Words by Jacqueline Howell, photos by Dave MacIntyre
The news came out of the early morning bleakness of a day last December: The Cure’s announcement that they would mark their 40th Anniversary with a one-off, mid-summer show in London, supported by a roster of boldface and emerging bands. Essentially, this would be a one-dayer, a mini-festival. Time waits for no man. The Cure was throwing themselves, in the presence of all who love them and could fit in the space they’d booked, their own damn birthday party.
It’s easy to forget anniversaries and birthdays when you’re not a kid anymore. We put the younger ones first, we don’t like to think about our age or the things we did or didn’t do, and age begins to carry attendant worry about the future: ours, those we love, the planet, the boiler. And we’ve become a woefully anxious culture: overloaded with information good bad and ugly; bombarded with disasters, tragedies and violence we are told is essential news coming minute after minute, mistakenly deciding that our mobiles are both safe and necessary to take into bed with us. These ever-glowing rectangles look like a light in the darkness but also bring the opposite of comfort; they buzz with unease and dread, and so does humanity in 2018.
Celebration has always been important, but it’s the very first thing to go when you are tired, ill or lonely. Birthdays and anniversaries are, more than any other occasion, intricately linked with families or the people we share the day with (or ever did.) And so, these occasions are often fraught, dicey, heavy with all of that Christmas-like import, ever-ringing with the presence or absence of key people. Anniversaries are deeply emotional. They are not always for joyous things.
Which brings us to The Cure in 2018, the most interesting and misunderstood band in the world, who’ve patiently waited for the mainstream media to assess them correctly, then, like cool kids always do, shrugged and remade the world for themselves.
The Cure has always resisted and weathered all of the easy, awkward near-eulogizing that might befall a band who’s stuck it out through the ocean of time. One trusts they will always refuse the OBE, the knighthood, as has been clearly promised to us who raise our fists to such ideas. Other Cure anniversaries have come and gone, Robert Smith marking time and movements his own way; mounting massive world tours with stunning regularity; trying to get to us all here and there scattered to the four winds, many of us very far from the U.K. Some quiet recognition has been paid to record store days and The Cure’s occasional reissues, done with a care by the author himself that reflects careful planning and some private, elegant romanticism. (Over here we just call that Robert Smith Day, which fell on his birthday this year. We’re taking credit.) With honorariums like the NME God-Like Genius award, Robert Smith came around to it with his expected, quiet calm, and long after others have leaped for it like untrained dogs at table. This award was presented by Tim Burton, recognized worldwide as the world’s most famous Cure superfan, who’s worn the Cure high-hair with pride since we first heard of him, and who’s imbued his best characters and filmic words with respectful and loving flourishes that are Cure-coloured, sweeping, and heartwarming. Edward Scissorhands comes to mind, Burton’s sweetest artistic statement.
This is the world of The Cure as they’ve crossed milestone anniversaries before, as we know it in the public eye. Fans have grown up with it, or aged alongside a trajectory that is original, never predictable and has not embarrassed anyone. Rather, The Cure are ambivalent, carry made-up superstitions and talismans, probably, like all the self-made do. They don’t even always do what they say they are going to do, like quit with regularity (when our collective love would not let them down the years) when they dodged disasters and when they found, inside, their own Camus-like invincible summer in the depths of winter that is life at the end of a century and the start of a new millennium. The Cure will not, we can sigh with relief, looking around at their so-called peers, now or ever, be locked in amber, be feted by a room full of stiffs in penguin suits, or allow their concerts to be just for reptilian money men while fans wait by the bus all day. Oh, they could do all this and it would be none of my business, because being The Cure, they would still, somehow, be cool about it all, no doubt with one eye on some private greater good: an important charitable cause. Quietly funding indie radio. Mentoring younger bands who themselves have been grinding for years in near-obscurity from places just adjacent to the bigger musical maps, maps that have gotten careless in the hands of others who didn’t always do music their own way. The Cure have much to celebrate, and so do we who’ve flown their flag since we knew how.
40 may be the most neglected of all the anniversaries, a number which starkly few marriages reach, and sadly, even many lives. 40 is a perfect time to reflect, a turning point, the new 50, the new 25: at their 25th, our giants were as yet, taken for granted, the music world endless and the future brighter-seeming, the mid-90s full of optimism for my generation. 40 years of The Cure comes after a difficult few years in music, art, culture and public life, not to mention world affairs and politics, in which a lot of good people have been taken down too soon, whether friends, role models, artists we thought defied time, space and gravity, men in their prime, or innocent children. These are the difficult truths we grapple with today. If 40, for a person, is mid-life, at least, then I’m on the wrong side of it, and every choice and day has to matter more. This knowledge is hard-won. We survivors take it in and say we’ll make it so, live each day like it could be our last but it’s harder to do in practice. For this, we need to have occasions.
