Arcade Fire had been one of the most admired indie-rock bands of the early 2000’s who toured alongside the band U2. They were rewarded a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album and performed their hit song “Wake Up” with a now-deceased David Bowie. Their second album Neon Bible, of early 2007, was first released in the UK and then in the US a day later on March 6th. It later became number two on the Billboard 200 chart and sold 92,000 copies its first week since the album’s debut. Their song “My Body is a Cage” inspired wonder and a sense of melancholy hysteria behind the many meanings and interpretations of the lyrics.
The first stanza opens up with a miserable proclamation of imprisonment and an underlining feeling of depravity because of some impossible or forbidden love: “My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love.” To be clear, there are two reasonable scenarios and one suggests that the speaker cannot be with who he loves because she is dead and his body literally keeps him from dancing with who he loves one last time. The second scenario suggests that there is a sort of forbidden love and the shame and fear of humiliation he feels keep him from expressing himself.
“My body is a cage that keeps me
From dancing with the one I love
But my mind holds the key.”
It is because of that last part of this stanza that the idea of a forbidden love becomes most viable. “But my mind holds the key” suggests that it is not an impossible love but he is instead obstructed by himself rather than death itself. Why is it forbidden, however? It can be theorized that these forbidden emotions are homosexual and the implications of these feelings suggest a reasonable cause for the fear of humiliation and guilt that hinders himself from being with who he loves. The singer repeats the stanza; the third section reads:
“I'm standing on a stage, of fear and self-doubt
It's a hollow play, but they'll clap anyway.”
Shakespeare had once said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and woman are merely players.” Looking at the first line of the third stanza, it can be interpreted much the same way. The speaker is on that stage or in a world in which he describes as fearful, perhaps of what they don’t understand, and full of self-doubt. The world hates what makes it question itself which is why it is believed that the fear of humiliation the speaker feels is because of the tendency the world has to dehumanize what it despises. Also, the speaker is acting. On some level, the speaker is lying to the audience (the world) by repressing the love he feels. What he says and does to appease the world are scripted and empty. “It’s a hollow play, but they’ll clap anyway.” The speaker knows the truth but he lies and the world is happy to never know the truth at the expense of the speaker’s sanity and happiness. This theory works in conjuncture with the fifth stanza after the repetition of the chorus.
“You're standing next to me
My mind holds the key.”
It’s been concluded. Not only is his love still alive but he stands next to him. He’s right beside him and all the speaker has to do is be brave and speak. It’s the way he feels about him that are locked behind walls of his own fear, but it’s his bravery that can unlock the deafening silence the world thrusts on him because of their own fear. The same world that begins to doubt how they could have possibly been wrong about how love works. It will never be easy or undemanding, but who said it would ever be simple?
“I'm living in an age, that calls darkness light
Though my language is dead, still the shapes fill my head”
Morality holds an objective pretense in our society yet its validity is always questionable regardless of the justification which is why morality is a never-ending inquisition demanding of subjective reasoning rather than basic absolutism and objective labels. This stanza represents a question of morality and perspective: Is the love that the speaker was wrong, the darkness that he calls light, or is the bigotry and hate the world has for his love the darkness that is so obliquely justified by religion and ambiguous interpretation of dogma. “Though my language is dead, still the shapes fill my head” speaks for itself. The speaker is silent, perhaps paralyzed by fear to speak out, but the reality of the worlds hate is known to him. The shapes are the world’s actions and they are certainly abundant with depravity, uncertainty, and ignorance.
“I'm living in an age, whose name I don't know
Though the fear keeps me moving, still my heart beats so slow”
The seventh stanza is a crucial aspect of the speaker’s fear because it emphasizes abandonment and loneliness. What age is this where his love breeds the world’s hate? He doesn’t know this world of injustice and of inequality. His fear is what he holds onto because it’s his fear that elicits his caution. It’s the same caution that keeps him in isolated hiding, safe and keeping a secret that would surely put him in danger. “Still my heart beats so slow”. The speaker is alive but not living because his life is a lie.
After the seventh stanza, the eighth and ninth are just a repetition of the chorus and the fifth verse. Following that, the speaker exclaims:
“My body is a cage, we take what we're given
Just because you've forgotten, that don't mean you're forgiven”
The speaker is saying that people like him have taken the hate they were given for centuries. This is exemplified by the Matthew Shepherd case where a teen was beaten to death by a group of individuals for being gay or when homosexuals were stoned to death during the rise of Christianity. Today, the world takes these cases and have taken them for granted. They have forgotten the hate they sewed but simply because they have been forgotten, that doesn’t mean they reaped forgiveness. Many of us remember and many of us still live in that age of violence. The age where we are attacked and dehumanized for being who we are. This further exemplifies the words “I’m living in an age, whose name I don’t know.” It asks, “do I live in the present or do I live in the past?”
“I'm living in an age, that screams my name at night
But when I get to the doorway, there's no one in sight”
The screams at night are the voices of those who hate and protest. They claim his love is an abomination, but no one is there because it’s the same voices he’s had to listen to every day and they echo throughout the night. This stanza emphasizes how alone the speaker feels. As if no one understands. The following stanza exemplifies the way the same voices of the people who hate, dehumanize and disregard the speaker for how he feels:
“I’m living in an age/They laugh when I’m dancing with the one I love/But my mind holds the key. Standing next to me. My mind holds the key.”
By the end of the song, the speaker has made a transition. He no longer is frightened by the voices of the hateful world. In fact, from the beginning, he was simply hiding, towards the middle, people were hating him surely because they knew, but in the end, the speaker is no longer fighting, but believing that he is the only one who can dehumanize himself. The conclusion of the song, I believe, is simply encouraging words directed towards his lover. It reads, “Set my spirit free. Set my body free” several times in an alternating fashion. He’s telling his lover to let him love his spirit, without his fears, his body, clouding who he is.
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