I went to see Sufjan Stevens perform at the Paramount on Saturday night, and it was a pretty incredible experience. I saw him the last time he played in Seattle in 2006 and it was totally magical: he had a giant band with him onstage complete with a full string section, and everyone was wearing wings and it was very mellow. This time, however, it was more of wholly sensory experience, with lots of visual effects and choreographed dancing. Very different from what I expected, but still amazing.
Between songs, Sufjan explained the inspiration for his new album and why it’s so sonically different from anything else he’s done before, and pointed out the threads of heartbreak and madness and the apocalypse that run through Age of Adz. And he made a joke about it (he’s surprisingly funny), saying that he felt there was no healthier way to view love sickness than through the standardization and mythology of end times.
I know it was a joke, but I think there’s something profound in that statement. I’ve been thinking for the past couple days about relationships and the emotions that so often accompany their end, how easy it is for one to view the dissolution of a relationship as the end of the world. It makes sense: when you’re with someone, you’re creating a life that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. You do things differently and view things differently, want different things, expect different things, pursue different things when you’re with someone as opposed to being alone. And the beginning of a relationship is like the beginning of life, like birth, in that you start with nothing and then grow and learn as a person, with another person. It’s the creation of an entire world that you inhabit as if there were nothing else. So when it ends, it really is like the end of the world because it’s the end of your world, the world that you’ve made and invested in and loved.
And if that’s true, then ending a relationship and moving forward with your life is like a rebirth. It’s a chance to start fresh, forge something new, wipe your slate clean. But if you’re on the powerless end of a break-up, if you’re the one being broken up with, a clean slate is not appealing. It doesn’t feel like the positive rebirth that it should be; it feels more like purgatory, or a holding cell. It feels like a prolonged apocalypse. There is so much fear in facing the unfamiliar because the life you’ve known is ending and you’re forced to reinvent yourself as a single person, alone. But as Belle & Sebastian sing, “Forward’s the only way to go.” In the midst of the crumbling edifice that you’ve constructed to be your life, you can only keep living and keep trying to be alive.
So begins my apocalypse.