Song 306: Arcade Fire, “Wake Up” (2004)

funeral

I know, could I pick a more obvious choice for an Arcade Fire song? The thing is, I’ve thought long and hard about what song to pick, and it’s still, after nine years, the one that means the most to me. The fact that it means so much to everybody else is a testament to its greatness.

Funeral found me when my friend Adam gave it to me for my birthday. He doesn’t remember this, but I know it’s true. I like to say that the record found me because I hadn’t heard anything about it, and I didn’t seek it out. It arrived right on time.

My dad died about a month before Funeral came out, and about four months before I heard the record for the first time. Not only did I love it instantly because it’s a great record, but because it seemed to be about everything I was going through at the time: leaving childhood behind for (seemingly sudden) adulthood, accepting sadness as something useful, and retaining as much childhood as you possibly can. “Wake Up” seemed to contain everything I was feeling, from desperation to periodic serenity.

Those first few chords are so iconic now that it’s hard to remember what it was like hearing them for the first time. I hope I heard them as the warm, fierce, strong, dramatic statements they are. They’re very matter-of-fact, very straightforward—there isn’t a bit of syncopation or playfulness to them; the rhythm is like Morse code tapping out a reassuring signal. Then, of course, comes Win Butler’s vulnerable-but-determined voice, that beautiful wail that fuels “Wake Up” as it rolls along. I love the way he sings the first word, “somethin’,” dropping the “g” like a child might. He’s not sure where he fits in, or how he’s supposed to feel about what’s happening. I related.

The song’s epilogue was the most helpful to me. The idea is simple—I know where I’m going, so nothing can hurt me—but it’s an enormously important one to grasp. Not that I actually felt that confident at the time, but it’s a very comforting thought. Let’s do this, Win Butler seems to be saying. Here I come. Look out below.

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