The Cure

Showing 23 posts tagged The Cure

Notes on a Glass Sandwich: The Cure at 35

Hello loyal OWOB readers and Cure fans! This week, the site will be my sounding board, and I will be going very, very long on Robert Smith and the Cure. 

It’s been eight years since I tackled the Cure editorially or critically, when I was Pitchfork’s resident expert, as it were. Rereading those reviews, of Bloodflowers, The Cure and Join the Dots, isn’t sheer agony, but it’s rather like what I presume Robert Smith feels listening to "Throw Your Foot".

Cure fandom has changed a great deal since my teenage years, when I plastered my walls with their posters, spent every dime I made on their concerts and records (official and otherwise), and played in a Cure cover band. In the analog age, the Cure were classically distant, massive rock stars: you would hear them on the radio, read about them in the music papers, and see them in concert or on television. For most fans, they only existed in these heightened circumstances. To ask for more was to cross the line into autograph-seeking idol worship, and I could never do that. If I’m honest, it’s because I thought it would make me seem common, stupid or shameless to Robert Smith. That he would frown upon me. I wasn’t just a Cure fan: I understood them.

I stopped “understanding” the Cure in that cute, childish way around about eighteen, when I became your classic elitist student fool, listening exclusively to Wire and obscure indie bands. I thought I would grow and change so much in college, coming out the other side a complex and accomplished young adult, but realized upon graduating that I’d been a more interestingand happierperson at sixteen. That I was full of shit. That Robert Smith would frown upon me.

No generation of self-pitying, romantic teenagers was ever so spoiled for riches as mine. From 1987 to 1992, you could see the Cure in stadiums previously reserved for mall pop package tours and hair metal, and every venue would positively explode. Fifty thousand people attended their September 8, 1989 Prayer Tour date at Dodger Stadium:

It’s one thing to pen a pretty, emotional anthem, or some slightly left-of-center piece of pop, and find an audience. You may even have a hit on your hands, flying around the Internet. But you will not be performing for three and a half hours in front of fifty thousand screaming fans who only came to see you. It will never happen again, not like this.

I hope you’ll join me this week, in ruminating on everything the Cure meant, and continue to mean, for millions of fans the world over. I’ll be happy to take your suggestions or questions along the way!

Like Cockatoos: Cure fans & the Internet

I hope you’ll enjoy the Spotify playlists I’ve posted, surveying four distinct periods in the Cure’s history. For non-Spotify users, rest assured, a bevy of inline YouTube links and uploaded tracks are en route. 

Cure fandom changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet. We’ve always been a competitive lot, whether with respect to “actually having met” someone in the band, “only liking their old stuff” or having seen them fifty times. The Internet became a new measuring stick for Cure obsessives, and since the mid-1990s, has worked variously as a meeting house and hierarchical temple for their ranks.

My credentials here date from 1996 or thereabouts, when Bob Kwiatkowski ran Stiff as Toys and Tall as Men (SATATAM), a site weighted towards tape-trading. Once the message board piece took off, Bob was overwhelmed trying to run the site by moonlight, and sold it to musicfanclubs.org, after which "Verdugo" took over administrative duties. I posted bootleg reviews under the name Petrarch while working on a book about the Cure that I’ve since buried in the backyard, dug up, and burned.

Today, every rumor, rare pressing and calculated bit of disinformation put out by Robert Smith is cataloged across of a swath of exceptionally professional fan sites. Craig Parker’s long-running Chain of Flowers has morphed into a minute-by-minute account of everything Cure-related that’s occurring right now, in every corner of the planet. Within hours of the lights going up at every Cure gig, the entire set is viewable in HQ video on YouTube, and Craig has nicely arranged links to each video. Tonight’s set at Rock In Roma is sure to be up by tomorrow morning. If Robert Smith has brown sauce on his chips at lunch, you will hear it first from Craig. At the moment he is something of a bridge between the Cure and the Internet, and has worked with members of the band on various web initiatives.

My favorite Cure site bar none is the collector’s sanctuary, TheCureRecords.com, where nearly 6000 variations on every Cure release are gorgeously cataloged. A 10” South African acetate of “Birdmad Girl”? They’ve got it covered. There’s also a treasure trove of rare promotional materials hosted by Picturesofyou.us, including a clutch of adorable fanzines Robert Smith’s sister put out from 1979 to 1981. It’s here you’ll discover that Robert Smith was huge into Evelyn “Champagne” King and Can’s Soon Over Babaluma ("Come sta la luna" would seem to be a major influence).

Two other exhaustive sites will assuredly be valuable resources this week: the granular Cure Concerts Guide and the beautifully-designed timeline at Impression of Sounds. Please do visit all of these sites, and allow me to express my gratitude to the site administrators who’ve turned the Internet into every Cure fan’s greatest resource.

