"Jacksonville" as written by and Sufjan Stevens....
I'm not afraid of the black man running
He's got it right he's got a better life coming
I don't care what the captain said
I fold it right at the top of my head
I lost my sight and the state packs in
I follow my heart and it leads me right to Jackson

Oh Keller oh oh oh
She gave us a medal she gave us a map
Oh Canner Row, oh oh oh
If seeing is right, then look where you're at

I'm not afraid of Nichol's Park
I ride the train and I ride it after dark
I'm not afraid to get it right
I turn around and I give it one more try
I said things that I meant to say
The bandstand chairs and the Dewey Day parade
I go out to the golden age
The spirit is right and the spirit doesn't change

Oh Keller oh oh oh
She gave us mirror she gave us a map
Oh Canner Row, oh oh oh
If seeing is right then look where you're at

Andrew Jackson, all I'm asking
Show us the wheel and give us the wine
Woohoo! Woohoo!
Raise the banner, Jackson hammer
Everyone goes to the capitol line
Woohoo! woohoo!
Colored preacher, nice to meet you!
The spirit is here and the spirit is fine!
Woohoo! Woohoo!
Education, ask the nation
You gave us our sight and the hearing is fine
Woohoo! woohoo!
Andrew Jackson all I'm asking
Give us the wheel and give us the wine

Lyrics submitted by infranippies

"Jacksonville" as written by Sufjan Stevens


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Jacksonville song meanings
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  • +9
    General CommentSo I heard this and after the first line with the black man running, I was thinking it had to be about Barack Obama the black senator from Illinois who will probably (hopefully) be running for president one day. Then I heard the rest of the song and that didn't make any sense. Just thought I'd throw that out there.
    wonderfulpeopleon February 08, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General CommentOk, I'm going to try to make this as comprehensive as possible, so it'll be a little repetitive.

    In this song specifically, I think the lyrics are meant to be a little ambiguous for the purpose of wordplay.

    This first four lines obviously reference the Underground Railroad, supported by some staunch abolitionists in the town i.e. the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who would also serve as the first president of the Illinois College. At the same time, though, the third and fourth lines seem to reference another story - that of Andrew Jackson Smith, a runaway slave and medal of honor recipient from the American Civil War. He carried his regiments colors through heavy fire after their color-man was killed (i.e. despite what the captain said).

    Another interesting wordplay in heart in the sixth line. Jacksonville is revered for its rich history for progress, the site of the state's first medical school, and geographically in the center of the state.

    The Keller reference most likely references Helen Keller, connecting her to the deaf and blind school in Jacksonville. She was awarded the presidential medal of freedom, and asserted in her acceptance speech that the blind and deaf are not freaks but like any other (maybe a roadmap).

    I simply have no idea on the Canner Row line. Steinbeck documents the lives of those on Cannery Row in Monterrey in both "Cannery Row" and "Sweet Thursday." The canneries all failed with the collapse of the area's fishing industry in the 50's. Perhaps there is a parallel to the depletion of agricultural resources.

    I think "giving it one more try," could possibly refer to the large corrections facility in Jacksonville, despite a small population.

    I'm not sure about the Dewey line, but the phrase Golden Age has roots in Greek mythology as an ideal state of utopia.

    The second line about Keller is different, saying mirror instead of medal. In her life, Helen Keller wrote two autobiographies, the first called "The World in Which I Live," and second called "Light in my Darkness," a stretch, but possibly a mirror and a map.

    The wheel probably does refer to the cheese, but I think it is once again a pun. Jacksonville is also home to the Eli Bridge Company, a maker of ferris wheels.

    For Jackson Hammer, I know that Stonewall Jackson was called the hammer of the confederate army. Furthermore, there was an Illinois court case in 1995 entitled Jackson v. Hammer, ruling on non-compete clauses, recovery of attorney fees, and the differences in standards for large and small businesses. Not sure if any of that matters though.

    Capital line could relate to Jacksonville's shortly lived shot at the state's capital, or its place as residence to what was formerly capitol records.

    The story about the colored preacher is funny: The slave of Thomas Clark was lost in the prairie grass on the way to Diamond grove, until he saw the surveyors laying out what would soon be Jacksonville. He said he was lost and asked how to get to Diamond Grove. They directed him and asked his name. He replied "A. W. Jackson." They replied that they were laying out a town and because he was the first of his race in the area, they would name the town after him. The similarity in names of the boy and the soon to be president probably was the reason for the surveyor's private little joke. Regardless, he was the first black alderman of the town.

    For education, Jacksonville is called the "Athens of the West," because it retains such a focus on education with so few people, both now and in history.

