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Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Neon Bible Study

By David Buckna

Special to ASSIST News Service
NeonBible cover

CANADA (ANS) -- In an April 4, 2005 cover story, Time magazine [Canada] called indie-rockers Arcade Fire--led by the husband-and-wife team of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne--"Canada's most intriguing rock band".Their highly anticipated sophomore full-length album--"Neon Bible"--released March 5th in the U.K. and March 6th in North America.

"...the record manages to sound both overwrought and overjoyed at the same time; doomed and saved."--Kitty Empire, The Observer (March 4/07)

"If Arcade Fire can deliver another chapter as inspirational as this, they'll need to add a lot more pews."--Josh Modell, Spin Magazine (March 2007)

1. What's the title of Arcade Fire's 2004 album?

2. Where was "Neon Bible" recorded?

3. What is the album's opening track?

4. The album's second track includes the lyrics: "Men are coming to take me away/ I don't know why, but I know I can't stay". Name the song.

5. What two vials are mentioned on the album's title track?

6. In the same song, what golden object is mentioned?

7. The first song Arcade Fire played on NBC's Saturday Night Live (February 25/07) includes the lyrics: "Working for the church while your family dies/You take what they give you and you keep it inside/ Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home/ Hear the soldier groan, 'We'll go at it alone.'". Name the song.

8. This song also includes the lyrics: "Working for the church while your life falls apart/ Singin' hallelujah with the fear in your heart." What does "hallelujah" mean?

9. In "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" where's a great black wave found?

10. From "Ocean of Noise:" "No way of knowing/ What any man will do/ An ocean of violence/ Between me and you". What Bible book includes the verse: "Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future"-- Ecclesiastes, Job, or Proverbs?

NeonBible featured on TIME cover

11. Annie Zaleski writes at "After clicking through's front page, highlight the "Lyrics" link on the next page. Up pops a serene-looking child dressed in a prim frock, reading a 'book' that actually links to Neon Bible's lyrics--and, curiously, to the fable 'The Wolf and the Fox'..." Who penned the fable?

12. In what song is the word "resurrected" heard?

13. What song's storyline is about a father who pressures his daughter to compete in an Idol-type TV competition?

14. From the same song: "Little girl, you're old enough to understand/ That you'll always be a stranger in a strange, strange land". Who calls himself "a stranger in a strange land" in Exodus 2:22?

15. In the Springsteen-esque "Windowsill", Butler sings: "Cause the tide is high and it's rising still/ And I don't want to see it at my windowsill". In what gospel does Jesus predict: "On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea."--Matthew, Mark, or Luke?

16. From "Windowsill:" I don't wanna fight in a holy war/ I don't want the salesmen knocking at my door/ I don't wanna live in America no more."

Win Butler told Greg Kot (Chicago Tribune):"I wrote that song after our first headlining tour of the States....It was the first time in my life that I felt like I was visiting my own country as some sort of outsider. I had lived in Montreal for a few years at that point, but I didn't realize that I had really made it my home until that trip. In theology there is this idea that it is easier to say what God isn't than what God is, and in a way that song is my trying to say everything about my country that is not what makes it great or beautiful. In a way it makes what is great and beautiful and worth fighting to preserve more clear."

What's the name of the theological term Butler is describing?

17. In David Fricke's review of "Neon Bible" for Rolling Stone, what song does he call "a teens-on-the-lam anthem about starting a new Eden, out where there are no roads"?

18. From "My Body Is A Cage:" "I'm living in an age that calls darkness light". What Old Testament prophet wrote: "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness..." --Ezekiel, Isaiah, or Jeremiah?

19. "My Body Is A Cage" concludes with Butler crying out:"Set my spirit free/ Set my body free". What gospel writer quotes Jesus:"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."-- Mark, Luke, or John?

20. When Will Butler (Win's brother) discussed the thematic thread of "Neon Bible" with T'Cha Dunlevy (Montreal Gazette), Butler recited the first verse of what Dylan song?

21. Alexis Petridis writes in The Guardian (March 2/07):"An album this mired in fathomless darkness shouldn't sound so dazzling, but it does." Who said in 1 Kings 8:12:"The LORD said that he would dwell in the thick darkness."--Abraham, Moses, or Solomon?


