The evangelicalism of Arcade Fire’s Funeral



The only time that I go to church anymore is when I’m visiting Suzanne. Her family, like many in Cape Breton, are quite Catholic and her mother in particular is fairly devoted. So when I visit I join them on their weakly jaunt to the local chapel. It’s always a fascinating experience for me, as my family stopped going to church several years ago – not for any particular religious reasons, likely more out of apathy than anything – so it’s not exactly a familiar world to me.

And frankly, now that I’ve seen it again, I don’t blame my parents for getting out of it. In my experience, church services tend to go into one of two directions – either boring and uninspiring or so focused around a charismatic preacher or reverend that they border on the creepy. I have yet to attend a single religious service that I found truly inspiring. I’m not saying that I expect to find God when I go to church, but at least a spark of…something.

The worst part is the music. Considering that music might be the closest to godliness that the human race might ever come, white church music tends to be stripped of every ounce of joy, passion and energy. They’re literally the same five melodies over and over again, which is to the benefit of the organist alone. And the lyrics, ugh. Does God – if he/she/it exists – really want us to sing without subtlety, without poetry about his/her/its greatness? To cram as many words as possible into the melody without regard for pace or rhythm?

Someday I’m going to start my own church. The guests in the pews would wear stylish black suits. There would be lots of accordions. The entire congregation would sing their lungs out song after song. And when it’s all over, no one would want to leave, so we’d do it all over again.

Funeral would be the soundtrack.

Although I have never found revelation in a church, I have done so in an album. Funeral was a revelation for me from the very first note. Downloaded on a whim after reading some of the spectacular reviews the album was receiving in the fall of 2004, I still remember playing “Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)” through my computer speakers in my residence room. It was like a spark shot through my veins, running from my ears down through my chest and into my hand, clenching it in a fist of passion. This was more than just another one of the dozens of new albums I listen to each year. This was something else.

Overnight, Funeral became the soundtrack to my life, a spot which it pretty much monopolized for a good year or so. I told anyone and everyone about this album and about the Arcade Fire, like a disciple seeking new souls for conversion. I was a Gideon, trying to sneak this album into ever dorm room that I possibly could.

Of course, Funeral’s great irony is the title, especially in the context of how we view death. In spite of the fact that the majority of people in North America believe in some sort of afterlife, most funerals are somber, depressing affairs. There’s a huge gap in the smile-to-cry ratio, with the latter prevailing time and time again. Funeral, on the other hand, is nothing short of inspiring, far more akin to what I hope my funeral sounds like.

Okay, wait a minute here…I’ve already linked this album to church and to funerals…next thing you know I’ll be suggesting this album as the soundtrack for my first car, my first marriage, my first child, my first anything. And I wouldn’t have a problem with any of that.

So why does Funeral, two years after I first heard it, still sound like revelation to me? Why, after hundreds of listens, does it still inspire me to stomp my feet, clench my hand into a righteous fist and sing along to the heavens? Why was missing the band’s 2004 Halifax concert one of the biggest regrets of my short life?

I can’t tell you. I really can’t. I could try some faux-intellectualizing and suggest that it’s because the themes of childhood transitioning to adulthood relatable, or that the production finds a perfect balance between spontaneous and calculated, or that Win Butler voice sounds like it’s about to break at any second but brilliantly holds together, or the sheer passion in the delivery…

But all of that would be bullshit. Say what you will about the art of criticism, but when push comes to shove all that matters is whether or not the music inspires you – to dance, to sing, to believe. Funeral remains an inspiration.

Download: The Arcade Fire – “Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) (from MusicisArt)

Watch: The Arcade Fire – “Nighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)” – Live on French TV:


One response to “The evangelicalism of Arcade Fire’s Funeral

  1. Ryan, I have a vivid memory of sitting in meal hall with you and Janine somewhere around December of that year, and of you insisting that Arcade Fire is THE band that we need to listen to and love. When I finally did get around to downloading them, I knew you were right, and missing the concert that fall (because I hadn’t yet heard of them ) became one of my great regrets, too.
    Maybe someday they’ll come back…? Dare to dream, as they say.

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