"I need the darkness someone please cut the lights!": A Very Special Arcade Fire ANTI-Advent Reflection

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
+++Jesus, from the Gospel of John, chapter 8, verse 12

Statement 1: For as long as I can remember I have been awaiting Christ's second return, longing for his light to shine in our world of darkness, expecting the world's redemption, and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth.

Statement 2: For as long as I have listened to them, Arcade Fire have been singing about getting away from the light, to escape to a place where technology and the burdens of our modern age cannot find them, a place of darkness.

In other words, whereas I have lived my life in a perpetual state of advent, Arcade Fire have been living in nonstop anti-advent, thus making almost exclusively Anti-Advent music.

Advent (which essentially means "the coming") is a season of active waiting that falls right before the Christmas season. It is a time of expectation and preparation while also patient waiting for the Messiah and coming King. At this time of year Christians enter a buildup to Christ's birth, which is in the past, but also fully enter into the ongoing advent of awaiting his second coming, a future event. The scriptures we read during advent hold both these narratives in tension, either focusing on the Messiah's arrival and how he will save his people but also containing eschatological passages (that is, focused on the end of time), when Christ will return and righteously judge all peoples (usually from passages in Isaiah, Matthew, and Luke, as well as the letters of Paul) .

Many of these verses, like the verse from the Gospel of John quoted above, build a tension, focusing on Christ as the Light who brings deliverance to a world shrouded in darkness: 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone...
...For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 9:2,6-7

The darkness here represents the great burden of the world's sin, all the evil we perpetuate upon ourselves, everyone around us, and the God who made us and loves us. As a people we are oppressed and sunken down by both evil spiritual forces we cannot see or fully understand as well by physical forces such as kings, governments, vast omnipresent corporations with products to sell, and even our neighbors who live next to us. What is more, we succumb to these evils by our own volition while also being swallowed by them, perpetrators of the evil just as much as we are victims of it.

If anyone thinks we are not still in need of a savior, I invite you to take a look at our world and survey the state of things around us. It would seem to me we are very much in need of someone to deliver us from the madness we all find ourselves in.

Into this modern madness steps a rock band of Canadian/American musicians who have been making culturally prophetic rock music for the past decade. Arcade Fire, as a group, have consistently turned all of Christianity's powerful Advent imagery on its head: 

What if, instead of light, what the world really needs is more darkness? What if the light was the source of all corruption and oppression? What if the light was leading us to sin? If so, then the only way to break free is to attempt to leave the light and enter into darkness...

To begin a survey of their anti-Advent song, here is what Arcade Fire knows about our world, according to the song "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)", which finds it narrators having woken up in a world with "the power out", a world frozen over and with no light, where the parents are gone and only the children remain:

I went out into the night.
I went out to pick a fight with anyone.
Light a candle for the kids,
Jesus Christ don’t keep it hid!...

...And the power’s out in the heart of man,
take it from your heart put in your hand.
What’s the plan?...
And the power’s out in the heart of man,
take it from your heart put in your hand.
And there’s something wrong in the heart of man,
you take it from your heart and put it in your hand!

There is something desperately wrong with the state of humanity in the post-apocalyptic world these kids have awaked to. They are all left wondering: Where do we go from here?

Over the course of their subsequent albums it is pretty clear where the kids go: they go into a land of deceptive Neon Bibles, crumbling warring suburbs, and endless distorted reflectors. Since I cannot possibly focus on every Arcade Fire song dealing with their understanding and use of light I will instead focus on essentially one song from each album, linking them together into a coherent narrative.

And so, in the aftermath of a world with the power out arose a civilization with it's own set of lights. This is the world of the Neon Bible, which finds its most concise thesis statement in the song (and album) of same name: 

A vial of hope and a vial of pain,
In the light they both looked the same.
Poured them out on into the world,
On every boy and every girl singing

It’s the Neon Bible, the Neon Bible
Not much chance for survival,
If the Neon Bible is right.

Take the poison of your age
Don’t lick your fingers when you turn the page,
What I know is what you know is right
In the city it’s the only light...

...Oh God! well look at you now!
Oh! you lost it, but you don’t know how!
In the light of a golden calf,
Oh God! I had to laugh!

Take the poison of your age
Don’t lick your fingers when you turn the page,
It was wrong but you said it was right,
In the future I will read at night.
In the Neon Bible, the Neon Bible
Not much chance for survival,
If the Neon Bible is true.

What if the only sources of light in our world, the only lamps lighting our paths, allowing us to see and put one foot in front of the other, were actually leading to our demise, clearly lighting the way to our deaths? According to the song, the Neon Bible is the only light in the new city to have emerged in their world, and that that light is a poison. If the only way to read at night is by way of the Neon Bible how can one know if anything is true or what is the right way to live their lives? As in the song "The Well and the Lighthouse" (off the same album) the Neon Bible promised us wealth and pleasure, but through a false reflection has only delivered us unto death. Truly this is a world in which we will not survive long.

