Exploring the Back Catalogue (ctd)

October 1, 2020

THE CROWD AND THE TEA-LEAVES

We may get some more tangents to delight in on this scenic road, but meanwhile I’m just going to link to a web page where a crowd was asked what In Between Days was all about.  I usually avoid such places like the plague, especially if I’m going to write about music that’s new to me – I want to just start with what I can see from cold, and work out from first principles myself, before consulting others for their interpretations – and said web pages are not usually renowned for high-quality comments – which is why I prefer to talk to my husband, friends and other music nutters about it.

There’s 57 comments currently in the link, espousing various theories, ranging from the very far-fetched to interpretations for which there is a bit more evidence – but it’s a tea-leafy kind of song, which could fit various situations more or less well.  @Ulrich tends to make the point that a bit of tea-leafiness is an advantage for adapting a song to a particular circumstance a listener would like it to be about, so that they can borrow it for their own lives, so to speak.  I’ll go further sometimes myself, and deliberately bend a song in my own ears so that I can appropriate it for something that quite obviously isn’t its intended theme, point of view etc (shameless, I know  :kissing_smiling_eyes:).

Most of the crowd commenting on this one did read it as a human-relationships song, and most of those thought that there were three parties involved (as items or otherwise), all of which were presumably human.  There’s I, her and you.  The exact relationship between them is murky, but the general impression most people seem to be getting is of some sort of love triangle, whether directly, or old flame versus rebound partner / this week’s distraction / etc; things like that.

There was one theory in the crowd that the narrating I was Robert Smith personally and not a persona, and you was in fact Simon Gallup, and that the last track of the previous album had also been about him (“…please come back, like all the other ones do…“), and that the first track of this next album continued with this theme, and celebrated his return.  He went on to say that her is Mary (and not the cat’s mother), after which I needed brain bleach when contemplating the chorus, whether figuratively or literally. :1f635:

Brett said to me last night, “Well, you know, you’re jumping to conclusions that they’re all human.  Maybe it’s one person and their multiple personalities.  Or two people and something personified – maybe she is a bottle of vodka, with which the narrator is having a close relationship.  In fact, maybe the protagonist is living alone, and she is the bottle of vodka, and you is the bottle of beer.”  (He also wanted me to clarify that he doesn’t just worship at the altar of Saint Dawkins, but has a thing for Thor as well.  I noticed in day-to-day life that he also mentions Baal quite frequently, particularly around fundamentalist Christians :beaming-face).

@word_on_a_wing is invoking another realm altogether to try to put this puzzle together in a satisfactory way. 

Speaking of puzzles, that’s part of the reason I find thinking about these lyrics rather grating.  I usually enjoy a good puzzle, but something that frustrates me no end is if I borrow a 1000-piece jigsaw from the library, and find out at the end that there’s missing pieces.   :1f629:  Of course, this may just be some people’s ideas of training you for reality:  Puzzles that can’t be solved in a satisfactory way.  Maybe they’re even sitting there sniggering about how this is going to annoy the people who are concerning themselves with these puzzles.  :evil:

Another thing I rather dislike is doing a “blind” puzzle that turns out, as you put it together, to be a photo of an infected toenail, or hippopotamus droppings, or a syphilitic chancre, or something equally delightful.  :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:  Lyrical equivalents, to me, are songs where people apparently blithely treat someone, or each other, badly.  And regardless of this point, songs or other texts about people’s torrid affairs, threesomes, foursomes, someone’s orgy or S&M session hanging off a ceiling don’t get an enthusiastic reception from me either, especially if there’s no metacommentary or other means of making an interesting point going on – you know, like the inevitable brainless car chase in a mainstream American movie.  :1f634:

While there are indeed many different ways in which the tea-leaves that’s the lyrics to In Between Days could be read, none that I’ve encountered seem particularly satisfactory – something doesn’t quite fit, and the scenarios are all pretty unpalatable to me.  I’m not intrinsically opposed to break-up songs or relationship-difficulty songs, but for various reasons, this one seems to be straight out of OMG-ville – which is a pity, because musically it’s such a lovely, effervescent number, plus I really don’t enjoy discussing why I don’t enjoy something (although I’ll try to paint a detailed picture).  :1f62d:

