The Cure are an iconic, ForAlwaysAndEver misunderstood and underrated British band whose devoted fan family stretches far out of that little island’s silly little borders and spans the globe in innumerable vapour trails, around and around and back and forth and zigzagging in untold, unlogged, and unchecked miles endlessly since the Punk era. Since disco balls hung and “Disco Sucks!” T-Shirts fought it out. Since Sabbath was underground; since Ian Curtis lived and railed on beautiful decrepit little stages before 25 people; since Jim and William Reid yet lurked in their shared bedroom before a flickering TV and were not yet making pure art that also defined an era, and us. The Cure have been here since before all that history and a lot more besides.
The Cure stood on a New York club stage in 1980 and performed something miraculous called “A Forest” to their audience’s and their own muffled delight and secret final smile (breaking the façade of a perfect Terry Hall pose). Here, they put something into the world that was so utterly perfect in that early flight that it remains largely unchanged except for embellished yet still subtle rococo flourishes that make thousands of us each smile as if it was our private joke each and every time to this day. And today, in 2016, as in 1980, Robert Smith stops and smiles quietly, graciously, without ego, marveling at Simon Gallup’s final bass grunts of that perfect song as if they were 17 again, 17 still. As ever, Simon Gallup stands to Smith’s left, as at ease together through thick and thin as if they were still at school and had only recently said “let’s start a band” never knowing what that would mean in 1985 and 1989 and 2001 and 2016. Never thinking, in the era of punk and the era of youth, that forever time, about the future at all, maybe.
I don’t write straight gig reports. I don’t go to boring gigs, or write about anything I can’t love. I pay attention, have fun, be present and try not to annoy strangers. I do my part. And I don’t bring my dark cloud with me to those crowds, or take notes, or more than 3 pictures even. I put those away, and bring instead my 1985 heart, which, as it cracks open from somewhere hidden, is worth the price of any ticket I can afford or time I can make, far more than any video one might steal/hoard. I share the best of me, rarely seen, with my kind. For this is 2016 and every outing matters on stage or in public. The world today, as I write this, has just gone dark yet again, darker still, with mass public violence targeted at people going out to dance, to find love.
But even yesterday, a story about The Cure could be a kind of history about survival itself. For all our musical heroes/icons/gods are getting on, and we are too, but how (well) did we live? We are going grey, we drink coffee without pleasure like medicine, to face the day, we are tired. We worry about our steps and losing our passport and sunburn now, and looking too old, as much as the money these days.
A story about The Cure could be, in fact, far TOO OFTEN IS a story of “nostalgia” but if you are a true (born) nostalgia merchant, and know what that word means, you will stop misusing it. Nostalgia means a painful homesickness for a place that you cannot get back to. It’s from the Greek, from the ancient texts. From a time when the only stories worthy of language and print itself were Epics, never noise; from the minds of authoritative geniuses. Nostalgia itself lingered in the adventurous and conquering heroes of legend and myth (and reality) who, like the last of our musical heroes worthy of the title (and the very few still out there) left on a journey that went only one way. As we all should.
The Cure might just be music for real nostalgics. Some of us have pined and longed and fretted since we first knew what home ever was, and wasn’t. And what “love” ForAlwaysAndEver was promised in reams of letters in teenage hands, and wasn’t, actually. And what those old words mean in the longer run, when to look back and when to stop. Who the hell stands next to you now, in 2016? Who is left? Who would hold your hand? Who would shield you from violence? Who is your hero in private? Who did you choose to pin to your walls, did you choose them well? Who can take that stage without fear, too? Who ought to? Who is there for the right reasons, the only reasons – for love? Well there’s me. There’s my partner in life (22 years) and media, now, with the photo laminate. And most critically of all, there’s Robert Smith and The Cure, as solid as marble.
What story of The Cure can I tell you? If you are a real fan you know. I met some of you yesterday. I’m sorry for whooooing a little during the exciting opening five tracks: OPEN, KYOTO SONG, A NIGHT LIKE THIS, THE WALK, and PUSH, (then INBETWEEN DAYS which could set alight the chart this day if the chart were worth a single damn) songs that cross cut my favourite era and are fresher than too much of this era’s music could dream of being. And arguably greater than some of the band’s own “Greatest Hits”. Wikipedia does not track for such truths, right? I love you two fans I met for your haircuts that gave me life and hope, for your goodness and obvious sweetness, for your 21 year relationship; for your jumping a bus to Montreal after this. I wish I was on that bus with you, I wish I had the gumption and will and talent to rob a bank and I’d be there looking for you tomorrow paying top scalper dollar against my own beliefs, because it’s The Cure.