    These are my best guesses.
    manly519on January 25, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentGreat tune, we need more Sufjan.
    Marauderon August 01, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI am absolutely disgusted by some of these posts by users who are under the assumption that Sufjan Stevens is not a poet. I just almost couldn't believe it when I saw them. I wondered "How exactly could you come to this conclusion?" Whatever the premise is, I am simple flabbergasted.

    Sufjan is a poet. Rhyme scheme, consistent use of metaphors and symbolism, and adherence to meter aren't necessary in poetry. You would be surprised at how open-ended poetry really is if you were to delve into it further. What is even more ironic is that I can easily pull an example from many songs of his use pertaining to the mechanics of poetry. Take this example from "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!":

    Oh, admiration
    in falling asleep.
    All of my powers,
    day after day
    I can tell you,
    we swaggered and swayed.
    Deep in the tower,
    the prairies below,
    I can tell you,
    the telling gets old.
    Terrible sting
    and terrible storm,
    I can tell you
    the day we were born.
    My friend is gone.
    He ran away.
    I can tell you,
    I love him each day.
    Though we have sparred,
    wrestled and raged
    I can tell you,
    I love him each day.

    Although the rhyme scheme isn't mapped out, it is obviously there. I plotted the scheme out as such: ABCDEF-CG-EF-HI-EI-JD-EFFFE-D. And there is an attempt of restraint and construction on a syntactic level. I think that this next mechanism is far more telling. Notice his use of syllables in a cohesive format: 5-5-5-4-4/5-5-5-4/5-4/5-4/5-4/5-4/4-4/5-4/4-4-5. Until the last three breaks, it is uni-linear. The last three breaks still show design though, and design in coherence with the preceding. I took my own liberty of separating the lines. The separation indicates his pauses in the song. If you were to double up the lines, you would get results on syntactic and synchronic level that would still indicate construction. I think a formally trained structuralist literary critic could easily show the poetic detail vastly more than I have skimmed this surface. Even though there is obviously construction, lets step into the hypothetical. Even if there the construction was missing, blank verse could always apply.

    I think I did this song injustice after taking a second look. Take the rhyme scheme of the first verse:

    I'm not afraid of the black man running.
    He's got it right. He's got a better life coming.
    I don't care what the captain said.
    I fold it right at the top of my head.
    I lost my sight and the state packs in.
    I follow my heart and it leads me right to Jackson.

    This is a too blatant example of his obvious use of rhyme scheme. It is a simple AA-BB-CC rhyme scheme. It is in simple tradition of rhyming couplets.

    This album is chock full of lines that have some transcendent aspect. It is too oft for the poet to use notions and allusions that are past human limitation.

    Sufjan does have a lot of blank verse poetry, but I think I've elaborated enough on how he is a poet (a brilliant one with a tender and marvelous voice at that). Further discredit towards Sufjan Stevens as a writer, poet, and artist would really just be unjust and, simply, sad.

    As for the album itself, it is poetic genius. I think that should be obvious through music critics' praise in reviews and ranking though. That isn't to say that something is good or of worth simply because everyone likes it, but this is precisely what these critics deal with, exacting the aesthetic value within an album. This is a long response. I know. I felt that is was of absolute necessity to run to Sufjan's defense though.
    BohemianPoeton November 11, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAwesome.
    uhhhon August 16, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentCan't believe no one commented on this song yet, one of the best of his phenomenal new album. Just the whole composition is beautiful, it all goes together so nice..
    obsessedon July 24, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love when he opens with those lines.."I'm not afraid of the black man running, He's got it right he's got a better life coming"....

    Fuck I love it.
    The_Variableon September 05, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentFYI: Jacksonville was a major stopping point on the underground railroad (mentioned in the first lines)

    It also contains the Illinois School for the Deaf and the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired which is hinted at throught the song

    the last verse is about the question of where Jacksonville gets it's name: A.W. Jackson (a black preacher) or Andrew Jackson? In truth it was named after Andrew Jackson
    rudiecantfail777on September 06, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI live in Quincy, IL, only about an hour from Jacksonville and have been there several times. I'm fairly sure I know where Nichol's park is, it's long and rectangular and not far of the interstate. It has a ferris wheel, which I believe does not work. I believe the "ride the train and ride it after dark" could reference the undergroudn railroad. As for Nichol's park, I don't know much more about it.

    Other than that, I love this song and this album. I am angry that Sufjan wrote a song about jacksonville and not about quincy, we are more than twice jacksonville's size and infinately more interesting and important. Alas
    omnijohnon January 09, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is about Jacksonville Illinois. It contains references to the Underground Railroad, Andrew Jackson, and possibly others that I'm not aware of.
    AsherMon January 30, 2006   Link

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