Sufjan and the City

Pairing image and sound is truly an art form on Youtube. The greats include John Edwards' obsessive hair combing with "I'm So Pretty" or that tearjerker Christian the Lion with a famous Whitney Houston ballad. In rare instances, however, music has not been used for irony, humor, or literal sadness. The following is an account of a perfectly complementary, under-appreciated example.

In 1965, the city of Detroit commissioned a public, promotional film to address the problem of "white flight", where the middle-class fled for the suburbs and gently left the city's core in a state of degradation. The then mayor faithfully narrates a very scripted look at Detroit as a welcoming place for prominent citizens. Detroit: City on the Move takes cue from Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), only with more focus on luxury restaurants, culture, and recreation than accurate portrayal of daily life.

Sufjan has the great ability to assume character, as he attempts to do on his album dedicated to Michigan. In the case of Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid), he delivers a convincing first-person account of an auto worker caught in despair, the tentative nature of blue-collar workers in the auto industry.

Watching Detroit: City on the Move inspires a stark mental contrast: nostalgic images of prosperity and leisure coupled with an understanding of the current state of blight and uncertainty. Sufjan's track Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!) bridges that connection with a message of understanding and an undertone of hopefulness. We can only hope for that same concern, especially from lawmakers considering the bailout of the Big Three...

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