I would like to draw attention to the much improved treatment of this general topic on Bloodflowers, after a decade and a half of further evolution.  The songs on this album are far less tea-leafy, and the lyrics so much more thoughtful.  Both There Is No If and The Loudest Sound are in my view excellent contributions to the discussion of human relationships – they’re not surface froth, they foster understanding and empathy, they’re evocative and a whole bunch of other good things…

October 3, 2020

While we’re talking about lyrics, I want to put in a little sample bracket from Suzanne Vega, who’s one of our favourite lyricists (and musicians) – neither of us can think of anything she’s written that we found annoying or unsatisfactory, right from the start. This is from her debut album, released 1985, like the Cure album I’ve been discussing.

She’s mostly a storyteller lyrically, but her writing is incredibly evocative, swimming in imagery and filled with astute observations. Take this apparently simple sketch of a morning visit to a coffee shop – the opener to her second album:

As a teenager I found these songs immediately arresting, and a wonderful contrast to what was generally being played on the radio in the 1980s. Brett too took to this in high school, and one of the things we had in common when we met is having a lot of Suzanne Vega albums we played frequently.

The title track off the second album was the kind that gave me major goosebumps when I first heard it, and 30 years later it still has this effect on me. It’s one of her more well-known songs:

We listened to this album start to finish the other day and were once again bowled over with how good every single song on it is. The lyrics are hypnotic, the music diverse, the singing and instrumental playing unrelentingly outstanding.

Here’s a song about a summer romance she had as a young person with a fellow Leonard Cohen fan when working at a summer camp (she isn’t shy about telling live audiences the back stories to her songs):

You will hear yourself in song blowing by one day – the imp. 

Let’s go out with a dark number about not giving up your spirit under duress:

…there’s so, so many fabulous songs by this artist, but I’m going to restrain myself and end this bracket. 

And I’m going to finish with one of the many Cure songs which I think are in that same league lyrically as the Hermione of song. 


October 15, 2020

I’ve been procrastinating looking at more lyrics from The Head On The Door but here goes – the music was already discussed separately before and the lyrics of the first track the post after that.  The second track:

KYOTO SONG

A nightmare of you
Of death in the pool
Wakes me up at quarter to three
I’m lying on the floor of the night before
With a stranger lying next to me

A nightmare of you
Of death in the pool…
I see no further now than this dream
The trembling hand of the trembling man
Hold my mouth
To hold in a scream

I try to think
To make it slow
If only here
Is where I go
If this is real
I have to see
I turn on fire
And next to me…
It looks good!
It tastes like nothing on earth
It looks good!
It tastes like nothing on earth
It’s so smooth!
It even feels like skin

It tells me how it feels to be new

It tells me how it feels to be new
A thousand voices whisper it true
It tells me how it feels to be new
And every voice belongs
Every voice belongs to you

So here’s something of a choose-your-own-adventure story – what if anything the writer particularly intended this to be about (if it was even supposed to be about something specific) is unclear, although in interviews Robert Smith apparently said that the song was partically inspired by a nightmare of his wife drowning.  From that starting point, one of the happiest interpretations of the rest of the song is the narrator waking up, realising it’s a nightmare, finding his beloved alive and in fact next to him (the floor of the night before could be falling asleep on a rug in front of a fireplace – it doesn’t have to be a post-intoxication scenario, but of course it could be), and seeing and appreciating her afresh, as we often will when we feared something was lost but then mercifully find it still with us.  It’s one thing that can shock you out of taking someone you love for granted even slightly – like taking their continued existence for granted, which is usually our working hypothesis in day-to-day life, if we’re not always aware of our own mortality.

The one thing that seems to contraindicate the above interpretation is that the person lying next to the narrator is “a stranger” – although of course there’s several ways you could make that still fit, like the common scenario of not instantly recognising your surroundings when you wake up from a nightmare, or reflecting that there are things we don’t know even about people we think we know really well.

