"City with No Children" as written by Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, William Butler, Tim Kingsbury, Richard R Parry and Jeremy Gara....
The summer that I broke my arm
I waited for your letter
I have no feeling for you now
Now that I know you better

I wish that I could have loved you then
Before our age was through
And before a world war does with us
Whatever it will do

Dreamt I drove home to Houston
On a highway that was underground
There was no light that we could see
As we listened to the sound of the engine failing

I feel like I've been living in
A city with no children in it
A garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside
Of a private prison

You never trust a millionaire
Quoting the sermon on the mount
I used to think I was not like them
But I'm beginning to have my doubts
My doubts about it

When you're hiding underground
The rain can't get you wet
Do you think your righteousness
Can pay the interest on your debt?
I have my doubts about it

I feel like I've been living in
A city with no children in it
A garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside
Of a private prison

I feel like I've been living in
A city with no children in it
A garden left for ruin by and by
As I hide inside
Of my private prison


Lyrics submitted by firstgreenroom, edited by Mellow_Harsher

"City with No Children" as written by Regine Chassagne Jeremy Gara

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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City with No Children song meanings
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  • +5
    General CommentTo me, this song is incredibly cathartic and teeming with conviction.

    I believe it is completely about being 20-something and lost as can be.

    Officially a man, but still not quite there, just caught somewhere in the throws of well above the legal age, but still not recognized by contemporaries. Its tough, and you want to be recognized by your coworkers, but it just can't happen. Its tough to relate to people outside your age group, and all of which are above you, and have no understanding of what exactly you are.

    Trying your damnedest, you try to live up to an old generation's standards, but simply can't, its like being a child in a city with no children in it; the people you relate to.

    The childhood hope about the letter, or even the millionaire (C.E.O. type figure with the same sort of inspiration) who has the same disconnect, just screams the meaning to me.

    The thing about this CD, is personally I see no political allegory. Past albums seemed to say that to me too, but as I get older, I actually tend to relate to the arcade fire more.
    Consmonauton August 12, 2010   Link
  • +5
    General CommentA city with no children is a city with no future. However, the reference to this feeling is less about the external environment (i.e., the city) and more about the singer's internal world as he struggles with his weighty past and disillusionment. As an emerging adult, he is trying to reconcile feelings of adolescent idealism with the stark reality of living in a world that is less than perfect, confusingly ambiguous, and mired in shades of grey.

    The song begins with a reference to being hurt and expecting some type of compassionate response from an absent caregiver in return. Yet this response does not come, the singer becomes bitter, and he realizes that he cannot fully rely on this person. He then laments about not fully embracing this person when his world was simpler and it was easier for him to risk loving, a time in which he was not jaded. Thus, in this vein, my guess is that the "world war" is more about drawn out interpersonal conflicts between family members and less about our somewhat tenuous geopolitical environment. Ostensibly, it is a war between a child and parent and it engenders feelings of uncertainty and uneasiness. The dream about the trip back to Houston then refers to atavistic family drama and not knowing (being in the dark) exactly how things will will go but knowing that they will not go well (kind of a similar vibe to "This Year" by the Mountain Goats). Moreover, given that the singer is dreaming about this, the uneasiness he feels about his past still presses on his subconscious even if he is able to adequately distract himself while awake.

    Continuing with the emerging adult theme, flash forward a few years and the singer is prosperous but due to the weight of his past, he does not feel free or liberated by his new wealth. Instead, he feels like a prisoner of the past and his new circumstances. He hides underground to escape inclement weather. In other words, he retreats from elements in the external world (i.e., interpersonal relationships) to avoid future loss or pain. He tries to justify his lifestyle and previous decisions to himself in questioning: "Do you think your righteousness can pay the interest on your debt?" Here he really seems to be saying: "To get by, I changed because I had to." However, it is interesting that he says "interest on the debt" as if he has accepted his debt and now wants to just get by in an imperfect world that he cannot fix. This makes me question whether "debt" implies a financial debt.

