The Cure

Inspiration from Disintegration

The following was originally written in November 2012 for my coursework in DePaul University’s Master of Arts in Writing & Publishing program. Here, I examine literary editing, writing, and revision by way of The Cure’s 1989 album Disintegration. Note: please click song titles for YouTube clips of each track. (3-12-14: Looks like some of the YouTube links don’t work; I’ll have to update soon…) Enjoy.

Disintegration

Amongst a certain segment of the music-loving population, The Cure’s 1989 album Disintegration is one of the best albums ever recorded. I count myself as part of that population.

As I thought about the art of literary editing and revision, I wondered how I could glean lessons and reminders from a master work of art as I work on both my own art and the art of others. For writers, music is often a huge influence on mood, story, and evoking time and place, among other elements. Here, I draw inspiration from the album’s individual song titles and their content and the album’s overall mood and history. While it might be jarring to think of our work in these terms, doing so may give us the editorial distance we need to make it successful. Much like changing a story’s font to trick the brain into seeing things clearly again.

The following is an in-order track list. Don’t worry, I won’t include the B-sides.

Plainsong. The album begins on the quiet, subtle note of tinkling wind chimes, which ultimately sets the tone for the next seventy-plus minutes. For the first-time listener, the chimes might invoke a curious wonder; for long-time listeners, chills of anticipation. This minimalist beauty soon erupts into a keyboard-laden symphony set to a slow drum beat. Then finally, a single guitar guides us to the edge of the world where singer Robert Smith evokes images of rain, cold, and smiles.

The song is a brilliant beginning to the album, and the song itself could begin no other way. As writers, we all strive for the perfect sentence, image, or action with which to begin our stories, whether fiction or nonfiction. And then the perfect follow up. Plainsong offers an alternative to immediately banging the drums and hitting the guitar: striking minimalism opening into grand lushness. On the micro level, we can shape the words until our brains bleed. But in the bigger picture, our choice of beginning sets forth the entire structure of the piece: Is this a linear story? Or circular? Or plotted by short vignettes? The beginning also conveys tense and point of view.

In editing a current short story in progress, my original painstakingly crafted opening moment has found its way much further into the story, leaving me with a new beginning to finely comb over. If I keep changing my mind, at least I’ll have several well thought-out passages to  make up the whole. I think of how if The Cure had decided on a different opening track might that have changed the entire album? How might our relationship with this song have changed? Valuable questions to ask as we edit our own and others’ work.

Pictures of You always reminds me of my friend Chris, the one who is thankfully to blame for my obsession with The Cure. He nudged me out of my Bon Jovi box all the way to buying me my first copy of Disintegration (on cassette) for my fifteenth birthday. When we had a brief falling out a few months later, I pined away listening to this song, thinking about the loss of a best friend. In other words, I pictured a person. A character. I see Chris as he was then, as he is now. The details of his various haircuts, the depth of his voice, the way he wanted to change his name to that of the deceased by suicide lead singer of Joy Division. I know the relationship he had with his mom before and after she died. I know the taste of his mom’s Jack Daniels that he convinced me to try.

I may write a short story or personal essay about Chris or about a part of Chris. Or inspired by Chris. I may use his name-change desire or not. Regardless, I’d have a pretty full picture to work with—something we need, even if we don’t use it all (and we never know what will come in handy.) On the macro level, we need to decide whether our characters are right for the story we want to tell and to make sure they are consistent, sufficiently motivated, and avoiding caricature or cliché. We also need to take care not to be blinded by the “real” person, especially in fiction—but also in writing nonfiction. A picture is only a single moment of a person anyway.

On the micro level, it’s helpful to think of the song’s video. The band set up palm trees in a snowy, rural part of England to make it look as if they were performing in a desert oasis in the middle of winter, thereby oddly juxtaposing different climates. While the idea was that on camera snow and sand can look the same, the band is still wearing heavy coats and throwing snowballs at each other and the crew. In choosing this premise, the band chose not to go the literal, sentimental story route. The song and video are an unlikely paring. As we shape our characters and character relationships, thinking about the jarringly juxtaposed details may open us up to many possibilities.

