The Welcome Wagon Amateur Hour Ethno-Musicology 101: “Half a Person”
By Sufjan Stevens
Monday, January 26th, 2009

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I’m by no means an authority on the musicology of religious music, or any music for that matter. But I won’t wait around for an honorary degree from Union Theological Seminary to delve into a flighty dissection of the Welcome Wagon’s debut collection of cover songs and hymns, which, on closer inspection, begins to unravel an inspiring excursion through the landscape of the sacred and profane. I should know; I produced the album. And like many overly anxious producers, I’ve lately felt the motivation to impart my own brand of “rumors and ruminations” on some of the material I helped facilitate on this transcendental record. This sidebar post is meant as my own opinionated primer—a navigational brochure, per se—on the songs that appear on this new collection of “church music.” Happy journeys, godly listeners of the world!

Track 9: HALF A PERSON
words: Stephen Morrissey
music: Johnny Marr

If religious music irks you, then the most unlikely cover on the record—the Smith’s clever and beguiling “Half a Person”—will surely satisfy your craving for some perverse fun. What draws a preacher and his wife to cover this convoluted pop song of teenage rebellion? You’ll have to ask Vito, a longtime Smiths fan. Call it a whim. The original song is actually an epic/poetic feat disguised as a brooding ballad: with its breathtaking cinematic scope of a narrative; its unpredictable stampede of chord changes; its rambunctious poetry of teen angst; its circuitous wordplay.  The clumsy tragedy and treachery of a teenage runaway may seem like odd fodder for a religious album—but it fits snugly in the comprehensive theme of knowing God and knowing self—as a song of distress, of the search for identity, of palpable sensual proclivities, the pallid morbidity of addiction. For those of us all bent out of shape with nostalgia, sure, we might miss the ironic laziness of The Smiths’ original. To make matters worse, we’ve provided an overgrown electronic remix of the song (ala Poodle Puff Dada), which—to teenage hearts all across the globe—might come off as the greatest sacrilege of the century. Poor Morrissey! Loosen up, old friend! We love you to death!

“Half a Person,” by The Welcome Wagon:
“Half a Person”

Half a Person, by The Smiths
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Half a Person (Poodle Puff Dada remix):
“Half a Person (Remix)”

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