Study Guide

We Used to Wait Introduction

We Used to Wait Introduction

In a Nutshell

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 frontman 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 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.

About the Song

ArtistArcade Fire
Year2010
LabelMerge
Writer(s)Sarah Neufeld, Richard Reed Parry, Jeremy Gara, Win Butler, Will Butler, Regine Chassagne & Tim Kingsbury
Producer(s)Markus Dravs, Arcade Fire
Musician(s)Win Butler (vocals)
Learn to play
AlbumThe Suburbs

Music Video

Influences on Arcade Fire

Depeche Mode
Neil Young
Bob Dylan
The Clash
Sonic Youth
David Bowie
The Pixies
Talking Heads
Pavement
Radiohead
Bruce Springsteen

Influenced by Arcade Fire

Beirut
Fanfario
Le Loup
The Acorn
Loney Dear
The Deadly Syndrome
Kill the Lights
The Touques
Rademacher
The Eye the Ear and the Arm
Gentleman Auction House

We Used to Wait Resources

Books

Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck: Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream (2001)
This is one of the most broad-sweeping critiques of the development of U.S. suburbs during the period Arcade Fire's album also reflects on.

Elizabeth Ewen: Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened (2001)
While this book doesn't necessarily disagree that there are problems with the suburbs, its perspective is a bit more balanced, addressing why and how the suburban way of life has appealed to so many people over so many decades.

Albums

The Suburbs (2010)
This may be the Arcade Fire's best album yet, and it's definitely their most accessible, not to mention commercially and critically successful. If you're new to Arcade Fire, you might want to start here and work backwards.

Funeral (2004)
This darker, stranger album from Arcade Fire's earlier days is clearly concerned with many of the same themes as The Suburbs: place, community, geography, and death loom large (hence the title). The die-hard Arcade Fire fan will probably like Funeral the best.

Neon Bible (2007)
To needlessly employ a double negative, the Arcade Fire is never not apocalyptic. You'll know what we mean when you hear this album.

Images

Arcade Fire
The revolving door of musicians has always included Win Butler (front center) and Régine Chassagne (far left).

Win Butler and Régine Chassagne
Here the couple puts on a real Sweeney-Todd-esque show of their own strangeness.

Arcade Fire (2005)
This older photo shows a different line-up, but the same basic idea: all indie-goofy-cool, all the time.

Arcade Fire TIME Cover (2005)
Yep, they made the cover of TIME—TIME Canada, that is.

Arcade Fire au naturel
Well, okay, their poses are not really that natural. Anyhow, here is the band in 2010.

Arcade Fire with umbrellas (2010)
In case it rains in the suburbs.

The Suburbs album cover
The album was actually released with 8 different covers; this just seems to be the most common one on the internet.

Movies & TV

Scenes from the Suburbs, directed by Spike Jonze (2011)
Arcade Fire got together with acclaimed director Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are, Being John Malkovich) to create a short film about—guess what—the suburbs. It's a little hard to get your hands on, but you can view the trailer on the Arcade Fire site.

Websites

Arcade Fire Official Site
This simple site for Arcade Fire reflects the band's anti-commercial and indie take on their own identity.

The Wilderness Downtown
This interactive web-based music video for "We Used to Wait" is the product of Arcade Fire's collaboration with filmmaker Chris Milk. Unless you have a super fast computer, you probably want to shut down other programs and windows before starting the video—which, by the way, is awesome.

Who is Arcade Fire? Tumblr
This is a hilarious site created in response to the absurdly angry reactions of fans of Eminem, Lady Gaga, and even Bieber fans outraged by Arcade Fire's upset at the 2011 Grammys. For those not in the know, "who the f*** is Arcade Fire?" seemed like a valid enough question. Don't miss "Who is Arcade Fire," a silly song from @songadaymann.

New York Times: "One Very, Very Indie Band" by Darcy Frey, March 4, 2007
This is a great feature article about the Arcade Fire's rise to fame, describing the band at the height of indie coolness—recording their second full-length album in a church they converted to a studio.

Precipitate Journal: "'The Suburbs' Revisited" by Daniel Levis Keltner, 2010
Of many professional reviews of the suburbs, this one from a "Journal of the New Environmental Imagination" is one of the most thoughtful and interesting reviews we came across, focusing on the album's "big ideas" more than its good music.

Video & Audio

"The Suburbs" Official Video (2010)
This video for the album's first song explains a lot about the Arcade Fire's expansive, apocalyptic vision for The Suburbs.

NME Interview with Arcade Fire about The Suburbs (2010)
Win Butler and Régine Chassagne discuss their memories of a slower time, with more waiting and less flashing lights, when kids used to walk to school through the snow, up hill both ways.

Arcade Fire Live (2010)
Performing "Ready To Start" from The Suburbs at Madison Square Garden. Although nothing too wild happens here, they are known for their raucous and sometimes surprising live performances.

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