In the summer after I graduated college, I saw the Arcade Fire perform for the first time. They opened for David Byrne in June at the Hollywood Bowl, playing material from their latest release Funeral, and we had killer seats. I was full of defiant optimism, at once terrified and yet determined to take this thing called Life and turn it on its head, to beat it into submission. I had yet to work three jobs - three corporate jobs that would eventually leave me for lack of any better term, dazed and utterly confused. I had yet to watch social groups fracture and filigree and form messy veins that skittered across a map of the U.S. and beyond. I had yet to experience loss of any real kind, and I'd certainly yet to sacrifice a third of my paycheck to any government I refused to pledge allegiance to at the time. In other words, I was a real asshat, brimming to the gills with youthful insouciance and I certainly had never been told, Hey, kid, simmer down. Your self-righteous can-do spirit is on a rampage and it's headed straight for my patience.
But that's the joy of it all! That can-do spirit went and did it and that night at the show, I wanted to jump out of my skin and conquer the world right then and there. And the thing about the Arcade Fire is that you get the sense that Winn Butler & the gang are right there with you, all muscular energy and visceral, blistering pronouncements. In solidarity you spit out the lyrics, fists beating the fevered night air. In revolt you get your body moving, get your hips swaying to that insurgent sound and you really feel like you can take on the world. All the media, the marketing, the agency big-wigs, the monolithic corporate structures - all of it! Piecemeal! Easily bested! Now here's the moon, it's all right (lies! lies!), and every time you close your eyes (lies! lies!)
You can thank the intervening years, a small handful of them at that, for dulling that vim and vigor, and in some ways I'm all the better for it. But those ways are infinitesimal and what I really miss the most is that kid who said, "I'm going to do it differently." Ideals and hopes and dreams in tow, I was going to beat the system. I was going to see the hand that fed me and rather than biting it, I was going to take its fruits and make a storehouse and with that storehouse I was going to live, really live, and I was going to do it well. No regrets.
I don't know what happened exactly. Maybe its my inherent distrust of any sort of organized system. Perhaps it was the fact that I was always on the move, always running, always putting distance between myself and any corporate hegemony that sought to co-opt my optimism and manipulate it into something ugly, something disingenuous, something foreign. Contradictorily, I sought security, comfort. I wanted to rest easy but I didn't want to have to work for it. Eventually that parasitic relationship between rebellion and dependence diffused and in doing so, formed an alchemic cocktail of cultural paranoia and corporate skepticism. My misgivings crystallized. The whole thing had "lab accident" written all over it, and like a ticking time bomb I hurtled myself at age 26 and said, "Let's do this. Self-loathing and all."
Something filled up my heart with nothing / Someone told me not to cry.
A week after celebrating the passing of another year, I gathered with a collective of similarly-minded 20-somethings. Huddled like refugees in the darkened basement of a friend's house, burdened though we were with the fringe ideals of 21st-century anarchism yet still too aware of the benevolent rules of an obedient suburbia. Loudly we whispered and quietly we rebelled, our hearts on fire but burning coolly enough as to not wake the neighbors. We had a song to sing, an anthem to bleat toward the ceiling, a desperate plea we hoped would filter its way through the infrastructure and on up, up to the indifferent and starless sky. What we all hoped, more than anything, was for that anthemic battle cry to find its way through the insulating cloud cover. What we all wanted, more than hoped for, was to be free.
But now that I'm older, my heart is colder and I can see that it's a lie.
With a loosely organized exuberance we clutched our instruments, clumsily beating on anything providing remote percussiveness. An accordion wailed in the corner and tambourines shivered uneasily. At the mercy of our collective voices, the messy and flagrantly amateur cacophony formed a graceful, lumbering melody. Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.
In the dark we filled the spaces between our bodies, between bedposts and corners and shelves. We filled those spaces with our voices and our collective desire to feel something, and for that something to be true. And who cares if that's clichéd? How many times have I abandoned an opportunity to cling to the vestiges of that youthful optimism? How many times has my inherent distrust eroded my ability to desire something? And to hope for it? In that room surrounded by the children of my generation, for the first time since that night at the Hollywood Bowl, I felt the resonance of a dormant optimism, neglected but no less there - down for the count but not out of the match.
With my lightning bolts a-glowing / I can see where I am going.
You'd better look out below.