Arcade Fire

1. "Funeral". Michael Barclay writes on  "Despite the title, Funeral is more like a baptism: an arrival, an affirmation of faith, a statement of purpose. It was recorded during a time when family members were dying; in the liner notes, the Arcade Fire dedicates the album to no less than nine dearly departed....In the song 'Rebellion,' Win sings, 'Sleeping is giving in, no matter what the time is/ Sleeping is giving in, so lift those heavy eyelids.' In one fanzine article, he was asked to summarize his outlook on life in 11 words or less, to which he responded simply: 'Death is real.' This is the philosophy of the Arcade Fire, one of carpe diem, of living life to the fullest during our short time on this earth."

James 4:14:"Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."

From Time magazine (April 4/2005):" 'I like songs that are joyful but about really dark subjects,' he [Win] says--'dark, but have a ray of hope in them.' That comes through on tracks like Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), a song ostensibly about a power outage. Butler sings, 'I woke up on the darkest night/ Neighbors all were shoutin' that they found the light.'"

Psalm 30:5b: "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning."

2. a 19th-century redbrick church-turned-recording-studio, in a farm town near Montreal.

Darcy Frey writes in The New York Times Magazine: "The church already had a stage in front, a hundred-foot ceiling that returned rich, live-sounding reverberations and a rear balcony that could be turned into a glassed-in sound booth. Once they bought the place, moved in their equipment and hired two engineers, all they had to do was convert the basement into bedrooms and hire Liza (Win's brother's fiancée's younger sister) as their cook so they could live out there for most of last year, working roughly three weeks on, one off, sometimes playing through the wee hours to get their meticulously arranged and recorded songs just right."

3. "Black Mirror," which begins:"I walked down to the ocean/ After waking from a nightmare/ No moon, no pale reflection/ Black Mirror, Black Mirror".

From Voir magazine:"Tough to make sense of, the idea of a black mirror refers to the false self-image reality TV offers us. 'Visual popular culture tries to create shows in which people can recognize themselves,' Win analyses. 'The creators tell themselves that people want to be served up their own image. That's the basic principle behind reality TV: 'real' people who are supposed to be you. In fact, it's the negative of your own reflection, the absence of yourself.'" (

Mark Beaumont of  writes: "It begins with a thunderstorm. An ominous roll of kettle drums approach across a spectral synth landscape to where [singer] Win, fresh from a nightmare and still singing as if constantly on the verge of mental breakdown, is staring out at the pitch-black ocean and finding the darkness reflected in his own war-weary soul." (

The apostle Paul wrote of looking through a glass or mirror: "For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (I Corinthians 13:12)

From The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (2002):"To see 'through a glass'--a mirror--'darkly' is to have an obscure or imperfect vision of reality....Paul...explains that we do not now see clearly, but at the end of time, we will do so."

4. "Keep The Car Running".

Jeremiah 5:26:"Among my people are wicked men who lie in wait like men who snare birds and like those who set traps to catch men."

5. "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"

Revelation 16:1:"And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth."

6. A golden calf. "In the light of a golden calf/ Oh God! I had to laugh!"

Exodus 32:2-4:"Aaron answered them, 'Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.' So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'"

7. "Intervention". Andy Smith writes at  "The haunting and troubling religious overtones of the Iraq War feel the full-force of a choir here. Four years into the carnage that is our Vietnam, 'Intervention' insists that 'Working for the church while your family dies' is a fraudulent faith that helps neither friend nor enemy. But by not naming names when reading an entire cultural paradigm the riot act, Butler¹s lyrics have become a universal and thus timeless anti-war hymn."

"Intervention" asks the question: "Who's gonna throw the very first stone?"--echoing what Jesus tells the teachers of the law and the Pharisees: "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." (John 8:7)

8. The Hebrew "hallelujah" combines "hallelu" and "yah," and translates as "Praise God". The phrase is found in the book of Psalms (such as 113:1) and four times in the book of Revelation (such as 19:1)

Butler told Greg Kot (Chicago Tribune): "A good percentage of rock bands, when they perform it's a totally sexual thing. But I don't think we're that sexual. At least that's not what we're singing about or acting out. On a good night, it's more like the ecstasy of St. Theresa."

9. "There's a great black wave in the middle of the sea".

Psalm 89:9:"You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them."

Matthew 8:27:"The men were amazed and asked,'What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!'"

10. Ecclesiates (7:14)

11. seventeenth-century French poet Jean de la Fontaine.

Zaleski continues: "De la Fontaine's story goes something like this: One night, a fox finds a well with a giant wedge of cheese at its bottom; to get within noshing distance, he climbs down to it in a bucket. But his weight causes another bucket to rise to the surface of the well, thus stranding him to certain death--that is, until he convinces a wolf that meanders by to eat the cheese as well. Wolf climbs into the empty bucket and heads for the wedge, fox rises to the well's top--and voilà! Fox one, wolf zero."

