Music Travel Diaries: The Cure, Daydream, Pasadena & L.A.

By Jacqueline Howell. Photos by Dave MacIntyre with Jacqueline Howell.

In our new series about traveling for live music, we’ll discuss live music that forms the basis of our travel, feature in-depth or capsule live music reviews of shows and festivals and review these unique experience of travel done our way: off the beaten tourist path, loosely planned wherever possible, and with appreciation for local culture, flavours and random discovery.

Pasadena is an appealing L.A. suburb which is probably best known to outsiders for its Rose Bowl and for my generation, the site of Depeche Mode’s legendary 1989 concert / live album / concert film Depeche Mode 101. “Good Evening, Pasadena!” (shouted in our best Rock Star) was the defining theme of our months leading up to our first-ever trip to the West Coast. We could see that Pasadena seemed somewhat walkable (something we are used to at home and the great benefit of all safe, walkable cities) and had all the conveniences that make travelers comfortable and the transition easier, but with a too-easy familiarity that makes the need and effort to find “real culture” of a given city a more deliberate one. There’s Starbucks, as it often is, in strip malls and in satellite form at major hotel chains that are the same everywhere as a matter of branding. There are the chain restaurants that blanket the globe, and there are uniquely American ones, regional and California ones, and there are real places – mom and pop shops, diners, what we think of when we think of finding America. More on those later.

We visited for a short trip built, like most of our trips are, out of a combination of writing and photography and a very short vacation. In our loose plan to see at least one new festival in a new place once per year – which evolved this year to mean several trips including one especially to see The Cure in a new city / one-day festival of Robert Smith’s own design – the L.A. Pasadena trip was to be even more unique for us, combined with a reunion with an old friend from back home, and her daughter we’d not seen since she was small. All of us are big fans of the Cure and so the trip was planned as a reunion and celebration of all of these milestones, and for some, a correction of time too long away from live music.

For the day-job having music traveler on a budget, you find that you are naturally driven for reasons of time and economy away from the norms of international or even typical vacation travel. While conventional thinking (much of it leftover from an earlier time when trips were always thought of as once-in-a-lifetime, an almost aberration / lottery-win) would dictate that Canadians must do three weeks and propel themselves on fumes to conquer all of the U.K. and half of Europe (or not at all) or that a trip to California MUST include the brutally expensive and highly-specific sort of exhausting fun of Disneyland, Universal Studios, Star map tours, and the reportedly seedy & sketchy downtown stretches of the Hollywood Walk of Fame X 8 or 10 days, there is another way, a better way, for folks like us. Our kind of travel also allows for a moment of radical rock star weirdness to friends and co-workers who live differently. “You’re going to California? For FOUR DAYS?” That look alone is worth the jet lag. (Sorry to disappoint, but I have no answers for jet lag, and my jet lag is another story shared with me, one stoic traveling companion, sometimes passing strangers in random airports, and more intuitive Uber drivers.)

Pasadena Daydream was announced in April amid a steady stream of announcements from The Cure who’ve been on a beautiful 40th Anniversary buzz they’ve shared with their fans in far-flung & more expected places for the past year and a bit. The Cure lives outside of time, adhering only to the 40th in their fluid, spiderwebby way. Around now was the first time we played a gig as The Cure. This is close to the release date of that record or single. (A band races to play 10:15 Saturday night at that time). And, one feels in her bones, a number of quietly acknowledged and rarely spoken private milestones beheld like contents of a locket by one of the most romantic bands left alive, who thrive and are in their finest form in decades despite any of the ravages of life, or time.

During the second year of the anniversary period, The Cure is still on a beautiful, elegant, and quietly ass-kicking roll. They were always different, and they still are, now with the keys to their own kingdom. They produce their own music, on their own schedule. There will be a new album, sometime soon. When it’s ready. Hyde Park was a legendary day in July 2018, and it was made into a globally screened concert film by Tim Pope, which the whole world of Cure fans watched on the same day, as close as possible to the anniversary, of the anniversary show (you see?) We will always treasure that we were at Hyde Park in London last year with 60,000 others singing out loud, and this year, in the cinema reliving it (by kismet, no planning needed) with Toronto friends who also attended Hyde, who love and pursue Cure shows both at home and anywhere else they can afford to go.

When you start to indulge the strange little voice inside that beckons you forth to do offbeat, tourism-free, bursts of music-based travel, you get the nagging in your gut that often must be ignored (though Scotland seemed like the magical one, maybe) and occasionally is given into. You run, or pretend to run, on a clock and a map that is radically different than the one you were shown as a child. You listen to signs and invent the same, and so you have to use care with such invented mysticism and calls from the universe. Sometimes the universe seems to be shouting. Occasionally it warns you to stay home. It runs free of life’s ups and downs and the unforgiving inflexibility of airline commitments. It’s a bit of a risky way to live. But it’s living.

Due to traveling with friends who were getting their first passports, old friends who (along with myself) always liked to obsesses over details as a way to look forward, the plan for Pasadena was different than our other music trips as a couple and the simplicity of answering only to ourselves and our weird, self-invented photo-journalism ways. All spring, I indulged myself in endless hours looking at suitcases and backpacks (for carrying on as well as a festival day bag) and mapped out where IN-and-OUT Burger and Target were, only to end up with my old (fine) suitcase and in the end, missing ample chances to try the Double Burger with Animal-Style Fries. My friends joining us have less travel experience but are yet more focused, becoming able packers and clear pre-planners – with foreign airport transfers booked months ahead while I laze into my usual Uber mode.

The Pasadena / Daydream plan is the sort people need to get through a long, dark spring in the northern part of the world, where short days and inconsistent weather including snow, ice, sleet and cold rain feel like a seasonless purgatory for 8-5 workers. And it gets us through. My friend and I find each other late at night in chats that need only the same Cure gifs we overuse as private shorthand or a line of a song to set our tired hearts right. And we all feel romantic too – not that we’d ever admit it. New tattoos to mark the occasion are planned, and in some cases carried out. Some of us can just never decide, or should maybe stick to T-shirts. All summer, while The Cure snakes through Australia, Japan, and headline almost every major UK and European festival at a pace we can only marvel at, we stay close to home and look forward to the end of summer. Pasadena Daydream will mark the official end of a band’s summer season, and at the precise end of summer.

And so it unfolds.

Here are the most important and most romantic things I take from that trip, that was over planned for the good of our spirits and under executed due, in part to jet lag; that led us down magical roads of stardust while we never saw any hand prints in cement at all; and where the Hollywood sign was just a distant blur in the smoggy fog spotted from a freeway, captured in a photo I had to define as “alleged”.

Pasadena Daydream is a smaller, two stage, well-curated line up of bands who make sense together. The scale and scope of the thing is one that ought to, and I think will, set the new bar for what festivals in North America should be aiming for and a format that can be scaled logically within most budgets whether in rock clubs, city parks or stadiums. Look at what The Cure did, organizers in Canada and U.S., and even modest capabilities. We dream of being part of such new festivals here at home, where we truly need to embrace the very British “one-dayer” in all its perfection. It must be noted that the promoter / administration at the Pasadena venue (getting in during record high heat waves on melting tar) has been widely criticized by attendees, and rightly so. We’ve been to a lot of festivals – mostly, but not only at home – and never seen such disorganization, lack of signage or void of people in charge of making sure customers have the few arrows to what they need to enjoy themselves or be wrist-banded correctly to access areas, a gap in organization creating rough and avoidable situations for too many. Time is money, and too much of it is spent in lines, full stop, to enjoy the first half of the day. There are long lines everywhere, VIP seems oversold and inconvenient, and it becomes difficult to enjoy any of the day’s offerings besides the bands themselves. We’ve avoided complaining about festival logistics in the past, but the things we and others experience here are especially frustrating both as they are easily correctable and also because they serve to undermine the good aspects of the day and take some time to recover from (physically). Logistics like this do a disservice to the bands and the name atop this whole thing, something all of us fans are protective over and believe in unconditionally, too.

The festival occurring on two stages, on the other hand, is executed very effectively. Here, it’s apparent that the people in charge of this side of things are more than qualified. While the always excellent and tireless Twilight Sad has some frustrating sound problems during their set, most of the rest of the day goes smoothly, and while internet service is patchy, attendees and a few media-types are able to exclaim about the excellent time had, notably at the reunited Throwing Muses, who bring an impressively devoted draw who’ve waited for this as well as followed Kristen Hersh’s extensive solo work.

Unwilling to travel anymore, we settle for the rest of our day with views of the main stage, where Deftones, Pixies, and The Cure deliver lengthy, flawless performances and crowd positions are found and held onto for dear life. We work out an awkward, mobile-less field system of landmarking with our friends, knowing I sound like my father back in another century, but putting in the time so I can at least find my oldest friend doing her one of a kind dances to “Caterpillar Girl”, which she is. I think, then, and later, of my friend Craig, who once united three groups of us in the pitch dark in a mass of thousands with no landmarks at all but with blinding lights and pyro coming from a faraway Prodigy stage, somehow intuiting a certain garbage can and eyeballing metres like the skilled tradesman he is, working a miracle of boy scouting, helping Dave find us all the way back there from the photo pit where he shot his bucket list band while dancing compulsively. Such achievements are what help define these experiences, when the frustrations, the money splashed out, and the sunburn fades away. These little wins make us real, proud music people.

One can evaluate the success of a live show, in a certain sense, by the churn of the crowd. The churn is minimal on this beautiful evening, especially as the sun starts to relent and Pixies deliver a headline-worthy epic set of 25 songs. I say this as a Kim Deal / current day Breeders and early Pixies devotee, they kill it. “Wave of Mutilation” is still my anthem in my heart. Find me another such line that you can dance through a crowd so (obscenely) happily uttering aloud: (sung breezily, without a care in the world):

They think I’m dead, but I sail away…on a Wave of Mutilation….Wave of Mutilation….Wa-a-a-a-ve. Wa-a-a-ve.”

In moments like that, your enemies are more than just thousands of miles away and behind you. They are in another orbit, and you are free. The Cure, in their quietly vampiric-romantic fashion, through planning this day as they did, tonight honour their contemporaries, Pixies, with an almost co-headline length set. It has all been done, one thinks, to remind all who remember outside of time as we true music believers live, of the triumphant 1989 Prayer Tour, when Pixies opened for The Cure on their US dates through the shimmering, meteoric heat of the instantly iconic Disintegration. At home, people who forget or wish to believe that the best is behind us for alternative music (or for culture) circulate The Prayer Tour poster online for likes. But we are free of nostalgia. We are all here, tonight. In the hard-won moment. Despite health concerns, fear of travel, sadness and stresses waiting back home, or the constrains of money itself.

One of the only drawbacks of Hyde Park (like Bestival Toronto before that, when the sun had the bloody nerve to beat down on Robert, Simon, Roger, Reeves and Jason, each clad in defiant black and gravity immune hair) was that the time of early /midsummer they occurred meant our heroes had to appear before the earth turned to meet them at the appointed time of dusk-where-dark-falls within minutes. Magic hour. But tonight (as me and my friend obsessively figured out a month ahead of time) the fading season is at last ideal for The Cure to take the stage.

This is a band who needs no extravagance or welcomes-to-the-stage, but we are in the age of necessary high-calibre screens and we appreciate the attractive effects, and tonight for our first time live, we get to see these things done to full effect (reportedly Bestival Toronto in 2016 was an early test / debut for the new feature, one interrupted by weather and sound issues outdoors, as well as having a limited impact due to that infernal daylight). Everyone, now, standing at every corner of this large golf course-by-day, can enjoy some sort of view. Everyone gets the full show, even if getting close to the stage is just a myth for most of us who like to eat, drink, move and get merch. The Cure is perfect tonight, the set not unfamiliar to those of us who’ve imbibed to near-overdose all summer on the joy of official live streams and secreted BBC footage, watched and cheered from our homes in midday from across time zones with dregs of old wine in hand at solo parties before the triumphant shows in Sydney, Glastonbury, and Rock en Seine.

This is the capsule of emotions and memory I write post-show through jet lagged ( / panic attack) tears, for social media in a writer’s sleepless hours. I have learned to find the romance in life, all of life. It took me ages. We who found all this music long ago in the unromantic circumstances of young loves, follow the sounds of romantic music like a beacon. There can be no regrets. Enough of all that:

Trip comedown well underway, even while still here, as friends leaving early am. We’ll never forget you, Pasadena, your lovely warm people, The Cure’s music ringing as perfect & timeless as ever in the dark summer night, our special reunion with our dear friend & her beautiful daughter and your palm trees.

Nothing is perfect. Travel is hard. Nervous excitement is exhausting. Some caterpillars bite (true story) real, authentic Diners (and the people who understand real food) still exist. American people are good & full of heart, and almost every single local person we’ve met here has the kind of faces Tr*mp & co. would disgracefully target. Shocking. Real America will not be bowed by hate or politicking. We heard none, we felt none, we were in a safe place – while a part of my mind finally admitted much relief that no shots rang out, in a large gathering such as it was. Whether in range or in earshot, it would have destroyed me.

When your hotel room is positioned just like your childhood front doors were for 20 years with your friend you are seeing for the first time in a decade, it is a sign.