Or maybe it is literally a stranger – maybe it’s a casual fling on the side, or maybe someone (else) substance intoxicated (from the night before) – search me.  If it’s the former, then maybe it’s a song about an open relationship, with each others’ blessing – and that then affects how you read It tells me how it feels to be new / A thousand voices whisper it true / It tells me how it feels to be new / And every voice belongs / Every voice belongs to you.  (And I can’t in my own head make that sufficiently fit any other kind of actual stranger, but if you can, pipe up please.)

Other people have mooted that it’s about cannibalism, or about a girlfriend who drowned in a pool being replaced by a sex doll in the aftermath of the bereaved narrator’s life.  One of the more interesting interpretations I saw on the Internet was this:

This song is about hedonism and even self-destructiveness and avoiding dealing with your fears. It’s written in a surreal way, but he’s basically grasping at things that give him pleasant sensations, and trying to block out unpleasant things. The first verse shows that these unpleasant thoughts creep in through his dreams, and they scare him and leave him trembling. Ultimately, he cannot get past these fears, as he is avoiding them when awake by focusing on physical pleasures. So it ends up being that his real life is like a dream, but his dreams show the reality of his life.

from https://songmeanings.com/songs/view/7545/

This particular interpretation would tie in with what’s been said about this particular studio album being a “drug-free album” (see https://genius.com/albums/The-cure/The-head-on-the-door) – which would then perhaps offer a bit of hindsight about the kind of stuff discussed in the quote above.

As I said, choose your own adventure with this one.  I do think the allusions to the voices are very spookily effective, whichever way you choose to read this one.

In the course of looking for background to this album, I found several interesting links on the Genius website above which others may enjoy reading –  extracts of interviews with various band members on these matters, from 1986, 1992, 1993 and 2000 respectively:

http://www.musicfanclubs.org/cure/press/I102.html
http://www.musicfanclubs.org/cure/press/I10.html
http://www.musicfanclubs.org/cure/press/A11.html
http://www.musicfanclubs.org/cure/press/medicine.html

Enjoy. ;)

October 15, 2020

THE BLOOD

Tell me who doesn’t love
What can never come back
You can never forget how it used to feel
The illusion is deep
It’s as deep as the night
I can tell by your tears you remember it all
I am paralyzed by the blood of Christ
Though it clouds my eyes
I can never stop

How it feels to be dry
Walking bare in the sun
Every mirage I see is a mirage of you
As I cool in the twilight
Taste the salt on my skin
I recall all the tears
All the broken words

I am paralyzed by the blood of Christ
Though it clouds my eyes
I can never stop

When the sunsets glow drifts away from you
You’ll no longer know
If any of this was really true at all

If it seems a bit weird to have an atheist writing about the blood of Christ, consider this: 

In a fanzine, Robert Smith said “The Blood” was written about “a Portuguese drink called ‘The Tears Of Christ’. I drank a bottle and this came out.”

When he was asked if he was aware that in America, The Cure were being labeled Satanic because the lyrics to “The Blood” were supposedly being sung to the Devil, Smith responded: “I believe in neither the Devil or God, so it’s bollocks!”

from https://genius.com/The-cure-the-blood-lyrics

On the first point, an aside:  Why is there this public misconception about “drugs and alcohol” when the latter is a subset of the former?  It’s like when people talk about “birds and animals” grrr.  It’s so untidy when people get categories confused like this. (End taxonomic rant.  :P  If this makes no sense to you, read the previous post…)

On the second point: Typical American reaction, and preoccupation. :1f635:  They’re so holy that more than 40% of them still think it’s a good idea for a misogynistic, white supremacist, cheating, lying, intellectually vacuous, completely vile narcissist to run their country.   :1f635: :1f631:   Just as long as he makes abortion illegal, they’d vote for the devil himself.  And isn’t it funny how a human embryo is sacred, but a homeless person isn’t – they deserve what they get, apparently.   :evil:

