POST-MORMON STORIES

Why I Relate to Tyler Glenn’s “Trash”

Yes, the controversial music video defaces sacred LDS symbols, but in doing so it brings to visceral life the nightmare journey of the apostate.

William Shunn
3 min readSep 23, 2022

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This essay was written in 2016.

In a dim, eerily lit hallway, a young bearded man with a hip haircut scowls at a defaced painting of the LDS prophet Joseph Smith.
Tyler Glenn confronts Joseph Smith and his insane aesthetician posse in a still from “Trash.”

Watching Tyler Glenn’s video for his new solo single, “Trash,” the anger is palpable and inescapable. But it also brims with pain and grief.

“Trash” exploded across the online Mormon world last week, causing the faithful to recoil and apostates to jump up and down in a fever. Glenn is the lead singer of Provo’s Neon Trees. A lifelong member of the LDS Church, he made headlines two years ago by coming out as gay in the pages of Rolling Stone. He still believed, though — until six months ago, that is, when the church issued draconian new guidelines for the ecclesiastical treatment of children of same-sex couples.

Now comes “Trash,” a video in which Tyler Glenn drinks liquor from the bottle, spits on a defaced portrait of Joseph Smith, enacts all four of the secret handshakes from the temple endowment ceremony, draws a red X on his face, and ultimately crumples amidst a blizzard of printed pages possibly meant to represent Mormon scripture.

It’s hard to overstate how powerfully this video affects those of us who have also gone through the painful process of separating ourselves from the Mormon church. It’s also hard to overstate how powerfully it must affect faithful Mormons. “Trash” renders one of the most familiar images in LDS iconography, the portrait of Joseph Smith, into a gothic nightmare. Even a viewer like myself, separated from the church by more than two decades, can’t help feeling a stab of horror as Glenn viciously spits at the painting. This is the rankest blasphemy, a gut-punch to the deepest recesses of Mormon symbology. That gobbet of spit strikes the indoctrinated viewer like missile from hell.

What’s so thrilling about “Trash” is how it seizes us and drags us through the first stages of the apostate journey. Mormons in good standing may quake at the treatment Joseph receives, but to the apostate an angry repudiation of the building blocks of his or her identity is necessary for overcoming the…

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William Shunn

Writer, poet and puzzle maker. Hugo and Nebula Award finalist. Author of The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. He/him/Bill.