songs you don’t know: The Cure, “Primary”

10 Mar

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.


Posted by on March 10, 2008 in music, nostalgia, songs you don't know, youtube


4 responses to “songs you don’t know: The Cure, “Primary”

  1. grahamregarding

    March 10, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    i love the cure as well. i’m 22 and i’ve totally outgrown my teen angst. there was a time when i loved to just sit alone and listen to the cure and think of all the horrible things and cry. now i listen to them and just smile because they’re amazing. they’re playing the allstate arena may 17th. i’m going to try to go. there really aren’t enough cure fans in the world.

  2. geekusa

    March 11, 2008 at 9:00 am

    I think there are too many Cure fans in the world, and that I am the only true Cure fan. Bah. I spit on your callow attempt at “enjoying a band.”

    I kid, I kid. Good to hear from you, Graham – enjoy the show. I missed them on this particular tour.

  3. Lauryn

    March 11, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Hmm…my theory for why you’re craving the Cure right now is that you really secretly want their hairdos. But that’s just my guess.

  4. Muppetfan

    October 18, 2008 at 6:06 am

    I’d forgotten about this song. And yes, it’s brilliant: “the very first time I touched your skin, I thought of a story and rushed to reach the end. too. soon.” And the base line on “Other Voices….” it just gets under your skin. Plus, it has those great little Robert squeaks.

    I only realized how amazing the Cure was when a friend in college decided that he was “listening to too much Cure” and gave me temporary guardianship of his exhaustive Cure collection (he even had rare Japanese B-sides). The collection was piled into one half of a cardboard globe (yes, a globe. Very meaningful and all that), where it lived in my dorm room for six months, infecting me with Cure manic depression. My love of Pornography came out of that period. Wait, that sounded nastier than I wanted it to. >.>


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