“I know I was wrong when I said it was true.”
We are half way up Box Hill. In outsized shorts & straw hats. Skinny white legs. Pastels were in fashion. A photograph catches three of the four of us in a Rik Mayall shrug. Happy against blue sky. Louise behind the shutter. Dave reckons he looks like a cowboy. Hank. I`d say they were more of a sombrero. Chico. Beneath the shade of a wide brim your fringe hides your face. We keep stopping our climb for me to kiss your drawn on mouth. Lost in the joy that you would let me. Your small smile at my every attempt. Dave and I would try to outdo each other with stupid routines. Some worked out well in advance. With props. It served to disguise a shyness and betrayed inexperience. It probably didn`t double for cool, but it made me forget that this was the first time. In the car, Billy Bragg would share the ride with Their Satanic Majesties, The Fab Four, Dion, The Smiths, and The Cure, and Dave & I would sing along in a variety of voices. Bo Diddley energy. How we took the sunshine for granted. Intrepid explorers lighting out, Sunday families all around us. Love is love and not fade away.
Anna really liked The Cure. I mean really liked them. Me and Dave could prat about and sing along to Boy`s Don`t Cry. But Anna bought into the dark. Her clothes remained a future Mod nod to the days of her parents` courtship. But two-tone monochrome became just black. Down to her underwear.
Only frontman Robert Smith`s anguished vocals distinguished that first LP`s trebly, New Wave. Sonically somewhere between The Buzzcocks and Wire. In line with the band`s initial aspirations to be a “Punk Beatles”. They lifted their words and themes from literature. Absurdist Albert Camus. Penelope Farmer. Mervyn Peake`s Gormenghast saga. Then Seventeen Seconds took in Nick Drake`s Five Leaves Left and Bowie`s Low. Benedictine chants and Indian mantras. Drifted into nocturnal gloom. Articulated Smith`s fear of Death. Fear at the realisation that he was without a god. The band`s boozing cutting into the recording budget – sessions ending at 8 AM – and causing the tape to run out. The album cover photo was by necessity out of focus. While A Forest was a chase through a Grimm fairy-tale nightmare, Peake`s “twisted woods”, the rest of the LP was a Gothic crawl. Slow phasing guitar set to funeral piano. Those vocals double-tracked and distant. Drowning pretending to swim. Producer Mike Hedges described it as “songs to hang yourself by”. In Your House ached with ennui and boredom. In Croydon the only escape from which seemed drink and sex. I`d be kissing on the carpet. Lost in Faith. A ghostly, dream-like, drone dirge. Smith`s feeling of defeated inertia. Losing all thought, in someone else`s nakedness. Thinking nothing. Not realising then that these moments out of time would be fleeting. Touring the album sent the band on a downward spiral. Drugging themselves into oblivion. Becoming more and more insular. Smith often exiting the stage in tears.
For Pornography. The band immersed themselves in nihilism, video nasties, coke deals, moral hypocrisy and more alcohol. Building a mountain in the studio with their empties. Damaging themselves in the process. Left shocked at how base, evil, people could be. When they sang “It doesn`t matter if we all die”, they meant it. Smith had aimed to exorcise his suicidal feelings, record an ultimate “fuck you”, and disband. At the end of the accompanying 14 Explicit Moments tour, Smith went into detox. As far as he was concerned The Cure were finished. But the boss of their label, Fiction, Chris Parry, convinced Smith to have a go at making something trite. To lighten the mood. Let`s Go To Bed the result. Parry agreed to set The Cure free if it wasn`t a hit. Smith acquiesced, assuming that the song would piss off his fanbase and destroy any lasting legacy. But it was a hit. Huge on the West Coast of America. Transforming The Cure`s audience from intense, psychotic Goths to people with suntans and perfect white teeth. Smith still had no intention of reforming The Cure. He was off touring, on guitar duty with Siouxsie And The Banshees. Off to Japan with Siouxsie, Steve Severin and co. Then recording as The Glove with Severin. An outfit that drew on B-movie horror and chemical indulgence, and that Smith has called “cultivated madness”. When Parry threatened him with litigation for “playing away”, Smith offered to break Parry`s legs. Then turned in The Top. Which was effectively a solo album.