I am among the many coming from places far from London to celebrate the Cure’s 40th year next week. Many of us have made traveling for music our primary sort of vacation, many save and scrimp to do such things. Others have never had the chance to see a Cure show, or ever left their home cities, and even after 40 years we see these comments online regularly: “it’s my dream to see them one day”. This is astounding. How lucky we’ve been, in big cities. This truth informs the occasion for those of us able to travel or who have been visited by our legendary, still performing at top form, bands like The Cure (an increasing rarity). For most of us, there is no silly nostalgia to the proceedings, for we are making new memories, having adventures, getting out, seeing or making friends. Not lonely, there and then. Not thinking about inevitability, darkness, gloom, the things the lazy critics tried to pin this band as, once. All of us who love The Cure know that they are simpatico with us, consolation, friendship, uplift, relief from the actual gloom of the world as it feels today /at 40. Music steers us through hard times. The occasion of travel within the occasion of music performance is not selfied, will not be written about accurately, and is not explainable to those who don’t get it or want to know. It is just deeply felt inside, in the cells and marrow. It is gothic, ahistoric, permanent. It defies currencies and sleep deficits. It is always worthwhile, always successful. It is happy. I’ve long maintained, my thesis growing with the seasons, that music, especially in the real world if you can get it, is therapeutic, anti-depressant, holistic, and healing. I am one such case. So is my partner. So are my friends.
Happily, Robert Smith has marked the Cure’s 40th anniversary in several ways. He’s curated this year’s Meltdown Festival season in London, writing personal letters to a wish list of important bands who’ve happily obliged. There’s next week’s day of music at Hyde Park featuring The Cure, Slowdive, Ride, The Twilight Sad, Editors, Interpol, Goldfrapp, all still creating new music and back on the road that needs them sorely in the current landscape. There are many others on three stages. This news was an early Christmas present to fans, and it sold out in days. The astute who nabbed tickets have been quietly cheering and planning ever since. There’s a documentary in the works being created by longtime Cure video director – collaborator Tim Pope, which, whenever it is ready, will unpack a treasure trove of unseen memorabilia & memories from the world’s most low key romantic artist who gets that life is a gift and we must look back and forward to live. This project will be a literal gift to all those fans who’ve wanted more, more, more for decades, who wore out their VHS copies of The Cure in Orange, and who would simply like a document to wave at the nostalgists who missed the memo: that music and life never stood still, that all good bands are on their own trajectory free of silly memes and polls, that it happened in a blink, like our youth, but, also, that is still happening, if you pay close attention and stay present.
There was, also at the end of the year, some tantalizing merchandise sold by The Cure which fans looked at like runes, for clues: a touque with the original Cure logo on it, and The Top-era artwork! A wall calendar (the first to grace our home in decades that was not free from a realtor) that includes every significant date in the band’s release history (they are fond of early summer releases, ahead of those many summer tours that shaped our youthful days) and every birthday of every member past and present, right up to the new guy. These iconic photographs celebrate every era and line up of the band, reflecting posters and bootleg flags we used to buy in incense-ridden shops, downtown, in another life. This stuff is celebration, humble, cool and free of hexes. A throwback. The old, gorgeous, hair closer to god pictures that were, frankly, intimidatingly cool, are now, in the patina of decades, simply celebratory, factual, not wishful or wistful. Daring, perfect, remember-whens for us all. There is love, clearly, for everyone who shaped this story since 1977. 40 years later, all of fans are clearly not consumers, kids on faraway shores in nowhere towns kicking rocks. We are, instead, part of a big, beautiful fabric, a shared vision, a rare love. There is energy, vibes, and signs. We are a team.
Anniversaries are a time to say to us all love yourself, as hard as it is sometimes, then, now, tomorrow. They round up the family, the progeny, the adoptees, the witnesses. Witnessing is so important to ritual and celebration. So, know that you are important and needed. The fabric of time and space depends on you. Remember that ripple when David Bowie left? That we all felt? It was shocking. Even the kids who knew him first as The Goblin King in Labyrinth felt it. We all make a ripple, we all are on this continuum, together. Think about butterfly effects. Think about how you didn’t understand your love for elders until they were gone, but still, they got old, at least. So should you and me and Robert Smith. Think about a note in the dark, to a friend you haven’t seen in a long decade but one who knew you since you were a child, when you were both unmarked, without a single scar. Now that’s the power of social media. The rest can be set aside when it threatens to lay us low. Breathe, get outside. Blast some music that is timeless. Remember that you have to leave the house to see people, and be seen, to get a change of scene and a change of mind. I’m talking to you, the person reading this. Celebrate your anniversary, your birth, your life. And travel for things you love, even if the budget means that’s down to the pub or the coffee shop. Do it today.
HAPPIEST OF ANNIVERSARIES TO THE ONE AND ONLY CURE!
Check out our BST Hyde Park playlist below: