Exclusive: Listening to Sufjan's "The Lonely Man of Winter" in Crown Heights
The writer, Alec Duffy, and Dave Malloy.
"You're the first person to show up" said Alec Duffy, as he took my coat. My listening session was in Crown Heights, just off the Franklin 1/2/3 stop. I slipped on the snow twice, went the wrong direction, and landed at his friend Dave Malloy's doorstep 20 minutes past 8. I was the only person to show up, it turned out. I brought some cookies, the store-bought kind you break apart before you bake them. They put them on a plate for me, then Dave offered me some of their own, homemade chocolate cookies that looked like wet marble rye, but they still tasted fine. Dave made me a mug of loose leaf Jasmine tea, which I sipped while we talked in the living room and waited for the other RSVPs that never came.
There was a reason why I was at a stranger's house for a private listening session. I used to listen and process a lot of music quickly. I wrote 89 of the 200 or so posts for Pitchfork's Forkcast section in the 20 publishing days of February 2007. I cleared the tracks for permission and begged for exclusive video premiers from terrible publicists. Sometimes I hear songs now and wonder why I didn't know about them before. Then I Google the song and see that I wrote 200 words about it two years earlier. Ever since I quit I've been thinking about how to enjoy listening to music again; about how getting an album in the mail isn't as good as finding it. And then I found a listing for a small, four-people-at-a-time listening event in Brooklyn:
In 2007, I was fortunate to win the Sufjan Stevens Xmas Song Exchange Contest with my song "Every Day is Christmas." As a reward, I received from Sufjan the exclusive rights to his winter song "The Lonely Man of Winter." No one but Sufjan's closest friends has heard this recording. In an effort to counter the cheapening effects of internet all- availability, and to recapture an era when to get one's hands on a particular album or song was a real experience, we at my theater company, Hoi Polloi, would like to share this song with Sufjan fans in a special way. We would like to invite you to our Brooklyn home for an exclusive listening session of this gorgeous song, with hot beverages and cookies provided for your enjoyment. We'll share some conversation, slip some headphones on you, and press play. Please email for more information about finding a time to come over for a special listening session.
The posters on the Sufjan Stevens fan site All Good Naysayers have called Duffy a douchebag for "hoarding" his prize. He's not. Duffy had a small display of Stevens-related material over Malloy's coffee table: a kind, self-deprecating typed note from Sufjan Stevens praising his song and offering up his own, an Asthmatic Kitty postcard next to another, handwritten one (appended to read "Christmas sucks [just kidding!]"), and a postcard with Stevens in a Santa hat. Stevens had drawn over his own face. Duffy told me about winning the contest and the first time he had listened to the song. "I thought it would be some throwaway," he said. "But it was so good. I think it's on par with his best songs."
"Would you like to hear the song?" Malloy asked after a pause in the conversation. He handed me a pair of headphones, showed me how to adjust the volume, then left the room with Duffy. The song itself? It's gorgeous. "The Lonely Man Of Winter" has one of those slow, "Chicago"-like broken chords leading the way. Stevens' voice cracks just a little bit on some of the words. Like many of his Christmas tracks, it dwells on the self-reflection that comes with the holiday. The sleigh bells are the most joyful thing about it. I thought about asking to hear it again, but it seemed rude. Once I called them back in they had me sign a guestbook, a spare notebook of music paper from Malloy (typical comment: "Thank you!"), and took a photo with me. They also packed some leftover cookies for me to take home.--Jessica Suarez
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.