December is usually a time for Sufjan Stevens’ wonderful Christmas songs. This year, because everything is fucking nutty, the songwriter’s December playlist includes not only his two contributions to Call Me By Your Name, but also a song called “Tonya Harding” — which is about Tonya Harding but not related to acclaimed biopic I, Tonya.
Apparently the film’s producers “couldn’t find a way to use it,” but that didn’t stop Stevens from sticking the landing.
“I’ve been trying to write a Tonya Harding song since I first saw her skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1991,” Stevens writes in an essay posted online. “She’s a complicated subject for a song partly because the hard facts of her life are so strange, disputable, heroic, unprecedented, and indelibly American. She was one of the greatest figure skaters of her time, and the first American woman to perform a triple axle in an international competition.”
He goes on to list her accomplishments, her bizarre life story, and that whole Nancy Kerrigan situation. He even admits to taking the bait on dragging the figure skater.
“I admit, early drafts of this song contained more than a few puns, punch lines and light-hearted jabs—sex tapes and celebrity boxing make for an entertaining narrative arc,” he adds. “But the more I edited, and the more I meditated, and the more I considered the wholeness of the person of Tonya Harding, I began to feel a conviction to write something with dignity and grace, to pull back the ridiculous tabloid fodder and take stock of the real story of this strange and magnificent America hero.”
And so here we are.
“At the end of the day, Tonya Harding was just an ordinary woman with extraordinary talent and a tireless work ethic who set out to do her very best,” Stevens writes. “She did that and more. I hope the same can be said of us all.”
Featured photo by Eddy Leiva for Vanyaland, from Sufjan Stevens’ May 2016 appearance at Boston Calling Music Festival.