    Now, let's break down the chorus to pull this together. The city with no children is an environment that is bereft of youthful nativity or adolescent idealism. The garden is the singer's view of himself and his potential to change the world (his world) at a younger age. The millionaire is the unsatisfied adult that struggles with his own financial success, disillusionment from deviating from previously held values, and a personal history that is littered with disappointment, conflict, longing, and emptiness. He has simply yet painfully lost his youthful spark. Damn, I wish I could write songs like this.
    sulkowskion October 17, 2010   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThat was the line that really stood out to me too, not only in the song, but on the whole album.

    The Sermon on the Mount in Christianity includes the Beatiudes, one line among them being "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." It says that the poor are those who shall inherit heaven. So thus it would be a little paradoxical, or perhaps hypocritical, that a millionaire would be quoting from a passage in scripture claiming that it is the poor who shall inherit the earth. So, I think what that line is trying to say is that the narrator is beginning to think his own life may be becoming a little hypocritical, or he may not be fully practicing what he preaches.

    I think this song is about the narrator coming to grips with his loss of innocence, or at least lamenting that fact, and possible longing for a simpler time when people actually were truthful and meant what they said.
    CertainSongson July 27, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThe first thing I thought of when I heard these lines...

    "I feel like I've been living in
    A city with no children in it
    A garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside
    Of a private prison"

    was a possible reference to The Secret Garden, the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
    AndreaStewart1685on August 14, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think "Living in a city with no children in it" means that people are living their lives as if they are the last generation. The children of today will inheret this world, but adults don't seem to care (letting their gardens go to waste while they stay inside and accumulate wealth- in an increasingly privatised world). The first verse is a memory of innocence which is now lost.
    firespoonon August 31, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAnother one of my favourites off the new album.

    "You never trust a millionaire
    Quoting the sermon on the mount
    I used to think I was not like them
    But I'm beginning to have my doubts
    My doubts about it"

    Find this line really interesting. Is Win trying to say that sometimes he doubts whether the wealth I'd assume he's made has changed him?
    htcdb125on July 26, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentSO DAMN MEANINGFUL! it packs so much into one song, its amazing.
    LikeItLuvIton August 05, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe second verse seems to me a lot about selling out. I'm not sure if that's what the whole song is trying to covey, but a few lines:

    "You never trust a millionaire
    Quoting the sermon on the mount
    I used to think I was not like them
    But I'm beginning to have my doubts
    My doubts about it"

    As has been mentioned, the hypocrisy of being wealthy and saying the meek will inherit the Earth. And Win thinking he was one of those people but now not being so sure when confronted with his sudden fame.

    "When you're hiding underground
    The rain can't get you wet
    Do you think your righteousness
    Can pay the interest on your debt?
    I have my doubts about it"

    Maybe it's just the indie hispter LA kid in me talking, but Arcade Fire used to be an "underground" band that was immune, in a way, to the mainstream (the rain). But now he's saying that if you're going to be righteous about being underground and not popular, you're not going to be able to make a living.

    But the first verse seems like it, conceptually speaking, has nothing to do with that sentiment. So I'm not sure. The idea of selling out is reiterated in Ready To Start as well (I haven't looked at the lyrics of the rest of the album but...) so I'm assuming it's a thematic aspect of this album, which has skyrocketed their career into the charts.
    junkiescienceon August 31, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI feel like I've been living in
    A city with no children in it
    A garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside
    Of a private prison

    The above lines seem to reference Oscar Wilde's famous children's story "The Selfish Giant".

    I believe the song is Win's self-critique on the way the band's success may have changed his outlook on life, despite his best efforts to stay grounded and "in touch" with ordinary people - especially those from his childhood/past. A theory which is borne out by the next verse:

    You never trust a millionaire
    Quoting the sermon on the mount
    I used to think I was not like them
    But I'm beginning to have my doubts
    Lantaon October 20, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think that part of what he's saying is that he doesn't have any meaningful human contact in his life. Like... he's alienated from his childhood friends and is living in a "private prison." Maybe he's lamenting life choices he's made that have prevented him from having a family, that he's sucessful by some people's standards but he's still family-less. Which explains why the garden's "left for ruin." It's like he has the means to support a family, but he doesn't have a family to put inside his garden. That's what I got out of it at first.
    davidstephenson8on August 03, 2010   Link

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