Ah, nostalgia. It can wound you, right in the heart, true to its very definition (from the Greek: pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering; homesickness) or it can, in the right setting, nicely transport you to a distant happy place and time. But for our most important, beloved music, despite the milestone anniversaries that persist at flying at us in crass defiance of the fact that on a good day we still feel 25 (at least mentally) nostalgia is irrelevant. Music such as this simply never went away.
While I’m reassured by worldly and knowledgeable friends that being a Cure obsessive is not a bad thing these days, as we each float on Titanic-style debris looking around for others who can share the space with us in an ocean of noisy pop garbage, the idea of the music of my youth is tinged with a bit of painful nostalgia about the type of obsessive I was back in the mid-80’s, the type of mindset I had (early teenage) and the way it marked/marred my memories due to the great music lover I learned to obsess with (a teenage boyfriend, equal parts lovely and dark). The Cure was our music. It defined and framed an anger and an angst so much darker and cooler than our suburban, alcoholic version of rebellion (rum, vodka, peach schnapps) for as I now know, Robert Smith was mining deep depths of drug addiction and disillusionment in a bona fide post-punk malaise, while I was suffering a truly abysmal Catholic high school, the aforementioned boyfriend, and a slow drift away from academics into preoccupations of the heart that would never sustain me like a solid education might have done (but there are no laments for lost school grades, are there?)
And yet, the bond I developed with music made me, very much, the person I am today: the person who still knows all the words, and still feels all the chord changes, that can inhabit the best snippets of nostalgia in the most measured doses (so unlike the greedy, sad kid I was) and smile at it all, finally. The Cure was really pre and post that boyfriend who tried to steal their words, it was me: I proudly saw almost every one of the many Toronto tour stops from 1984 to today, beginning with the old stadium where we 16 year old girls, where we could and did once, jump seats and get to the floors due to our youthful charm, never feeling guilty and always saying please and thank you and acting dumb when we were really quite calculated. It is one of my truest memories, at a later concert, early 90’s, then new intro song “Plainsong” erupted and moved me and my best friend to tears in a way like nothing before or since- normally jaded now 20 something girls losing our shit, for once, free again. No intro song of any band or tour would ever touch this song, this band, this moment. It hasn’t yet, in more than 20 years.
The Cure’s Head on the Door, on arrival in 1985 was something digested for us Canadian kids like a care package from the more exciting U.K. We received tapes and traded LPs and were able to discover a band already mid stride with 8 years (6 albums) of material for us to mine, and we did. While the equally loved Faith, Seventeen Seconds and Pornography ought to have come with some kind of over 18 warning as it was dark shit (a darkness I don’t think anyone can touch today) The Head on the Door was still fucked up, but bopping and edging toward an ironic poppyness in the first wave of Robert Smith as the keen, capable, and yet, still cool and uncompromising hit maker he would become.
This was the golden age of the let it play record (or tape). There were no duds, records were an experience, one that cemented themselves so deeply in our lives because we made them permanent fixtures, so important were they to us. And all without digital media or ear buds. As you will recall, we sat at home or friend’s homes and we listened, for weeks and months of life. We wrote the words out in reams of lyrics learned by ear; we wrote them in love (or hate) letters; some of us carved them in neighbourhood fences; we claimed it as ours. And we stood above all who had no idea who The Cure was with our own code that also excluded the Americans “it’s my American voice again. It was never like this before, not one of you’s the same. Do do do do.” (“Six Different Ways”).
This song is a gleeful oddity in the huge catalogue of this band’s work, and remains a favourite. It’s a perfect combo of British wit (which always sailed over the heads of most Americans) and, for a Canadian listener, echoes our national wish/belief that we are just slightly in on the joke, owing to our closer roots and one generation-or less separation from the U.K. (Many a household in my city watches Corrie to this day, including some of the coolest kids in town). To read the lyrics doesn’t do it justice, it’s one of those great songs that is so much more than the sum of its parts.
Wherever I am in the world, whatever age I am, I will stop dead in my tracks and feel as serene as if on a lake if I hear what is essentially the title track: “Close to Me”. The beat of that song is more true to me than a heartbeat, it’s clean and cool and it’s so reassuring that we never even got phased that he’s talking about getting sick and bad dreams. It’s cool comfort. It’s medicinal, it is in fact, the cure.
“Push” is another simple lyric that is an epic, rolling tide of musicality. It’s a particular type of appealing, dark, smart and cruel poetry that can conjure up the following lines in succession: “Oh smear this man across the walls/Like strawberries and cream/It’s the only way (it’s the only way) to be…” Smith’s map of love was exciting and nihilistic, but that was a word far beyond our reach as the plaintive cries and biting lashes of his voice made our heads spin. Now that was dazzling love. No suburban boys could ever compare. In the hands of clumsy teenagers, a lot of the musicality was fumbled, but with time this challenging music only gets more rewarding. Robert Smith only gets more lovable as he, and as we, grey and ache in the mornings and live to fight another day. Cuppa tea love?
The rolling storm of “A Night Like This” is one of The Cure’s and Robert Smith’s peak moments. Vocally, it marks an amazing time: mid career, mid eighties, between a young punk’s cry and the deeper vocal and tonal range he would explore as he grew and aged and never gave up in this band, one of the greatest the world has ever known, in what is arguably the last great age of real music and the industry as we knew it. It’s sweepingly romantic: “I’m coming to find you if it takes me all night” then perfectly cliched “for always and ever it’s always for you” and next, in the same breath, it’s marvelously vicious “you’re just the most gorgeously stupid thing I ever cut in this world” and THEN wistful “I want it to be perfect like before”. It is utterly, bizarrely, perfect for the hearts it sang to, that sang back to him across the oceans of the world. It’s young love and it’s all love that has its ups and downs and waves and seasickness, as life at the end of the century has been for a generation.
1985 to Forever. For Always and Ever.
All lyrics copyright The Cure.
By Jacqueline Howell