Home is in your hearts. Like love, Music is immune to time, age, trends, loss or polar ice caps melting. It is tribal, transcendent, primal, religious. There are 100 ways to enjoy a festival, none of them wrong. Many of them bumbling, costly, time-wasting. It’s OK. You were there. Your very own words brought your own new group of near strangers here, now. And nearby, swirling around you, are eight-year-old wild-eyed children playing hide-and-go-seek in the dark in the crowd during the music that defines your personhood, which makes you finally relax, ignore your programmed tension and be fully present, in that magic. That’s what you’ve been looking for since you were their age, and before, it seems. That’s what you will keep. A souvenir, worth all of it. All of it! Those kids are not a strange family of four like you thought but really total strangers who had become a gang for a moment in time (not) lost in the dark. They insist with their peals of laughter that they can’t hear inside their giant ear protector headsets, this music of their parents’ youth the backdrop to their own burgeoning lives, that your worries are but a sand trap, everything will go on and real life is organic, sustainable, innate, stubborn, messy and beautiful.

And through this trip and all the best laid plans I am reminded that kids often want nothing more than endless hours in a bathwater warm swimming pool in the endless sun. For we rarely get strong, endless sun in the north. A pool that is almost private. It’s never, ever warm as bathwater in our north. Teens are right to maximize their time in the sun and under the moon, they are banking it for the long Canadian winter not far enough ahead. They are pretty smart.

Here are the unplanned discoveries we made in Pasadena and our short time going through downtown LA en route to LAX:

ANDY’S COFFEE SHOP: 1234 East Colorado Blvd. Pasadena

Located on a quiet stretch of the old Route 66 that runs through Pasadena, we visited Andy’s twice for full, hearty, traveler-fueling breakfast, avoiding the hotel restaurant & fast food chains. This is a classic, authentic diner and a place where locals eat. The prices are reasonable and the menu is large, as are the servings, and the coffee is of course, bottomless, a detail almost forgotten in today’s climate. Andy’s offers all manner of classic diner fare and was the perfect place for morning after Huevos Rancheros. While the dish is a staple in the few diners that remain in our part of the world, Andy’s felt truly authentic, with style and fresh tortillas to spare. Like true diners and the best authentic eateries everywhere, Andy’s dining room and kitchen are run by long time restaurant pros who’ve worked together for a few decades. It felt like home.

CANTERBURY RECORDS. INC.: 805 East Colorado Blvd. Pasadena

A man who’s stayed with records through more than a few music format changes tells me without apology: “We don’t have T-shirts or any of that stuff.” I’m a hopeless tote bag collector and now slip mats have become an easy and useful souvenir, and they have none of this stuff for sale. We’ve stumbled onto this record shop, a real one. Two large rooms carry a wide inventory of original pressings and quite on point reissues from the range of genres only possible for older record collectors and surviving record stores. I’m drawn by a range of very inexpensive Christmas albums from earlier eras I’ve never seen, but we ultimately buy a handful of well-priced reissues to fill holes in our collection.

AMOEBA MUSIC: The World’s Largest Independent Record Store: 6400 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

Obviously. Amoeba is a LA institution where you are as likely to find your favourite touring musician shopping as to find ways to spend all your money in minutes. The place defies description, and photos don’t do it justice. It overwhelms. It’s simply everything we miss and have almost entirely lost in the world, certainly in my hometown, and that cannot be replaced even if vinyl were to come back strong forever. It is an endlessly layered but organized hall of wonders, with added-on rooms opening up around corners and with all the old film and music posters for sale to the height of very high ceilings you’ve missed since they silently disappeared, a place chock full of memorabilia, rare out of print music books you didn’t know existed but you need urgently, T-Shirts, and music, music, music. Visit one of their three LA area locations while you can.

TREJO’S CANTINA:  1556 N Cahuenga Blvd, Los Angeles

Around the corner from Amoeba Records sits actor Danny Trejo’s joint, Trejo’s Cantina. Trejo has a few taco spots including one at LAX Terminal 1, as well as a coffee and donut business, and the Cantina has a delightful casual vibe and intimate atmosphere. Most importantly, the tacos are delicious, traditional, varied and you have no choice but to try one of everything and then try a few more. My favourite was the Carnitas, and Dave loved the Beef Barbacoa best. The O.G. Margarita is perfection. The servers are friendly and laid back (as should you be) and rumour has it that Trejo pops in pretty regularly and is happy to say hello tableside, as he did with us. You win some, and you lose some. The trip feels appropriately Hollywood. Trejo’s brand, simple, well made and utterly downtown L.A. is poised and perfect for wider expansion, and would surely be a hit worldwide. It would shake my hometown to its core.

Special mention: We made our first trip to Trader Joe’s, the amazing grocery store of that region, for supplies. The cashier happened to notice my partner’s T-shirt, featuring The Twilight Sad’s newest album cover art. She says, out of the blue, “I love your T-shirt. I always thought it looked like a picture of Robert and Mary Smith.” “Get out! Me too.” I say. She asks us what brings us to town “A festival at the Rose Bowl…” I say. “DON’T EVEN!” she cries. “I’m dying to go to that and I’m stuck working. My favourite bands!” Oh how I wish we could have brought Arin along. By the time our groceries are bagged, we’re hugging goodbye. This was the mood we found in Pasadena. Friendly, open, and pure.

Pro tip: Unlike where we’re from, Uber in L.A. sometimes subcontracts out calls to outside companies. This was a surprise to us on the low-speed chase to always, always, traffic snarled LAX, where our driver entertained, chatted, and used the politest techniques we’ve ever seen to get other drivers to co-operate, and because of him we got there instead of hitting the road shoulder in desperation like other travelers. As Uber is cashless and the tip is entered on the app, this type of driver deserves a proper cash-in-hand tip. On the upside he said he’s paid hourly, so maybe it works out well for them.

With thanks to my partner and my travel companions, all the nice people we met in L.A. and Pasadena and our fellow music fans, especially the one with “The Smith / “Smiths” Tshirts featuring the hero of that sunshine-y day.

Disintegration: For The Ages

By Jacqueline Howell

Thirty years later, Disintegration is both transformative and transcendent. The chronicle of a break down and survival has grown with us into a uniquely life-affirming artistic statement.

DISINTEGRATION, as is the fashion these days, is celebrating an anniversary. Or is it a birthday? With passing time, with invented mini-holidays for all and sundry, and with the ease of online, free of the discomfort of the “Happy Birthday” song, we celebrate these milestones of new classic records.

We fans celebrate them wholeheartedly. Disintegration’s anniversary is couched within the larger anniversary of The Cure themselves: a band at the milestone of 40 with no signs of slowing, a band with a face unlined and gaze still sharp, and one with a voice THE SAME as ever, as clear, even singing in the same youthful key. The Cure’s legacy is not bronzed and flattened, rather, it’s a vivid one, an event in defiance of time, age, and expectations. The Cure’s recent milestones have been marked in their own way. Conceding to the rare public spectacle, there they all were at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (providing a mini concert and even an unlikely, endearing meme for forever fans and casual observers, both). Celebrations more personal included Robert Smith’s curation of Meltdown Festival in London last summer, followed shortly by the legendary concert (/mini festival) in Hyde Park in July (filmed by Tim Pope for a future feature-length concert film) which saw 50,000 of us singing entire verses like football chants while the intro notes were still issuing into the shimmering heat wave atmosphere. Among many other cues, a DISINTEGRATION fan will never hear a stray neighbourhood wind chime the same way. It sets off “Plainsong” in our hearts.

None of The Cure’s 40th Anniversary events have been anything other than what feels appropriate for a band immune to branding, hype-resistant, stoic and incorruptible, whose genre is CUREMUSIC and CUREMUSIC only. This band, like few others, has moved into the difficult digital and downright messy social media age with their own unique take on grace. There are only rare, gem-like all-caps updates from on high. Occasional, mannered calls for pressing issues of the day. Do vote. Tour news, sent out just once, needing nothing more. The communiques are never mundane or shallow – and so millions choose to read them as personal correspondence.

April / May is the traditional season of new Cure releases, so we’ve had a lot to mark and celebrate along with the 40th. It’s also the time of year that the band’s founder celebrates (or ignores, for all we know) his birthday. In my home, we’ve re-named Record Store Day Robert Smith Day, as it fell on his birthday last year. And these last few have been special, so we’ve got to celebrate what we can, don’t we? We’ve lost too many artists we’ve loved blindly and fully, their lyrics tattooed across the skin of countless fans, their tours embedded in the fabric of countless lives, names out of songs bestowed upon a generation of babies, so many artists at once an indelible part of us, yet gone too soon, often painfully, even brutally. It seems everyone knows loss first hand now, as well as the universal pall of the Black Star, or a Firestarter, impossibly, extinguished. So we must rally for ourselves and our allies and our few worthy heroes like never before, with deeper context than rock and roll music was ever meant to carry, and especially, far beyond the industry’s low expectations for the too often dismissed post-punk “80s” which was called then “new wave” or dismissed by sneering critics as “haircut” music. Through all of this roller coaster of life we met The Cure’s music. And in the years since, we’ve continued to find new facets of The Cure, and prismatically, ways to understand our own lives.

Reeves Gabrels and Robert Smith of The Cure at Riot Fest, Toronto

DISINTEGRATION is, reportedly, an epic journey through early-mid life crisis. Is this common knowledge? From reliable sources?  From the source himself? Or have we intuited it? I’ve only ever taken liner notes as plain fact. You feel it, though, it permeates the work, with an urgency: an artist nearing age 30, having worked a lifetime already building this strange, beautiful creature, faced with his worst critic, the one inside, and pivotal questions both artistic and personal – ones not so different than the turning 30 moment that keeps us all awake. Do I marry? Have a family? Is love lasting? Is my best (work / life) behind me? Why do I feel so Goddamned old? What am I meant to be doing, if not this?

DISINTEGRATION came after a marathon run of albums and increasingly endless tours – at an output beyond the layperson’s comprehension- since the band’s formation in 1977. It marked a private breakdown not seen by us in the crowd, in the world: fans, devotees, Walkman owners. We were not consumers then. Not users. We scrambled for concert tickets- then just $15, tour T-Shirts and programs if we were lucky. We bought records or tapes, whatever our suburbias supplied us with – only looking at picture discs and imports. Music press was sparse in my part of the world, and we pored over any interviews and photos we could find, then, so limited and intriguing. There were never live photos of The Cure, just some studio things we cherished like fine art, sketched and tried to replicate, hung on the wall. A still from a TV appearance. The one with the flowered house dresses. This band was vividly alive in their Tim Pope-directed videos, a full carnival, and immense on the record. But on the wall, they were still, inbetween. A mystery. We were not the armchair quarterbacks and all-knowing experts fans claim to be today. We did not hold scorecards or make demands. Who would hear us? We were mannered. We waited, we showed up on time, we wore out vinyl discs, then tapes, and finally CDs.

My generation (at the time of DISINTEGRATION, angsty teens with our own sheen of faux-cool) had no inkling, then, that our beloved artists got depressed. There were only heavy metal car crashes and the sad slow death of Karen Carpenter, haunting in life and death, for reference. Despite what outsiders might say about our so-called “gloomy” music, we interpreted it correctly: as cathartic, as artistically profound, as art. We didn’t imagine young, strong musicians as ill, or that they might be white knuckling through addiction and withdrawal. We were naïve pre-Behind the Music VH1. No one knew how many musicians were wrecked from the pains of the road, or cratered occasionally with boredom, loneliness, and artist-torments they suffered, maybe cold-turkey, to enable creation itself. That the realest, who leave it all on the stage night after night, too-often burn out, the downside of making it. That fans turn on artists in their necessary evolutions. Even this band who mined and explained the depths of despair, hallucinogenic love / lust / pain / anger / the madness of young feelings to us, were miles and layers far away from our experience. We never thought to explain their significance to ourselves, and if we had, it would have included embarrassing-still baby-fat-cheeked words leftover in our vocabularies from the 1970s. Words like “magic.”

England, to Canadian kids, was just an imposing land mass. The Cure was an impenetrable entity. Our small reality was as detailed as veins, and as unremarkable. But we grabbed on tight to this music. It was our version of beach party music. We liked how it changed the air in the room like no other music. It was, like no one else, romantic and cinematic, befitting our dramas. It said what you weren’t supposed to say if you were a good girl or boy. It said it plainly, openly, bravely. It said it angrily, coldly, sarcastically. It showed us that even if our own diaries met their correct fates of being ripped up regularly, that such a thing was worth sharing when done artfully: with a twist, with a beat, and with a purpose. We were moved. Changed. Radicalized towards independent thought and authenticity which is not necessarily pretty, but is also beautiful in its way.

Reeves Gabrels at Bestival, Toronto

We knew from DISINTEGRATION that raging out musically was cathartic, and cool. The Cure asserted their firm place in the world by saying “we are allowed to be dark and messy and we demand to exist, whether you like it or not.” And there was no like, only love. We’d never heard such authenticity before that was our music. The Cure’s sounds and worldview was, by now, both an intriguing puzzle, and somehow touched us at our small, suburban knotted cores of still-malleable, still fragile self-identity. We were the five percent of the culture who connected with outsider music, innately and unconditionally fell in love with a few men in makeup, and dropped our beliefs in daddy-knows-best for something more sideways, eventually leading to our own voices. Post-Cure, we didn’t need the radio anymore to tell us or reflect back to us what was good. This music was passed, in Toronto, hand to hand, or experienced live more than through the radio or MuchMusic, (our MTV). We were casualties of end-of-the-century religious upbringing, first-children–Dr. Spock- experimental kids, or midlife and publicly obvious “accidents” of illogical middle-class unions. We were all a sausage roll away from English or Irish (or both) roots. Yet, we were disconnected and felt rootless. We never visited those places. Our elders did not look back. But something called to us. Something not touristic. We were, like our first role models at home and school, quietly sad, innately raging, and good actors. The Cure, and DISINTEGRATION found us at the exact moment we needed them, articulating something wordlessly brewing in us, and the world, shaking something loose.

Still from the best South Park episode ever: Mecha Streisand.

Ever since the South Park kids shouted to the planet that “DISINTEGRATION IS THE BEST ALBUM EVER”, capping a first-season episode (1998) which featured a very game Robert Smith himself going with the flow, it seems easy to imagine that this assertion has always been a globalized, accepted truth. This is not so. What South Park did was remarkable. It took something that felt like a secret code of the underground and shouted it from prime-time television, signaling the first anniversary of sorts for this or any modern record, then a precocious nine years old. The Cure, always workhorses, found much outward success before and after DISINTEGRATION, a record which might have been intended as a sign-off but instead would engrave their legacy among fans, young bands, and artistic souls the world over, and thankfully not the mainstream. The Cure, and DISINTEGRATION, would yet remain stubbornly apart from the terrible machine of the industry and the desperation of the encroaching digital age. They were still too weird for the boring and the mass market, and up to then, most of their music had suited only “College” radio in North America. They were, then, always cool and never overplayed. “Friday I’m In Love” broke that format forever, signaling to us fans that they could, if they wanted, write a hit justlikethat, too. The Cure would never don wacky costumes at the behest of some slimy advertiser, let their most profound song sell soda or luxury cars, appear as a school dance band on a teen drama to embarrass us all, or otherwise get cozy with the unbeautiful, crummy world of marketing. They undoubtedly turned down legions of offers that would have compromised their time and ethics. And ours. Instead, the music of DISINTEGRATION turned up very occasionally and somehow perfectly. For no reason at all, Adam Horovitz’s character in cult classic Lost Angels (1989) careens down a road in the Hollywood Hills, taking his mother’s car and sealing his fate to be committed to a mental facility, to a sliver of “Fascination Street”. That song and its appearance in film is curious as an American-only single that was a big hit on Alternative radio across North America. It’s a great song, a ramble, one that let the wider world know this was a band of skilled musicians that could do mysterious things with guitars.

It happened just like other people’s Beatlemania, only without the mania. Our manias were the underground kind, the buried under-pillow, repressed, dark sort. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that one can see the painful teenage crises that were innocently dark, like the depths of DISINTEGRATION’s journey. That the kids we were, were not alright, at all, but treading water, who dodged curses and serial killers and cars with indifferent, alcoholic shrugs. Liquid courage. Drunk words, sober thoughts. We never fought but we slammed, we threatened, we railed. We scribbled. We prayed, still. Most of us made it out.

In between albums, The Cure went to their private lives (I presumed, in “The French Countryside“, for some reason) and we went on with our own micro dramas. Having spent our youth immersed in The Cure, DISINTEGRATION, while immense and addictive, was just the latest bounty in a solid run of our life’s soundtrack. We loved KISS ME, KISS ME, KISS ME just as much. The TOP, too. The dark early trilogy we fell into after HEAD ON THE DOOR, my group of friends’ entry point. STANDING ON A BEACH kids. After DISINTEGRATION, WISH (a treasure) would feel like a natural progression. DISINTEGRATION’s legacy that has vaulted it past most of the entire era’s offerings as well as other Cure records in the public imagination happened just as organically as the fact that we’ve all grown up together, still here, still listening, still connecting. It helped that they were never playing against anyone but themselves and their demons.

Simon Gallup at Bestival, Toronto

DISINTEGRATION, like classic literature, is a record that you can pick up all these years later and find that it crackles with the same electricity as ever (if not more). We change, it waits. It’s for all who recognize that records over 45 minutes long have at least twice as much pressure to be great, that they  are risking the wrath of all critics, but pay long odds. For we are not frustrated children anymore, enjoying a healthy outlet for our anger and pain, navigating hormonal waters and Romeo and Juliet recreations (only with anemic endings). We are tired now. We’ve seen all sides of love, that thing you can never bypass if you are human. We’ve been hurt in ways that may leave permanent scars, that can’t be junked like an old yearbook. We’ve made vows that we’ve intended to keep, Lovesongs, gone all in. We’ve known the spider-nightmares with no adult to shake us safe from, because we are supposed to be the adult, now. We’ve grappled with homesickness, prayed for rain, swam in the sea, and maybe know too much about how to drown. We’ve lost people who didn’t beat back the monsters under the bed, outside us, within, that can come to threaten any one of our tender brains. And too many of us have lost the irreplaceable: mother. The dog. Or the one person who always saw you as the child full of promise you were supposed to be. The losses are unfixable. We can only go on.

DISINTEGRATION is a record for happiness, too. It’s the rarest of records. For those past the turmoil of their youthful ways, their wrongheaded ideas of home life, who’ve found some peace, there are few pleasures greater than listening to “The Same Deep Water as You” hand in hand with your long-time love while it storms outside. There comes a point in life, a well earned, battle-scarred day, when you might breathe a sigh that you no longer miss the kiss of treachery, and can simply marvel at the bareness of all this feeling spun into wax so many years ago that will outlive you all, and that you know will be timeless. That maybe the best band of your time is only now being fully understood, written about more deeply, with perspective, at last, its inimitable music styles at least tentatively attempted by the new new wave of young bands who know that nothing will ever replace the guitar or the drum. That the only lasting, worthy voice must be singular and not one remade by A.I.

DISINTEGRATION held teenagers and adults aloft and made us feel better. It was healthy. It was lengthy. It was just right. It has a rhythm that is one perfected by The Cure alone, one that drives writers to try to translate this gift into their prose and always will. It’s the sea itself. It’s a great wave. It rolls in. It creeps out. It sweeps, and it rocks. There is happiness, and there is despair. Back and forth. Refreshingly, startlingly honest. There’s the unspoken: but then he speaks it, he murmurs it, he screams it, he shakes it in the light and transforms it into something tolerable. Then shimmery. Then pretty. Then no longer afraid. Suddenly, even anthemic. It’s still magic. Not cynical sleight-of-hand. Not cheap, threadbare, charlatan trickery, but real magic. Alchemy. Sorcery. Witchcraft. The dark contrasts cleanly with the light, in perfect balance, and there is nothing more beautiful.

The Cure are playing select festivals this summer and a new album is in the works. 

The Cure’s 40th Anniversary Show at Hyde Park: A Night Like This

By Jacqueline Howell

The Cure’s 40th Anniversary show in Hyde Park was full of twists befitting the most original of bands. July 7th, will become extra-historic in a way no one could have predicted years ago; when Robert Smith routinely set targets to break up the band that never happened; in the new age of the band that has finally let itself cheer for itself in all its formations and eras, with room to grow with new members; or even when the Hyde Park show was announced at the end of 2017. No one who is here will ever forget the month-long heatwave in the U.K. leading up to the World Cup, or that on this, the same day of the Cure’s 40th Anniversary show, England reached the world cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990.

The days leading up to the long-awaited BST day of music featuring The Twilight Sad, Ride, Slowdive, Editors, Interpol, Goldfrapp, Lisa Hannigan, This Will Destroy You, and more, have been fraught with World Cup tension and hyper-focus. To some, nothing else has seemed to matter anymore but cheering from home or in a pub, midday Saturday. The Cure’s show goes on, of course, the energies of the many fandoms somehow becoming harmonious amid England’s win, the football-style chants that no doubt would have always lent themselves to Cure lyrics becoming only louder and more practiced. Kids in glitter cross the city in celebration of Pride, and the convergence of all these celebratory groups make the stifling hot Tube an entertainment all its own. This buoyant mood crossed with oppressive heat makes shade-loving kittens of everyone, any lion posturing soon melted away, creating a type of throwback little-kid harmony, our pre-A/C toughness replacing the modern need for Wi-Fi, personal space, and mod cons. The air is hot, but electric.

In the still-beating sun at Hyde, more than ten minutes ahead of the 8:20 start time, the shimmering notes of “Plainsong” begin to ripple across the crowd of 65,000. Many, deep in chatter, fail to notice the subtle notes. A few astute ones who were there in the years that “Plainsong” started every show (perfectly) hear it and set their geeking-out Canadian companions shrieking in defiance of the dust of lush grass gone to burnt hay. Here it comes, like a wave of joy and transcendence (take that lazy writers of years past with your too-short dictionaries. There is no gloom here. There is no cave. There rarely was. This is the greatest band of so many colours, moods, shades, who can write your wedding song and, yes, dirges when called to do so, who observe the world wryly and always from a safe distance lest they be lumped in with the enemy (groupthink, a mob, the corrupt, the cruel) who work harder than anyone and, yes, that applies to every word, every idea, every note, and every chord, to this very day, when they have nothing to prove to anyone but were and are vital and will never be anything less than full on.)

One of Robert Smith’s guitars, all of them simple, elegant, black, with personal messages affixed to them, says a message we’ve seen before: Citizens Not Subjects. Back on the amp that always is draped with the Reading Club flag is another subtle call to action: England Awake. This is the way of The Cure. They never scream or shout their activism or get embarrassingly political, (just as they never will sell out) but rather, win the day in this way. We are within earshot and sight line of Buckingham palace, with the flag up. The resistance is here; it is glowing, it is extreme-weather resistant and it is full of English vigour.

There will be 29 songs played tonight. They will cross most of the albums of the band’s extensive catalog and selections have to solve a larger puzzle: how does a band who sets records for show length & variety worldwide possibly come in under two hours on a public city park’s firm curfew, all while pleasing the fans, fulfilling their own wish list of the day and offering something different than the recent Meltdown gig? There’s also the little details: their dazzling, beautiful light show that works best at dusk or later; their visuals, which become a concert film, (an artform they innovated early on with Tim Pope, who, we hear later, is in the control booth, working on the upcoming and much longed for Cure Anniversary documentary) and other fine points we fans never need to worry about that fall together seamlessly only after endless hours of toil. No one needs to think about all this to enjoy being among the crowd at Hyde. But some of us do enjoy imagining systems, unseen teams, projects; the well of creativity that hides the grit under the glitter of great artists. There lies inspiration we hope to borrow from.

With a little over two hours to play, The Cure streamlines things, and they do this with subtle brilliance. There is a minimum of chatter until later on. There’s not (and never will be) any of the pomp and distraction of today’s popstars, with circuses of distraction and set building that hide the very slim show that can fit inside a match’s first half, at twice the price of this full day on three stages. Cure songs tonight flow into each other, the pauses minimal for the smallest thirst-quench or guitar change, the minutes budgeted. The visionary hand is evident. The care and attention to detail and love, even, is clear. And so, it goes.

A few stray notes: Burn – Has any original song in recent memory ever become so iconically linked to a film’s theme (The Crow) and yet remained so reflective of the band who made it? Rarely played, this song has become the latter-day entry point for the casual, soundtrack buying young fan to find their way into the best music community on earth where we dream crow black dreams.

It is melting hot. These are men, who, with the exception of Simon in his signature singlet (he’s wireless today and makes the most of it) dress in long sleeves and pants, smart, English. Reeves Gabrels doubles down against the heat in Rock and Rollers are too cool to feel the heat black velvet, worn casually. He has some beautiful guitar moments in “Never Enough”, and, while no longer the new guy, plays music for likely his first time live that matches the heart rhythms of many: “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” and “Grinding Halt” are reportedly played for the fist time since 2011.

For those who like to cluck like mothers over the boys we’ve watched all our lives, there’s a bit of a Robert and Simon cuddle around the halfway point of the show that warms our hearts. This is a special day, after all. We fans start to think it is ours and then we realize it goes back to the hearts of boys in a gritty city south of London, long ago.

There are those in the crowd who want “the hits” and service is paid not because of the whiners but because they are great songs. They are fun songs. They are the only party songs many have ever loved. The occasion and the location, and maybe the current weight of the world these days, lead the show away from some of the depths Cure fans so enjoy swimming in. Robert Smith is a master, on album track arrangements and with set lists, of taking the crowd through mood journeys as day goes to dusk and then night, and so, for tonight, the band stays on a trail that is clearly marked. It is marked by The Cure’s own history-making epic, one that defined us all, a generation.

Photo by Rome Petricca

DISINTEGRATION, back in 1989, almost instantly went through a looking glass of its own majesty and resonance with the world, transforming an artist’s bleakness & despair into one of survival, a soundtrack for that of others, creating music for sadness and people who find the world hard, offering a side-effect free kind of anthemic permanence in the community of music appreciation.

Through bare honesty, contradiction and fearlessness (expressed as fear but made into art, and so, made fearless) the music of Disintegration transformed itself and was transformed by all who received it into a battle cry. Because we were there. Because we are still here.

Writers watch, for cues, the few great artists who can turn pain into transcendence. It’s rare, and spectacular. It’s mystical, something that aligns with the universe, resisting all negative messages that would tell someone in pain not to share this, air it, and let the light at it, to see if it helps the creator, or anyone else, get out from under it (and even, turn it around). This review will stay on the clearly marked path, too, but it behooves us all to be mindful of the darkness we’ve all felt encroaching friends, peers and loved ones today, that music grapples with so well, that we wish could have saved everyone we now miss.

