“A little bit of that in there, too”: Arcade Fire and Mormon Heaven

By April 27, 2018

This is the latest installment in a very sporadic series of posts on Mormonism and music. And by very sporadic, I mean the first such post in nearly seven years. Previous posts include “Of Mormon Fundamentalism and Outlaw Country Music” and “Conveying Joseph Smith: Brandon Flowers, Arthur Kane, and the Mormon Rock Star Image.”

_______________________

Win Butler. Screenshot from “Put Your Money on Me” music video.

Arcade Fire is a Canadian indie rock band. Their lead singer, Win Butler, and his younger brother and bandmate, William Butler, were raised by a Latter-day Saint mother in northern California and suburban Houston. Though neither is a practicing Mormon today, the Butlers have had mostly positive things to say about their LDS upbringing. Here’s Win in a 2010 interview:

I had a somewhat religious upbringing. … Not strict, but it was there and I’m kind of thankful for that. If you grow up just watching MTV, that’s its own form of religion and it’s not even based on happiness or communal responsibility. I mean, try to construct a worldview out of that.

When pressed by the interviewer, who suggested that “it sounds … both from his conversation and his recent songs, like he still misses that faith-based sense of community,” Butler continued:

Yes. I guess I do. I’m not practising, I don’t go to church, but what I got from it was a sense of belonging to something bigger. What I really miss is being forced to be in a community with people that aren’t the same as you. Then, you really have to work through the ways that you’re different. I think that’s important and it’s missing in youth culture. I guess some of the songs are a reaction against the tyranny of youth culture, where you only hang around with people who dress like you, think like you and listen to the same music as you. Even though we are seen as the quintessential indie band, I feel very far from that culture a lot of the time.

If those excerpts strike you as unexpectedly thoughtful reflections on childhood, culture, and religious community, it might have something to do with Butler’s education. After enrolling at McGill University in 2000, he not only met his future bandmates (including his now wife, Régine Chassagne) but also graduated with a degree in religious studies.

It was only mildly surprising then to hear Mormon-esque themes crop up on the band’s latest album, Everything Now (released in 2017). One song in particular, “Put Your Money on Me,” which Butler has described as “a love song from the perspective of someone who has been through a lot,” contains what struck me as a clear allusion to a premortal existence and romantic relationships beginning there:

If there was a race
A race for your heart
It started before you were born

This reading received some confirmation this past week in an interview Butler gave on one of my favorite podcasts, Song Exploder, where “musicians take apart their songs and, piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made.” (Seriously, if you like music and are looking for a good, short weekly listen, subscribe now.)

As part of that interview, Butler offered the following reflection on the song’s lyrics:

My mom is Mormon. I grew up in [the] Mormon church, and when you’re in Sunday School, there would be these ideas of what heaven’s like. And it always seemed so strange to me. You know, like, as a kid, you’re trying to picture what that actually was. So I think there’s a little of that in there, too.

Here’s the full verse of the song:

If there was a race
A race for your heart
It started before you were born
Above the chloroform sky
Clouds made of ambien
Sitting on carpets in the basement of heaven
We were born innocent, but it lies today
And baby you can give all the money away
But if there’s a race, a race for your heart
It’s over, before it starts
Singing put your money on me

Premortal existence. Childhood wonderings about the nature of heaven. And a quick denunciation of original sin to wrap it up.

“A little bit of [Mormonism] in there,” indeed.

Article filed under Cultural History Current Events Popular Culture


Comments

  1. Good work, Chris. But do you like the album? ?

    Comment by Jjohnson — April 27, 2018 @ 7:26 am

  2. Good work, Chris. But do you like the album? ?

    Comment by Jjohnson — April 27, 2018 @ 7:26 am

  3. Reminiscent of the Barenaked Ladies “I knew you before the Fall of Rome”

    Comment by The Other Clark — April 27, 2018 @ 11:58 am

  4. Thanks! Jacob Bender wrote about possible Mormon influences on other earlier Arcade Fire songs here: http://associationmormonletters.org/blog/2018/04/jacob-bender-on-the-gospel-according-to-arcade-fire/

    Comment by Andrew Hall — April 28, 2018 @ 6:57 am

  5. I’m an old guy and usually love Arcade Fire. Their latest took some time to grow on me but it’s in regular rotation now.

    Their Mormon background comes from their mother and grandparents, the King Family who were a huge deal back in the day. I remember seeing them on TV many times, when we had just 3 channels (thanks, Mom) and assorted King Family members have had lots of exposure in the entertainment world.

    http://www.officialkingfamily.com/

    Comment by Mikestuff — April 28, 2018 @ 3:08 pm


Series

Recent Comments

Spencer Woolley on MHA Deadline Quickly Approaching: “Hello, Mormon History People. Stephen Fleming and I are looking to put together a panel on the idea of Apostasy. My paper will address Apostasy…”


Scott on THE ARRINGTON CHAIR: : “Interesting analysis, Chris. I have a lot of respect for those involved with the search. They know the program and position well.”


Trevan Hatch on THE ARRINGTON CHAIR: : “Also, if LDS non-academic stakeholders are going to impact the decision (at least traditionally that has been the case with both Jewish studies and Mormon…”


Christopher Blythe on THE ARRINGTON CHAIR: : “Thanks, Trevan. I was not aware of the University of Nebraska case.”


Trevan Hatch on THE ARRINGTON CHAIR: : “I see no problem with Chris posting his thoughts on the chair in this blog. The finalist list is public knowledge, their CVs and publishing…”


Christopher Blythe on THE ARRINGTON CHAIR: : “Thanks, Amanda, if I thought they would be concerned by it, I would not have posted it.”

Topics


juvenileinstructor.org