If you are a Wikipedia “journalist” or disinterested front row summer intern barely posing as a journalist, who enters spaces like this for free while fans pay so dearly to hear you talk through it all, ruining it for them/us, and/or if you are a casual fan or a rubbernecker, what could I ever say? We don’t speak the same tongue. 140 characters is more than enough for us, forevermore. But bad sound and noise bleed from another tent nearby that kicks up only on day two with some strange wind is not a story about a band or a performance, especially when they rise above it and show grace and commitment like I’ve never seen, in a difficult environmental situation like I’ve never seen. And when The Cure could walk, they instead rise and deliver, digging deep like the pros they are, like the artists they are, and without the convoy of tractor trailers and two day set ups of so many big, risk averse, uncreative bands.
Only the most disconnected, the laziest, most careless and least deserving writers in a big, important city like ours, a Cure city, would make “glitches” the (whole) story now, today. But the world has grown cold and hateful, and so lazy, indifferent, so unpaid, and so undeserving of payment, hasn’t it? And, sure, as expected, some real fans didn’t make it here today, who just don’t vibe on this festival thing, the lack of extra time and of privacy and a seat, who just don’t want to portapotty, or who know the downsides: the casual interlopers, the lack of order, the crowds or lack thereof, the wind, the noise bleed, and all that is less than ideal about such risks. And now I know why, but have no regrets, none at all. All of us here, including the coolest dads with their just old enough kids, know how to make our own order out of chaos. Are not homesick whenever we are here. Learned a few things from this band, you know? Learned so many things. Not frivolous things but life things.
As an innate, in love but still realistic fan since the age of 14 I can say with all joy, humility and gratitude for the city I happened to be born in and the cheaper seats always and a band that does not price gouge even as the industry makes it a hanging offence to be reasonable, that I’ve seen The Cure first at 15 in 1985, then on the tours for Kiss Me, Disintegration; Wish; and other inbetween times & festivals like the still shimmering Eden Musicfest in 1996, another time in 1996!? and the very good, fulsome and long set that was Riot Fest Toronto two years ago. I don’t know fully anymore the other years and venues except by the historic sites in my city now gone into dust, and so, carved into memory, but all of it has taught me that The Cure needs to be played live in the open air on a summer night, but in the twilight as darkness descends. And they need to be heard the same way and there will always be risks to that joyful sound that colours the breeze and is witchy.
All great, established and hard-working bands have their well-earned dedicated fan-bases, but these alliances are certainly harder to spot or to ensure in the festival setting. I only see one Goth today, and she’s covered up enough for us all, but truthfully, I know all of us raised (self-raised, mostly) on The Cure are “goth” in our hearts to the core, meaning, in this increasingly insane world of 2016, that we are merely broken-hearted, smart, well-read creative realists who were ahead of our time, not unlike The Cure. Our interests, our art, our choices, our life’s decisions were informed by the music of The Cure whose art, humour, and wisdom has reliably been in our lives ever since we left the cave. We also, no matter how unlikely or foolish we’ve otherwise been in life, made at least one good bet by picking music’s dark horse to win, place or show (the trifecta) and we are proud, we are right, if only for once.
The Cure has long told us the truth. Love is about drowning and shining like Christmas, like strawberries and cream, as perfect as cats, about avoiding ghosts from your past, sleeping alone, flickering, envy, inbetween days, foralwaysandever, aloneness and togetherness, feeling like you are young (again) fun (again) forever fraught because forever is a long long long time. And sometimes you just shrug off all that and say “Let’s go to bed.”
The Cure’s forever is longer than the music industry’s was. Longer than records lasted and even CDs and record stores and the music papers lived, when scribes gave way to tweets and twats. For always, though, means not high school, not until that band T-shirt falls apart or gets stolen by a sibling or by an Ex-“forever”. Forever means to the grave and beyond, my friends. And the same applies to Hostiles.