It is increasingly clear to me as a student of this band that what The Cure means to this aching world is the very opposite of what Robert Smith sings about through the darker records we love to pieces and all through Disintegration. (It’s similar to a phenomenon occurring over decades with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.) The music that resonates with us deeply and widely transforms and is transformative, with no one immune to the unplanned effects. The title track is an exorcism of personal demons:

But I never said I would stay to the end
So I leave you with babies and hoping for frequency
Screaming like this in the hope of the secrecy
Screaming me over and over and over
I leave you with photographs, pictures of trickery
Stains on the carpet and stains on the scenery
Songs about happiness murmured in dreams
When we both of us knew how the ending would be (Disintegration: The Cure)

A man on the verge of a turning-30 crisis, a particular type of artist crisis, wrote those words around the time he up and married the girl he’d loved since the age of fifteen (they are a very private couple and life-long loves.) He was worried, not psychic. He was feeling so low in himself, as outer quick fixes and self-medications and coping strategies clashing with inner ones in turmoil that, yet, somehow led to success and great music (but had not changed the pain of being in this world) and so, this Disintegration is apocalyptic, it threatens to burn it all to the ground. Fans in 1989 loved this artist like a friend, like a brother; they worried for him, they worried for themselves, for the world, and for the future. The artist and the fans got through it and past it and over it, we believe. We who are still here. Disintegration ultimately tells us that if we write it, worry it out and bravely release it from our hearts, we can change the result of depression, angst, anger, betrayal, anxiety, crisis. For we can. In art, music, and sharing, the pain does not eat at us, so much, lessening the pressure valve. The interior battle is not the same as the one we share with another, even in a fight, if there is love. If there is love still there at the other end of the row, we have learned something, we are closer. Love grows through tears as well as laughter. And the difference of a sad diary and venting to a friend is the difference of night and day, up and down, even life and death.

Disintegration. Robert Smith. The Cure. Leaving and dashing it all, quitting before you can fail, a cathartic explosion but – no. This was not how the ending would be.

This record, this band’s legacy since 1989, when they created an album that changed the world like no other of its time, is the opposite of disintegration. Here are just a few stories I know first hand, that Cure music has had a role in creating. No doubt others out there can echo these stories or add to them greatly:

There are now beautiful children in the world named Elise and Kiera named for this band. (There are no doubt also “Wendys”, “Roberts” and “Charlottes”.)

Youtube commenters regularly share with strangers their deepest feelings such as: “The Cure is like a vital organ for me; like my heart or lungs. Their music helps me remain alive.”

Old friends grown distant have reconnected (over not their more-sad-than-happy memories of youth but) through the shorthand of the music and this band, which helped them through rough times and also meant the best soundtrack made their young lives less painful. Their reconnection has meant supporting each other through projects and daily life again. This is the power of music that goes river deep, defying stats or figures or the reporter’s limited eye.

Friends make plans to meet locally, or even in foreign countries, like attaches to a state called music, for this band. Hyde Park was the site of many such meetings including our own. Others failed to meet due to the obstacles of life & technology but still gush to each other in passing about this once-in-a-lifetime shared experience. They danced to Boys Don’t Cry at a pop-up club in celebration of a man’s recovery, just last month, seventeen again, always, in music.

Experienced fans who’ve been lucky enough to see this band live numerous times find new layers and things to love in new settings, forming the backbone of new adventures. Their self-designed tours are Cure-coloured, but only The Cure or other true fans would ever decode this. These are cool girls with double lives as professionals. 

Multi-generational fans at Hyde Park include grown kids accompanying their Cure-loving dads, who’ve happily reached retirement age (and may that era be long and happy.)

People who were lonely and depressed kids who made it out and through quite openly and honestly credit Cure music for having had a positive, lasting effect on their lives. We are many. We are here.

A woman in her 40s who lives in the UK, incredibly, seeing her favourite band for the first time at Hyde Park, speaks to a stranger, is not asked why this is so but instead is simply told “I’m so glad you’re here now, with us.” Her eyes saucer-wide, she grabs the stranger’s arms, saying “I’m fourteen again.” She is told: “We all are. So are they (the band).”

People who’ve always been at the same gigs in big cities lately have gone analog, making friends like we used to, through the currency we always trusted as kids pre-technology: music taste. T-Shirts. A nod in the pub when the right vinyl is spun. The vinyl is sometimes ours, and dates to the early 1980s and includes reissues of played-out copies that will never be thrown away.

A resistant friend comes back from vacation asking to borrow Disintegration having come around to it scoring his own lengthy trip through Thailand, his eyes wide and evangelical, as his friends nod sagely. He finally needed it, and it was there, and now we talk about it, it forms a shorthand.

When you are happy, celebrating your own milestones and anniversaries and out of the woods, you spin Disintegration joyously, like at the end of a scary movie in the cool dark. Your heart has only ever beat one way, in melancholia. And that’s OK, as long as you are supported and able to seek support to carry on. Disintegration will always be your jam. It comforts, it lifts, it lets you breathe, snarl and growl, safely.

This show is not only historic and perfect, buoyant well-paced fun, it is a party in the park in a heatwave off a historic football result, the masses swaying, strangers with all kinds of accents familial and kitten as cats.

Hyde Park’s concert closes with a true surprise. With fans not knowing when or how, exactly, things will end, The Cure reveals what they’ve been budgeting for: they whirl through a 10 song encore, including rapid fire quick early singles, a moment I can pretend is just for me, the girl who fell headlong into Standing on a Beach: The Singles, at 14: “Boys Don’t Cry”, “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”, “Grinding Halt” (nice pairing) and finally, where it all started, “Killing An Arab”. You can move to these songs, as illustrated by the never-still Simon Gallup and most of over 50 thousand bodies, and these songs are historic, which is why we’re here today, but these songs resonate more and more with time, making subtle but important arguments about life and culture, issues, preoccupations and concerns that affect all people. Boys do/must/should cry: let it out and let us hold you. Sing it out and pick up a guitar and write it to us. Avoid bandwagons, think for yourself, beware of trends and mobs, be you. And think philosophically about what you are told: politics, war, the other, presumed threats, enemies, remembering that we are all the same. People, the other, the stranger, too. You can dance to this. You can cry to it. You can heal to it. You can write a thesis on it. You can name your movie after it, or even, your child, the next generation, permanence, legacy, love itself, walking around out there, bending the world, no doubt. What The Cure is, is eternal, healing, recovery, integration, catharsis, and love.

Robert Smith closes the triumphant show with a few important words.

“It’s thanks to everyone around me that I’m still here.”


“This last bunch of songs is for everyone who’s still here and journeyed with us. I’m glad you could make it. So thank you very much.”

And this is the truth of The Cure:

And when I see you happy as a girl
That swims in a works of magic show
It makes me bite my fingers through
To think I could’ve let you go

And when I see you
Take the same sweet steps
You used to take
I say I’ll keep on holding you
My arms so tight
I’ll never let you slip away

(The Cure: High – Wish)

The Cure at 40 and the Importance of Anniversaries

The news came out of the early morning bleakness of a day last December: The Cure’s announcement that they would mark their 40th Anniversary with a one-off, mid-summer show in London, supported by a roster of boldface and emerging bands. Essentially, this would be a one-dayer, a mini-festival. Time waits for no man. The Cure was throwing themselves, in the presence of all who love them and could fit in the space they’d booked, their own damn birthday party.

It’s easy to forget anniversaries and birthdays when you’re not a kid anymore. We put the younger ones first, we don’t like to think about our age or the things we did or didn’t do, and age begins to carry attendant worry about the future: ours, those we love, the planet,  the boiler. And we’ve become a woefully anxious culture: overloaded with information good bad and ugly; bombarded with disasters, tragedies and violence we are told is essential news coming minute after minute, mistakenly deciding that our mobiles are both safe and necessary to take into bed with us. These ever-glowing rectangles look like a light in the darkness but also bring the opposite of comfort; they buzz with unease and dread, and so does humanity in 2018.

Celebration has always been important, but it’s the very first thing to go when you are tired, ill or lonely. Birthdays and anniversaries are, more than any other occasion, intricately linked with families or the people we share the day with (or ever did.) And so, these occasions are often fraught, dicey, heavy with all of that Christmas-like import, ever-ringing with the presence or absence of key people. Anniversaries are deeply emotional. They are not always for joyous things.

Which brings us to The Cure in 2018, the most interesting and misunderstood band in the world, who’ve patiently waited for the mainstream media to assess them correctly, then, like cool kids always do, shrugged and remade the world for themselves.

The Cure has always resisted and weathered all of the easy, awkward near-eulogizing that might befall a band who’s stuck it out through the ocean of time. One trusts they will always refuse the OBE, the knighthood, as has been clearly promised to us who raise our fists to such ideas. Other Cure anniversaries have come and gone, Robert Smith marking time and movements his own way; mounting massive world tours with stunning regularity; trying to get to us all here and there scattered to the four winds, many of us very far from the U.K. Some quiet recognition has been paid to record store days and The Cure’s occasional reissues, done with a care by the author himself that reflects careful planning and some private, elegant romanticism. (Over here we just call that Robert Smith Day, which fell on his birthday this year. We’re taking credit.) With honorariums like the NME God-Like Genius award, Robert Smith came around to it with his expected, quiet calm, and long after others have leaped for it like untrained dogs at table. This award was presented by Tim Burton, recognized worldwide as the world’s most famous Cure superfan, who’s worn the Cure high-hair with pride since we first heard of him, and who’s imbued his best characters and filmic words with respectful and loving flourishes that are Cure-coloured, sweeping, and heartwarming. Edward Scissorhands comes to mind, Burton’s sweetest artistic statement.

This is the world of The Cure as they’ve crossed milestone anniversaries before, as we know it in the public eye. Fans have grown up with it, or aged alongside a trajectory that is original, never predictable and has not embarrassed anyone. Rather, The Cure are ambivalent, carry made-up superstitions and talismans, probably, like all the self-made do. They don’t even always do what they say they are going to do, like quit with regularity (when our collective love would not let them down the years) when they dodged disasters and when they found, inside, their own Camus-like invincible summer in the depths of winter that is life at the end of a century and the start of a new millennium. The Cure will not, we can sigh with relief, looking around at their so-called peers, now or ever, be locked in amber, be feted by a room full of stiffs in penguin suits, or allow their concerts to be just for reptilian money men while fans wait by the bus all day. Oh, they could do all this and it would be none of my business, because being The Cure, they would still, somehow, be cool about it all, no doubt with one eye on some private greater good: an important charitable cause. Quietly funding indie radio. Mentoring younger bands who themselves have been grinding for years in near-obscurity from places just adjacent to the bigger musical maps, maps that have gotten careless in the hands of others who didn’t always do music their own way. The Cure have much to celebrate, and so do we who’ve flown their flag since we knew how.

40 may be the most neglected of all the anniversaries, a number which starkly few marriages reach, and sadly, even many lives. 40 is a perfect time to reflect, a turning point, the new 50, the new 25: at their 25th, our giants were as yet, taken for granted, the music world endless and the future brighter-seeming, the mid-90s full of optimism for my generation. 40 years of The Cure comes after a difficult few years in music, art, culture and public life, not to mention world affairs and politics, in which a lot of good people have been taken down too soon, whether friends, role models, artists we thought defied time, space and gravity, men in their prime, or innocent children. These are the difficult truths we grapple with today. If 40, for a person, is mid-life, at least, then I’m on the wrong side of it, and every choice and day has to matter more. This knowledge is hard-won. We survivors take it in and say we’ll make it so, live each day like it could be our last but it’s harder to do in practice. For this, we need to have occasions.

I am among the many coming from places far from London to celebrate the Cure’s 40th year next week. Many of us have made traveling for music our primary sort of vacation, many save and scrimp to do such things. Others have never had the chance to see a Cure show, or ever left their home cities, and even after 40 years we see these comments online regularly: “it’s my dream to see them one day”. This is astounding. How lucky we’ve been, in big cities. This truth informs the occasion for those of us able to travel or who have been visited by our legendary, still performing at top form, bands like The Cure (an increasing rarity). For most of us, there is no silly nostalgia to the proceedings, for we are making new memories, having adventures, getting out, seeing or making friends. Not lonely, there and then. Not thinking about inevitability, darkness, gloom, the things the lazy critics tried to pin this band as, once. All of us who love The Cure know that they are simpatico with us, consolation, friendship, uplift, relief from the actual gloom of the world as it feels today /at 40. Music steers us through hard times. The occasion of travel within the occasion of music performance is not selfied, will not be written about accurately, and is not explainable to those who don’t get it or want to know. It is just deeply felt inside, in the cells and marrow. It is gothic, ahistoric, permanent. It defies currencies and sleep deficits. It is always worthwhile, always successful. It is happy. I’ve long maintained, my thesis growing with the seasons, that music, especially in the real world if you can get it, is therapeutic, anti-depressant, holistic, and healing. I am one such case. So is my partner. So are my friends.

Happily, Robert Smith has marked the Cure’s 40th anniversary in several ways. He’s curated this year’s Meltdown Festival season in London, writing personal letters to a wish list of important bands who’ve happily obliged. There’s next week’s day of music at Hyde Park featuring The Cure, Slowdive, Ride, The Twilight Sad, Editors, Interpol, Goldfrapp, all still creating new music and back on the road that needs them sorely in the current landscape. There are many others on three stages. This news was an early Christmas present to fans, and it sold out in days. The astute who nabbed tickets have been quietly cheering and planning ever since. There’s a documentary in the works being created by longtime Cure video director – collaborator Tim Pope, which, whenever it is ready, will unpack a treasure trove of unseen memorabilia & memories from the world’s most low key romantic artist who gets that life is a gift and we must look back and forward to live. This project will be a literal gift to all those fans who’ve wanted more, more, more for decades, who wore out their VHS copies of The Cure in Orange, and who would simply like a document to wave at the nostalgists who missed the memo: that music and life never stood still, that all good bands are on their own trajectory free of silly memes and polls, that it happened in a blink, like our youth, but, also, that is still happening, if you pay close attention and stay present.