"So this clearly raises the question: What does this have to do with the Arcade Fire's new record? Well, everything--if one considers the last line of de la Fontaine's piece ('Our faith is prone to lend its ear/To anything which we desire or fear') in the context of Bible's apparent-cousin 'The Well and the Lighthouse.' The song's protagonist greedily mistakes moonlight glinting off water at the bottom of a well for riches, causing a fox-like character to exclaim, "You fool, now that you know your end is near; you always fall for what you desire or what you fear!'"

"In other words: Is religion really there when we want something or are afraid--or does the folly of greed overshadow all? These questions and others are explored (although not exactly answered) on Bible, which is a dense, academic album fixated on questions of spirituality, religion and the concept of self--and, more specifically, how to reconcile these things in a bleak world where uncertainty is the norm, hope seems dead, and God isn't exactly benevolent. (That is, if He exists at all.)"

12. The Well & The Lighthouse: "Resurrected/ Living in a lighthouse/ If you leave, them ships are gonna wreck/ Resurrected/Living in a lighthouse/ The lions and the lambs ain't sleeping yet"

One contributor at  writes: "Imagine an undocumented portion of time passes and now the narrator--the speaker (man or woman--you choose)--is a changed person, resurrected in the sense that there is still hope. A lighthouse serves as a place where it shines light and direction for boats lost at seas and considering the ocean motif running in the songs, the ocean is the dark world in which the narrator is lost, but now living [in] the lighthouse they can see through the darkness and within that light there is hope; in that light there is God, as symbolized with the last lyrical line 'the lions and lambs ain't sleeping yet,' indicating youth and God haven¹t stopped working in this world yet." (Feb. 26/07)

"The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them." (Isaiah 11:6)

Matthew 4: 13-16:"Leaving Nazareth, he [Jesus] went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali--to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: 'Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles--the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.'"

Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house." (Matthew 5:14-15)

13. (Antichrist Television Blues), which includes the lyric: "My lips are near but my heart is far away".

"He [Jesus] replied, 'Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.'" (Mark 7:6)

"Central to the album...'is this idea that Christianity and consumerism are completely compatible, which I think is the great insanity of our times.'"--Win Butler, Chicago Tribune (February 25/07)

14. Moses. The 2/22/07 episode of ABC's "Lost" had the same title: "Stranger in a Strange Land"--referring to Dr. Jack Shephard.

15. Luke (21:25b)

16. Negative theology--also known as the Via Negativa (Latin for "Negative Way") and Apophatic theology.

From  "While many Christians work within the positive approach theology which, in keeping with revelation, 'personifies' God, some theologians argue that the first to articulate negative theology in Christianity was St. Paul whose reference to the Unknown God in the book of Acts (Acts 17:23) which is the foundation of works such as that of Pseudo Dionysius. However, others will point to Paul's further (ambiguous) explanation that he is going to make the unknown god known (Acts 17:23) as an instance of Paul's use of positive theology. He then goes on to describe God as Lord of heaven and earth, the one who made all nations and who is not far from each of us. Paul also used negative definitions to say that God is not served by human hands although this may be seen as a specific response to the human tendency to create psychological idols and/or shrines for the gods."

17. "No Cars Go". Fricke continues: "The basics remain: the simple, infectious melody; the singing-telegram lyrics ("Us kids know/ No cars go...Hey!"). But the song now takes off like an army of Harleys on a dirt track (drummer Jeremy Gara's accents jolt the rhythm like potholes), and the arrangement is atomic melodrama--strings, brass and refugee-choir vocals ringing in Grand Canyon-like echo. Like almost everything on Neon Bible, the follow-up to Arcade Fire's 2004 full-length debut, Funeral, 'No Cars Go' is excess with a point: We are drowning in the unspeakable and running out of air and fight." (

Jody Rosen of  writes: "Bible's centerpiece, 'No Cars Go,' is almost utopian: 'We know a place where no planes go/ We know a place where no ships go.' Is it a gospel song? A prayer for peace in a war-racked age? A 2007-model 'My Generation'? Perhaps all of the above."

