It's been a busy week for Arcade Fire member Will Butler, who has been rolling out a series of daily songs inspired by headlines from The Guardian. Now it's Friday (February 27), and Butler has shared the fifth and final instalment in the series.
This one is called "By the Waters of Babylon" and it's inspired by ISIS's ransacking of a museum in Mosul, Iraq. The result is a despairing piano ballad filled with Biblical references.
Below, read Butler's statement about the song and the story that inspired it. Scroll past that to hear the results. Butler's solo album Policy is due out on March 10 through Merge.
The words to today's song are taken from Psalm 137. It's a song of sorrow and rage from the mouth of a refugee whose city has been destroyed. The sorrow portion of the psalm is extremely famous and often quoted – "How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" The rage portion of the psalm is less often brought up – "O daughter of Babylon … happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth they little ones against the stones."
I can't imagine the sorrow and rage of the people whose lands have been overrun by Isis, whose family and friends are murdered, whose culture is being destroyed. This song is not a policy prescription. The last lines should evoke horror. But the emotions behind the words are ancient and real.
Mosul is a part of our heritage, part of the world's heritage, and the loss of its history is heartbreaking.