I hold a very special place in my heart for Arcade Fire. Earlier this year, my dad died. He had the habit of texting me indie rock song lyrics — everything from Midlake while I was at work to Ezra Furman when I was at the bar. The day he died, my dad texted me, “Do you understand why I want a daughter while I’m still young? I want to hold her hand and show her some beauty before this damage is done.” At the time it was heartwarming but a few hours later, after I got the call from my stepsister telling me that he’d stopped breathing, “The Suburbs” took on a sombering, ominous, and poignant meaning to me. Since that day, I’ve listened to Arcade Fire countless times, not only because it reminds me how hip my genes are but also because “The Suburbs” is a great record. Songs like “Sprawl II” and “We Used To Wait” have orchestrated countless memorable nights in my life but no song on the record means as much to me as “Deep Blue.”
“Deep Blue” wasn’t my favorite song when I first heard “The Suburbs.” It wasn’t even my fifth favorite song. In fact, I didn’t really take note of “Deep Blue” until I was on vacation (a term I use here loosely) in northern Michigan late this summer. I was completely cut off from everyone — no cell phone, no computer, nothing. Well, except one of the most beautiful lakes in the country and my ipod. I spent a lot of time sitting on the dock, listening to “Deep Blue” on repeat, and looking out at this …
“Deep Blue” was perfect for me at that time because in it, Win Butler sings about a lot of the things I’ve experienced this year: Namely, an aching nostalgia for a time that you can never get back and the sudden dawning that the reliance on technology that we all have has lead us to ignore the world outside the safety of the computer’s luminescent glow. I didn’t really come to this realization until I was stuck in a cabin on Torch Lake, phoneless and without a laptop, completely cut off. Only instead of boredom, I found beauty. Anyone wondering about my aversion to getting a new cell phone and the infrequency with which I use it need not look any further than the end of “Deep Blue,” when Butler sings in an airy, echoey falsetto “Hey, put the cell phone down for a while. In the night there is something wild. Can you hear it breathing?”
What really got to me though was the dissonance with which Butler sings about his past. It’s a time he misses, that he longs for, and one that he can never get back. It’s strange when you realize that you’ve become an adult. It’s been even stranger for me because that realization is one that comes with the knowledge that I’ll never be able to talk to my dad again. It’s a paradox because if he hadn’t died, I’d still be the girl I was, stuck in arrested development. I’m proud of who I am now but it’s bittersweet because he’ll never get to meet this adult that I turned out to be.
I think of my dad almost every time I listen to Arcade Fire although I’ll admit that a recent drunken sing-along has usurped thoughts of my dad whenever “Sprawl II” comes on. “Deep Blue” doesn’t remind me of my dad, per se, but it reminds me of teenage years spent in the suburbs of Detroit, in the very sprawl that Butler and his Canadian pals sing about so deftly. I’ve done so much since then with my life that it’s not a period I think about a lot, yet every time I hear “Deep Blue,” there it is. The end of the century, compressed on a tiny screen.
That being said, Timber Timbre deserved the Polaris music prize this year.