Closedown.  Sometimes it’s best to just close down the literal or figurative laptop and walk away. There’s that feeling of staring at a first draft—something with an actual beginning, middle, and end—and feeling a sense of relief from accomplishing this milestone. But then you stare a moment too long, and the draft begins to mock you. You start to feel “out of step”(as Smith sings) with your story. Both you and the story suffer an identity crises, and you don’t know who you are or who you are to each other. The faults in the story become personal faults. Close that laptop!

I’ve already mentioned a couple ways to achieve objective distance: changing the font, and filtering your story through other works of art (as in this analysis.) But sometimes all we need is time. And we need to decide how much is right for us. Do we wait a day or two tops to keep the momentum going, or do we wait weeks or months to gain a fresh perspective? Both are valid. For me, when it comes to time, I tend to go the longer stretch approach. Though sometimes that’s more of a matter of my self-diagnosed “writerly ADD” than a precise decision. Deadlines (for class, for a show, etc.) are great because they don’t allow me too much time.

At the end of the song, Smith just wants to fill his heart with love. However much time we take, we owe it to ourselves to open the laptop back up—while in a good, physical, emotional place—and take advantage of the momentum and perspective we’ve gained.

Lovesong. A gift to Smith’s high school girlfriend and new bride, this song is The Cure’s biggest hit (reaching #2 in the US on the Billboard Hot 100 chart). But at the time, it was also derided by some “real” Cure fans (i.e. Chris) who perhaps were still digesting this new entry into the band’s discography. Within an overall atmospheric album, this song has the most pop sensibilities. In terms of the editing process, here I think of intention and audience. Asking ourselves what we want out of a story—what we’re trying to say, who we might be trying to reach, what kind of character or message we want to showcase—can help us solidify the piece. While Smith has written lyrics from different personas, this song is clearly and publicly him. His message of “I will always love you no matter what” is obvious—there’s no vague symbolism or obscure literary reference here. Perhaps that was the turn off for some fans. Yet it also helped attract new fans. Initially, music executives where scared of the perceived inaccessibility of the album. So Smith, having been in the business for a decade at this point, included this song perhaps as a way to appease any anxiety. About to turn 30, Smith wanted to create an enduring masterpiece by this milestone. Yet in this first decade of the Cure’s tenure, Smith was also known to say that if they ever had a #1 hit, he’d break up the band. Lovesong to me encapsulates all the things we need to “worry” about as artists. They’re all valuable, but to stay sane, we need to separate them into their respective times and places.

Last Dance. While Lovesong isn’t a dance-happy pop track, it’s still upbeat. The track that follows Last Dance, Lullaby, is a playful if terrifying single again incorporating more pop sensibilities. So here, the band transitions back into (and out of) atmospheric somberness both in the arrangement and the lyrics (a colder, flatter Christmas falling late being a central image.) With this song, I think about transitions—and with a title like this, endings too. The rambling guitar riff that drives the intro makes us subtly convulse in place before the bombast of the keys takes over. At the end of the song, Smith leaves us with the image of a girl standing alone as the music fades to three seconds of silence. In that audio equivalent to white space on a page, we are left deeply thinking about the girl’s place in the world before the pluck of the next song kicks in.

In the context of the album, the song is a chill palate cleanser between singles. We can take this song’s example as we transition between paragraphs, sections, chapters, or stories. What do we want to leave the reader with (even for just a moment)? What tone or mood to we want to establish or continue? How will the next section connect yet be different?

Lullaby. Lyrically story based, this “lullaby” tells tale of a spider-man about to eat the narrator for dinner. “Rock-a-bye Baby” turned horror story. This song makes me think of language. The song juxtaposes opposing images, giving us a new way to think about lullabies and nightmares. The song’s images induce us to be creative in how we render in words our own images we seek to create in our readers’ imaginations. We should look for ways to get the most mileage from the relationship between our images and to maximize its subtext. Whether by making sense out of an unlikely pairing (such as my mother’s death and an early ‘90s power ballad), or by using multiple meanings of a word at once (in an essay about playing with toy guns, I used the word legends to refer to stories while nodding to its cartographic meaning and alluding to an R.E.M. song.)