There was, also at the end of the year, some tantalizing merchandise sold by The Cure which fans looked at like runes, for clues: a touque with the original Cure logo on it, and The Top-era artwork! A wall calendar (the first to grace our home in decades that was not free from a realtor) that includes every significant date in the band’s release history (they are fond of early summer releases, ahead of those many summer tours that shaped our youthful days) and every birthday of every member past and present, right up to the new guy. These iconic photographs celebrate every era and line up of the band, reflecting posters and bootleg flags we used to buy in incense-ridden shops, downtown, in another life. This stuff is celebration, humble, cool and free of hexes. A throwback. The old, gorgeous, hair closer to god pictures that were, frankly, intimidatingly cool, are now, in the patina of decades, simply celebratory, factual, not wishful or wistful. Daring, perfect, remember-whens for us all. There is love, clearly, for everyone who shaped this story since 1977. 40 years later, all of fans are clearly not consumers, kids on faraway shores in nowhere towns kicking rocks. We are, instead, part of a big, beautiful fabric, a shared vision, a rare love. There is energy, vibes, and signs. We are a team.

Anniversaries are a time to say to us all love yourself, as hard as it is sometimes, then, now, tomorrow. They round up the family, the progeny, the adoptees, the witnesses. Witnessing is so important to ritual and celebration. So, know that you are important and needed. The fabric of time and space depends on you. Remember that ripple when David Bowie left? That we all felt? It was shocking. Even the kids who knew him first as The Goblin King in Labyrinth felt it. We all make a ripple, we all are on this continuum, together. Think about butterfly effects. Think about how you didn’t understand your love for elders until they were gone, but still, they got old, at least. So should you and me and Robert Smith. Think about a note in the dark, to a friend you haven’t seen in a long decade but one who knew you since you were a child, when you were both unmarked, without a single scar. Now that’s the power of social media. The rest can be set aside when it threatens to lay us low. Breathe, get outside. Blast some music that is timeless. Remember that you have to leave the house to see people, and be seen, to get a change of scene and a change of mind. I’m talking to you, the person reading this. Celebrate your anniversary, your birth, your life. And travel for things you love, even if the budget means that’s down to the pub or the coffee shop. Do it today.


Jacqueline Howell

Photos: Dave MacIntyre

Check out our BST Hyde Park playlist below:

Reflecting on a Lifetime Love of Music and Two Years Running an Indie Magazine

I’ve loved music for as long back as I can remember.  When I was around 9 or 10 years old, my mom would buy all kinds of new music and I would sit with the record covers and marvel at the art and photos while amazing and interesting sounds swirled around the room.  And when the feeling was right, Mom would boldly turn the volume dial past 5, the number that was considered the safe point to prevent noise complaints.  I still get nostalgic when flipping through the disorganized stacks of vinyl at our local record store and I come across a familiar cover that, as a kid, I would sit cross-legged on the floor and study for hours.

Mom eventually settled in to a pretty steady diet of Country and Western music.  It was still performed by crooners with actual life experience back then (Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers, George Jones, Conway Twitty…you get the idea) but before all that, there was The Police, Split Enz, Fleetwood Mac, The Cars, and even eyebrow raisers like Rough Trade.  Did she really just yell “Is he screwing with her?”  Music dominated over TV in my house and I’m thankful for it.

Exposure to different music on a constant and regular basis kept me open minded to what was to come.  Hip-hop, Shoegaze, Ska, Reggae, Alternative, Brit pop and Electronic music in all its variations.  And although I listened to a lot of different music, I didn’t start to collect it until CDs came along.  Before then, it was all about the mix tapes I would make from friend’s records or from the radio, my finger poised to strike “pause” to beat the advertisements.

Photography happened sort of by accident.  It was a mandatory course in my college journalism program and required we use a proper SLR 35mm film camera.  No auto settings, no Kodak Disc, no Polaroids.  Manual everything and a darkroom to process it.  I loved every minute of it.  The marriage of music and photography didn’t happen until years later when I was asked by a friend to shoot their band’s performance.  I was so out of my element.  Multi-coloured strobe lights, non-stop movement, people dancing around me.  It was amazing and I was hooked.  I knew I couldn’t accept it as a one-off opportunity and my search for postings looking for music photographers began.  Armed with only one band in my portfolio, SoundProof magazine still gave me a shot and sent me to photograph My Bloody Valentine.  Mind blown!  If I thought I was hooked before then, I left that gig a full-blown addict.

A bunch of publications, hundreds of bands, and thousands of photos later, my partner in crime and brilliant writer Jacqueline and I started talking.  Who is writing about the music we love?  When the music we love is covered, is it getting the photography and written assessment it deserves?  Is there enough promotion & journalism of new bands that should be in the spotlight in our city?  The answer was more or less no.  So we said:

“Forget it, brother, you can go it alone” – The Clash

STEP ON Magazine was born and has since become DISARM.  And it’s been a fantastic journey so far.  Reflecting back on 2 years of us two going it alone, what have I learned?  Well this, in no particular order:

1 – Music is as important to me today than ever before. It’s so much more than sounds coming from a speaker.  It’s a language, or more accurately, a dialect.  It identifies your tribe.  Find your tribe and stick with them.  Build your army.

2 – The music I thought was great in my teens, is still great today, and will always be great. More or less.  We all have our moments and lapses in reason.

3 – The Cure is everything.

4 – Vinyl is superior. As I mentioned before, I didn’t really collect music seriously until CDs.  Vinyl was for DJs, end of.  When the vinyl resurgence started, I was (quietly) cynical about it and dismissed it as hipster-fueled nonsense.  That changed when Jaqueline and I popped in to a local pub one Tuesday night, which happened to be vinyl night.  Having a seasoned ear for music and the many different formats, I can say with some degree of authority, it just sounds better.  And you don’t need an acoustically perfect room and a tube-amplifier Hi-fi setup to hear it.  The fact that Jacqueline soon after uncovered a treasure trove of her original records (Cure, Clash, etcetera) thought long lost prompted us to buy a turntable.  We’ll never look back.

5 – Cynicism is toxic (see Vinyl is superior)

6 – Great, important music is still being made today. You just have to search harder to find it.  It was easy to find great music in the 80s and 90s.  The radio played it, movies used it for soundtracks, stadium-sized concerts were reserved for it.  Today it’s rarely found in those places.  Scour Bandcamp and SoundCloud.  You’ll find it.  When you do, support it and tell everyone about it.

7 – Live music is medicine for the mind and soul. Go see as much of it as you can.  And don’t miss the openers.

8 – Nothing easy is worth it. No further explanation required.

9 – Don’t discount the little guy. No one is so small they should be ignored or overlooked be it musicians, an indie magazine or fan site.  Be respectful and thank the people that promote and support you.

10 – It’s ok to be a fan AND the media. We don’t ever try to hide the fact that we love a band or a musician.  We yell it from the rafters.  It’s never uncool to wear the band’s t-shirt at their concert.

Dave MacIntyre

Len and Company / This Must Be the Place: Retiring Gracefully from Rock & Roll

By coincidence, we viewed the films Len & Company and This Must Be the Place back to back.

It turned out that they were apt for comparison points about ideas of a newer problem in history: How do aging Rock and Rollers, a generation defined by its own mantra to “die before I get old”, do so without embarrassment, survive it, as it were, and negotiate something they’ve only arrived at through the greatest of chance or luck, the retirement years?

These films are both about other questions as well, framed upon their protagonist’ outlines, but most of these rotate around and spin off of the central question and its micro problems and pain points about love and marriage, children and legacy, the mantle of fame, success and wealth (and its limitations) boredom, and ideas about selling out or losing control of something that was once personal. And for the famous, there’s also the threat all of these events represent on the person who was once Len or Cheyenne, now in the years when one so central to things begins to feel redundant.

Watching these films in succession highlights their core themes and clearly marks their successes and failures as narratives. Len and Company wins in the exact same places that This Must Be the Place falls apart. It soars and becomes a small marvel of a slice of (strange) life, held aloft largely by the award worthy work of Ryhs Ifans as Len, a one time musician and ridiculously wealthy producer who’s facing his failures as husband, father and mentor, as he exists mostly alone with his old man preoccupations and practically friendless, his bravado and his cool affect as armour, before an indifferent roving audience who sees through it and knows him more than he knows himself.

One of the strengths of Len & Company is its rootedness. Centered mainly in and around Len’s home, with those who are bound to him moving in and out of his eye-line, distractions are minimal and subtle performances are allowed to shine. The house feels real, the pull feels real, the longing to belong feels real, the confusion is real. Len’s home was once a family home, it’s a cobwebby studio, it’s got an enviable brag wall upstairs. It’s got a pool given over to moss and an air of neglect that is authentic, that of the elder letting go, rather than the carefully constructed devil-may-care aspect of a rocker used to endless room service and a rotating door of women becoming caregivers for a while. The last woman has left him. It’s a movie you don’t want to end, as Ifans creates one of the most memorable figures in many years, in a role he was born to play. He is interesting enough, with enough of that true rock star magic, that you root for him and care about his heart even as the film explores his heart’s very existence.

Len is a believable creation of a rock star, used to being trotted out (to career day at a school, no less) able to shock, astound, impress, alienate and entertain in a knee jerk way, tired of his own stories “blah blah blah…” even as you know the real stories would frighten and amaze you, that the regular people must never know, could not ever understand. His origin story and his bio in his own worlds buries mountains while revealing gems about him and about too-real, endlessly fascinating peers in music: a difficult, fractured childhood, the limited options that drove thousands of young men to pick up instruments and become creative, that time of possibility and risk when music (supported by an industry and record deals, a living, even) exploded across England, and all that came after. The aftermath. And what life and music is today. Len and Company, based upon a play “Len Asleep in Vinyl” by Carly Mensch, is funny as hell and poignant in a way that we expected in the richness of 1970s cinema but is a rare treat today.

Conversely, This Must Be The Place is a story firmly ensconced in the world of quirk, of disjuncture as plot, of plots that require diners and other tropes of an American road story to shuffle in a well-cast array of Lynchian / Coen world figures in bit parts. This Must Be the Place is a pastiche of several different promising stories duct taped together into a mostly incoherent slideshow of weirdness one strains to tie together. This is the movie a few years back where Sean Penn was roundly ridiculed in snarky blogs, papped for his insane looking costume which seemed to be a hard looking transgendered figure somewhere between aging clown and wicked witch. The Oscar winning and at times inspired actor has often transmitted a dangerous sexiness, believable as an alpha male off screen and on, a type of man who could never pass as a female. The casting and the movie looked just terrible.

But director Paolo Sorrentino made clear what keen music fans feared and suspected about this costume. The character’s look in This Must Be the Place is a rough (very rough) visual parody of the late 20th Century’s greatest musical pop artist (who is not Bowie or Prince, and who is still living): Robert Smith. The director reportedly had seen Smith backstage at a Cure show and was intrigued by his commitment to his look, extrapolating from the glance the same uninspired (media created) cartoon character Smith has had to live with for over 30 years, pulling from old archival interviews and flat photographs something that doesn’t translate without musical interest, appreciation and understanding but would yet be possible to know through a short scan of published interviews. Smith’s interviews reveal a man of wit, intelligence, strength and vast creativity, not to mention integrity. Robert Smith is an artist through and through. Like so many outright characters in the world of fashion, (who are not ridiculed) he has stayed with one look, one uniform, for all of his public life. This is a marker of the artist who has focused on his art, no more and no less.

But Sorrentino saw a hairstyle, a smear of makeup, imagining, and creating, a fool, a big screen clown. The caricature is cruel and pathetic, embodied by Penn in an utter failure to be believable. In an age where actors put their bodies into critical risk to play believable roles (something excessive more than impressive) Penn’s Cheyenne is anemic, ill-at-ease and always seems to be in bad drag.  He never seems to inhabit the look of the character as if it was a choice of decades, when surely to god, one would get used to hair hanging in the face? His tics are insufferable. Penn’s Cheyenne speaks in a silly Michael Jackson falsetto (which was fake in Jackson’s case, too) most of the time, drifts through his retirement in Dublin towing an ever-present shopping buggy (later a suitcase on wheels) in a sledgehammer of symbolism, and his best friend is an obsessed teenage fan, capably played by Bono’s daughter, Eve Hewson. She’s named Mary, and styled after Robert Smith’s real life wife of the same name. Oddly, Cheyenne has a bizarrely cast Frances McDormand as his emasculating cartoon of a wife, who disappears early on in the film. Because why would you bring your wife to your father’s deathbed/funeral?

The film has nothing to do with Robert Smith or The Cure, except as a few jabs in yet another ridiculous and maddening media production in the decades of same that disrespects a great artist in a shallow way. But where the film does tread into the Smith mystique, it fails to add much to its own artistic endeavor and manages to offend. Cheyenne is afraid of planes as Smith was once stated to be and so takes a boat to America from the U.K. to see his long-estranged dying father. He arrives, of course, too late (a tragedy played for black humour). Blowing his wig out of his eyes irritatingly throughout the film, as a petulant teenager (disrupting any belief in the character each time), Cheyenne, through a convoluted storyline is an American who now attempts to honour his father’s life and assuage his own guilt and the pain of estrangement by attempting to become a rogue Nazi hunter.

And hi-jinx ensue.

