Sunday Songs: Arcade Fire – “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”

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Driving home from running a 5k around Green Lake this morning, with The Suburbs on the stereo and Mount Rainier perfectly framed between some trees, it struck me.

My sister is younger than me, but I am, philosophically at least, of a newer generation than her.

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“My mom and sister live a mile apart, and I live 2,000 away from them,” I explained to a Canadian friend the other night. “And that’s both literally the case and a perfect metaphor.”

Two years ago, my sister and her then-husband bought a home in the same suburban part of Memphis where my mom has resided for half my life now. They paid half what I paid for mine, and got more than three times the square footage, plus a yard, patio, and all that. It was a home for the future, but therein lies the problem.

In a conversation with my mom not long ago, she revealed that a) in late 1998, she paid as much for her four-bedroom house as I did for my one-bedroom condo in 2007, and b) in all that time, it hadn’t appreciated in value at all.

For them, the dream was a house, a yard, and two cars in the garage. Plenty of space, their space. For me? To quote M83, “The city is my church.”

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Great as it is, The Suburbs feels specific to its era in the same way as Green Day’s American Idiot. Where the latter was a reaction to the Bush Administration foreign policy, the Arcade Fire’s album, intentionally or not, sounds like a reaction to the aftermath of Bush-era economics. Idealism is dead, pragmatism is thriving. Be glad you have a job, stop hoping to follow your dreams. Meanwhile, Régine Chassagne sings that “Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains/and there’s no end in sight.”

The economy has recovered since then. Creative arts thrive, this year’s slate of great albums serving as proof. And yet, we remain shaped by what transpired.

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A new gospel has taken over these days. Driving home from a show in Ballard last night, I was struck by all the mixed-use buildings that had taken over that neighborhood’s landscape. Five stories of apartments above one floor of retail is the new dogma, replacing beloved bowling alleys and architecturally interesting Denny’s with slates of blandness. My neighborhood is just as bad.

But, complain as I might, at least I can walk. The neighborhoods are changing, but they are still neighborhoods, the kind of place where you can walk to the movie theater or bar, and drunkenly shop for groceries on the way home. When I lived in my mom’s house, I went years without actually seeing my neighbors. Now, I can’t avoid them.

Is this a better way to live life? Worse? Simply different? I can’t say. But it feels newer, and somehow, more hopeful.

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