I didn`t know any of this as I sang along to The Love Cats` rinky-dink milk bottle percussion. Holygoofed to its beatnik beret-wearing, slapped upright bass. Unaware that the song`s roots lay in Patrick White`s The Vivisector. Where the dumping of a bag full of strays in a river served as an analogy for the casual cruelty met out to the world`s innocent and vulnerable. The “new” Smith skipped around in the open-air against a toddler-drawn, crayon-coloured backdrop. Hand-in-hand with imaginary friends. An exploding boy sporting crazy hair, smeared lipstick and paisley smock. Smith appeared to always be in “visual” character, but when interviewed he sounded pretty normal to me. I guess I was expecting him to go “all kind of far away” and high-pitched without warning or reason. Instead I was surprised that his accent was a little like mine. Of London`s suburbs. The hijacked Hampstead house party featured in Tim Pope`s promo video ended out of control, and Smith had been wasted on Top Of The Pops. Scratching violas and tapping bongos as he mimed to The Caterpillar. But when The Cure eventually got back together to make The Head On The Door, Smith banned drugs from the studio. Inspired by The Banshee`s Kaleidoscope, The Head On The Door jumped around. Not wanting to be pinned down. Pulling itself dramatically from endless night. The band hammered pianos and strings like children`s toys. Chimed, galloped and clapped hands. Funked and went Pop. Borrowing from contemporaries. Japan, New Order and Prince. And you could hear what Smith was on about. They only returned to the gloom with the aquatic, glacial Sinking.
I bought Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me while at University. Where the promises I`d made to Anna were quickly and easily broken. Four sides of schizophrenia. Bipolar extremes. There were wailing and writhing homages to Hendrix. Psychedelic Raga-like Jams. Shape-shifting bad trips that trashed hotel rooms and punched mirrors a la Apocalypse Now`s Captain Willard. But these drum and guitar freak-outs sat side-by-side with wistful, pretty nursery rhyme. Torture, a song for that self-destructive affair you can`t keep away from, neighbours with the pretty and sentimental, Catch. Smith about to laugh as he sings,
“Even though it felt soft at the time, I always used to wake up sore.”
The night out mixed with the morning after.
There were dance numbers. Why Can`t I Be You? and Hot Hot Hot! bounced like The Bangles being Egyptians. Became smashes on the hedonistic, ecstasy-fuelled island of Ibiza. Found themselves staples in the record boxes of the UK`s Acid House DJs.
“The first time I saw lightning strike”,
surely a reference to MDMA.
Just Like Heaven was a melancholy joy of love remembered. Hyperventilating. Dizzy with it.
“Show me how you do that trick, the one that makes me scream she said.”
But, then, in a blink, they were asking,
“How much longer must I howl into this wind?”
Summing up the hungover futility I felt in sober minutes. Having lost my own way in a self-medicating regime of amphetamines, booze, and hallucinogens.
By 1989`s Disintegration that`s what I was doing. Disintegrating. Back in London. Living in a box room, in a house shared with strangers. Psyche smashed to pieces by “partying”. Disintegration picked up from Sinking. Sad. Submerged. A now epic, crystalline wall of sound. Pictures Of You seemed to have been written for someone who`d died at their own hand. Smith singing
“You finally found all your courage to let it all go.”
Inspired by photographs recovered from a fire, and accompanied by a descending guitar line that mapped a familiar trajectory of drunken loneliness. Prayers For Rain serenaded a love run its course, tired, and turned to hate.
“A touch so dull it kills.”
Lullaby whispered in the ear of my substance-addicted Mr. Hyde.
“It feels like I`m being eaten by a thousand-million furry shivering holes.”
E. I used to have a recurring dream about finding a suitcase full of the stuff. But failing that anything would do. As Robert said, the spiderman was always hungry. Fascination Street`s growling bass line and noisy morse code S.O.S. blips was “going out”. Surrendering to that excess. Erasing everything. For a while. The Same Deep Water As You, the confusion of infidelity. Torn by commitment and want. Spoken lies. Silent confession and apology.
“I miss the kiss and the treachery.”
“Stains on the carpet and stains on the ceiling.”
The debauchery I`d seen. Cold scenes I`d witnessed.
“Kiss me goodbye.”
I figured I was going somewhere and I certainly didn’t want anybody I cared about to follow.
During the Disintegration Smith isolated himself from the rest of the band. He sacked the band`s co-founder, Lol Tolhurst, for alcoholism, and started dropping Acid again. Smith said the album`s title “tempted fate and fate retaliated”. As relationships within and without the band grew tattered. The Prayer tour put The Cure in baseball stadiums. Entertaining crowds of 30, 000, 50, 000. Leaving Smith shocked at how far they`d come. But he`d always courted this. Soundtracking fans` highs and lows. Eventually creating a bankable Cure-by-numbers. Its completion found Smith saying that he`d no longer perform. That The Cure were no more. But he always said that. The Cure`s contrary career. Pop hits and global success. Landmarked by heavy drug use, depression, in-fighting, and declarations that every record, every tour, would be their last. The last time I saw them was at Glastonbury. Where I collapsed in front of the stage on a combination of Tequila and Sensi. Dave had to carry me back to the tent.
In hindsight The Cure`s happier moments could be viewed as sarcasm. Ironic, tongue in cheek play-acting. But we`d listen to The Head On The Door as we drove on those sunny days out. The four of us. Anna, Lou, Dave and me. The rush of Push. The frantically strummed, In Between Days. It sounded how I felt. I could barely contain myself.