Today is Sufjan Stevens’ birthday. You wouldn’t know it to look at the foxy motherfucker, But Stevens is now 47 years old. Naturally, then Stevens is celebrating his big day by releasing a couple of alternate versions of what might be his most devastatingly, gut-rippingly sad song. What a treat!
Stevens included “Fourth Of July” on his lovely and harrowing 2015 album Carrie & Lowell. He constructed the song as a conversation between himself and his mother while she was dying of cancer in the hospital. Stevens ends the song by repeating the phrase “we’re all gonna die” over and over, making a dark sentiment into something almost comforting. The Asthmatic Kitty website describes Stevens’ reasons for releasing these new versions of the song today:
The song has recently had a resurgence with listeners — which may speak to a deep national grief and sense of loss. As we head into this Fourth of July weekend — a U.S. holiday marked by war (and death) — let us reflect on what it means to live in fullness in the face of death.
While Stevens was working on Carrie & Lowell, he recorded different versions of “Fourth Of July” in different studios, and they present subtly different visions of the track. Stevens recorded one version of “Fourth Of July” at Justin Vernon’s Alpha Base studio in Wisconsin, and it has ghostly backing vocals that don’t appear on the album take. Another version, which Stevens taped at his old studio in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn, is just his voice over a tenderly picked acoustic guitar and a few spare piano notes. Listen to both versions below.