Music has always been an intrinsic part of my life; the ever-playing soundtrack, sometimes soaring, sometimes almost muted and indistinct in the background, but ever and always present. Certain times in my life, though, have been marked with specific music awakenings. These are times when either a shift in my musical palate has occurred, or a band/artist, or a cluster of bands/artists, have taken such a hard hold of me, shaken and stirred up my soul, that part of me changes because of the music. As a writer I find myself drawn to those kind of moments to attempt to write about, to capture a time, a story, a group of characters, that are moved in that same way. The action of it, the evolution, it is not always for good, and it is not always for bad, it just is. Music is never the angel versus devil scenario of old cartoons, but more of a presence, a kick in the gut, and a scream to a whisper to do something different, to take some kind of a risk.
Arcade Fire’s album Funeral came to me during one of my musical awakenings. I was still shedding the skin, and crushed velvet and flannel plaids, of my nineties self. I had hung on to that girl a little longer than necessary, still clinging for life to all my favorite female singer-songwriters. Lilith Fair was in my bloodstream as I shook off a bad marriage, toyed with my sexuality, and worked on recovery from an eating disorder. In some ways I was also stripping off layers of skin, exposing once hidden scars from a girl who had horrors in her past that she rarely spoke on. Perhaps it was my time to try and trust the opposite gender again, or maybe again is inaccurate, more like for once in my life. In what felt like overnight I was falling in love with bands of boys and men, not boy bands, but male voices and their lyrically told stories. I had not forgotten my women of music, nor would I ever, but I was falling hard and heavy for some of the men.
There is a stack of music that came about during that year which Funeral is part of. It is the one, from the stack, which is played the most often, and the one that may just resonate more now than when I first discovered it. The songs on this album are both healing and heartbreaking, to me. I cannot listen to the entire album without tearing up at least once, often not just tearing up, but all out sobbing in that red-faced, snot-inducing ugly kind of way that ALWAYS feels better afterwards (back to the healing part, I suppose). The songs on this album are chills inducing, the all-over kind that are visible on the surface of the skin, but can also be felt in the pit of one’s stomach and in the center of one’s chest. There are memories that unhinge while listening to these songs, and feelings that unravel.
For instance, Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) reminds me of my childhood best friend, the younger brother of the two that lived next door, and how we would build blanket forts and string up cans to throw across my driveway and use as makeshift telephones, and how we both were surviving broken families and unnamed pain that we recognized in each other, but never, ever talked about. Instead we played with Star Wars figures, buried pictures we deemed as magic in my backyard, and set-up elaborate lives in my obnoxiously large dollhouse my Grandparents had given me. I remember him and wonder how it would have been if we had still been neighbors through our adolescence. Would it have changed us? Would we have grown apart, or become closer? Would we have fallen in love? Would we have broken one, or the others, heart?
Whereas Wake Up reminds me of my oldest daughter and our weekend at Coachella together, and how it was one of a sparse few moments since her adolescence that we bonded. Always so close when she was younger and it was just the two of us, we had split apart for various reasons, some of them organic – the typical breaking apart of mother and daughter in the teen years, that necessary rebellious split, and some of it because of my now ex-husband, her stepfather, who had once treated her so wonderfully, but had turned cold and cruel in part because of her growing-up, in part because of his illness and addictions, and what they did to him. She blamed me, and to some extent it was deserved, though she never came out and said it, but I felt it nonetheless. But he was gone and we were off to a music festival, just the two of us, and I could feel her starting to forgive me. We had both made mixes for the ride to the desert, and Wake Up had wound up on both of our playlists.
There are other stories to other songs, each one on this album thick and sticky with meaning and memory, to me. Funeral will forever reside on the list of my all-time favorite albums, ALWAYS.
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) :: Arcade Fire