This is an entry I have often thought about writing, but for whatever reason never did. I have always wanted to talk about the band The Cure, and stress how important they were to me from about 1987 until 1992. It has been something I have wanted to document, “get out there”, and hopefully provide a similar spark of recognition in readers out there that felt the same way. I was a teenager at the time, and I believe that for a lot of kids aged 14 to 19, music is sometimes the most important thing in your life. You’re rebelling against authority, you’re discovering relationships and dating, and your body and emotions are just amped in a way they will (thankfully) never be again in your life. I’m sure what I’m about to talk about will apply to many different people and about many different bands, from all genres and eras, but I can only speak from what I experienced, now unfortunately filtered through the kind lens of time past, and hazy memories that have been romanticized. To anyone who knew me then; who reads this and thinks “you I got it wrong, it happened differently…” you can kindly fuck off (kiss!). This is how I remember it, and that’s what I’m after, heh.
This time, the impetus for actually gathering my thoughts and writing this entry was a two night gig in Australia that The Cure just wrapped up entitled “Reflections”, where their first three albums were performed in their entirety, with period B-sides as encores, and with Lol Tolhurst, who has been absent from the band as a functional member since 1987 (he was fired in ’89)! An unprecedented event, with songs that haven’t been performed in over 20 years, and some not at all! As the videos and audio recordings started trickling across the internet, I felt wave after wave of strange nostalgic excitement – as if my brain was remembering how damn important The Cure were, and how they could transport me to a place in my head that I absolutely loved being in. At some crazy point in my life, The Cure used to mean something to me that was more important than school, or religion, or history… but what was it exactly? What drove me to have a ridiculous head of hair, baggy clothes, and obsessively collect every shred of audio I could possibly find, no matter how poor the recording, or how redundant the session might appear to be?
My first clear memory of the Cure is in three parts. The first two being a peripheral knowledge of this band from the UK with cool album art and crazy hair and makeup – that weird poster at Ocean’s II Records on Main Street in Annapolis where everyone was painted in day-glo paint. I remember the “Let’s Go To Bed” video on MTV, where the singer was throwing a beach ball around, and I remember the (then brand new) “Why Can’t I be You?” video where the band was dancing in Halloween costumes. I liked it well enough, but my personal musical tastes were still forming, having grown up with Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, The Eagles, The Police, and popular AM radio hits. I hadn’t “noticed” music apart from the main stream of tunes out there, and I had yet to truly like a band on my own. (actually this isn’t exactly true – a cousin gave me a tape with The Beat’s “I Just Can’t Stop it” on one side and the Violent Femmes debut on the other – it was a seed planted in my brain, to be sure). My relationship with how I sought and liked music changed in early 1987, as an avalanche of new-to-me music poured through the door that a cassette tape opened. It was “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me” by The Cure, and was lent to me by a classmate named Al, who was coming to my house for our Catholic High School’s “Confirmation practice” (or whatever the heck it’s called) hosted by a girl in our neighborhood. I vividly remember walking to her house with Al, as he handed me that cassette with bright red lips on the cover. The squiggly lettering, the enormously expandable J-Card with lyrics to a huge amount of songs. It piqued my interest immensely. This was something COOL that a friend was lending to me. It was a moment of friendship and trust that in a sense said “borrow this, don’t fuck it up, and I hope you like the music”.
That album spoke to me. That album sang to me. People say you never forget your first kiss, your first anything…. and it has always been that way with music for me. That first album is special. R.E.M.’s “Murmur” is a masterpiece and I adore it, but “Green” was the first one I bought and thoroughly digested, and it’s special. So “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me” will always be special, different, and almost sacred. I played that tape non-stop, trying to understand what I was hearing. The first track “The Kiss” was so massive – building and building and wailing as it ended, followed by “Catch”, which was so delicately constructed by comparison. I’m sure to those that hear it now, and to those who were long-standing (or long-suffering, ahaha) Cure fans, it’s an uneven double album’s worth of songs from an epic recording session born from a beautiful locale and time in France, and maybe could have been pruned down somewhat. But for me it was a crash course into a different kind of music, back from an era when there was no internet to instantly contextualize things for the listener, or offer any one all of the recordings fro some clicks and/or cash. We were adrift back then in the pockets of our hometowns.
