I have quite a few favorite bands. Nine Inch Nails? Totally my favorite band. Guster? Like, my favorite band. The Dresden Dolls? Probably my favorite band. The Pixies? Pretty much the best band ever. Arcade Fire? So my favorite band. Smashing Pumpkins? Those guys are my favorite band. Pearl Jam? … and so on and so forth, until you get bored.
The Cure, though, are my favorite band, at least as much as all those other people and, occasionally, more so. Every now and then I go through band phases, and lately it’s been The Cure. Not sure why. I’m not particularly melancholy now – I have an awesome girlfriend and I’m working a lot and things are going relatively well. I am, in short, devoid of adolescent angst. I should be, considering I’m twenty-eight years young, but you know how these things go.
Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of early Cure songs. As a matter of fact, as I commute to and from my new job, I’ve decided to listen to their entire catalogue in order, starting with Three Imaginary Boys. Which is, by the way, a fantastic record. You can tell that, at that point in their career, they’re middle-class kids trying to sound like The Clash or The Jam or Joy Division (depending on their mood), but there’s some excellent, strange, catchy stuff on it. And that’s not counting “Boys Don’t Cry”, one of the great pop songs of the 20th century, which was only released later as a single (and on the US version of Three Imaginary Boys, entitled – yeah – Boys Don’t Cry.)
Supposedly, Robert Smith and co. haaaated Three Imaginary Boys at the time, which they thought was way too catchy and didn’t sound like the tortured, moody bastard stuff they were going for. In hindsight, I’m sure Robert’s changed his mind about it – the really, truly great thing about The Cure isn’t the angst. It’s the fact that, over their twenty-eight year history (they are as old as I am) they have written just about every kind of pop/rock/alternative song you can think of, and – mostly – they manage to pull it off every time. Your hard core fan can go on and on about how he/she hates “Friday I’m In Love” or whatever, but the thing that makes The Cure a Great Band is that they can write “Friday I’m In Love” and “One Hundred Years” and “Charlotte Sometimes“, and they all make sense.
“Primary” isn’t my favorite Cure song, but it’s in the top 5. It’s certainly my favorite “hard” Cure song – a relative term, I understand, but they could rock out when the mood struck them. It’s an odd duck, and it sits right in the middle of my least favorite Cure record, Faith. To me, Faith sounds like the sort of gloomy, angsty, take-yourself-way-too-seriously music the young Robert Smith and friends probably wanted to make instead of Three Imaginary Boys, before realizing that their true strength as songwriters lay in inverting the peaks and valleys of existence. There’s beauty in the darkest times and melancholy in the happiest times and ecstasy in anger. At their most profound moments of gloom, The Cure sound like they’re singing into the abyss. Faith, on the other hand, sounds like they’re staring at the wall*.
But “Primary” is awesome. It’s not that different from the rest of Faith in that the lyrics are about stagnation and hopelessness – in this case, a couple stuck with each other for the kids – but certain lines pop out at you. “The very first time I touched your skin, I thought of a story and skipped to reach the end too soon,” either tells us the protagonist knew the relationship was doomed to fail from the start, or that the couple rushed into things too quickly. The references to the innocence of sleeping children are all about dreams contrasting with responsibility. Robert’s saying, basically: yeah, aren’t they cute, but tomorrow you’ve got to feed them. All this to a guitar riff and swift drum beat you can dance to.
According to wiki, the song would often be dedicated to Ian Curtis in concert, and that makes a lot of sense if you’ve ever seen Control or read Touching From A Distance. Ian married young and had a kid, and yet he also had a band and a mistress. You get the impression that Ian didn’t want to leave his wife Debbie or their child, nor did he want to leave Joy Division and Annik, nor did he want to grow older. Ian’s subsequent suicide would have been fresh in a lot of people’s minds in 1981, when “Primary” was released as a single.
The word “entropy” seems to simultaneously convey meanings of movement and stillness – the process of changing through inactivity. That’s the word I think of when I hear “Primary.” This particular version of it comes from The Cure’s In Orange film, recorded live in France in the mid-80s in front of a nifty castle-thing. You totally wish you were there.
*-“All Cats Are Grey” and the remixed version of “Other Voices” are the only other two songs on Faith I really like. I know all true Cure fans supposedly love the title track, but seriously, you’re all just wrong.