Have you ever waited days or even weeks to get a letter in the mail? Have you ever licked a stamp for a postcard and dropped it in a mailbox, only to find it never arrived? Have you ever had a letter-writing love affair?
If you were born after about 1985, we're guessing the answer to all these questions is a resounding "no." Well, Arcade Fire is hardly your parents' music, but front man Win Butler falls on the other side of an important invisible line. Born in 1980, Butler has vivid memories of growing up in the pre-internet, pre-email, pre-text-messaging, and way, way pre-smart-phone world. In his isolated suburban childhood outside of Houston, Texas, Butler recalls a feeling of perpetual waiting. Arcade Fire's acclaimed 2010 concept album The Suburbs delves deep into both the magic and boredom of growing up in the openness of suburban sprawl. The album also takes a fair number of gentle stabs at the speedy internet age that is now upon us (by the way, if you are reading this right now, you are safely inside that speedy internet age). "We Used to Wait" recalls a time of, well, waiting for things to happen rather than accessing it all with just a click to a glowing screen.
Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
In just about five minutes flat, "We Used to Wait" takes us on a rushing boatride of emotions that touches on modern times, postmodern times, and maybe even post-postmodern times. According to Shmoop's fine literary commentators, "War, cities, boredom, and fear…are all classic modernist themes." And what is Arcade Fire's The Suburbs but a long lament about war, cities, boredom and fear (with further riffing on technology mixed with a bit of nostalgia about times past)? The album serves up a critique of our current era, but it might also be the latest in a long line of modernist works—that is, if you feel comfortable placing Arcade Fire in the same camp as the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and T.S. Eliot.
Of course, modernity has shifted a lot since the days of post-war suburbia and the birth of the Arcade Fire's other conceptual origin, rock and roll. Most academic-types actually think that modernity is over (it was killed by the 1950s), and postmodernism reigns. In any case, the times the band confronts in "We Used to Wait" are even faster, more contradictory, and more deeply mired in technology than anything T.S. Eliot could have dreamed of. With Shmoop's help, follow Arcade Fire deep into the not-too-distant past to explore the ins and outs of something very basic that U.S. culture seems to get worse and worse at: waiting for it.
On the Charts
The Suburbs debuted at #1 on the UK, Irish and U.S. charts in August 2010. The album was a critical hit and was recognized on dozens of best album listings for 2010.
The Suburbs was nominated for three Grammys and won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011, pushing out Lady Gaga and Eminem to the great delight of indie fans.