Pinned onto the messy teenage bulletin board that is this mess of a movie, the title borrows from the Talking Heads song, which features through the film, and includes an appearance by David Byrne as “himself” who, in the world of the film was a contemporary of Cheyenne’s who seems cast to represent the authentic artist, growing (up and on) and moving in a world that he’s earned respect in, while Cheyenne is a middle aged child, in arrested development, barely excused by his family baggage and even the shadow of the Holocaust his father survived, as even with all that furiously churned up backstory, Sorrentino and Penn create an almost totally unsympathetic character by their failure to let him live and breathe.

Ok, so is this fiction or is this some sort of comment on reality? And if it’s the latter, in what reality is Talking Heads and their relatively brief musical catalog decidedly “art” with staying power and the figure of Robert Smith and The Cure something lesser than? In no reality. In the really tired attitudes of our parents and grandparents where a man in makeup is full-stop-a freak. Something frightening and shameful. Talking Heads came out of the same post-punk eruption as The Cure at the same time- the late 70s- and used the veneer of the politely dressed normal college kid as a costume – a much less obvious one, a much less bold one than that of The Cure- to explore some of the same dark themes and big questions of life. For those with an attention span longer than an old MTV video clip, The Cure continued to do this long after Talking Heads broke up in 1991. At around the same time as Talking Heads parted ways, and with the same amount of albums (8), The Cure released their mid-career masterpiece Disintegration, a record widely touted by fans &  serious critics as the greatest album of the entire era, across a splintering of healthy, interesting genres of music. It is a work of art, a laying bare of the crisis of turning 30, past the age most musical masterpieces were ever created, if they ever would, at a point of stadium-level fame the band abhored, quite honestly, laden with drugs to cope with depression and not yet settled into the notion of marriage. It is transcendence through pain, healing the world along the way, a gift. The only thing like it of its time, and a delineation point after which the global music industry began to smother itself, making future bands with the lifespan of The Cure and Talking Heads an impossibility.

But here is where the head really starts to spin. In this fiction, David Byrne plays himself, allowing rights for his own music to be played (including live performance) and promoting his own catalog. The musician and celebrity has no issue with a fiction that even at a glance, attempts to belittle and question the merit and authenticity of another much more successful artist who’s won a hopelessly rigged game on his own terms. No Cure song has ever been sold to sell cars or fast food. Is that not a pure artist? Can a pure artist come from a blip called Crawley in the U.K.? Or must he come from wherever as long as he was one of a handful that rooted themselves in Manhattan at the last point in time anyone could afford to do so who was not well funded/rich, as many dubious musical artists now relocate themselves to Brooklyn, just to erase where they’re from and say they’re from Brooklyn? In this fiction, Cheyenne and Byrne come face to face in a set piece that makes no sense in the context of the rest of the film but seems shoehorned in to explain the use of the title/theme song, suggesting the lead actor should have instead gone about costumed in an oversized suit, brush cut and fake glasses, maybe.

Sorrentino is one of the most talked about directors of today. It seems his name recognition in the United States was aided greatly by his collaboration with Sean Penn on this picture. The picture’s tropes, conceits and gimmicks seem quite calculated and so are worthy of a hard look and a critical eye.

Is there something in the Italian sensibility that makes English music something to be dismissed? Does Sorrentino have a much bigger fear of missing out about the endlessly snapshotted sexy late 1970s and early 1980s of New York’s Lower East Side art and music scene than he does of the much closer at hand 70s and 80s British music explosion that gave us The Cure, among a few other notable artists? The Cure is among a very short list who still exist today, performing to an exceptional standard of excellence, never selling out, and remaining trustworthy. No drug deaths or early flameouts hold them in amber to fit our narrative of youthful, tragic beauty, rather, they challenge listeners to the very limits of loyalty and love, which is supposed to be for always and ever and worthy, if we trust ourselves and do not follow fickle trends or fashion. But the myth of New York in its former gritty glory is covered in museum dust now, and so few of us made it there in time, hmm? The place itself hopelessly priced out of affordability for all the colourful groups that used to make it what it was for a century. CBGBs is long gone. Did you get your t-shirt?

Sorrentino wanted to create an American road picture, something combining absurdism with the quirk patented by deeply American artists such as Lynch, the Coen Brothers, and even musicians like David Byrne, but his transporting of the bewigged early 80s pop star from England by way of Dublin (?) to America is an absurdity too far to make any of the film’s arguments or explorations really effective. The script has some wonderful moments, often brought to life by the ever changing supporting characters as Penn plays off them, but his character is too overdrawn and too smothered inside his costume to make for a believable arc. We want to like him in spite of his deliberate unattractiveness, for he’s the star, he appears fragile at times, and, it must be said, because of the man the film has badly caricatured. Imagine the reaction if someone had done a film like this about a Bowie or a Prince.

There are moments in This Must Be the Place, there is potential. When Penn allows himself to take his own character seriously instead of as a painful cartoon, there are flashes of something good. His take no-prisoners way of dominating at ping pong add more depth to the character than much of what he does for the hour before. But faith in the filmmaker is so strained by this point that one wonders if we are stretching to imagine that Cheyenne’s innate way of interacting with strangers along the American roadways is an illustration of one of the great skills of a rock star, who must be at least a part-time diplomat to succeed, or if it’s a conceit of the script that the awkward, stilted and bored retired rocker becomes a natural detective and social engineer along the way to redemption & too neat closure. How can looking like everyone else in KHAKIS be anything less than a failure in a story of an artist? Ah but this is a story of a clown in recovery, to be watched through a disturbed frown and a true dis-ease.

This Must Be the Place would have been improved without its silly decoration. Cheyenne might have been instead an original creation, like Len. Ryhs Ifans as Len wears a Ryhs Ifans hairstyle, a hairstyle not understood outside of the U.K. but one that is an important one, marking one’s allegiances and commitment to style as clearly as any other part of a uniform. Liam Gallagher still displays a version of this look. Paul Weller carries it on into his grey years. Clint Boon wears it well, still Cool as Fuck. And many music fans attempt it today with varying levels of success but much chutzpah and good for them.

But This Must Be the Place made a fatal error. While innumerable rockers wore the big, black, messy hair do for a good decade or more across punk, post-punk and into hair metal and goth, and many young ambitious, beautiful fans of both genders followed suit (something they presumably hold no regrets about as some men are now be in the dark years of male baldness and women have entered the most boring hair era of the past 100 years) there is only one iconic star who’s kept the look going into the new century, despite what anyone thinks, and that’s Robert Smith. He doesn’t try to look like the static images of the early 80s version of himself that we flew on flags across our bedrooms in black and white. He doesn’t have to conform to Hollywood’s poisonous lie that says knives and starvation and injecting botulism in your face and more and more smoke machines (like others we won’t name) are needed to keep an unreal image of the early 80s up on stage. He is, and looks like, a man over 50 who wears his hair in a messy style of a secret formula that is greying, who has always liked a bit of eyeliner and a smear of lipstick. So what? Furthermore, he’s endlessly beautiful and no less masculine or attractive to women because he did these things as if they were normal and clearly are normal for him and the millions who love him as the artist he is.

Len and Company deals with aging, relevancy and legacy in meaningful ways. Juno Temple plays Len’s biggest star he’s launched recently, a teen pop idol, a damaged shell, easily recognized in the sad eyes of the girls of pop today. She is Len’s success story and his shame, for which he goes into hiding and full on crisis mode. He has to grapple with not only his creation (her music) but his creation (her as a person, messy and in need) and he has to face what he’s become as a PRODUCER. What a word that is if you consider it fully.

This Must Be the Place dodges all of that meaty context by leaving it behind on shore. Cheyenne’s legacy is ruined and stale, he lives a groundhog day existence of visiting a grave of two fans who took his angst filled songs too far and committed suicide, and he gives his fan/friend bootlegs of his own work from back in the day. He’s a cardboard cutout, a dark but shallow fantasy of what a casual glance of a curious figure in an “80s” hair style in 2011 might conjure in a bored and not-yet-middle aged mind. It falls apart in the first frame because the real artist aped here is endlessly interesting and full of depths that time has not dimmed in the least.

In the muck and mire of family love and self-reckoning, Len and Company does something miraculous that many music films and botched quirk like This Must Be the Place fail to do: it sings. It reminds us of the greatness, the spirit and the energy of The Clash, something that trancended borders, timezones, age gaps and even agendas. Rhys Ifans sings, movingly, hitting home what we suspected, he’s a real rock star, and so, ageless.

When even The Jesus and Mary Chain (who also wore it beautifully) cut their hair, when all the hair metal bands and goth rockers famous or locally idolized cut their hair, some sort of darkness covered the world of cool that had ruled in the 1980s in trenchcoats and black clothes of no special brand or cost or dictates, and creepers and police boots and random other vintage clothes of no special significance but that they were cheap and vintage and so cool, of anti-fashion that was true style. As Robert Smith stayed with a look (occasionally cutting his hair over the years) he also cemented himself as an artist. As an artist who was not going to follow the trend of pop stars to reinvent annually, that has grown ever more foolish in the 2000s. An artist who would never just look like another corporate bore in evil preppy tones, that is one of the few things he could do that would shock the world.

Like David Lynch, who is iconic in a plain well cut suit and a gorgeously messy pile of hair, a self stlyed 90s half-pompadour that is more James Dean than anything else, Robert Smith is iconic, an artist. Not ever a joke or a clown. What the foolish detractors over the decades miss is that he wore that look better than anyone (male or female) and millions have loved him for it (and much more) forever more. All who would attack it reveal themselves to be envious, uncool people (usually male). Haters. Haters with press passes and bylines. Haters with important friends with mysterious axes to grind. Haters with film budgets and even top awards.

And in response to the haters, one important way that uniforms (including hair statements) work is they put things up front to easily separate the enemy from the ally, long before you have to stand eye to eye.

Len and Company: Directed by Tim Godsall, 2015, Starring Ryhs Ifans, Juno Temple, Jack Kilmore, Keir Gilchrist, Kathryn Hahn. (On Netflix)

This Must Be the Place: Directed by Paolo Sorrentino, 2011, Starring Sean Penn, Eve Hewson, Judd Hirsch.

Jacqueline Howell

Still Waters / Breaking Trail: Canadian Music’s Rocky Heart

or: What Canadian Rock Taught Me

“Don’t always look back. But look back.”

– Canadian workingman, visionary, agendaless poet Ken Babstock who joined this cocktail of Canadian poetic influences for me in 2007 during Nick Mount’s legendary class “Literature for our Time” at U of Toronto.

1: Toronto once had the coolest radio station in all the land. The song, by one of our own greats, one of the first greats to remain Canadian to the core and forever (geographically and ethically) was later covered by British Modern Rockers Catherine Wheel at a time when our own radio programming was, for a while, highly in tune with a robust 90s Canadian Alternative music scene from coast to coast that lived as large in our esteem as the British greats and the American gems. This anthem became a renewed cry for a renewed time, and was turned up on car radio dials on a weekly basis for years. In fact, it most certainly still is. (“The Spirit of Radio”: By Rush and later Catherine Wheel)

2: It’s a worthy national pastime to give a lot of very deep devotion to hockey. It’s also ok for some females to never give a fuck about hockey. Our deep emotional reserves of love for hockey (or our memories of sitting in the rooms next to fans and discussing other things in female heart to hearts) are also entwined with family memory, loss, ideas of heroism, and awe for The Greatest Generation and the greats who flew in wars in a world we can barely imagine. We’d like to introduce our many non-Canadian friends to our own Canadian Shield, you don’t need a plane, The Forever great Tragically Hip.(‘Bill Barilko’/ “50 Mission Cap; “Fireworks” -The Tragically Hip)

3: The only thing that can make a divorce feel even worse is that loveless meeting in “The Hortons”. The ubiquitous Canadian coffee chain, at some point American owned and increasingly loveless, a convenient plastic wasteland that cooks like an angry stepmother, was founded by a hockey player and the chain was once a bastion of his memorabilia, wider hockey culture and of true Canadiana. It’s now more often to be used as a roadside site of convenience for brief, bitter meetings. So, perfect. (“Vancouver Divorce”, Gord Downie)

4: Live through this and you won’t look back.can really save your broken heart, if not your life. “Because when there’s nothing left to burn, you’ve got to set yourself on fire”. (Stars, on the sublimely Morrissey-esque titled Your Ex-lover is Dead“. Two ex-lovers sing to each other their sides of the story in a brief, beautiful, symphonic piece of art that is still good years later when it does not remind you of your own mini-death they helped you through. A very interesting and exciting Canadian band.

5: The less celebrated east end of Toronto has Rock ‘n Roll significance, and of the many fleeting bars that come and go in a major city, The Lowest of the Low picked the exact perfect one to sing about. The Only still stands and is a casual, comfortable, rich local institution. The Carlaw Bridge is alright too. (“Rosy and Grey” The Lowest of the Low)

6: Toronto’s airport code is YYZ and is committed to youthful memory long before we get our passports via a rock anthem. (“YYZ”, Rush) Citizens born after about 1960 most likely have this song running through their minds the first time they step on a plane and outta here, feeling finally glamorous and Neil Peart cool.