Editing language also means freshening up clichés and other hyperbolic language and replacing any vague or overused adjectives and adverbs—or by taking familiar language and turning it on its head. In Lullaby, Smith whispers the opening line to Mary Howitt’s well known cautionary poem from 1829, “The Spider and the Fly.” Editing language makes sure that it properly conveys the action to your reader, both in logistics and intended effect. Thinking in terms of song lyrics, we can be inspired to give our stories in our prose the focus inherent in the lyrical form. And given the horrific nature of the song’s story, we can think about the brutal but freeing act of “killing our darlings” in order to make our language and overall stories as clear as possible.

Fascination Street.  For this song, the band was inspired by the mood and spirit of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Lyrically, the song features a couple in reckless abandonment, cutting real conversation and not worrying about what they do or say. The song’s stand-out bass line literally pounds us into this underworld, and the guitar and keys create a psychedelic atmosphere where flashes of color blur in front of us through the smoke.

This song in particular makes me think of setting. As we edit, are there moments where the characters feel like they’re lost in space? Or was there a jarring transition from one place to another that yanks us out of the story? Do the details relate to the characters or create appropriate mood? If we’re basing setting on a real place, has the clear picture in our heads fully translated to the page for the readers who have never been to, say, our grandparents’ house? Are the traffic logistics of your street that are so central to your story rendered clearly for the reader? And how can we break away from the “real” place in a work of fiction? Handing over our stories to others will reveal any vacuous and inconsistent sections. Likewise, as we edit others’ work, their success and pitfalls are clear to us. How can we learn from them?

The specifics of time and place in our setting are ways of establishing character, mood, social milieu and everything else. How can we mix the Detroit of the 1980s with the universal? How can music inspire us to create our settings, whether with references to actual songs or with riffing on the stories and settings of particular songs and albums? My first Cure purchase was the Fascination Street cassette single, summer 1989, with Chris, at a Detroit suburban mall. And…go!

  (more…)

A little Robert for You.

Cure & Smith, Robert

Until next time when I post about various exciting goings on, I share this amazing photo of Robert Smith from The Disintegration era.  The album was part of msn.com’s Unlucky in Love list of albums for an anti-Valentine’s Day.  While I’m quite happy with my Valentine, the thoughts about this album and many of the others are lovely.  Especially the ones about the Best Cure Album Ever.

Enjoy!

A Night Like This is Just Like Heaven

That's some history there, my friends.

Yeah I took that. How cool is that?! 13th row + zoom lens = Joy. :-) The fact that these days camera policies are more relaxed, being allowed to have a camera was quite the novelty. I didn’t go too crazy as I didn’t want the night to be all about the photos. But still WAY cool! Check out the complete set HERE.

Thanks to the fabulous work of Craig over at Chain of Flowers, I don’t have to obsess over keeping track of the set list. Especially when I totally blanked on the name of “Us or Them,” and angry number from the last album. Craig gets live reports! He’s kept quite the extensive archive. Check it out, and also check out the affiliated COF News Blog. Any real Cure fan checks this daily. :-) No, seriously. Here’s the complete set list from the Cleveland, Ohio show, June 18, 2008:

Tape (intro), Open, Fascination Street, A Night Like This, The End of the World, Lovesong, Want, Pictures of You, Lullaby, The Perfect Boy, From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea, Kyoto Song, Hot Hot Hot, The Only One, Charlotte Sometimes, Torture, Sleep When I’m Dead, Push, Inbetween Days, Just Like Heaven, Primary, Us or Them, Never Enough, Wrong Number, One Hundred Years, End

1st encore: At Night, M, Play For Today, A Forest
2nd encore: Three Imaginary Boys, Fire In Cairo, Boys Don’t Cry, Jumping Someone Else’s Train, Grinding Halt, 10:15 Saturday Night, Killing An Arab

