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.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Youthful Resolve

The kiddo brought this home earlier this week for Tracy and me to sign. Thought it was a pretty awesome resolution, explaining both the problem and the consequences of not changing the behavior.

Plus, the drawing of the student crying because he’s getting bad grades is just priceless!

(click to enlarge)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Brothers In Arms

So, that circle of friends I mentioned I ran with back in high school? Here we are on graduation day nearly 22 years ago. A motley crew if ever there was.

We were the Kings of Inside Jokes. I don’t remember who suggested it, but we decided to take out a “senior ad” in the back of the yearbook and simply list as many of our in-jokes as we could fit.

Once we hatched the idea, I started a handwritten list. Then I typed it all up and printed it out on a dot-matrix printer and circulated it among the group again to add anything else we’d overlooked. We crammed everything in there from Monty Python qu
otes to movie lines to references to ex-girlfriends and teachers to stupid stuff we’d done that had entered into our personal lore. Ultimately, it fell to yearbook editor John to sneak as much past the faculty advisors as possible. And, frankly, I don’t recall anything being cut from the ad – even blatant stuff like “Freddie Uncle Charlie Kate” made it through.

I have no intention of explaining any of these, but here i
s the ad scanned from my yearbook.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Storming the Fourth Estate

When I was in high school, I wasn’t super popular, but I was well-known, I suppose. That comes with the territory when your mom is a teacher in the district and your older sister was captain of the cheerleading squad. My circle of friends was an interesting bunch. Among the five of us were the yearbook editor (John), the president of NHS (Giac), a football stud (Larry), the most uniquely creative person in school (Gary), and the editor of the school newspaper (me).

Ethics weren’t high on my list of things to strive towards, and I leveraged the hell out of that newspaper editor position for personal gain, including giving my best friend his own column – Scribblings by John Booth. My favorite of his columns was one that chronicled our trip to the Akron-Canton Airport to cover then-Vice President Geor
ge H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign stop.

There was a lot going on around the whole rally. John and I used to play racquetball on a regular basis (The physical resiliency of youth is amazing. Consider this: at 18 I had a pack-a-day cigarette habit, but played racquetball weekly. Ah, to be young and stupid.), and on one particular outing we had either picked the press passes up just before pl
aying or received them earlier in the day. We stopped at the mall after racquetball for smoothies as we sometimes did and had the passes with us. We were giddy and amazed that we, two high school kids, had been issued press credentials for a presidential rally. I stepped away from the table for something and when I returned, John informed me that the two girls at the next table were asking about me and for my name. John, inspired by the press passes in front of him, told them my name was “George.” And, according to John, their response was to coo “Georgie.”

More scheming went into just getting to go to the rally, let alone not have to ride with the band on their bus. The faculty newspaper advisor gave me a l
ot of leeway with things – to my ultimate detriment, I suppose – and I was able to sell her on the idea that both John and I needed to attend this event. I’m sure part of our reasoning was that our high school’s marching band was selected to perform at the rally. Of course, the only coverage we actually gave the band in the paper was some passing mentions in John’s column. There was also a lot of effort behind convincing the principal to let us take my car. I was initially surprised rereading John’s account of things to learn we didn’t pull that off until the day of the event. But in retrospect, I think we planned it that way to not give the administration much time to debate our reasoning – we were taking one of our parents’ good cameras and we certainly couldn’t take that on the bus with the band and risk it getting broken. (wink, wink!) I was also surprised at how much of our shenanigans John alluded to in his column that I allowed published. I mean, in theory we could have gotten into trouble for some of the scamming we did if the administration wanted to pursue it.

We froze our bits off in the hangar waiting for the Vice President, but I have very fond memories of everything about that day, including going over to John’s house immediately afterward to heat up leftover beef stroganoff and peas and watch those old episodes of Mission: Impossible and chatter away about how cool the whole experience was and
that we had honest-to-goodness press passes and how about those Secret Service agents and, man, did you see how hot that national news chick was and can you believe we talked the principal into letting us take my car and it was your job to remember where we parked and, holy cow, was it ever cold!

A week later I voted for the first time in a presidential election, but that’s not what I remember about politics in the Fall of 1988. It was the heady experien
ce of a high school senior and his best buddy at a presidential campaign stop posing as journalists; no matter how much of a sham it all was on our part.

And I can still corroborate John’s assessment of that national news chick. It may have been cold that fall Ohio day, but she was hot.

(click to enlarge)

Monday, January 3, 2011

At the Turning of the Year...

I have no real complaints about how things went in 2010, but my lack of reflection on events or the significance of anniversaries is odd for me. This year I finally was able to really reconnect with my oldest son who grew up in Florida. It marked the 10th anniversary of Tracy’s and my move back to Ohio after a decade away. And we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary and my 40th birthday. Yet, for some reason, I have struggled with writing – or even journaling – about these events and milestones. I have been out of sorts for months really. Freelance writing job deadlines sandwiched between a family vacation in August and a month of work travel in October threw me completely off my game.

There has been plenty to chronicle, but the last half of the year knocked me out of any sort of writing routine. If this were any other year I would have been reflecting on my blog and in my personal writing, talking endlessly about how much more of a milestone turning 30 felt like ten years ago than turning 40 did this past year. I’d be exploring my thirties and how they treated me and what I hope for from my forties. Our August trip included Star Wars Celebration V, and warrants a write-up that I have yet to find the motivation to tackle.

There was the piece I started to write about the tenth anniversary of the release of U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind and the importance of that album on me. My “End of the Eighties” track-by-track review was sidelined by my own distractions, and I never really recovered. There were book reviews and thoughts on comics and all other sorts of pop culture seeds that were planted but never really took root over the last half of the year.

The reconnection with my son Mikee has been amazingly rewarding, but the emotional experience for our family is incredibly personal. Not necessarily something appropriate for the wider audience. We are blessed to have him in our lives again and able to share this new chapter together. There are things to be recorded, but form and format are a curious animal I’ve yet to get my arms around.

I guess if I have a new year’s resolution, it’s to get back to writing regularly. Writing for me, for my family, for my friends and extended family. Finding my voice again and using it, whether it’s a personal journal entry, a blog post, a letter to a loved one, or organizing book ideas.