“Should Have Known Better” by Sufjan Stevens


Over the fifty years I’ve been listening to pop music, I can’t estimate the number of “abuse” songs that have made it to the charts, our collective pop memory. There’s Jackson Browne’s The Pretender, though we’re talking psychological trauma: the grieving associated with his wife who killed herself. Then there’s Suzanne Vega’s “Luka,” about a boy who claims, “They only hit until you cry….”

From Carrie and Lowell, Stevens’ reflection of his parents and their complicated and sad life together, “Should Have Known Better” paints a portrait of a little boy of “three maybe four” left by his mother at “that video store.” Left not for good, but for presumably long enough to lament his trust, to remember his hopeless love, and, subsequently, to encase his ever-after “frightened feelings” in a “black shroud.”

He says he’s “Captain” of these feelings, of what’s past, and maybe I can believe him. Except that now his feelings haunt mine.

O eternal summertime.

-Terry Barr

Photo Terry BarrTerry Barr‘s essays have appeared in The Bitter Southerner, Steel Toe Review, Hippocampus, The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society, and Red Truck Review. Formerly a columnist on music and memory for Culturemass.com, he teaches Southern Film and American Literature at Presbyterian College. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family.

Questions, compliments, (hopefully not) complaints?

Contact Jackie Clark: jackie [at] coldfrontmag [dot] com.

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