The lyric "Us kids know" seems to suggest Matthew 18:2-4:"He [Jesus] called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'"

18. Isaiah (5:20).

19. John (8:31-32)

"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36)

Jude Rogers writes in New Statesman:"The album finale, 'My Body Is a Cage', is the record's highlight. A luscious gospel song  in the vein of Nina Simone's 'I Put a Spell On You', it builds and builds until it explodes in a riot of organ, choir and drums. The  effect is like Phil Spector's wall of sound gone spiritual. As it reaches its climax, you'll feel like you're watching the sky open up  and light pour down." (

20. "Highway 61 Revisited," which begins:"Oh God said to Abraham, 'Kill me a son'/ Abe says, 'Man, you must be puttin' me on'/ God say, 'No.' Abe say, 'What?'/ God say, 'You can do what you want Abe, but/ The next time you see me comin' you better run'/ Well Abe says, 'Where do you want this killin' done?'/ God says, 'Out on Highway 61.'"

Anthony Varesi, author of "The Bob Dylan Albums" (Guernica, 2002) comments: "Highway 61 itself is something of a wasteland. The song culminates with Highway 61 becoming a setting for World War III, and is one of the purest, hardest rock songs in Dylan's entire catalogue."

From "Windowsill:" "World War III, when are you coming for me?/ Been kicking up sparks, we set the flames free"

21. Solomon. God says in Isaiah 45:7:"I form the light and create darkness..." and dwells in both light (1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 1:7) and darkness (Psalm 18:11; Psalm 97:2). See: "The God of Darkness" (

The creation began with the displacement of darkness: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness." (Genesis 1:1-4).

The Triune God is present everywhere (omnipresent): Father [I Kings 8:27], Son [Matthew 28:20], Spirit [Psalm 137:12].

Arcade Fire Trivia:

* Win Butler left Houston at age 15 to attend Phillips Exeter Academy, a prep school near Boston. During his time there, he directed a version of Woody Allen's "God: A Play" at the school's theater. (

* Win Butler studied theology at McGill University in Montreal. From Voir magazine (March 2007):"It's rather interesting to see how the group plays with embedded religious symbols, turning them away from their primary meaning without necessarily seeking to mock them. 'I grew up in the U.S. South, in Texas, and there religion still has a very marked impact on the culture,' the former theology student explains. 'I find the link to the Catholic religion here in Quebec rather unique. I'm actually surprised that Protestantism hasn't made more converts than it has, since people already know the Bible, even if it's in an often superficial way. Even though many Québécois haven't set foot in a church for 15 years, they still continue to perceive themselves as Catholics. In spite of it all, there's an attachment [to Catholicism]; it has stayed in the collective unconscious.'"

* The intros of two songs from Funeral--"Rebellion (Lies)" and "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)"--have been heard on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 during the fade-to-commercial.

* Arcade Fire opened 3 concerts for U2 in Montreal and Ottawa during U2's Vertigo Tour.

* Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" was played over the loudspeakers before U2's concerts.

* For the song "Intervention," Win and Régine rented the Saint-Jean-Baptiste church in Montreal with its 500-pipe organ. After an engineer miked the entire church, Régine recorded the parts in a series of single takes while the band tracks played into her headphones.

* The album "Neon Bible" shares its name with the novel by John Kennedy Toole (1989). Win Butler told  "It's a physical thing you see from time to time, a neon sign on a church. I thought of the name a while ago, and then read the book and thought, 'Oh, too bad I can't use that.' But as the record went on, I knew it was the title of the record. I'd thought of it as an idea, and then I read his other book, Confederacy of Dunces, and then heard reference to this book. It was more inspiring to me that a 16-year old wrote a book that isn't the best book in the world but deals with some interesting themes. The idea of a 16-year old writing a novel-instead of watching TV and doing whatever 16-year olds do is pretty inspiring.'"

* One week after its March release "Neon Bible" became the top selling record in Canada and claimed the No. 2 spot on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart.


Copyright 2007 by David Buckna. THE POP GOSPEL. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Buckna reads email at (  

Freelancer David Buckna produces -- THE POP GOSPEL -- a column that communicates Judeo-Christian truth to the postmodern culture using a Q & A format. Since December 2002, THE POP GOSPEL has been an occasional feature in the Calgary Herald (Calgary, Alberta, Canada). Questions are gleaned from movies, television, music, literature, current events and other aspects of pop culture: Star Trek, Rock Music, Harry Potter, Calvin & Hobbes, Dr. Seuss, SpongeBob SquarePants, The Matrix, Art Masterpieces, Classic TV, Christmas, The 10 Deadly Sins, Survivor, The Wizard of Oz, Johnny Cash, The Passion of the Christ, The Simpsons, and many others. Buckna's previous quizzes for ANS are found at (

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