Songs Of A Lost World – Two Grief Songs for End Times

This week we got a sneak preview of the upcoming Cure album when the band gave two new songs an airing in their first gig back since the pandemic began. This is courtesy of phone footage posted on YouTube – not generally something I watch, but I will make an exception for this occasion (and I really recommend the best this can get – it’s worth checking out the well put together Multicam take of a Cure gig in Lodz from October 2016).

So here’s two clips that are about the least bad of the bad audio, and some tentative transcriptions of lyrics – I spent some time on studio headphones doing a draft, then compared that to other people’s takes, and finally settled on what I thought was the most likely wording – but don’t expect it to be error-free.

Chosen for relative audio quality – phone recordings are far from ideal but it’s all we’ve got for now

ALONE

This is the end of every song that we sing
The fire burnt out to ash
And the stars grown dim with tears
Cold and afraid
The ghosts of all that we’ve been
We toast (/ we’re tossed) with bitter dregs
(To our emptiness ?)

And the birds falling out of our sky
And the words falling out of our minds
And here’s to love, so much love
Falling out of our lives
Hopes and dreams are gone
The end of every song

But it all stops
And I prefer that we would never change
It all stops
We always thought that we would stay the same
But it all stops
When we close our eyes to sleep
To dream a boy (unknown / and girl) who dream
a world is nothing but a dream

Where did it go?
Where did it go?
?Broken voiced lament to call us home

This is the end of every song that we sing
Where did it go?
Where did it go?


Where did it go?
Where did it go?
?Broken voiced lament to call us home
This is the end of every song that we sing
Alone

This is such an applicable song about the grief of good things ending. You can as easily read it for a marriage breaking down despite the good elements that were in it, as you could for the confrontation with a terminal diagnosis, or dementia, or estrangement from family or friends, or a number of other situations.

But above all, read big-picture, it’s the reckoning we have as we get into the final decades of life, when our bodies start to seriously fall apart, vision and hearing go south, health struggles encroach, we find ourselves attending more and more funerals of relatives and friends, we’ve seen the landscapes of our youth raped and pillaged and forests we once walked in disappear, we’ve seen too many cycles of politics and bureaucracy and human frailty to have any serious hope for the comprehensive change that’s needed for amending our broken societies, and we now see the planet itself in ecological and climate breakdown as a result of our industrial civilisation, consumer culture and toxic political and decision-making systems.

It’s a song for all of us who have gone from being idealistic teenagers hopeful that we could change the world for the better, to being mid-lifers and beyond who realise that the changes we could make and that we lost so much blood, sweat and tears over were only a fraction of what was really needed. And in a world where I rarely feel represented by a politician or organisation or someone else higher up in the hierarchy, I often feel represented by our wordsmiths and musicians and painters, including this band, and this song. It’s a song we wish didn’t have to be written, but it is necessary and it is honest, and it applies ultimately to each and every one of us.

Chosen for relative audio quality – phone recordings are far from ideal but it’s all we’ve got for now

ENDSONG

Yeah, I’m outside in the dark
Staring at the blood red moon
Remembering the hopes the dreams I had
and all I had to do

And wondering what became of that boy
and the world he called his own
Yeah, I’m outside in the dark
wondering how I got so old

It’s all gone, it’s all gone
Nothing left of all I love
All feels lost

It’s all gone, it’s all gone, it’s all gone
No hopes, no dreams, no more
I don’t belong
I don’t belong here anymore

It’s all gone, it’s all gone
I will lose myself in time
It won’t be long

It’s all gone, it’s all gone, it’s all gone
Left alone with nothing
(at) the end of every song
Left alone with nothing
(at) the end of every song
Left alone with nothing
Nothing, nothing
Nothing

Continuing the general theme – this is a more specific reflection on mortality, which I may look at in more detail when the album comes out. Musically, as far as I can tell from the murky audios of both clips – which will be to the real thing like a grey-scale distorted photocopy of a painting – I prefer this number as it has more energy and complexity than the first. Which is not to say the first is uninteresting – and I really can’t say much more, other than that I suspect there is huge tonal beauty in the foregrounded guitar in this track, and the usual string-quartet-type interplay typical of my favourite songs by this band. Also, these songs feature an additional guitarist/keyboardist to fill out the sound, and I am looking forward to listening to the studio tracks, or at least a decent live recording of this, on headphones before too long.

I will say that I am very fond of lengthy pieces which start out as beautifully atmospheric drawn-out instrumentals long before you get any words – unusual overall, but not for this band – see also Watching Me Fall, Plainsong, Fear of Ghosts, Trust, If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, Fascination Street, The Kiss, Other Voices, The Big Hand, A Chain Of Flowers, On The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea etc. I think I’m going to really love this one when I hear it properly; I’m already enjoying what I am hearing (as much as that’s possible on murky audio). Songs like this are exactly unlike the three-minute-wonder mainstream radio songs I grew up with and largely disliked from my youth for various reasons (although there is the odd good one). In music as in life, I prefer slow food prepared with love and seasonal ingredients to generic fast food hamburgers (which mostly aren’t food at all).

But now I will turn to a more serious reflection:

WHY WE NEED SONGS LIKE THESE

So why do we need coal-black dirges like this in our musical lives?

Because we are human, and because each and every one of us faces intensely difficult emotions and situations in our lives. Because while life is often beautiful, it is also frequently painful, and when we sit in the coal-black cellars of agony and despair, art like this can be a friend in need to us. Music especially has a deep reach because it can go beyond mere words and speak to us on a deeper level. Many of us do not derive comfort from religions with myths of individual afterlives, divine plans and ultimate love and justice. What we see is what we get, and the messes we make are our own responsibility, individually and collectively. Many will be treated with terrible injustice and there won’t be a knight in shining armour, it’s all down to us, and our reach exceeds our grasp, and many do not care.