I well remember in the 1980s the preoccupation various religious nitwits had with “subliminal programming” in music.  “If you run the tape backwards it says to worship Baal!”  (Big deal.)  One of my classmates back then wouldn’t do the music project for English because he didn’t want to be contaminated… he refused to listen to any popular music for that reason and would go to the library while the rest of the class got on with their presentations.  His father read his books for him and put paper clips on the “bad” sections so he wouldn’t have to see them.  (When I asked how come his father could do that, he said his father didn’t believe in God and was going to hell anyway.   :1f632:)

But I digress.  Back to the lyrics, which leave me somewhat underwhelmed.  I had a housemate once in sunny London who drank herself under the table solo every Friday night if the other girls had gone out without her before she got home.  I was home Friday nights, since I was on a working holiday and that was my time slot for recording notes about architecture, visits to museums and art galleries, general impressions etc into my journal – my treat after a week of toil.  :P 

Anyway, I’d a thousand times rather spend my Friday nights like that, than go out to drink myself legless, shag strangers, and be hung over half the weekend.  I had other hobbies.  But I would keep my housemate and her inevitable bottle of wine company for a while if the others had gone out without her.  I’d have half a glass to be sociable, and observe the same pattern every such Friday:  Progressive variations in mood as the level of the bottle went down.  After the first glass, she became more chatty, and subsequent glasses would describe a trajectory from happy and laughing to maudlin and despondent, and then, when the bottle was empty, she would pass out, and I’d get her quilt from upstairs and wrap her in it because I worried she might expire from hypothermia after the central heating went off at midnight.

So after that bottle of the Tears of Christ, had our writer reached the maudlin stage, by any chance?  Just wondering.  The tone sort of matches.  It’s not badly written, it’s just a bit like my ex-housemate used to be after three or four glasses of wine.  There is this inevitability about it, to me – but that’s just how it strikes me.  I’ve got a fair bit of Italian DNA and never understood why it is that a fair few English background people don’t seem to enter into emotions very much until they’re somewhat intoxicated…but then it can become kind of predictable.  Personally I can’t walk in a straight line after half a glass of wine, but at that level my moods aren’t affected, while my Anglo husband gets all giggly and expansive after one standard drink – which I can’t have because I’d just fall over on the spot – I’ve got a lot of super-sensitive reactions to various chemicals, including alcohol, paracetamol (both just make me keel over), artificial fragrances (instant headaches and nausea), polyester (skin rashes, can’t wear it), something in ripe bananas (blisters my oral lining instantly), etc etc etc.  But some of the moods some people seem to only enter while intoxicated are sort of standard emotional repertoire for me.  I can laugh myself silly without alcohol, ditto weep, get thoughtful and contemplative, or even hit a black hole, etc – and I know other people who are like this too – but maybe we’re aliens who got snuck into the hospital cots, who knows.  (Or maybe it’s a Mediterranean thing…)

I just found some more information on that wine, by Robert Smith himself:

It’s a very cheap Portuguese wine, it’s a very heavy drink that all the workers drink… it’s about 12p a bottle. I was given a bottle of it and I drank it, and I noticed the label, which is the Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus under one arm and a bottle in the other hand. It was completely brilliant. […] I was convinced I was Portuguese, I just sank into this reverie of being a Portuguese flamenco guitarist.

from https://genius.com/The-cure-the-blood-lyrics

I’m still keeping the PMI technique (applied earlier to a playthrough of the whole album) in mind as I’m taking a magnifying glass to the lyrics – it encourages you to look from different angles, to look for positive things but also feel free to raise problems, and things that don’t sit quite right with you (and why), and importantly, to endeavour to look more neutrally if you can, so that not everything is “good” or “bad” etc, and just point out some things you notice from that more neutral viewpoint.

From the perspective of lyrics, I don’t take naturally to many of the songs on this album – which is very different to how my first listen to Bloodflowers went – those lyrics are far more mature and thoughtful, and I found it easy to relate to most of them personally.  On The Head On The Door I find a number of things irritating, sort of like walking around with little stones in your shoes while trying to enjoy the scenery.  That’s why I’m doing PMI instead of just throwing my hands up in the air and getting exasperated (though this may still happen on occasions before I’m done).