That’s 3 hours! Not for the weak. It was hot and sweaty and fabulous and Ernie would’ve had a miserable time except for when they played a select few songs. Still a good mix of pop hits and hardcore fan faves, as well as three new songs off the new album (out in September). I’m bummed that they didn’t play the current single, “Freakshow.” I’ve been bouncing around that to several times a day. I’m also bummed that they didn’t play “The Blood,” one of my all time faves that I STILL haven’t seen live, even though they’ve played it 7 times this tour (yes, COF has kept track), and now that my show’s over, I’m comparing notes, especially for the Chicago show I would’ve been to if it weren’t for that whole Australia think. I’ve been avoiding that thus far. They’ve also played “The Big Hand” a handful of times. Holy cripity! That’s like a B-side (though many feel it shoulda made the Wish album cut.)

But enough of my nitpicking non-appreciative fan stuff. :-P The show was AMAZING!!! My neck is still sore from dancing and bopping around. For the most part I had room to move. At first, I there was an empty seat on my right, but a few songs in, this girl made her way in. Not sure if she was a late single ticket holder or someone who snuck in from a not as groovy seat. The couples on either side of me would sometimes leave to get drinks. Silly. I just don’t get that. I played all instruments in my air band. I rocked.

So cool to have Porl back. Yay! His rocking out the piano solo on “Just Like Heaven” on his guitar was amazing. (No keyboards now in case ya didn’t know). I love Simon’s bass line on “Torture” and Jason’s drumming on “Push” was worthy of Greek gods. Yep. Robert doesn’t dance around a lot, but I did catch a shot him with his arms all up in the air. “Pictures of You” made me think of friends. “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea” is always brilliant live. I don’t think I’ve ever seen “Kyoto Song” live. I need to make a little tally of all the songs I’ve seen live (with the help of COF of course) cos I’m nerdy like that. I loved the 3IB encore even though there were some fans who would’ve probably preferred the Faith encore. Idunno, I think I was in the mood for the cleaner groovier stuff. For a second, I thought they were going to segue into “Another Journey By Train,” the b-side to “Jumping.” A slight heart palpitation, but then they moved into “Grinding Halt” which had fists flying in the air. Yum!

I have my blue t-shirt and my tour book. *Love* I wore my “High” crab necklace.

I stalked the tour bus area for a while and met Shawn, a frequent COF commenter. Now, I am definitely a Cure nerd, but Shawn was rattling of names of remixes like they were his children. :-) I say that in the most celebratory way! Even I know so much. So we chatted, then joined another group on the other side of the bus area. But no luck. It was late and cold and my devotion was being slightly tested, but I hung out with peeps until we got a tip off that they might be heading back to the hotel soon. They were staying at the Ritz. Another guy I met, Howard, had met them outside the hotel earlier in the day. Damn! Had I done a little more research and gotten into town a little earlier…. Ah well. By 3 AM, we all decided to bail. The South Dakota girls weren’t coming back we figured. Howard decided to head out, and Heather and her son gave me a ride back to my hotel–the Comfort Inn right across the street from the stadium. No concert traffic for me! So, A for effort, right. Just being in the band’s presence so close (though not as close as those killer 2nd row tix on the Detroit Dream Tour stop in 2000) and being surrounded by their music live was all I could ask for. It really was a religious experience. I feel closer to any sort of higher power at a Cure show than I ever did in Church. I assume that each Cure show I go to is the last (unless, like I had tix for another show on the tour). Since who knows when or if they’ll be back. Still, we legions of Cure freaks wonder if they’ll tour again when the album actually comes out. Hmm….

Poetry-ness

So, I never remember that April is National Poetry Month. I used to write much more than I do now. I like to think that I’ve carried a poetic voice into my prose and dramatic writing, though.I’m glad it is, because while at Barnes & Noble the other day, there was a poetry display table which included a book of essays on Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: The Sesquicentennial Essays from 2005. Score for me and my final paper for Jake’s class. I’ll definitely be able to use it!

