for the sake of those future little kids, to reconsider abandoning this momentous endeavor.

Realizing that it might very well be impossible for you to write and record all of the albums yourself, what if you instead became the director of the project–you have set the standard quite high with your first two albums–and with the profound respect you have from your artistic peers, I honestly believe you could rally together the best artists from each state to collaborate with to make this happen, creating a kind of ark of American culture.

Here are some suggestions to begin with (I admit some may be wishful thinking) & I call on any reader to add to/better the selection of songwriters for any state (I have put brackets around bands with whom I have only a cursory familiarity & some states I have absolutely no idea about):

  • Alabama = The Snake the Cross the Crown
  • Alaska = Portugal The Man
  • Arizona = Calexico
  • Arkansas = ???
  • California = Elijah Wade Smith, Beck, Stephen Malkmus
  • Colorado = DeVotchKa, The Apples in Stereo
  • Connecticut = Rivers Cuomo?
  • Delaware = The Spinto Band
  • Florida = Iron & Wine, Aaron Marsh
  • Georgia = Deerhunter, Of Montreal, Bill Mallonee
  • Hawaii = Mason Jennings
  • Idaho = Built to Spill, Finn Riggins
  • Illinois = Sufjan Stevens
  • Indiana = Mock Orange
  • Iowa = Caleb Engstrom
  • Kansas = Drakkar Sauna, Mates of State, The New Amsterdams, The Appleseed Cast
  • Kentucky = Bonnie “Prince” Billy, My Morning Jacket
  • Louisiana = Jeff Mangum, Mutemath
  • Maine = [Phantom Buffalo]
  • Maryland = John Vanderslice, Wye Oak
  • Massachusetts = Lou Barlow, Winterpills
  • Michigan = Sufjan Stevens
  • Minnesota = Low, Cloud Cult, Lucky Wilbur
  • Mississippi = ???
  • Missouri = [Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin]
  • Montana = Colin Meloy
  • Nebraska = Cursive, Bright Eyes
  • Nevada = The Killers?
  • New Hampshire = [Wild Light]
  • New Jersey = Sufjan Stevens (?), Danielson, Yo La Tango
  • New Mexico = The Shins, Beirut
  • New York = The Magnetic Fields, Sonic Youth, Interpol, The Walkmen
  • North Carolina = The Mountain Goats
  • North Dakota = [The White Foliage]
  • Ohio = Robert Pollard, Over the Rhine, The National, Mark Kozelek
  • Oklahoma = The Flaming Lips, Kings of Leon
  • Oregon = Laura Veirs, M. Ward, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, The Decemberists
  • Pennsylvania = The Innocence Mission, Denison Witmer, Matt Pond PA
  • Rhode Island = The Low Anthem, Death Vessel
  • South Carolina = Band of Horses
  • South Dakota = Haley Bonar
  • Tennessee = Derek Webb
  • Texas = Josh T. Pearson, Ramesh Srivastava (formerly of Voxtrot), The Polyphonic Spree, Okkervil River, Devendra Banhart
  • Utah = [Joshua James]
  • Vermont = Anais Mitchell
  • Virginia = Thao Nguyen, Hush Arbors
  • Washington = David Bazan, Damien Jurado, Jeremy Enigk, Fleet Foxes
  • West Virginia = ???
  • Wisconsin = Bon Iver, Marla Hansen
  • Wyoming = ???

With the deepest respect & admiration,

Greg Stump

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5 responses to “A modest proposal for Sufjan Stevens regarding the completion of his 50 States Project”

  1. Elijah says :

    I’m honoured to be on that list.

  2. Paolo says :

    Fantastic idea, absolutely fantastic. Two names that should in my opinion be considered as well:
    Devendra Banhart (Texas)
    The Decemberists (Oregon)
    One may or may not like them but they are too important, young artists (/bands) not to be considered for inclusion!

  3. Margare says :

    I have two piano students who are playing “Death Waltz” in a recital tomorrow in New Jersey. They learned it by ear on Youtube. I needed to know about the composer and I found your information very interesting. These two students are also performing in a Middle School Talent Show playing the same piece. It is very exciting to watch them perform this masterful piece!

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