From that ridiculously intense love affair with “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me”, my love for The Cure could only grow as I received more religious artifacts from those who knew far better than I about this genre. I was quickly embraced by the fellow subset of kids who liked the non-mainstream music, which was referred to as “Progressive” years before “Alternative” became a brand on MTV. We weren’t co opted yet. Bands like Crass, The Smiths, Kate Bush, Pixies, This Mortal Coil, The Ramones, Cocteau Twins – it was a deluge over the next few years. I started learning about record labels like 4AD, and began blindly buying things based on label affiliations and artwork on the cassettes and cds. And the entire time, I plumbed the back catalog of The Cure, determined to get everything I could get my hands on, as everything was different, fresh, exciting, and perfect. I bought Goldmine magazine for access to out of print singles, notices of record conventions, and raw data on The Cure. Sometime not too far into 1988, I was exposed to the one thing that sent me over the deep end – the bootleg recording.
Some of you are right now smiling and nodding as you realize where the story is about to plunge – headlong into a virtual wild west of tape trading trees, record convention cds, snippets recorded from radio and television broadcasts… and for me, this was what doomed me to bad hair, a wall full of posters, and an attraction to anything with a Cure shirt and breasts (we’re being honest, right? I was a teenager – cut me some slack, jeez). Anyway, it again all started with a cassette tape. I don’t remember who gave it to me, and I don’t remember the exact show that the tape contained. I know that it sounded TERRIBLE. It was as if the recording was intentionally rebroadcast through a steam tunnel, there was so much hiss. There was almost no audible treble, and the bass frequencies were so muddy that the bass drum and bass guitar just mashed into a dull throb. But it was magic, because to me, it was a holy relic from 1981, when The Cure were playing their Faith album out. I was hooked.
Each concert I could get my hands on was a historical document. Alternate lyrics, different arrangements, and an ever-changing lineup in the band offered such variety to each year’s tour, and bear in mind this was back when The Cure released an album and toured annually. I was thrilled to listen to how songs grew and evolved, and sometimes faded from set lists entirely as the band added to their stable of material. And of course, there were the few gems that only existed in the realm of bootlegs, like “All Mine”, “Forever”, and one-off cover songs. “All Mine” and “Forever” have been, and always will be, my favorites. They are two separate songs that are often times mistaken for the same, and can be traced back to “Three” on the album “Seventeen Seconds”. “All Mine” was not performed as often as “Forever”, and the song(s) usually followed the end of “Killing An Arab”, which was traditionally the last song played during their shows. They never had the same lyrics, and have been given wildly varying names on bootlegs for years and years. If I had to pick a favorite, I would unhesitatingly say “Forever (version)” from Paris 5/84, and “All Mine” from 1982. Both can be found on the “Concert/Curiosity” cassette, and as bonus tracks on the recent remastered and expanded albums from the corresponding years. However, I’d add a qualifier and choose the unedited “All Mine” from bootleg sources, as it preserves the missing eight minutes that were edited from the official release!!
As you can well imagine by now, I was in deep. Things came to a fevered pitch in early 1991 when I was introduced to a girl named Judith, who held the title of ultimate Cure fan in Annapolis High, a school I did not attend. It was only natural that Annapolis’ two biggest Cure freaks would eventually cross paths and join forces. Of course like most every High School “romance”, it was dramatic and stupid. In the end, I had a lot of stories to later laugh about with my friend Jon (who had introduced me to her in the first place) and exponentially expanded Cure collection (we of course shared our collections with each other while dating).
I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was terrible.
This illustrates how insanely important music and certain bands were to myself and others at that age. If I saw a girl in a Smiths T-shirt, she was instantly attractive. If it was a Cure shirt, I was compelled to know who this person was. By the end of 1991/early 1992, I had graduated High School and was in College, and was doing my best to ignore the grunge fashions that were taking away the a-line skirts and stripey tights that girls wore. I was realizing the Cure hair was getting a little unnecessary, and free from the confines of Catholic School, had started to let it grow long (which just so happened to fit nicely in with the fashion of the time). My shirts were becoming more varied as well, with bands like Jane’s Addiction now sharing advertising space on my chest with The Cure. I guess it was the beginning of a slow transition out of the superficial that we all go though as we grow older.
I don’t make excuses for how I looked or behaved, and can giggle at how silly we all looked and behaved. But the love I felt for the music I listened to at that age still exists inside of me, and burns bright for The Cure, especially lately with that “Reflections show”, almost as much as it did back then. A quick look at my Scrobble data shows you how and what I listen to at work: Click here. I’m grateful. Immensely grateful that I can have something so fun and wonderful to return to any time I want, with the simple push of a button. The music lives inside my head, and sometimes I am taken aback at how fresh it can still sound, especially if it’s a recording I have not heard in a while (I recommend “Breathe”, a b-side from 1987). Thanks for reading this far, and please enjoy a gallery of absolute ridiculousness: