Wednesday, October 6, 2010

... For What Ails You

The Perfect Girl - The Cure (mp3)
Last Dance - The Cure (mp3)

One of my two best friends from childhood, one of the most awkward* and intelligent guys I’ve ever known, attended a very small private school in Chattanooga. He was the valedictorian in a class of 14 people. In his valedictory address, at least three times he used Latin phrases and made repeated references and subreferences to literary and pop culture history that soared past at least 80 percent of his dumbfounded audience.

The summer before his junior year, Scott attended, of all things, a national 4-H student conference in Washington, D.C. Scott never acted like this was a strange thing for him to do, but all the adults who found out seemed perplexed by it. They knew 4-H for its agricultural roots, but apparently the organization has been working for decades to broaden its scope.

At this conference, Scott fell in love. As with any love yearnings from a nerdy comic book-reading, Rush-listening social misfit, these feelings went mostly unrequited, but matters are always made worse for us when there’s the slightest hint of possibility that lingers, like the smell of licorice. Like most nerdy social misfits, Scott’s clear harmlessness made him a quick and trusted sidekick for the lass in question: Tangie was her name.

Tangie introduced Scott to Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, a then-newly-released double album by The Cure. Tangie danced with Scott at the end-of-conference party to the haunting and catchy “Just Like Heaven.” Scott returned home utterly smitten and possessing a copy of that wild Cure ride.

The first 20 or so times I was forced to listen to the Cure’s 1987 extravaganza (one could not be friends with Scott post-Tangie and not listen to this album constantly in his presence), I was at best apathetic and at worst a little uncomfortable. The dude couldn’t sing very well. There were all these weird shoe-gazey moments that weren’t the guitar-raged solos I’d grown up thinking of as acceptable. The lyrics were just plain odd. It was one thing to get used to REM, but The Cure was another degree of separation from my pop radio roots.

That fall, in that rare stretch of time when my school and our sister school shared students in the afternoons, I took a German class with a sophomore named Susan. She was in all ways your prototypical 1987 Goth Girl. Dyed black hair. Super-heavy mascara. Blood-shaded lipstick. Funky earrings. Dour visage. Her version of a smile was my version of a frown. People couldn’t ever seem to tell when I was expressing sadness, and she was the exact opposite.

Her favorite bands were fairly predictable. Siouxie & the Banshees. Bauhaus. Depeche Mode. Sisters of Mercy. She wore their black concert shirts over her school uniform constantly.

The Cure was our compromise. We weren’t friends, and we hardly spoke -- one helluva compromise, I know -- but I’ve always been eager to find connections to the people around me, and here was this very strange and self-isolating girl who loved a band with which I had just become familiar, and it gave me more reason to pay attention to Robert Smith and his brood of brooders.

The Cure weren’t goth. Robert Smith dressed and caked himself up like one, but his music is and always was a teen-angsty chip off the indie-pop block. Goth was about being miserable and alone. The Cure was about being miserable and alone... but in a more collective sense. They were like the cool kid that chose to hang with the sullen kids in black. I’ve been there, man. I know. But it gets better. And trust me, you don’t have to become one of them either.

I would never say The Cure were one of my favorite bands anymore than I would say being 15 was one of my life’s favorite years. The connection between the two is not merely on my own life’s timeline, but rather in the subject matter and mood of the music, the confusion of self, the desperate wanting that often feels like physical pain, the need to know there’s someone out there with whom, eventually, just maybe, you might connect... but probably not. Because life sucks a lot.**

(Favorite Cure song: "Fascination Street") 

* -- I say he was awkward in the same way I'd call myself "one of the dorkiest guys I've ever met," which is to say with love and deep kinship.

** -- That's not ME. That's THEM!


Daisy said...

The only gift I remember receiving for my 16th birthday is the "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me" from my non boyfriend, boy friend. Unfortunately, I was too busy being a sulky teenage girl to get the hint.

Favorite Cure song "Friday I'm in Love."

Bob said...

I also cannot claim that the Cure is one of my favorite bands overall, but everytime I hear them come up on the Ipod shuffle or somewhere, I feel happier than I was.

Favorite Cure song(music, not lyrics): "Lullaby"