A Good Man is Hard to Find – Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans

In an odd coincidental sequence of events, (i realize that’s a bit of an oxymoron), I read a story by Flannery O’Connor called A Good Man is Hard to Find, and then heard a Sufjan Stevens song with the same title. I’m not quite sure if the song is based on the story, but i’m pretty sure it is. O’Connor’s stories have a gruesomely realistic tone to them, where the worst that could happen happens, in the worst way it could have happened. Her language is dark, her themes are dark, her characters are self-righteously despicable. And yet, her stories are somehow appealing, gripping in an incomprehensible way. A Good Man is Hard to Find is a quintessential prototype of the blandly horrific stories O’Connor writes, a feeling-less story about a serial killer and his victims. When i read the story, it left me with a hollow feeling inside, neither pity nor sorrow. Just hollowness, emptiness. Revulsion of sorts, I suppose one could call it. But it seems that that is not what Stevens found in the story.
Stevens’ song gives an impression of delicacy, a mellow retrospective fraught with pleasant nostalgia. He starts off with his usual harmonious guitar chords with a sweet rhythm. His breathy voice joins in, with not even a hint of murder or hatred or rancor. But on a closer listen, the phrase “when I killed them” rolls into the air, an insidious reminder of the repulsive, self-righteous amorality in the society O’Connor writes about.
This has been a sort of multi-dimensional experience of a story that made an impact on me through its complete lack of impact and its inability to produce emotion in me, turning into a song that moves me, a song about hell and remorse.
The experience is odd for me because I’ve heard the song many times before and never paid much mind to it. But now that I’ve read the story, the song has a new meaning, creates new images in my mind.
In the end, I suppose a good man is hard to find, but a good song – not so hard.

If you’re interested, read the story and then hear the song.

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