Michigan can easily get swallowed up in the crippling problems of its eastern half. Weirdly, thats the sexier news story: once robust, now fallen industrial cities. But Michigan is a big state that contains a great diversity of people, landscapes, and experiences. Luckily, Sufjan Stevens understood that 10 years ago when he ambitiously set out to write and record an album for every state in the country, beginning with his home state. Michigan was in good hands. Track to track, Stevens zips around serving not only as a tour guide, but also as an advocate. He translates multi-instrumental folk pop into a survey of the Great Lakes State, a campaign for why we all should say Yes to Michigan.
Here are five reasons Greetings from Michigan made us feel for the Great Lakes State.
1. Theres more to Michigan than urban decay
The last time Michigan made the evening news, it was because the state decided to seize control of Detroit, a controversial last-ditch effort to save what was once the countrys fifth largest city. Thats not exactly board of tourism-approved press. One of the ways Stevens best paid tribute to Michigan was through his emphasis on the states scenic side. Greetings features odes to places like Tahquamenon Falls and Alanson’s Crooked River, as well as the beautiful Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Upper Peninsula. Where words fall short, delicate, layered arrangements of chimes and organs carry us the rest of the way.
2. Greetings is honest about the states problems
Struggle is an undeniable part of Michigans modern narrative. Stevens found a way to address the states problems with songs like Detroit, Lift Your Weary Head and All Good Naysayers, Speak Up! (Or Forever Hold Your Peace) that reference bleak circumstances, but also contain the will not to be beaten by them.
3. It tells stories about people
No portrait of a place would be complete without the people who inhabit it. For Stevens, that meant humanizing cities like Flint and Romulus by writing about folks dealing with joblessness or even the family strife many experience regardless of location. The most heartbreaking look we get comes from Romulus, a song about kids with an absentee mother and a well-meaning grandfather who buys them a VCR.
4. Greetings is a call to action
In its quieter moments, like Oh God, Where Are You Now? (In Pickeral Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?)”, Greetings from Michigan sounds like a prayer to preserve whats precious and a plea for better days. At other times, its more of a rally. Stevens sprinkles in earnest thoughts of what if, envisioning those in power finally pulling it together in songs like They Also Mourn Who Do Not Wear Black (For the Homeless in Muskegon). But the most assuring line he offers is the conclusion of Say Yes! To M!ch!gan!, where he sings of wanting to go back to the place where he was raised. You cant change the Made in Michigan.
5. It requires patience
Greetings From Michigan clocks in at around 66 minutes. Its a great album, but you also have to want to see it through to the end. That patience could be well applied to the Great Lakes State. Answers might be far off. Widespread improvement might be even further. But in the end, Stevens wants us to stick with Michigan.