7: We have our own versions of opera, our own little Les Miserables, and they are full of our own tragic poetics, cultural critiques, and empathy: (“38 Years Old”, “Wheat Kings” by The Hip, whose bounty is endless, and who (you heard it here first) will undoubtedly be on college and university curriculums in the next half decade, keeping kids awake, shaking them awake unlike the history/culture classes before. The Frontier narrative, Canadian identity and the very bounds of songwriting and music have changed forever thanks to this one band. The Tragically Hip)

8: It is normal and right to feel sad when you are a kid of a subdivision. The sentiment of this song is akin to Morrissey’s own cry on a distant shore: “So in my bedroom in those ugly new houses, I dance my legs down to the knees…” (he sings in The Smiths’ “Paint A Vulgar Picture”, one of his very best lines of so many). (“Subdivisions” Rush)

9: And Canada as Canada: Our nation, so often used in film for generic American backdrops (i.e. racetracks) and its most major, well known cities (Chicago, New York) has a complex relationship to this camouflaging ability and its imprint on our own young national identity. We used to be proud of it, just to be allowed to stand behind the cordon and smell the hairspray of those visiting royals. As our country grew, as Gord and the boys taught us, there was something twisted in that, and our own identity, those spaces used like Colonial missions then left again were probably a lot more interesting than some shitty American film. This is akin to a revolutionary statement, and a nation grew up in response to it, by metres instead of centimeters.  (“Blow at High Dough” The Tragically Hip) *Longtime concert-going fans of The Hip will remember this song as a moment of Downie’s now legendary way of going off book, as the line “some kinda Elvis thing” has turned over the years into pop culture or topical references of the day or the mood that day, as in: “some Matthew Broderick thing“.

10: Leamington, Ontario will always figure in our cultural history and will never be the same, nor will our beloved ketchup. (The Ketchup Song” Stompin’ Tom Connors; and his entire, rich catalog for that matter…) Some of us are even strange and romantic enough about our land to put this on our wedding CDs. “(Good news: serious business and serious cultural importance are sometimes intertwined and sung as in the era of folk protest. Connors was a genius.) ” There was a guy from PEI they used to call Podato/He met this young Leamington Ontario Tomato/But he had eyes for other girls & she was a little mushy/So they said well let’s get wed there’s no sense bein fussy/ Baked sized french fries-how they love Tomatoes/So dress em up with Heinz Ketchup-(Ketchup luvs Potatoes)”

11: The Horseshoe Tavern’s iconic checkerboard floors must never, ever go into landfill but must be landmarked & preserved someday. (“Bobcaygeon“, The Tragically Hip) This song, one of the Hip’s most accessible and representative of their broader work as folklorists, is about many things: the northern idyllic wilderness and cool lakes and the need to return and tolerate life in cities to make our living; the duality of living in both types of places at once, the untold miles and the drudgery of work and expectation, and the movement between spaces and feelings. “Bobcaygeon” has, naturally, become a wilderness trip (or even tourist near north lake) unofficial anthem since its release, assaulting the stillness and ears of innocent wildlife via drunken revelers, as so much of The Hip’s music has become a staple of “CCR” – Canadian Cottage Rock.

12: The Spoons’ “Romantic Traffic” video put us on the transit map. This early entry into the world of music videos is a brilliant piece of documentary and pop narrative about the city of Toronto finding its voice to declare its musicians, its people, and its public transit system as something artistic, cool, and even romantic. Has any Canadian band ever been more attractive than these four friends/loves/bandmates? Canadian kids of the 80s saw this video untold times on our new Nation’s Music Station, Muchmusic, which was always better than MTV and was gritty and rough and tumble and earnest just like we were/are. Canadian kids dreamed of the big city, the subway station and how damn romantic it was via guerrilla video techniques (whoever did this band’s videos was utterly visionary and sweated creativity) and got to see both the beautiful, video ready band and the ordinary folks that pass through the scenes like the rest of us. Making us kids all cooler than our 1984 haircuts, shoulderpads braces and mint green stirrup pants (just me?) ought to make possible. As cool as the iconic other video of the age shot in Toronto,THE (muthaflippin) REFLEX by 1984’s Golden Gods Duran Duran (!!!) The Spoons are still active, too!

13: But we are still wild at heart. When you are raised, as we are here, on the ‘Wilderness Narrative’ and 18th Century poetry from the rocking chair to university, and that history is still just a century or less from our own collective memories, you can turn stories of bears hibernating into heartbreaking, metaphor rich, art: the kind of thing that makes one think about the fate of our wilderness and wild animals, as well as our own baser natures and instinctive needs. Oh and let’s not forget to read prayers from some old book to pass the time under the ground. Stunning, stark, clean, like a forest creek, our poetry can be. (“Moving Pictures Silent Films” See also “Your Rocky Spine” which is novelistic and sweeping in scope by Great Lake Swimmers.)

14: There is one song that will always best any attempt at a Titanic or other Nautical Museum.  And will rock you and shock you into grabbing a hold of your own survival, by god. (“Nautical Disaster” The Tragically Hip)

15: There is a stellar band, Metric, perfectly named for our system of measurement that ought to be as big as all the bigs, except they’re not bloated, preachy or cheesy, and are even led by a female rocker who writes with the best poets of this age. They deserve “Stadium Love“, y’all. They serve as fine music and cultural critics as well as delivering a great show. “Wanna make a bet/We’ll be neck and neck/Taking off the gloves/Spider Vs Bat/Tiger Vs Rat/Rabbit Vs Dove/Wanna make a bet/Odds are neck and neck/Taking off the gloves/ Every living thing
Pushed into the ring/ Fight it out/ To wow the crowd/ Guess you thought/ You could just watch/No one’s getting out/Without stadium love” (See also “White Gold“, “Dead Disco” “Gimme Sympathy“.) 

16/17: Now, musical Anglophiles that we will forever be, this must include a quick turn to some notable artists from the U.K. who’ve written about Canada in their work. This big country affects visiting musicians much the same way it does our own writers: there’s always the forest and the water just out of the periphery, as present in “Forest and the Sands” by Camera Obscura, who sing about “that river in Toronto” as part of a romantic memory. And the backdrop of language (national/official or otherwise) and complex politics that are slow moving, iceberg-like monolithic issues rather than newsy or flashy talking points here become matters of the heart, part of the nightly table setting, and are occasionally ripened for metaphor and a lovely strum, such as in this rare B-side from ‘The Bard of Barking”, England’s Billy Bragg, a song once sought out and sent for by air mail in a limited edition to Canadian fans, in sheer delight and awe at seeing a distant hero and workingman poet find poetry in our driest stories, and in us. And create…this? And so we sat up and started reading the newspaper too. (“Ontario, Quebec and Me” Billy Bragg

18: “There is a town in north Ontario/With dream comfort memory to spare/And in my mind I still need a place to go/All my changes were there. /Blue, blue windows behind the stars/Yellow moon on the rise/Big birds flying across the sky/Throwing shadows on our eyes/Leave us/ Helpless, Helpless, Helpless, Helpless… Neil Young / Crosby Stills Nash & Young.

19. This: 80s Toronto Synth Pop greats Platinum Blonde covered by one of the new centuries’ most interesting Toronto creations, Crystal Castles “featuring” Robert Smith, who really leads the vocal to astounding effect. All can be proud of this little piece of Cure x Canadiana. As are we.

And no matter what Bryan Adams tried to claim, he never bought any six-string at any “five-and-dime”. It’s doubtful there was ever a “momma” or her porch to stand on. That was an uber- successful stab at writing pure, Springsteen-drenched, Americana.

(Wherever I’ve linked and not linked music or video files please seek out or purchase through official sources and support musicians. Thank you!)

Jacqueline Howell was a lyric site before the lyric sites existed.

We write about music worthy of obsession and cultural readings and that hold up, or more likely, expand in beauty over time like an impossibly tall weeping willow above a perfect public terrace. Blame Canada.

The Sky Looked As Perfect As Cats: The Cure at Bestival

The Cure are an iconic, ForAlwaysAndEver misunderstood and underrated British band whose devoted fan family stretches far out of that little island’s silly little borders and spans the globe in innumerable vapour trails, around and around and back and forth and zigzagging in untold, unlogged, and unchecked miles endlessly since the Punk era. Since disco balls hung and “Disco Sucks!” T-Shirts fought it out. Since Sabbath was underground; since Ian Curtis lived and railed on beautiful decrepit little stages before 25 people; since Jim and William Reid yet lurked in their shared bedroom before a flickering TV and were not yet making pure art that also defined an era, and us. The Cure have been here since before all that history and a lot more besides.

The Cure stood on a New York club stage in 1980 and performed something miraculous called “A Forest” to their audience’s and their own muffled delight and secret final smile (breaking the façade of a perfect Terry Hall pose). Here, they put something into the world that was so utterly perfect in that early flight that it remains largely unchanged except for embellished yet still subtle rococo flourishes that make thousands of us each smile as if it was our private joke each and every time to this day. And today, in 2016, as in 1980, Robert Smith stops and smiles quietly, graciously, without ego, marveling at Simon Gallup’s final bass grunts of that perfect song as if they were 17 again, 17 still. As ever, Simon Gallup stands to Smith’s left, as at ease together through thick and thin as if they were still at school and had only recently said “let’s start a band” never knowing what that would mean in 1985 and 1989 and 2001 and 2016. Never thinking, in the era of punk and the era of youth, that forever time, about the future at all, maybe.

I don’t write straight gig reports. I don’t go to boring gigs, or write about anything I can’t love.  I pay attention, have fun, be present and try not to annoy strangers. I do my part. And I don’t bring my dark cloud with me to those crowds, or take notes, or more than 3 pictures even. I put those away, and bring instead my 1985 heart, which, as it cracks open from somewhere hidden, is worth the price of any ticket I can afford or time I can make, far more than any video one might steal/hoard. I share the best of me, rarely seen, with my kind. For this is 2016 and every outing matters on stage or in public. The world today, as I write this, has just gone dark yet again, darker still, with mass public violence targeted at people going out to dance, to find love.

But even yesterday, a story about The Cure could be a kind of history about survival itself. For all our musical heroes/icons/gods are getting on, and we are too,  but how (well) did we live? We are going grey, we drink coffee without pleasure like medicine, to face the day, we are tired. We worry about our steps and losing our passport and sunburn now, and looking too old, as much as the money these days.

A story about The Cure could be, in fact, far TOO OFTEN IS a story of “nostalgia” but if you are a true (born) nostalgia merchant, and know what that word means, you will stop misusing it. Nostalgia means a painful homesickness for a place that you cannot get back to. It’s from the Greek, from the ancient texts. From a time when the only stories worthy of language and print itself were Epics, never noise; from the minds of authoritative geniuses. Nostalgia itself lingered in the adventurous and conquering heroes of legend and myth (and reality) who, like the last of our musical heroes worthy of the title (and the very few still out there) left on a journey that went only one way. As we all should.

The Cure might just be music for real nostalgics. Some of us have pined and longed and fretted since we first knew what home ever was, and wasn’t. And what “love” ForAlwaysAndEver was promised in reams of letters in teenage hands, and wasn’t, actually. And what those old words mean in the longer run, when to look back and when to stop. Who the hell stands next to you now, in 2016? Who is left? Who would hold your hand? Who would shield you from violence? Who is your hero in private? Who did you choose to pin to your walls, did you choose them well? Who can take that stage without fear, too? Who ought to? Who is there for the right reasons, the only reasons – for love? Well there’s me. There’s my partner in life (22 years) and media, now, with the photo laminate. And most critically of all, there’s Robert Smith and The Cure, as solid as marble.

What story of The Cure can I tell you? If you are a real fan you know. I met some of you yesterday. I’m sorry for whooooing a little during the exciting opening five tracks: OPEN, KYOTO SONG,  A NIGHT LIKE THIS, THE WALK, and PUSH, (then INBETWEEN DAYS which could set alight the chart this day if the chart were worth a single damn) songs that cross cut my favourite era and are fresher than too much of this era’s music could dream of being. And arguably greater than some of the band’s own “Greatest Hits”. Wikipedia does not track for such truths, right? I love you two fans I met for your haircuts that gave me life and hope, for your goodness and obvious sweetness, for your 21 year relationship; for your jumping a bus to Montreal after this. I wish I was on that bus with you, I wish I had the gumption and will and talent to rob a bank and I’d be there looking for you tomorrow paying top scalper dollar against my own beliefs, because it’s The Cure.

If you are a Wikipedia “journalist” or disinterested front row summer intern barely posing as a journalist, who enters spaces like this for free while fans pay so dearly to hear you talk through it all, ruining it for them/us, and/or if you are a casual fan or a rubbernecker, what could I ever say? We don’t speak the same tongue. 140 characters is more than enough for us, forevermore. But bad sound and noise bleed from another tent nearby that kicks up only on day two with some strange wind is not a story about a band or a performance, especially when they rise above it and show grace and commitment like I’ve never seen, in a difficult environmental situation like I’ve never seen. And when The Cure could walk, they instead rise and deliver, digging deep like the pros they are, like the artists they are, and without the convoy of tractor trailers and two day set ups of so many big, risk averse, uncreative bands.

Only the most disconnected, the laziest, most careless and least deserving writers in a big, important city like ours, a Cure city,  would make “glitches” the (whole) story now, today. But the world has grown cold and hateful, and so lazy, indifferent, so unpaid, and so undeserving of payment, hasn’t it? And, sure, as expected, some real fans didn’t make it here today, who just don’t vibe on this festival thing, the lack of extra time and of privacy and a seat, who just don’t want to portapotty, or who know the downsides: the casual interlopers, the lack of order, the crowds or lack thereof, the wind, the noise bleed, and all that is less than ideal about such risks. And now I know why, but have no regrets, none at all. All of us here, including the coolest dads with their just old enough kids, know how to make our own order out of chaos. Are not homesick whenever we are here. Learned a few things from this band, you know? Learned so many things. Not frivolous things but life things.

