Ten years ago I felt this thing, like a pebble in my shoe that was so large it was the Earth and—twist—I was Atlas. Ten years ago I thought it was a thing to do, being a man at the end of his twenties who was deeply invested in being a man at the end of his twenties, to tie myself to a mast and hope for sirens, hope that the epic, any epic, would see fit to include me. The logical conclusion of mixtapes is grotesque emotionalism. Memories are invaluable and justifiably forgotten. Let’s not be precious; everybody has a past.
Ten years ago, five eggs formed a chimaera, a perfect Voltron of higher education and melodrama, made, if not of flesh, then notes. So many notes. It was a time of post-Interpol, post-suits, of bolo ties, of dressing like pirates and talking like pirates and talking about pirates and oh you could just pay a pirate to be less, just less, take the black flag down a notch. No wonder we all loved The Strokes—they came and they went, like boys. But Arcade Fire were like Canadian television, smart and wise and subtle, just this side of enjoyable.
I feel like the conventions of the form dictate that I should pin my not-quite-a-relationship with this band to an overarching personal pain, but my scorn is a singular planet with strong gravity birthed from a happy enough childhood. I mean, I was ugly and lonely—why else would we be here?—but ugly and lonely are only interesting in the talk-show sense if you eventually emerge pretty and loved; otherwise it’s a flat airport escalator, with only other flat escalators for scenery.
But these pieces depend on remembrances, so imagine in your memory that, ten years ago, I was not working at Mars Bar at 2nd and 1st (before a bank replaced the fruit flies and the bathrooms with no locks), building memories on top of songs from the jukebox that sounded like other songs. Instead, let’s say I was John Hinckley, Jr.—let’s be true to our inner Arcade Fire-ness and live vivaciously in a larger narrative. Besides, 2004 was, after all, the year the president that helped make punk slightly more than a fashion choice finally went to the great late-night jelly-bean joke in the sky. So there I was, John Hinckley, Jr., finishing the job and finally winning the love of the patron saint of skate punk, Jodie Foster—but this is an anniversary piece, so let’s drive this tenuous theme to the tenuous stars and say we were all John Hinckley, Jr., all of us, updated complicity, in the “Sympathy For The Devil” sense. I mean, say what you will about Arcade Fire, smallness of history has never been an issue.
Really, the only thing I remember from 2004 is the goths at Beacon’s Closet wanting badly for us all to like Arcade Fire because they dressed like dead doctors and had “Funeral” in their album name. And everybody tried, but it sounded like Talking Heads with a pop-punk singer, so we gave up and went back to Sisters of Mercy. The world expects too much of us, and that’s fine, but there are lines, lines that can be drawn back to the original ether, that which existed before Arcade Fire, whatever that was; the primordial indie scene of elder boogie-woogie, where songs went somewhere, even if that “where” eventually became, tragically, “here.”
Ten years ago, the monkey’s paw curled inward and shit got so epic. It just kept going upward and spiraling and eventually it felt like Love, Actually mixed with endless war—and, frankly, my emotions, they don’t even feel like emotions anymore, and all that dancing feels like marching. Now, I know what you’re thinking, so let’s pull back a bit: I’m not saying Arcade Fire are directly responsible for the police state, I’m just saying that the timing is suspicious.
In 2004, Ireland banned smoking in all pubs. That’s pretty interesting. Wikipedia has yet to answer if it’s possible to entirely separate Owen Pallett from Arcade Fire in one’s mind’s eye and still hate the latter while acknowledging that the former seems awfully nice. He sublet my room once, let’s say for the hell of it in 2004, and left it far cleaner than he found it.
Ten years ago, Arcade Fire had yet to be accused of being mean to roadies by pre-racist but post-talented Wayne Coyne, but maybe that’s because they didn’t have roadies yet. Who knows who they were being mean to. Dogs? Babies? What’s the smallest animal they have in Canada? Ten years ago, Arcade Fire standing on a stage, not yet famous, berating a sole crying Wendigo in the audience. Cruel, cruel Arcade Fire.
Nine years ago, Arcade Fire at a crossroads, compelled by outside forces, perhaps a neighborhood bully or non-Canadian step-father, to choose between seriousness and whimsy. But to choose one is to make an enemy of the other. Perhaps fancy dress is the answer.
Fifteen years ago, Arcade Fire, all grandparents still alive and doling out candy; Arcade Fire sullen just because, smoking cloves in the driveway. Who wouldn’t regret the callowness of youth? Take the candy, Arcade Fire, there’s a storm coming.
Twenty years ago, Nancy Kerrigan on the TV sobbing, Arcade Fire sitting at its desk, D&D books and dice askew, hair a-tousled, calling Arcade Fire’s one friend on Arcade Fire’s oversized portable phone, asking Arcade Fire’s friend if he’s coming over. Arcade Fire’s friend is making excuses, making plans to go see Pulp Fiction without Arcade Fire. Cry in a basket, Arcade Fire.
Twenty-five years ago, Nirvana on the horizon. Year Zero of all memory pieces.
Thirty years ago, Arcade Fire sitting on the carpet, playing with something from that time period. My reference bucket is as dry as the British coal industry. See what I did there? In the biz, that’s called an “Arcade Fire.”
Forty years ago, Arcade Fire as a glint in Todd Rundgren’s eye, Arcade Fire as a particularly droll polar bear wooing a seal on the pre-punk streets of Montreal, Arcade Fire in its puparium, the white exoskeleton straining with the weight of so many baby violins. Arcade Fire through time, laboring against the plasticine barriers between Earths 1 and 2. World War II Arcade Fire, how are they so young in 1974? Arcade Fire on the Bayeux Tapestry, as the arrow and the eye. Remember Arcade Fire at the bang and remember Arcade Fire at the whimper—Arcade Fire, we remember you, please remember us.
Arcade Fire, rising from the mist like the Lady of the Lake’s extended hand holding Excalibur. (Is Arcade Fire the hand or the sword it carries? If it’s the hand, who is the sword? Wolf Parade? And if it’s the sword, who is the hand? Robertson Davies? The First Nations peoples of Canada? Neil Young?) Arcade Fire, born unto this earth to be written about. Were there anniversary pieces before 2004? Or were they invented then by some wise SPIN intern who knew, or at least suspected at a biological level, that soon, perhaps ten years on, there would be a need to document an entire nation’s emotions about Arcade Fire’s first and, let’s just say it, only sufferable album? Or maybe they’re all good. I don’t actually care. I am just obeying historical imperative and talking, talking, talking about Arcade Fire.