One last point on this topic would have to be the Cure’s on-again/off-again keyboardist, Roger O’Donnell, who is among the most web-savvy (and possibly Twitter-addicted) musicians of his stature. Over the years, he has responded to thousands upon thousands of fans, and generously pulled back the curtain on the making of the Cure’s grand epic, Disintegration.

"That’s Clown Makeup, Bro"

In his post-punk survey Rip it Up and Start Again, Simon Reynolds penned a throwaway barb that has stuck with me for ten years. It was a passing remark about the Human League: 

"…aligning themselves with commercial dance pop (ABBA, Euro-disco, Chic), they sneered at middlebrow studenty notions of deep ‘n’ meaningful (the Pink Floyd/Cure/Radiohead continuum)."

There is no insult to Robert Smith or the Cure small enough that devoted fans won’t pounce on its issuer and claw out their eyes. You should not do this to Simon Reynolds. Because from one perspectivefrom a much more common perspective, actuallythe Cure aren’t very important. For many people, they are indistinguishable from…

…the Thompson Twins. Or even Culture Club. It’s brutal, I know, it makes my skin crawl, honestly, as I type it, I’m just shaking with rage over here. But I’ve reached out to a lot of friends over the last week, to get those perspectives, to push and prod them, and understand how life works for a person who doesn’t enjoy and hasn’t staked their emotional development to the Cure’s music.

A lot of people, of course, could never get past the makeup, and their level of indifference is probably the highest. For them, the Cure are a smudge of lipstick and a can of hairspray and they’ll go no deeper. The music is rendered irrelevant by the singer’s coy, sometimes even effeminate un-seriousness, which isn’t important to them, just as, more than likely, music isn’t that important to them. For obsessed  pop fans, though, the Cure did something so few bands manage to: they wrote beautiful, strange pop music that was also completely basic, and I mean rudimentary in its musical simplicity. The Cure have always written ditties, from this view, but they come from a voice of isolated despond, of lust and adoration. All the primary colors of young adult life are vibrantly applied to each of Robert Smith’s canvases.

Pop music was so important to Smith, and its best practitioners so life-affirming for him, that he made his band a tribute to pop in so many ways, and a signpost for other kids like him. As a young man, as many before and since, he had ambitions of making Important Music and touring the world, but he didn’t realize how the absurd, unknowable and uncertain elements surrounding pop music as an art form and especially as a business can be used to exploit, undercut and destroy its potential. He was not careful what he wished for.

Obviously, the makeup was an extension of Smith’s attitude toward what he was doing. If you look back, you can trace the use of makeup as a meter for his uneasiness with success, and more explicitly, fame.

RS79

This is Smith in 1979, by which time the Cure are signed to Polydor, under a new house imprint gifted to punk rock’s unofficial A&R man, Chris Parry. Parry was at the mixing desk for the Sex Pistols’ famed September 20-21, 1976 stand at the 100 Club; he spent the summer and fall trying to sign them to Polydor. In fact, he had verbally signed them, via their lawyer Steve Fisher, and had paid for their studio time in mid-1976. Sadly, Malcolm McLaren used Parry’s interest to negotiate a massive, farcical deal with EMI, and the rest is un-history.

Parry was originally going to call his new label “18 Age”, a terribly naff name that Robert Smith scoffed at. And so Fiction records was born, out of Chris Parry’s frustration over Polydor’s prevarications with the Sex Pistols, and his belief that Robert Smith was among the best unsigned songwriters in England in 1978. 

With Polydor’s backing, the Cure’s 1979 debut Three Imaginary Boys was heavily promoted. If you watch closely, at the thirty-five minute mark of the Sex Pistols’ chaotic film finale The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindleyou’ll see Steve Jones walk by a wall plastered with blue and white adverts for the Cure’s first major tour. There is some speculation that this was intentional, an apology from Malcolm to Chris Parry for having used him in trade against EMI.

Here is Smith in 1983, still routinely working without very much makeup, though the hair is assuredly in place. He’d smeared lipstick on his eyes and mouth during the last few dates on the ghastly 14 Explicit Moments tour of 1982, but just as often went without. For this Top of the Pops performance from July 1983, Smith is still plying the image shown above, as showcased during his turn as the Glove with Siouxsie & the Banshees co-founder Steve Severin (their only album, Blue Sunshineis one of my favorite records; I’ll be writing about that later in the week). 

It’s not really until 1984 that Robert Smith becomes “Robert Smith”, and his debut performance might well be the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops, just six months later, on December 29, 1983.

Willowy songs wallow in the murk and marsh of tawdry images, inane realisations, dull epigrams.

Paul Morley, “A Cure for Cancer?” (New Musical Express, May 12, 1979. 43)