So, let’s look again, and closely, from the beginning, this time also perhaps imagining how the Dalai Lama might read this piece – bring patience, kindness, and a sympathetic listen to it.  (A good technique if you’re switched off for some reason.)

Tell me who doesn’t love
What can never come back
You can never forget how it used to feel

…you may never truly know what you have until you lose it, etc – although you can learn to look, reflect, consciously appreciate.

Balanced against this, from a set of lyrics by another band, “You glorify the past when the future dries up” – we can see this at funerals – the exaggeration of the positive aspects of the narrative, the rose-tinted nostalgia.  People are funny critters.  Take something away and it’s the most precious thing in the world, even though previously it was perhaps taken for granted – or perhaps it was actually not that great at all…  The grass is greener on the side of the fence we can’t get to, and so on.

The illusion is deep
It’s as deep as the night
I can tell by your tears you remember it all
I am paralyzed by the blood of Christ
Though it clouds my eyes
I can never stop

How it feels to be dry
Walking bare in the sun
Every mirage I see is a mirage of you
As I cool in the twilight
Taste the salt on my skin
I recall all the tears
All the broken words

I am paralyzed by the blood of Christ
Though it clouds my eyes
I can never stop

When the sunsets glow drifts away from you
You’ll no longer know
If any of this was really true at all

On a simple level, you could just read the blood of Christ as a straight metaphor for alcohol, for what that bottle of wine did to the writer’s perspective.  Though it clouds my eyes, I can never stop will then be read with a corresponding slant – ditto How it feels to be dry, and the last stanza.

Or, you could look at the blood of Christ more literally – the narration would also work for a person reflecting on lost faith in a world view they were raised with.  I’ve listened to a fair few podcasts of people telling stories about that, and the deep grief many of them have at the loss of what they now see as just fairytales – the sadness that there is no loving higher being, no justice or consolation in the long run, no ultimate happy ending for someone who died abused and unhappy, no ever-expanding opportunities for learning and growing, you’ll never see those who died again, you’ll never read even half the books you want to, or get good at more than a small fraction of the things you’d love to learn.  (But don’t let that stuff make you give up! ♥)

You could layer things further, and see one of those scenarios being described in terms of the other, with deliberate parallels.

Or, it could be about something else, like a situation specific to the narrator, sketched in terms that also work for other scenarios.  I’m not going to speculate further, and if you want a cross-section of what other people are thinking, there’s stuff here and other places online.  One thoughtful take from there:

This might be a good example of why artists shouldn’t answer questions about what a song, or line, is about. They often explain the inspiration for the song, but rarely ramble on about what the song means. Sure, “the blood of Christ” line was inspired by a drink called “The Tears of Christ”. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the lyrics are just the random, meaningless thoughts of Robert Smith when he was drunk. It belittles the lyrics to claim that.

I can’t fit everything together, but there is a lot of interesting stuff here. Obviously, the chorus can be taken in a religious sense. A Christian realizes that he has been blinded by his own religion, but knows that he can’t give it up. On the same note, the verse including “walking bare in the sun” seems reminiscent of Christ spending forty days and nights in the desert and being tempted by Satan.

Can you really attribute the first verse to simply drinking wine? It is really great stuff. This verse could be about how we look at distant relationships through rose-colored glasses. Like how a child of divorced parents will “hate” the custodial parent, but think that the distant parent is great, even though they never see them. In this case, there was apparently a break-up, but he still has the illusion that everything was great. He is blinded to the truth but can’t help it. However he later “recalls all the tears” and “broken words”. This brings into question the narrator’s very concept of reality: “You’ll no longer know if any of this was really true at all…”

These are just my ideas. Songs like this are great because they are so open to personal interpretation by the listener. I wish there was more of that on this website.

Quote

And just as a closing aside, if you’d like to read a novel written from the point of view of a bottle of wine (and I’ve only ever come across one), may I recommend the rather charming Blackberry Wine, by Joanne Harris (the UK version, not the re-written US version!).  :cool

PS:  Spending time with this song really helped me appreciate it better, but I know I’m going to get exasperated with the next song.

…will be continued shortly…

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