Some writers do a sort of NaNoWriMo in April by writing a poem a day for the month. That’s a cool idea, and maybe something to think about for next year. For this year, I thought about posting a high school poem a day or something, but I really need to save them for my high school poetry solo show. It’s a project that’s been on the back burner for about 10 years or so. Seriously. It’ll stay on one of the burners until it’s done. I do have a title:

Big Black Room

Dig the font? It’s “Batik Regular”. It’s rather inspiring, I think.

The pre-show mix CD will be all or mostly Cure. Big surprise, right? The biggest challenge of the piece will be deciding the balance between fiction and non-fiction. How much do I embrace the narrators of the poems, especially the more character oriented ones? Am I 15, 16, 17? Am I 33, 34, 35 (or however old I am when I finish the damn thing?) Is it even cool for a 35-year-old to dramatically share teen angst suicide poems? How much “real” stuff do I reflect with each poem? What’s the, like, story of it all?

I know the opening poem. It’ll be one of my faves, “Shut Up!” which I wrote one morning while half paying attention in Spanish 2 class (sorry, Ray!) Ray’s was my teacher, by the way, for those of you who aren’t Ray. Anyway. I was tired and everyone was annoying me. The words, I realize, are slightly more-than-inspired by The Cure’s “Babble,” a B-side to “Fascination Street.” It was also published. But as I eventually learned, not really. I entered it into a World of Poetry Foundation “contest” and was awarded an Honorable Mention. I think that’s what it was called. I couldn’t find it with a quick search. Anway, all “winners” were invited to include it in their anthology, which we had to pay for. I eventually realized that I was sucked into the world of vanity presses. I still have my book. It’s HUGE. Seriously. Crazily heavy thing that I can’t seem to get rid of. That book is my albatross. Heh.

I look forward to sitting down and really figuring out all the projects I can work on. This show will continue to stay with me. And I’ll tell you all about it right here. But please, do other things with your life while waiting for it. I wouldn’t want to deprive you of fulfillment.

While I’m here, I thought I’d mention that I heard Ron Padgett on A Prairie Home Companion this morning. He read from his latest poetry book, How to be Perfect. I may have to pick it up. That can be my way of supporting poetry for April. Yay.

It’s a beautiful day in the SB. Vienna Teng plays, and I’m feeling the call of my front porch. Be well.

Cure Bound!!!

cure-4tour.jpg

In case there’s anyone out there who does not know already, The Cure is my ultimate favorite band in the universe and beyond. When they announced their North American tour for this past fall, my friend Nikki and I snatched up Main Floor tix for the Chicago show. But then they postponed the tour for spring. My worst fear came to fruition when the new Chicago date would not work for me. At all. Will be slightly out of town then.

BUT with the new schedule, they added more US dates. This morning, I hopped into the Cleveland pre-sale and snatched up a single ticket. Yeah, I’m going by myself. As much as I’d love to go with Nikki, she didn’t want to go to both, as she has to save money for stalking Duran Duran :-) . My best friend, Chris, WILL be going to the Chicago show (we ended up getting different sets of tix based on limits). So, I’m like, I’ll go myself to Cleveland if I have to.

I can’t not go. Not an option. It’s been four years, and who the hell knows when the NEXT time will be. We’re still not sure when the next ALBUM will be out. Latest I heard was early June….

Ticketmaster kept spitting out Lower Level, which woulda been find and all. But with a little patience, I landed a 13th row ticket! 13th row for their 13th album. Left side, I think Porl’s side. I’m SOOO excited! Their music has been so integral to my being for almost 20 years (I was a pre-Disintegration era convert). Cure fans get obsessive. I’ll proudly own up to it.

This will be my 6th Cure show. 1992, 1996, 2000 (twice, including 2nd row in Detroit!), and 2004. Could’ve gone in 1989, but I was stupid and didn’t take my other friend, Chris, up on the offer.

Some day I may post deeper thoughts on various songs, albums, etc. Would be a cool personal project.

Currently listening to Mixed Up in celebration. I realized I never got around to ripping it into my iTunes. Crazy!

*Joy.*