This is the same world the narrator of "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" (from The Suburbs) finds herself in. As opposed to succumbing to the blindingly hypnotizing lights of the Neon Bible, she lives as one desperately trying to live separate from the society of brainwashed pawns who live around her. This attempt at separation is best put on display in the video for the song, which finds singer Regine Chassagne roaming around a suburban wasteland, surrounded by faceless (and perhaps soulless?) suburbanites numbly going about daily tasks and dancing in such a way as to be futilely trying to break free. 

She secludes herself from her surroundings by always listening to music through her headphones. She dances without a care toward what the people around her might think, eventually coming to the point where she rips through her bland brown paper dress, revealing a colorful flowing gown beneath. The video ends with her dancing the night away. In the darkness of night she has found freedom.

The song's lyrics reveal even more:
They heard me singing and they told me to stop
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock
These days, my life, I feel it has no purpose
But late at night the feelings swim towards the surface

‘Cause on the surface the city lights shine
They’re calling at me, “come and find your kind!”

Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small
Then we can never get away from the sprawl
Living in the sprawl
The dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
I need the darkness. Someone please cut the lights!...

...We rode our bikes to the nearest park
Sat under the swings, we kissed in the dark
You shield my eyes from the police lights
We run away, but we don’t know why
Black river, your city lights shine
They’re screaming at us, “we don’t need your kind!”

While in the light (presumably of the Neon Bible) she attempts to sing but is made a derision to her culture, where she feels like she has no purpose, but in the nighttime she escapes and finds love and tries to freely express herself. Only the lights find her and her love and they run away. If only they could find a place to get away from the sprawling suburban city. They feel trapped. It would seem, harkening back to "No Cars Go" from Neon Bible, there is no place for them to escape to where no cars or planes or submarines go, that even the moments "between the click of the light and the start of the dream" are bathed in the light of the Neon Bible. With her love she escapes from the police lights, but ultimately "the sprawl" is too large; there is no way to go beyond its reach. Instead she is left in desperation crying "I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights!" 

Finally, and to be brief, this is the same world the characters on their next album Reflektor find themselves in as well:

Trapped in a prison, in a prism of light
Alone in the darkness, darkness of white
We fell in love, alone on a stage
In the reflective age

Again, the "lights" have trapped us. If only we could escape them, breaking them and the reflectors that bind us, breaking free ourselves. This is indeed the hope of the song "Here Comes the Night Time", where again it is implied that it is at night, that is, in the darkness, where we will find our freedom. However, the end of the song, which spends most of its time criticizing the religious and self-righteous, ends on a disturbing note: 

When you look in the sky, just try looking inside
God knows what you might find
When you look in the sky, just try looking inside
God knows what you might find
Here comes the night time...

We thought the problem was with them, with everyone else who are judging us and warring against us, but the song brings us full circle to "Neighborhood #3", showing us the "problem" lies within us all. We have erected the Neon Bibles and Reflektors for ourselves. We are our own oppressors and deceivers. Just try looking inside and you will see...

Even so, if the only lights we know are false lights then the only answer is to enter into the darkness. Perhaps there we will find a true light, a light that actually does lead to life and truth.* And maybe in this way Arcade Fire do not write anti-advent songs after all. Perhaps their tearing down of the Neon Bible and the false reflectors that fill our world can eventually lead us to the actual Light. Maybe they don't need to point the way. Maybe sending us into the darkness is enough, for perhaps after having walked through a great darkness, we will come to be enveloped by a marvelous light...

There is in fact another Bible and I'm of the opinion it's pages are not poison. Instead inside it is proclaimed a world where truth and love and justice win. While in may ways I am still waiting for that world to come, I also know that world is already here. It is a world proclaimed in the song of Zechariah, from the Gospel of Luke chapter 1. And with that I will leave you for now: 

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
+++Luke 1:68-79

Please come back next week where I explore Arcade Fire's Advent songs with:
"We Used to Wait": A Very Special Arcade Fire Advent Special

For more on this subject please read my companion piece:
An Index: Arcade Fire Songs Mentioning Light, Darkness, Mirrors, and Reflections

*Arcade Fire never point us to such a light, and it remains to be seen if they think one actually exists. 
Other articles on Arcade Fire:
"An Awful Sound is Coming Down": 3 Ways Relationships Die in Arcade Fire's "Oh Eurydice"
The Explanation and Inspiration Behind Aracade Fire's Reflektor
Wake Up! Uncovering Arcade Fire's Grand Narrative
Reflektor: A Listening Guide
The Reflected Lyrics of Arcade Fire's Reflektor: A List
6 Possible Meanings to Arcade Fire's LGBT-themed "We Exist"
Continual Themes and Subjects in the Work of Arcade Fire
"Little Boys With Their Porno": Arcade Fire's Search For Love in the Reflective Age

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