Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Long-Term Effect

I can't really even listen to Pornography anymore.

I was almost sure that when I grew up, I would outgrow my love of The Cure. I hoped I'd never lose that connection to a bundle of music that I really loved in my youth, but even then, it seemed like something I might grow out of. The older I get, though, the more I find to love about their discography. The strange thing is, though, it's not the same aspects that I'm attracted to, even if it is the same songs.

When I was a teen (let's say 15-18), I was a tried-and-true punk rocker. I loved the Clash and Black Flag, but the Cure were one of my first tentative steps into a different world, a less didactic world. It might have been Jon Savage that said something like, "Punk rock was all about saying 'fuck you', post-punk was about saying 'I'm fucked.'" Few bands did this with as much panache as the Cure, creating their own sonic world that was wonderful and terrifying and haunted and haunting and scary and angry and thrilling. I used to pore over their records, loving both the epic bummed-ness of their "big album statements" like Disintegration and their collections of pop tunes, each one a different flavor of delightful.

The Cure are, without a doubt, a band that is talented at writing songs. I connected to those songs because they gave a bored teenager a window into another world, where it was a little more fun. In hindsight, I had a wonderful setting for adolescence, but in the moment, there is nowhere on earth that is more boring than the suburbs of a mid-sized Midwestern city. The manicured lawns of the outskirts of Cincinnati aren't exactly a breeding ground for vibrancy and culture and the arts. But it was a wonderfully safe setting to start plumbing the depths of my own mind, all to a soundtrack of swirling effects and tumultuous emotional content.

What astounded me in the car on the way to my adult job this morning was that while I will always have a connection to some of the Cure albums I spent most of my youth loving, it's the ones that I didn't spend as much time with that are connecting to me more and more in my adult life. I used to be able to auto-point to 1982's terror-noir Pornography and 1987's pop kaleidoscope Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me as my favorite albums, while qualifying that Disintegration was probably their best work. These days, my music doesn't necessarily need to transport me to somehwere else, and the more I listen to them (especially the lovely remasters that came out a few years ago), the more I find that Seventeen Seconds and Faith are becoming my favorites. They're "normal" music that's going just slightly askew and sinister. I've always LIKED them, but listening to them in the city in the beginning of autumn is like putting on the high-tech Ray-Bans in They Live - it almost reveals a whole new layer of the world that's just slightly out of phase with real life. Sonically, they're far more indebted to Wire or maybe a snappier Joy Division or Comsat Angels than the huge, keyboard-laden songs with 2 minute intros that they'd later develop. Now that I have grown-up things to do, places to go, and a setting that's a little more stimulating than the 'burbs, I don't need to fall backwards into a fantastical sea like I did when I'd stay up all night before school, listening to Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and writing for hours (although that might not be a terrible idea). And regardless of changing favorites, Disintegration is still a masterpiece, still their greatest singular acheivement.

It's not that I have any less love for the gnarled nightmare of Pornography or tracks like "Shake Dog Shake". As evidence of a person dangerously close to the edge, they're remarkable. I love to play the '84 live album Concert to people who slag off the band as a bunch of made-up pop mopers (it's a dark, terrifying post-punk record by a remarkably tight band), and while The Top might be messy, it's far from the disaster people claim. But I investigated that aspect of my psyche when I was younger - I've tested my limits, and don't need to obsess over an abyss of unrelentingly bleak sonic psychology. There are moments on Pornography that rank among my very favorite recorded moments. But that record was so close to me for so long that it's nice to put it on a shelf and know where it is when I want to get to it. It's such a powerful record for me that it's hard to listen to it with any distance - and without distance, it's just a tar-black ooze that will roll over you. OK, over me. But it's a magnificent album that I almost never have the urge to listen to. Brent, if you're reading this, please add it to your list of albums that can be just downright scary.

But the older I get, the more I appreciate some of the nuances of the post-punk music I listened to years ago, and those early albums are really wonderful. They're the sound of a basic pop songwriter blossoming into something more. Live recordings of the '81-era band sound like punk tunes and speeds bursting at the seams to illustrate something... more. And it's that look at real normal life with something else underneath, something indefineable, that really comes across as thrilling. Short hair, no makeup, touring in a little van, but willing to dig deeper without it being forced - that's why I love the early Cure. Try 'em out... you might like them:

"A Forest", "Three Imaginary Boys", "Killing An Arab" 1979 Paris

"Grinding Halt", 1980 Boston

[Incidentally, when I met my fiancee and future wife, I was at the height of my Cure phase. She was just in her office writing a short biography of how we met for our wedding website. That night, I was wearing my lucky "Wild Mood Swings" t-shirt, and even played a ham-fisted, punky version of "Fascination Street" at the soundcheck. Funny how life works, isn't it?]

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