Searching For My True Self Yesterday: Present-nostalgia in Win Butler’s Lyrics

Over the past six years Arcade Fire has (for some) become something of a barometer through which certain aspects of popular social and cultural trends can be understood. I suggest that a close listen to Win Butler’s lyrics reveal the repetition and layering of particular motifs dealing with the transition from adolescence to adulthood, or in Butler’s parlance from ‘kids’ to the ‘modern man’. These themes are not exclusive to Arcade Fire and reflect a strong thread in contemporary culture that valorises and commemorates a past that has barely passed. This valorisation of the near past or what I call ‘present-nostalgia’ is also evident in the lyrics of Sufjan Stevens and Joanna Newsom, embodied by Michael Cera and Zooey Deschanel, and dispensed through Urban Outfitters. Despite diverse examples Butler’s lyrics provide the clearest window through which to peer on the phenomenon of present-nostalgia.
The trend among mid-to-late twenty year olds who long for adolescences despite only very recently leaving adolescence is represented in Butler’s lyrics by the tension between the world of ‘kids’ and the world of the ‘modern man’. The ubiquity of ‘kids’ in Butler’s lyrics and the tension with adulthood represents a distinctive use of nostalgia in the contemporary.  Clearly nostalgia has played an important role in the commemoration of the past in a variety of art forms, however, what is distinctive about the nostalgia employed in Butler’s lyrics and the contemporary indie scene more widely is the quotidian or everyday subject matter, temporal proximity to the present, and distrust toward the future. In the next few posts I will explore these features of present-nostalgia.