Forever means tombstones and monuments of marble, and rocks that oceans can barely nudge, and cliffs you don’t jump off at all, after all, but step back and be brave enough to be. Love is pretty and twinkly or it’s gorgeously stupid, it was the home of all we might have been, it’s impossible, letters, is enduring, stoic, sad, stubborn, it says do do do do do do do do – do (more than six different ways). It squeals, it’s a bad acid trip, it’s a hangover, it’s addiction and it’s musical, it’s chimes, it’s a lot more besides, put down in poetry, mined and writ large by this band. In the final analysis we always sleep alone, were warned of this, too, in 1985. Forever is simply perfectly romantic and lush but works silently before a crowd to ignore so much noise from outside. Hateful, pushy noise, carried on the wind, noise that is so inferior “wub wub wub wub” that it offends all this that should be: our usual perfect ceremony.
And isn’t sunlight one’s enemy when you are a realist, a goth, a vampire? And yet a hazard that must be braved to get to the good part? The glamorous part. And doesn’t it burn, across his right arm, slowly, as Robert Smith jokes, “It happens gradually, you don’t burst into dust.” We are joking, inside joking, with the man. He’s a man after all, and as seen from the barrier, Robert Smith and The Cure are not only what fans worldwide have dreamed, hoped or come to know with sterling weight, but even up close in the sunshine with the unpredictable imperfections that days like this will bring, can yet surprise us with grace, patience, wit, humility, and a deserved God-like status that most icons have abandoned or lost to time and misfortune. Or been run off by pitchforks.
On days like today, days of celebration and preparation, The Cure comes out of their incorruptible private lives sounding as clean and bright as 1980. And when the sound cuts out, we fans raise our voices and fill the space for a few seconds. No boos at all. But kinship. Isn’t that love(ly?) No, is that so glitchy? It might just depend if you were raised on records or lifeless MP3s. Music is not a file, invisible, empty, flat and throbbing with fraudulence like so much MacBook Air whimpering noise. Smith’s voice is untouched by autotune, pure of the curse of the lip sync generation that is kissing close, and this real voice is as clear and strong and confident and original as it was in 1985. This band plays no genre but “Cure Music” and defies the odds, trends and commercialization like almost no one else of their stature and legacy ever does, or probably ever will again at their level. All those Joy Division shirts are everywhere (on these grounds) in 2016 and the wearers seem blind to the fact that JD’s peers, their heirs, are right here, tonight. But that all may be out of fashion for today: stature, legacy, authenticity, low tech, no tech, analog, live singing, history. Life itself, like music festivals can be, is imperfect and glitchy and weird and absurd and full of annoying distractions and pests and weirdly, tends to age, slowly, normally, honestly instead of becoming locked in the amber of early death at the very rough age of 23. Real music that touches us is good and no one can tell us how to feel about it or how to rate it on some metric or a faux world based on (anti) social media, which,being based as it is on statistics, not art, seems like a sort of death at any age.
So darkness falls, and we vampires all assume our true form, finally, in Toronto. All ages, multi-generational, younger and older, and real. The diehards who could make it are here somewhere and so are the fans from wherever within four hours in two countries who come here for this band and given the option, months ago, didn’t just go to Montreal instead for a more guaranteed sort of evening and good hotels, a grown up, old school mini vacay. We here live in the shadows and the dirt, instead. But finally on stage or in front of it, we are all as one, svelte, sexy, light as air, gravity defying, all white glowing eyes and red lips. Like Robert showed us how to be. The real Lestat of our imaginations, not like the fakery of Tom Cruise. And an ocean away from the sparkly foolishness of Twilight. We are real, if fragile and mercurial before real enemies, we crumble slowly to dust together, fall apart together, hold each other up, pray for rain. We are left standing in our truth, and how shimmering it all can be for minutes or hours, when all stats and cold facts and glitches aside, a band this great and alive, this flexible, loving and creative is misunderstood forever and always underrated, yet, I say, worthy of an Epic.
YOU WERE (ARE) BIGGER AND BRIGHTER AND WHITER THAN SNOW
FOR ALWAYS AND EVER.
Words by Jacqueline Howell & Photos by Dave MacIntyre
Jacqueline was a lyric site before the lyric sites existed. jacquelinestepon (at) gmail.com
Words referenced in italics refer to various lyrics of The Cure, please see full sourcing, tour dates, music and merch at The Cure’s official website.
With thanks to Bestival Toronto.