This is a Facebook meme, but I’m posting commentary here (for as long as I remember to do so or feel like it). Every day, you post a song based on a pre-determined theme. The rules are over here. My notes, and the song, are right here.
Theme: Your Favorite Song
Band: The Cure
Song: “Doing The Unstuck” (live)
I used to hate The Cure. That just looks wrong, doesn’t it? Andy used to hate The Cure. It’s like saying Coke once wanted to taste more like Pepsi, and Ricky Gervais used to sing in a bad pop band. And yet, these things are all true.
My first exposure to The Cure was when I was nine, and I saw the “Lullaby” video. It freaked me out. The video features Robert Smith, lying in bed, while a big furry thing eats him and the rest of the band play olde tyme instruments dressed like Civil War soldier ghosts, bedecked in cobwebs. Meanwhile, Robert sings about how the spider man is having you for dinner tonight, and how his tongue is in your eyes and oh god it was weird. This was not your friendly neighborhood spider man he was talking about. I hated the Cure.
And I guess from that point on, I thought the Cure was *just* a gloomy, creepy band with an annoying singer who I could happily ignore as I filled my head with other tunes – first with Billy Joel, then showtunes like Les Mis and Phantom, then Nirvana and Pearl Jam, then Green Day and the Pumpkins. From the Pumpkins we develop a tolerance for epic melodrama and an eventual love for Nine Inch Nails. Nine Inch Nails (and Les Mis) is how I bonded with my first serious girlfriend, who I’m still friends with. Through her, I met all kinds of new people, because she went to another school where people actually liked good music. Like Jeff. And that’s how I became friends with Jon, a kid I sort of knew from scout camp. By then it was the Summer of 1996, and I was writing music of my own. Jon loved The Cure. I still hated them, because I had always hated them and I knew for a fact that I hated them, so there.
Two things happened that summer. One was that Jon, along with Chris and Jeff and Beth M. and this fellow Ken and I, we started playing in a band. The other thing was Explo. We’ll get back to Explo later, but it was a kind of summer camp at a college where parents sent their creative, intelligent kids so that they could make out with other creative, intelligent kids. More or less.
That’s where I met Janine. Her and I never actually made out, but we did become very close friends.
So: the song. The first time I heard “Doing The Unstuck” was in Jon’s car, either going to, or coming back from, a gig. I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever heard. I asked Jon who it was, and he was like “Um, The Cure? Duh.” But, see, I hated The Cure. I was only listening to The Cure because I was in a car full of people who loved The Cure. So I filed The Cure under the same category as Candlebox – crappy bands who had one good song.
Then Janine gave me a mixtape, about two weeks later. “Doing The Unstuck” was on it. This song was demanding that I love it.
So: fine – I liked this one song. A lot. It captured the essence of that summer perfectly – I didn’t have a car, but my friends all did, which meant freedom. Oh, sure, in our little town freedom meant “the ability to go to Newbury Comics all by ourselves,” or “the right to sit at Bickfords until – gosh – 10pm or so,” but it was something. It was one of those times when your world opens up and everything seems possible.
It’s a perfect day for letting go –
for setting fire to bridges, boats, and other dreary worlds you know.
Let’s get happy.
But what the hell! The Cure was this gloomy-ass, atonal band that sung about weird stuff! They even played keyboards! KEYBOARDS! That didn’t fit into my puritanical, self-imposed grunge aesthetic at all. How dare they sing songs about being happy, about things I was feeling? How the hell could they understand me? Who did they think they were, Eddie Vedder? Robert Smith, you are many things, but you are no Eddie Vedder.
Which, it turned out, was the point all along.
While their voices shared a certain tonal quality, the gap between self-serious, “important” grunge rock and The Cure was enormous. People who don’t listen to them – like me, age 15 – assume The Cure are just gloom and doom goth rockers who wail on about sad British things. And that’s true, to a point – but they’re also very, very clever. Robert Smith’s voice makes everything sound like a dirge, but that hasn’t stopped him from crafting a wonderfully absurd world-view. Peter Murphy, Ian Curtis, Trent Reznor… geniuses all none of those other goth guys could ever, in a million years, have written “The Lovecats.”
It seems so obvious now. How can you not think that “Just Like Heaven” is one of the greatest pop songs ever? How can you negate the simple beauty of “Lovesong?” In short, what kind of a moron was I that it took me 16 years of prejudicial hatred of a certain band before I realized that they were capable of writing a song as brilliant as “Doing The Unstuck”?
But it’s much too late, they said for doing this now
You should have done it then, well, it just goes to show
How wrong you could be and how you really should know
That it’s never too late to get up and…
That song marked the exact moment where I realized that I’d spent my entire life making flash judgments, doing things other people wanted me to do, not listening to things that were supposedly uncool, even at home, even in the safety of my room, because someone, somewhere, would know. Fuck that. I was a pop kid, and proud of it.
Interesting point: I’m as old as The Cure. Their first album, Three Imaginary Boys, came out in 1979, the year I was born. When Robert Smith wrote “Doing The Unstuck”, he was around my age now – Disintegration (1989) is supposedly an album about turning 30, beloved by angst-ridden teenagers everywhere. Their next album, Wish, came out in 1992. That’s the album “Doing The Unstuck” is on – and that’s why it’s my favorite Cure record, despite all of its obvious faults (the mix is weird, it features both “Apart” and “Trust” which are pretty much the exact same song, the cover art is hideous, etc.)
But the point is, even at age 31, I can get something out of this song. It’s not just a nostalgia trip – although every time I hear it, it’s a warm summer Merrimack Valley evening in my heart. It’s because it’s a song about getting over yourself and realizing that, no matter how old you are and how much grown up responsibility you have, every now and then there comes a perfect day to throw back your head and kiss it all goodbye. In other words, when I listen to it now, I think of that XKCD cartoon, where the girl fills her apartment with playpen balls because “we’re adults now, and it’s our turn to figure out what that means.” I have the print of that cartoon framed on the wall of my apartment. There’s a good reason for that – it’s a profound statement about how there’s no point in growing up if you can’t be childish, sometimes. And so is “Doing The Unstuck.”