The Welcome Wagon Amateur Hour Ethno-Musicology 101: “I am a Stranger”
By Sufjan Stevens
Wednesday, January 28th, 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 11: I AM A STRANGER
words: Mercer’s Cluster of Spiritual Songs
music: Vito Aiuto
“I am a Stranger”

The clamoring climax to this liturgical record finds itself compounding a Sacred Harp hymn with the spectacle of Broadway Theater by superimposing the catchy 5/4 pop motif from Jesus Christ Superstar (“Everything’s Alright”) onto a timid dirge of spiritual alienation aptly titled “I Am A Stranger.” The choir is unhinged, the drums reverberate to the rafters, and guitar solos bellow above the rooftops. And you all know how much I love 5/4. The Welcome Wagon compresses the stress and anxieties of estrangement with the festive tromp of a parade. Fear and self-loathing go head to head with the glorious rapture of the heavens, the primeval of man sulking in his sin pitted against the romping refrain of the universe, conjuring a cosmic boxing match between good and evil. Finally, Vito gets his wish! Ringside seats at Madison Square Garden, the epic bout of infinite mysteries, God and Satan dressed in silk shorts and padded gloves, clenching mouth pieces, throwing punches! And, of course, the chance to channel hot Christian hippies playing Jesus and Gang on the big screen ! See, this album does have it all:
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3 Responses to “The Welcome Wagon Amateur Hour Ethno-Musicology 101: “I am a Stranger””

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  2. avoidfireflies Says:

    This song is fascinating! I am so impressed by the Welcome Wagon’s creative audacity: not only did they utilize material that many religious people consider controversial–even sacrilegious–but they also crafted it into something incredibly sacred and poignant.

  3. R. Wilcotts-Ayers Says:

    I’ve been thinking about this song in relation to contemporary Christian music. Though there are notable exceptions, the bulk of Christian music that is currently being produced detracts from the “sacredness” of spirituality. There are those who, in an effort to make Christianity relevant to contemporary culture, seek to marry the sacred to the secular. Even if their intentions are positive, the result is often laughable—and rarely reverent.

    What Welcome Wagon accomplishes here is precisely the opposite. Instead of bastardizing the sacred with the profane, they sanctify the secular, thereby releasing its latent potential.

    After hearing “I am a Stranger”—as well as the rest of their captivating debut album—I eagerly anticipate new material from the Welcome Wagon.

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