The first time I felt the presence of god was not in a church, and it wasn’t god at all. It was Robert Smith, and it was at a Cure show in 1996. Let me explain. I can assure you that I am not some weirdo fangirl that is obsessed with Robert Smith’s lipstick stained mouth. Although it is pretty fucking hot. The first time I heard the Cure, I was 12 years old and I was huddled under my covers, headphones on, listening to a local midnight radio show called Exposure hosted by David Sadof. Exposure played the music they never played on the radio during daylight hours. The song was Charlotte Sometimes, and I was in love. I fell in love. I fell deeply and passionately, earnestly in love, with a song. Listening to the swaying rhythm, its sonic sensations captivated me with a romantic illusion of long-encapsulated emotions of nostalgic promise. The music seemed to follow the movement of light and shadow swirling around me as my body crested and fell to the beat. The Cure had a transformative effect on me. I think that if ever I had the opportunity to listen to one last song again before I died, it would most certainly be Charlotte Sometimes. It perfectly expressed my dreamy, wishful, and simultaneously hopeless, emotional state at the time, in a way that only John Lennon had done before. I never thought I would hear another record as good as Plastic Ono Band, until I heard the Cure.
Plastic Ono Band, you say? Yes. I do prefer a Lennon solo album to every other Beatles’ album. Why? It’s personal. It’s raw. It’s emotional, and to a lonely child without a father, it sounds like recognition. Of course, I love the Beatles, who doesn’t? I only knew one person who claimed to hate the Beatles and he was a douchebag. That was evident in the manner in which he began to explode in a volcanic fury when I broke up with him:
“You are breaking up with me because I don’t like the Beatles?”
“No. I am breaking up with you because you “FUCKING HATE” the Beatles.”
“You are out of your fucking mind!”
“You’re the one who HATES the Beatles!”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“I could understand if you just preferred the Rolling Stones, or if you didn’t care for their earlier albums. How am I supposed to make love to a man that says he HATES the Beatles? That’s like saying you HATE children. Maybe you don’t want to have children, or you can’t see yourself as a parent, but children are lovely, why would anyone hate them?”
“I love children, and I love you.”
“But you hate the Beatles.”
If you had asked me when I was eight years old, I would have shouted about how the Beatles were the best band to ever come out of the UK. However, that was before I developed a more intellectual approach to music. I am not bashing the Beatles, I love the Beatles, hence the infamous breakup. Additionally, there are certainly aspects of the Beatles catalog that could give any modern philosopher a run for their money. I just feel, very deeply, that the albums most heralded by critics as being objectively superior, Abbey Road, White Album, and Sgt. Pepper are sort of a collage of music, which conceptually is interesting and fun, but do not truly represent a cohesive artistic vision in the same manner in which The Cure executed almost every album in their catalog. Robert Smith’s ability to create a well crafted album is perhaps second only to Brian Wilson whose masterpiece Pet Sounds is by far the most delicate composition of love and pain that ever graced my turntable. Still, I would argue in a court of law that almost any Cure record is far superior to the remaining Beach Boys’ (as well as most Beatles’) albums.
By the date of the concert, I had managed to save enough money for a cab ride to the show and back. I don’t think that I have ever been that excited before or since, to see a band play live. When the show started, I was enthralled. Time passed like a dream. I have no idea what or who was near me. I was blind to the world around me. My eyes were transfixed forward. I recall very little physical sensations except for being drenched in the sweat of several people, not just my own. That aspect was atrocious, but I didn’t care. I was mesmerized. I thought to myself, this is what I am supposed to feel in church. This is that feeling. This is what I was missing. I felt happiness, I felt love, I felt peace, I felt connection, but mostly I felt something that I had never before experienced within a plethora of people. I felt like I belonged. Witnessing The Cure live was like being seen for the first time. It was like staring into the eyes of a stranger and seeing your own painful memories reflected back at you, but with a gentle understanding that relaxes anxieties and soothes hurt feelings.
My relationship with music really began with The Cure. It was the first time I felt a deep connection to music. From their influence, I gained a wider perspective of musicology. I lived at the library. For impoverished music nerds like me, the library is an invaluable resource. I checked out; books, magazines, records, films, anything related to the music I loved. I was an obsessive connoisseur of words and sound. I did a deeper dive on The Beatles as well, discovering their influences, then the influences of their influences, and the influences of their influences’ influences, and so on. I tackled the research of my beloved bands as though I were crafting a dissertation on the Post-Punk Symbolism of Post-War Europe.
Music became my religion. I felt more self-assured, more at peace, and closer to love than I had ever felt inside of my church. They say everyone has a spiritual path. Maybe some of us just need to walk the righteous path of rock and roll? After writing that sentence, I immediately regret the flippantly abrasive lack of intellectuality in that question, however I enjoy its bit of alliteration far too much to delete it from the record. Upon further reflection, this paragraph perfectly illustrates the delicate balance between the cool musical nerd aspect of my personality and the not so cool belletristic nerd aspect. The point is… music became the thing that saved me from the harshest bits of the world.
Is it possible to be in love with something that is intangible? I love the words that pour into my ears. I love the melody, the rhythmic patterns, the cracking sounds of irreverence and pain, most of all I love the way that music makes me feel. I became obsessive in my pursuit of music both new and old. Music became an education for me. It taught me things that I could never learn in school, and most definitely not from my family. Otis Redding taught me how to feel, deeply and passionately. I learned to give all of myself from Billie Holiday. I learned to be skeptical and think for myself from the Beatles. David Bowie taught me how to dance and how to make my dreams come alive with imagination. Robert Smith gave me something that I needed most, his music gave me hope. The Cure taught me that I wasn’t alone in the world. How could I not fall in love?
After I had digested every inch of diaphanous noise that was The Cure. I became a dancer. Not a professional of course, not an illicit one either. I spent a great deal of time at a club called Numbers. This club was filthy, the product of a lifetime of punk and post-punk patronage. When the lights came on at 2 am, you sobered up fairly quickly once you’ve been confronted by the harsh reality of your surroundings. Was I sitting on that? Jesus! Still, it was the only place in Houston where a girl like me could dance to the sweet subcultural sounds of 70s and 80s Britain.
It was in this club that I danced until sweat ran down my legs, occasionally made out with like minded individuals, and explored the eye-widening world of psychedelics. Drugs were not so taboo in my universe, my parents did drugs, so when I was offered the opportunity to “expand my mind,” I took it. Drug dealers are nothing like they are in the awkward after school specials. No one pressures you to take it, they offer and if you aren’t interested, they move on. I was very interested. I was always interested in escaping reality whenever given the chance. I took the tiny black square of gel and placed it on my tongue. Just when I thought it wasn’t working, I noticed a darkened tunnel leading to the corner of the ceiling that I hadn’t noticed previously. I was intrigued so I looked for a staircase, or some way up. That’s when I heard DJ Wes was finally playing my song request, Lullaby. I ended my search for the entrance to the portal and went immediately to the dance floor. I followed the music as it swirled around me. I felt the rhythm in my body. I heard the breathing of my fellow dancers becoming one with my own shuttered breaths. I felt so happy. I felt so in love. I felt the sweat on my body escaping and tearing with it, all of the wretched, hateful memories that had embedded themselves inside my pores. I was cleansed. Rinsed of all the anger and hate I held inside. I prayed to the glittery red portal forming near the video screens projecting Robert Smith’s smudged red lips and tangled mess of hair, that it would last.