Friday, January 7, 2011

Another Time Undone

I finally got the deluxe edition of The Cure's Disintegration. It was a long time coming – both for the long-delayed album to finally be released last year and for me to actually get around to picking it up. As much as I love The Cure’s music up to that album, they peaked with Disintegration. Then everything changed after that: The ’80s were over, high school had ended, I left Ohio.

Originally released in May 1989, this was the sole Cure albu
m to come out while I was deep (deep!) in my punk phase. And while I can and do love their other work like “A Few Hours After This…” and Pornography and “The Caterpillar” and Head on the Door and (especially) Faith, there is something to be said for the album that is released when you are actively a fan of a group that makes it that much more personal. Similarly, for example, Nine Inch Nails will never be as good as they were with Pretty Hate Machine, or Depeche Mode with Violator, to my ears.

Disintegration was the soundtrack to the end of my senior year of high school and that turbulent summer immediately after. My girlfriend at the time, the one who pushed me to explore my creative side and expand my musical tastes and really helped set me on the path to becoming the person I ultimately grew into, left me and moved to San Francisco to be with her ex-boyfriend (I never said the relationship was healthy), and I was left alone to process the emotional void.

The album was both the background against and inspiration for the bulk of my first real attempts at creative writing and poetry. That summer, I would go to the lone punk bar in Akron with my friends Jen and Nancy and others. We’d close the place down at 2am, then head over to the Country Kitchen on Arlington Road for sustenance. I’d come rolling into my parents’ house usually sometime after 3, put Disintegration on my stereo in the family room, and write until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more.

I wrote on unruled goldenrod yellow sheets of 8 ½
by 11 paper that came from I don’t know where. My weapon of choice was a fine tipped Sharpie. I had a manila folder that I had scrawled “Random Thoughts Escaping” across the cover (the masthead of this blog is a scan of that original folder turned into a negative). My first angst-y poetry collection. I wrote about all the things that were going on in my life, but primarily about the loss of love filtered through the dark and droning aesthetic of Disintegration.
Opening with the simultaneously crashing and swirling “Plainsong”, every last song on Disintegration is a masterpiece, epic in scope and often in length. From “Pictures of You” to “Last Dance” to “Prayers for Rain” to the thematically anachronistic “Lovesong” to “The Same Deep Water as You”, there isn’t a single song among the twelve that I wouldn’t consider brilliant, but “Closedown” and “Untitled” have always stood out for me.

The liner notes on the original album say “THIS
MUSIC HAS BEEN MIXED TO BE PLAYED LOUD SO TURN IT UP,” and the opening tribal drums of “Closedown” are relentless. You feel them thrumming in your chest with urgency at any volume. The immediacy of those four minutes of music – one of the shortest songs on the album – is underscored with a mere 11 lines of lyrics compacted into 40 seconds of song, making every turn of phrase, every word matter. The lyrics are well within lead singer Robert Smith’s doom and gloom wheelhouse, but the music feels uncharacteristically hard. While Cure songs of the era are typically dense, “Closedown” actually seems to apply pressure, actively pushing the air out of the listener’s lungs, suffocating them.

The final track is by far my favorite of the album. To my young man’s sensibilities, it seemed so brazen to not name the song at all and simply refer to it as “Untitled”. Four short verses. No chorus to speak of. “Untitled” never meanders but isn’t too terribly fond of rigid song structure either. The words Smith crafts matched the then-fresh emotional wreckage of my ended relationship. With the exception of Cowboy Junkies’ “Dreaming My Dreams With You”, no other song completely encapsulates that feeling of loss I was experiencing the summer before college when my girlfriend and muse left me. I leaned on this album, and “Untitled”, in particular, to fuel my fevered scribblings.

My dad was a meat cutter for a local grocery store and worked horrible hours, either getting up at four in the morning or not having to go into work until the afternoon shift. My parents and I were barely speaking at the time – they didn’t understand the whole punk phase I was going through, and I was an unyielding 18-year-old – but on those early morning days, we’d often pass on the stairs, both of us bleary-eyed as one was heading to bed and the other heading to work.

The Cure didn’t come to Northeast Ohio behind Disintegration until just after I had moved on to Bowling Green for college, but I ended up being able to come home for the Prayer Tour stop at the Richfield Coliseum in late August. I had worked at a local used CD store in high school and the summer before college, continuing there on breaks from school. I attended the Cure show with Jen and Nancy, along with my CD store boss Ron and part-time co-worker Randy, whose full-time job was box office manager of the Coliseum. Thanks to him, we had front row, center floor seats, but it would have been an amazing show even if I’d had to watch from the rafters. The only downside was that although The Cure had The Pixies and Love and Rockets – two bands I love – opening for them on their west coast swing, we were stuck with Shelleyan Orphan.

Although I was moving on from the muse in San Francisco, the powerful connection between this album and those events wreaked havoc in me that night. I remember tearing up during “Untitled”, thrilled that they were playing such a deep album cut so important to me. It was a crazy night, and I remember being deposited afterwards in my dorm room on the other side of the state somewhat more worse for the wear, to be honest. I never saw The Cure live again, nor have any desire to.

The Cure never released another album as good as Disintegration. Wish swung far too much in the opposite direction, and the schizophrenic Wild Mood Swings was aptly named. The lone bright spot was the single “Wrong Number” off Galore, which hinted at late ’90s relevance.

Ten years after Disintegration, in an attempt to link a new album to the glory days, Smith stated 2000’s Bloodflowers was the final part of a retrofitted trilogy that includes the band’s brilliant works of Pornography and Disintegration. This manufactured concept always struck me as a George Lucas type move. “Oh, no. It was always subtitled ‘A New Hope!’” Right. Regardless, Bloodflowers was a return to form and hit me as I was turning 30 and returning to Ohio after a decade away. Succumbing to waves of nostalgia, I gave it a pass.

The Cure faded from relevance for good after that, both for me personally and, apparently, commercially with releases of The Cure and 4:13 Dream. I still love the old albums and listen to them fairly regularly. I can reliably queue up a Cure playlist and enjoy the music for what it is, but Disintegration I can also appreciate as an aural marker for some of the messiest stumbles along my path to young adulthood. Without regret.


Jim said...

Enjoyed the article, brought back memories for me too, just substitute girlfriend with first wife and untitled with Pictures of You. Thanks for bringing back some forgotten memories.

Matt said...

Great stuff, Adam! Always love reading your NE Ohio musical memories..

B.Dee said...

A really well put together bit of nostalgia.
Your memories of a favourite album connected with moments in your life makes for an excellent read. I'm glad you had such a worthwhile album as your backdrop/soundtrack.
Thanks for sharing ...

Richard said...

EVERYTHING changed after Boris Williams' departure. His powerful drumming and creativity are sorely missed nowadays...

vk@nyte said...

for some odd reason,once in a while a band will put out an album that they never ever can recreate or continue in formula. The Cure had their biggest and most succesful hit with this album and mostly thanks to great word of mouth in high school halls..The summer of 1989 will forever go down in history as the best summer of our generation,right up their with the famous "summer of 1969" and "1979"...That was a great year of music as well..Public Enemy,The Cult,Depeche Mode,geez i can't remember all of them..1989-1991,a great musical soundtrack to my highschool years-The Cure was definitely in the top 5.