Searching For My True Self Yesterday: Kids Know Rococo

Perhaps the exemplary song of ‘present-nostalgia’ (Part I and II) is ‘Wake-Up’ off Funereal. It speaks of pure childhood destroyed by growing older and being fed lies, presumably by ‘Modern Man’, which turn ‘everything to rust’.

Powerfully used to promote the film Where the Wild Things Are, ‘Wake Up’ was further enshrined for mid-to-late twenty year olds as an anthem of nostalgia, wistfully reminding the listener of a not-too-distant past when being locked in one’s bedroom was the worst thing that could happen, before the realities of divorce, unemployment and sickness came crashing through. The corruption of childhood through waking up to adulthood is repeated through the tension between ‘kids’ and ‘modern man’ that runs under the surface of Funeral and Neon Bible to emerge as a dominant theme throughout The Suburbs.

7th N 3rd Street, Philadelphia

Half the songs on The Suburbs explicitly mention ‘kids’ or ‘children’, while the other half refer to ‘kids’ activities like riding bicycles and kissing in parks. Butler’s ‘kids’ first appeared in 2003 on Arcade Fire’s self-titled EP in ‘No Cars Go’, later to re-appear on Neon Bible. Butler builds on the ancient theme of the insight of children by positioning ‘kids’ as privileged knowers. 

In ‘No Cars Go’ the ‘kids’ know where the car-free utopia is, where women, babies and old folks go; notably ‘modern man’ is excluded. However, the ‘kids’ as knowers in The Suburbs are more complicated. They are still the privileged knowers in ‘Rococo’ who ‘have always known that the emperor wears no clothes’, however there is a certain wryness when Butler sings that t‘they bow down to him anyway’ because ‘it’s better than being alone.’ So while the ‘kids’ may see the reality of the Emperor’s wardrobe malfunction, the fear of isolation and rejection leads to false worship.

But the ‘kids’ can’t be blamed for their bad-faith. In addition to knowing that the Emperor is without clothes, they also know ‘so much pain for someone so young’. In ‘Month of May’ Butler sings of the ‘kids’ standing there with their ‘arms folded tight’ unable to lift a thing. Perhaps these are the same poser ‘kids’ in Butler’s more sardonic ‘Rococo’ who are all the same and using ‘great big words that they don’t understand.’ However, to understand the (dis)affectedness of these kids we need to understand the malaise of ‘modern man’…

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