As an innate, in love but still realistic fan since the age of 14 I can say with all joy, humility and gratitude for the city I happened to be born in and the cheaper seats always and a band that does not price gouge even as the industry makes it a hanging offence to be reasonable, that I’ve seen The Cure first at 15 in 1985, then on the tours for Kiss Me, Disintegration; Wish; and other inbetween times & festivals like the still shimmering Eden Musicfest in 1996, another time in 1996!? and the very good, fulsome and long set that was Riot Fest Toronto two years ago. I don’t know fully anymore the other years and venues except by the historic sites in my city now gone into dust, and so, carved into memory, but all of it has taught me that The Cure needs to be played live in the open air on a summer night, but in the twilight as darkness descends. And they need to be heard the same way and there will always be risks to that joyful sound that colours the breeze and is witchy.

 All great, established and hard-working bands have their well-earned dedicated fan-bases, but these alliances are certainly harder to spot or to ensure in the festival setting. I only see one Goth today, and she’s covered up enough for us all, but truthfully, I know all of us raised (self-raised, mostly) on The Cure are “goth” in our hearts to the core, meaning, in this increasingly insane world of 2016, that we are merely broken-hearted, smart, well-read creative realists who were ahead of our time, not unlike The Cure. Our interests, our art, our choices, our life’s decisions were informed by the music of The Cure whose art, humour, and wisdom has reliably been in our lives ever since we left the cave. We also, no matter how unlikely or foolish we’ve otherwise been in life, made at least one good bet by picking music’s dark horse to win, place or show (the trifecta) and we are proud, we are right, if only for once.

The Cure has long told us the truth. Love is about drowning and shining like Christmas, like strawberries and cream, as perfect as cats, about avoiding ghosts from your past, sleeping alone, flickering, envy, inbetween days, foralwaysandever, aloneness and togetherness, feeling like you are young (again) fun (again) forever fraught because forever is a long long long time. And sometimes you just shrug off all that and say “Let’s go to bed.”

 The Cure’s forever is longer than the music industry’s was. Longer than records lasted and even CDs and record stores and the music papers lived, when scribes gave way to tweets and twats. For always, though, means not high school, not until that band T-shirt falls apart or gets stolen by a sibling or by an Ex-“forever”. Forever means to the grave and beyond, my friends. And the same applies to Hostiles.

 Forever means tombstones and monuments of marble, and rocks that oceans can barely nudge, and cliffs you don’t jump off at all, after all, but step back and be brave enough to be. Love is pretty and twinkly or it’s gorgeously stupid, it was the home of all we might have been, it’s impossible, letters, is enduring, stoic, sad, stubborn, it says do do do do do do do do – do (more than six different ways). It squeals, it’s a bad acid trip, it’s a hangover, it’s addiction and it’s musical, it’s chimes, it’s a lot more besides, put down in poetry, mined and writ large by this band. In the final analysis we always sleep alone, were warned of this, too, in 1985. Forever is simply perfectly romantic and lush but works silently before a crowd to ignore so much noise from outside. Hateful, pushy noise, carried on the wind, noise that is so inferior “wub wub wub wub” that it offends all this that should be: our usual perfect ceremony.

 And with love, and notions of forever, half the time, you are lost in the forest, and alone.

And isn’t sunlight one’s enemy when you are a realist, a goth, a vampire? And yet a hazard that must be braved to get to the good part? The glamorous part. And doesn’t it burn, across his right arm, slowly, as Robert Smith jokes, “It happens gradually, you don’t burst into dust.” We are joking, inside joking, with the man. He’s a man after all, and as seen from the barrier, Robert Smith and The Cure are not only what fans worldwide have dreamed, hoped or come to know with sterling weight, but even up close in the sunshine with the unpredictable imperfections that days like this will bring, can yet surprise us with grace, patience, wit, humility, and a deserved God-like status that most icons have abandoned or lost to time and misfortune. Or been run off by pitchforks.

On days like today, days of celebration and preparation, The Cure comes out of their incorruptible private lives sounding as clean and bright as 1980. And when the sound cuts out, we fans raise our voices and fill the space for a few seconds. No boos at all. But kinship. Isn’t that love(ly?) No, is that so glitchy? It might just depend if you were raised on records or lifeless MP3s. Music is not a file, invisible, empty, flat and throbbing with fraudulence like so much MacBook Air whimpering noise. Smith’s voice is untouched by autotune, pure of the curse of the lip sync generation that is kissing close, and this real voice is as clear and strong and confident and original as it was in 1985. This band plays no genre but “Cure Music” and defies the odds, trends and commercialization like almost no one else of their stature and legacy ever does, or probably ever will again at their level. All those Joy Division shirts are everywhere (on these grounds) in 2016 and the wearers seem blind to the fact that JD’s peers, their heirs, are right here, tonight. But that all may be out of fashion for today: stature, legacy, authenticity, low tech, no tech, analog, live singing, history. Life itself, like music festivals can be, is imperfect and glitchy and weird and absurd and full of annoying distractions and pests and weirdly, tends to age, slowly, normally, honestly instead of becoming locked in the amber of early death at the very rough age of 23.  Real music that touches us is good and no one can tell us how to feel about it or how to rate it on some metric or a faux world based on (anti) social media, which,being based as it is on statistics, not art, seems like a sort of death at any age.

So darkness falls, and we vampires all assume our true form, finally, in Toronto. All ages, multi-generational, younger and older, and real. The diehards who could make it are here somewhere and so are the fans from wherever within four hours in two countries who come here for this band and given the option, months ago, didn’t just go to Montreal instead for a more guaranteed sort of evening and good hotels, a grown up, old school mini vacay. We here live in the shadows and the dirt, instead. But finally on stage or in front of it, we are all as one, svelte, sexy, light as air, gravity defying, all white glowing eyes and red lips. Like Robert showed us how to be. The real Lestat of our imaginations, not like the fakery of Tom Cruise. And an ocean away from the sparkly foolishness of Twilight. We are real, if fragile and mercurial before real enemies, we crumble slowly to dust together, fall apart together, hold each other up, pray for rain.  We are left standing in our truth, and how shimmering it all can be for minutes or hours, when all stats and cold facts and glitches aside, a band this great and alive, this flexible, loving and creative is misunderstood forever and always underrated, yet, I say, worthy of an Epic.



Words referenced in italics refer to various lyrics of The Cure, please see full sourcing, tour dates, music and merch at The Cure’s official website.

Jacqueline Howell

Photos: Dave MacIntyre



Oran Mor Session by The Twilight Sad

The Twilight Sad have released Oran Mor Session, an album stripped of the noisy sound wash we have come to expect and love from the Scottish trio in lieu of crisp and moody guitar melodies from Andy MacFarlane and the visceral heart-wrenching vocals of James Graham.  Most of the music has been re-envisioned from the band’s 4th studio release Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave, a few select b-sides and a cover of Arthur Russell’s “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face”.

Surprisingly, stripping the music of synths, bass and percussion, adds a ton of emotional weight to the songs as focus narrows from the musical experience of the originals to the words that Graham so beautifully and powerfully articulates.  Songs such as “Pills I Swallow”, “It Never Was The Same”, and “Drown So I Can Watch” are laid bare emotional gut punchers that radiate as much as they sting.  Start to finish, Oran Mor Session is an all-encompassing and poignant experience best enjoyed uninterrupted with a top-end sound system or headphones.

With the recent announcement of The Twilight Sad’s upcoming tour dates with The Cure, it will be interesting to see if the band splices their set with original versions and some of these acoustic gems.  A full acoustic session would be beautiful to experience but would leave drummer Mark Devine out and would be better suited to small venues and seated concert halls with top-notch acoustics.

If it does happen, don’t forget to bring along tissue.

Dave MacIntyre

Like the Head on the Door Was a Dream

OUCH. On the 30 year anniversary of this great record, Dave suggested I write about an album I love: The Head on the Door by The Cure.

Ah, nostalgia. It can wound you, right in the heart, true to its very definition (from the Greek: pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering; homesickness) or it can, in the right setting, nicely transport you to a distant happy place and time. But for our most important, beloved music, despite the milestone anniversaries that persist at flying at us in crass defiance of the fact that on a good day we still feel 25 (at least mentally) nostalgia is irrelevant. Music such as this simply never went away.

While I’m reassured by worldly and knowledgeable friends that being a Cure obsessive is not a bad thing these days, as we each float on Titanic-style debris looking around for others who can share the space with us in an ocean of noisy pop garbage, the idea of the music of my youth is tinged with a bit of painful nostalgia about the type of obsessive I was back in the mid-80’s, the type of mindset I had (early teenage) and the way it marked/marred my memories due to the great music lover I learned to obsess with (a teenage boyfriend, equal parts lovely and dark). The Cure was our music. It defined and framed an anger and an angst so much darker and cooler than our suburban, alcoholic version of rebellion (rum, vodka, peach schnapps) for as I now know, Robert Smith was mining deep depths of drug addiction and disillusionment in a bona fide post-punk malaise, while I was suffering a truly abysmal Catholic high school, the aforementioned boyfriend, and a slow drift away from academics into preoccupations of the heart that would never sustain me like a solid education might have done (but there are no laments for lost school grades, are there?)

And yet, the bond I developed with music made me, very much, the person I am today: the person who still knows all the words, and still feels all the chord changes, that can inhabit the best snippets of nostalgia in the most measured doses (so unlike the greedy, sad kid I was) and smile at it all, finally. The Cure was really pre and post that boyfriend who tried to steal their words, it was me: I proudly saw almost every one of the many Toronto tour stops from 1984 to today, beginning with the old stadium where we 16 year old girls, where we could and did once, jump seats and get to the floors due to our youthful charm, never feeling guilty and always saying please and thank you and acting dumb when we were really quite calculated. It is one of my truest memories, at a later concert, early 90’s, then new intro song “Plainsong” erupted and moved me and my best friend to tears in a way like nothing before or since- normally jaded now 20 something girls losing our shit, for once, free again. No intro song of any band or tour would ever touch this song, this band, this moment. It hasn’t yet, in more than 20 years.

The Cure’s Head on the Door, on arrival in 1985 was something digested for us Canadian kids like a care package from the more exciting U.K. We received tapes and traded LPs and were able to discover a band already mid stride with 8 years (6 albums) of material for us to mine, and we did. While the equally loved Faith, Seventeen Seconds and Pornography ought to have come with some kind of over 18 warning as it was dark shit (a darkness I don’t think anyone can touch today) The Head on the Door was still fucked up, but bopping and edging toward an ironic poppyness in the first wave of Robert Smith as the keen, capable, and yet, still cool and uncompromising hit maker he would become.

This was the golden age of the let it play record (or tape). There were no duds, records were an experience, one that cemented themselves so deeply in our lives because we made them permanent fixtures, so important were they to us. And all without digital media or ear buds. As you will recall, we sat at home or friend’s homes and we listened, for weeks and months of life. We wrote the words out in reams of lyrics learned by ear; we wrote them in love (or hate) letters; some of us carved them in neighbourhood fences; we claimed it as ours. And we stood above all who had no idea who The Cure was with our own code that also excluded the Americans “it’s my American voice again. It was never like this before, not one of you’s the same. Do do do do.” (“Six Different Ways”).

This song is a gleeful oddity in the huge catalogue of this band’s work, and remains a favourite. It’s a perfect combo of British wit (which always sailed over the heads of most Americans) and, for a Canadian listener, echoes our national wish/belief that we are just slightly in on the joke, owing to our closer roots and one generation-or less separation from the U.K. (Many a household in my city watches Corrie to this day, including some of the coolest kids in town). To read the lyrics doesn’t do it justice, it’s one of those great songs that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Wherever I am in the world, whatever age I am, I will stop dead in my tracks and feel as serene as if on a lake if I hear what is essentially the title track: “Close to Me”. The beat of that song is more true to me than a heartbeat, it’s clean and cool and it’s so reassuring that we never even got phased that he’s talking about getting sick and bad dreams. It’s cool comfort. It’s medicinal, it is in fact, the cure.

“Push” is another simple lyric that is an epic, rolling tide of musicality. It’s a particular type of appealing, dark, smart and cruel poetry that can conjure up the following lines in succession: “Oh smear this man across the walls/Like strawberries and cream/It’s the only way (it’s the only way) to be…” Smith’s map of love was exciting and nihilistic, but that was a word far beyond our reach as the plaintive cries and biting lashes of his voice made our heads spin. Now that was dazzling love. No suburban boys could ever compare. In the hands of clumsy teenagers, a lot of the musicality was fumbled, but with time this challenging music only gets more rewarding. Robert Smith only gets more lovable as he, and as we, grey and ache in the mornings and live to fight another day. Cuppa tea love?

The rolling storm of “A Night Like This” is one of The Cure’s and Robert Smith’s peak moments. Vocally, it marks an amazing time: mid career, mid eighties, between a young punk’s cry and the deeper vocal and tonal range he would explore as he grew and aged and never gave up in this band, one of the greatest the world has ever known, in what is arguably the last great age of real music and the industry as we knew it. It’s sweepingly romantic: “I’m coming to find you if it takes me all night” then perfectly cliched “for always and ever it’s always for you” and next, in the same breath, it’s marvelously vicious “you’re just the most gorgeously stupid thing I ever cut in this world” and THEN wistful “I want it to be perfect like before”. It is utterly, bizarrely, perfect for the hearts it sang to, that sang back to him across the oceans of the world. It’s young love and it’s all love that has its ups and downs and waves and seasickness, as life at the end of the century has been for a generation.

1985 to Forever. For Always and Ever.

All lyrics copyright The Cure.

By Jacqueline Howell

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