Why listening to Neon Bible by Arcade Fire made me have a breakdown
(or, how a Canadian band is accurately representing my fears about the impending election)
[Note: I wrote this several months ago, and my fears have thus subsided a bit.]
Mar 3, 2016: It was nine in the morning, and Icouldn’t decide what to listen to as Iwas getting dressed (an average day). I decided to revisit an old favorite and put on Arcade Fire’s neon bible. I had been, to appropriate terminology, craving the album. I thought this was strange, until I remembered a certain fact — the album was recorded in 2006 and released in 2007, in the wake of George W. Bush winning the reelection, and still riding off of the catastrophic waves of 9/11 — so I realized why I was feeling a strange sense of nostalgia for the album. Of course I was alive during 2007, but I wasn’t emotionally invested in the election at all, or in politics in general. I was, after all, 7 when Bush was first put into office, and 11 when he was reelected. But listening to Neon Bible, I identified far too much with the political anxiety that is documented throughout the album, telling the tale of various individuals attempting to seek solace from political corruption, and ultimately failing due to the fact that they need to work in the same society in order to help their families, even though working minimum wage is hardly putting a dent into the funds necessary for sustaining life.
Neon Bible has been a favorite album of mine for a while, but I had never connected with it in this way before. And the reason here is because I’m feeling that political anxiety present throughout the album — the fear of an already flawed country becoming more and more flawed, the embedded racism (sexism, homophobia, etc.) become more present on the surface instead of just boiling underground, and the actual possibility that a man wants to build walls to keep out “outsiders,” while doing nothing to protect and better the lives of the people who are already trapped inside the borders by debt, poverty, and the inability to flee to Canada, as many will joke about.
And to address the canadian aspect of the band, to people who think that a Canadian band can’t accurately represent american political fear — Win Butler, the head lyricist, was raised in Texas. So this album isn’t the story of someone from another country trying to identify with Americans. It’s the story of a young man raised in the South seeing his country declining more and more, and realizing that as hard as he tries, he can’t really do anything about it. It’s about hearing people scream “I LOVE YOU” at terrible “politicians,” while the same politician boasts about how he could shoot someone in the street and not lose voters. Of course it’s the fact that this man is a terrible person, but this isn’t exactly new information, or a new idea — terrible people have been around since people have existed. The terrifying thing is how these people, our people, are blindly following and supporting this man, based on his “humor,” and the fact that he never apologizes, let alone addresses any concerns or criticisms.
So this morning, as I listened to Arcade Fire sing desperately about how we should be moving forward instead of backwards, I quietly pulled myself together, drove to work, and sat across from someone I know to be a Trump supporter, while knowing I couldn’t say anything without being ridiculed, and wishing I had more power in this situation.