An honest song about grief and pain is an acknowledgement of what all of us face, often on a regular basis; in a culture which often represses difficult emotions and airbrushes them as much as possible from the public discourse and private conversations. Toxic positivity has become a thing – there are people who will refuse to look at the cloud and who focus only on the silver linings, and who insist others do the same. They refuse to ever admit to and sit with their own difficult feelings, and this is not honest, nor is it brave.

Emotional repression has many faces. It may be cultural, as with the British stiff upper lip (and please note The Cure is a British band, and that I see them as a corrective). Or, it may be to do with traumatic experiences. For example, I have complex PTSD – as do many people, and some don’t even know it. All my life I could cry at the drop of a hat over someone else’s pain, but I would freeze up over my own. I would feel physically awful instead – and I can’t tell you how awful, how dismally sick, with the nausea of the thing I could not express, could not let out. The pain would somaticise – but it was so, so hard to ever get it out – and when you did, you’d be seriously afraid you would never stop crying or that you’d not be able to get up in the morning, or ever again.

For those unfamiliar with the coping strategies very small children adopt in families where they experience repeated terror and lack of warm connection, imagine a Great Wall Of China that goes up in the little brain, behind which all the difficult feelings are shoved because you don’t have the time or adult mentorship to process them, and you need to survive from crisis to crisis and grow up and get out of there. So you then become an adult with a lot of bottled-up difficult emotions from early childhood that you typically may not even be able to access (at least initially), but may be vaguely aware of as a black hole it is dangerous to go too near to. And you often become an adult who may habitually place some new difficult feelings behind a wall in their head.

Music, books, movies and visual art have always been very helpful for me for encouraging free thought and emotion, for processing these, and in navigating emotional expression of difficult things at least by proxy. If I can begin with understanding and feeling it for someone or something else, I might be able to continue down that road and finally understand and feel it for myself as well. For those of you who had warm primary caregiver connections and not too many traumatic experiences, this may seem backwards, and it is. We usually start with ourselves and then understand others are like this too. But some of us have to start with others, and then understand that we are like that too.

So I still often need songs or poems or movies to free me to shed my tears over my own grief – starting with the empathy for others in that situation and eventually getting close to my own situations and feelings. I hesitate to use the word that just floated in my head, emotional emetic – it isn’t a good description, but it points a little. We need help sometimes to break down that wall behind which our feelings may be trapped. If we don’t let those come out they will make us sick inside and will make us suffer all the worse.

The thing with grief is that it needs to be lived and processed, and that it comes at us as a regular feature of life. There are so many losses of significant things in our collective lived experience over the human life span – including relationship break-up, estrangement, the warm childhood you didn’t have, the warm love you didn’t experience, the general continuity or employment security you didn’t have in the age of the precariat, loss of good health and peak physical appearance, loss of friends, the deaths of those you love, loss of hopes and dreams, grief for species extinctions, ecocide and the desecration of our planet.

At the same time we live in an age of atomisation of the human community, where many of us have fewer mutually helpful connections to others than was the norm half a century earlier, and we have a mental health epidemic from that and other insane stresses caused by our toxic societies. Yet our brains are geared for the small-tribe living of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and we still have that instinct for expression through music and dance, and the appreciation of a village for a good bard who can write us songs and poems that help us make sense of our lives.

The Cure have been presenting us with songs like this for decades, and have just given us another two. And I am grateful for all the wordsmiths, musicians, visual and other artists, who have been doing this for me since I could read a sentence, hear music, look at paintings, etc. Their true worth to our villages is much greater than what many residing in the neoliberal power hierarchies understand, and is an antidote to their poison.

BOILING FROGS AND THE VELVETEEN RABBIT

Just a thought I had, and it’s a difficult one to voice, and about physical decline. Robert Smith wrote about the ghosts of all that we’ve been – a multi-layer reference, but I just wanted to apply that to my particular thought for a moment. People age differently, for genetic and environmental reasons (and environment includes lifestyle, which is why the super-serious exercisers in this band seem to have fared particularly well). Sadly it seems the singer got a short straw in some respects for whatever reasons, and because we tend to watch concerts from every era, and because he’s always been so hyper-visual, this can give us a jolt. Just as it can give me a jolt these days to look at my favourite set of formal photos of me taken at age 29. We experience it ourselves as frogs being brought slowly to the boil, but time-lapse comparisons like that are like being dropped in boiling water. It’s one of the losses we will to a greater or lesser degree grieve, for ourselves and others.

But I did want to revisit a very, very, very important concept related to all of this, for people to think about. ♥

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

AND ON A LIGHTER NOTE

Oh and – sorry to be so un-weighty, but did Jason Cooper and Perry Bamonte renew a brotherly bond by sharing Goldilocks hair dye? I think it’s fair to say they were the top contenders for the Best Hair award of the evening – very glam and gravity-defying. And probably Jason Cooper won that one with his voluminous and complex construction. It had me wondering was it real or something that can be taken off and machine washed afterwards. 🙂

Nice to see them back on a stage. Loved the backdrops and their relevance to the topics in the new songs. Pictures too can speak a thousand words, especially when they become part of a quasi guided musical meditation. More than ever we need reminding to look beyond our personal and societal bubbles, out at the universe in which we live, and at the blue planet with the fragile biosphere we are collectively destroying with our toxic modern civilisations. Look and contemplate, and perchance see why we must care.

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