The Suburbs: ‘Month of May’

Man, when was the last time you heard a real rock-and-roll song that started with such a solid and sincere, “1, 2, 3, 4!”? It’s funny, while I’ve heard so many of Arcade Fire’s songs described as ‘anthemic’, not too many of them are real fist-in-the-air singalongs. Month of May, however, is definitely one:

Gonna make a record in the month of May
When the violent wind blows the wires away

This isn’t the first time on this album that we’ve heard about a wind blowing things around; the first time this thread was touched upon was in Rococo, which seems to serve as a companion piece to this song. However, while last time the wind was simply blowing around ashes, this time the wind is explicitly violent. Which begs the question: What is the violent wind? Is it a primitivist social movement, tearing down our culture’s machinery of enslavement (wires, &c.) like a force of nature? Is it a blast of radiation from a nuclear mushroom cloud (the EMP produced by high-altitude detonations could fry electronics and effectively “blow the wires away”)? Is it a massive solar flare, playing havoc with our unshielded power grid? Hmm…

Month of May, it’s a violent thing
In the city their hearts start to sing
Well, some people singing sounds like screaming
Used to doubt it but now I believe it

I believe the band has spoken in interviews how May is the time when Winter finally ends in Montreal, and everybody is full of an almost-violent energy with the promise of Spring. I’ve spent some time in Montreal, and it’s definitely the kind of place that would make my heart start to sing.
However, singing that “sounds like screaming” doesn’t sound too pretty. Is this the same as the “horrible song” being sung in Rococo? Butler has explained in interview that these songs were inspired by the Baroque period, and the notion that a beautiful piece of art could become “hideous and grotesque” by ‘turning it up to eleven’; the same could be said of the modern music industry, that it’s possible to take something decent and beautiful “and overdo it” into a rococo mockery of itself.

Month of May, everybody’s in love
then the city was hit from above
And just when I knew what I wanted to say
The violent wind blew the wires away

Traditional associations with May as ‘the lusty month’—all those young people’s springtime hormones—juxtaposed with violence. Once again, Butler’s songwriting exhibits a subversive undercurrent dealing with the destruction of our modern built environments.  I wonder if the city destroyed in this song is the same as the San Francisco of Half Light II?

We were shocked in the suburbs
Now the kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
Now, some things are pure and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight
So young, so young, so much pain for someone so young,
Well, I know it’s heavy, I know it ain’t light
But how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?

Why were they shocked in the suburbs? As hinted at previously, is it because the ’burbs are designed to artificially insulate their inhabitants from the blows of Life? A city being “hit from above” is the kind of event that seems impossible (until it happens) to middleclass suburbanites. The rest of the verse is—like much of Rococo—another jab at that “certain breed of pseudorebellious youth”, the cynical hipster-types who are too-cool-for-school to uncross their arms to just get up and DANCE!

First the built they road, then they built the town
That’s why we’re still driving around and around and around…
(At least once at this point, Win has observed, “I don’t know where we are, but I know that something ain’t right”)

LLipton-Round&RoundAs brilliantly illustrated by pencil artist Laurie Lipton, it’s hard to break out of this vicious cycle of consumption, disconnection, and environmental destruction when the whole System is designed and built to encourage and reward those very evils.

2009, 2010—wanna make a record how I felt then
When we stood outside in the month of May
And watched a violent wind blow the wires away

Another reference to recent history (see Half Light II’s crashing markets) as Butler seems to break the fourth wall. So now we’re in the realm not of future dystopia but something that actually happened?

If I die in the month of May, let the wind take my body away,
I wish I may, I wish I might
Don’t leave me down there with my arms folded tight?
Start again in the month of May
Come on and blow the wires away

There are several songs on this album that speak of finally being able to start or begin, or starting again—this time, with fried wires. The destruction of the powergrid (or whatever) in the Springing of the year has given us an opportunity for a fresh start when we might connect with ourselves and the world—perhaps this time we will build the towns—if we build them at all—before we build the roads.

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One response to this post.

  1. […] headed for collapse is founded on a thirst for fossil fuels and infernal combustion engines (“first they built the road/then they built the town/that’s why we’re still driving around and …), maybe you should consider if you want to include those in your idea of […]

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