Exploring the Back Catalogue: 4:13 Dream & Socrates in the Marketplace

March 12, 2020

4:13 DREAM (continued)

So, why would a song dealing with a suicide sound rather upbeat?  It’s not the first song on that general theme by this band; Cut Here is more what you’d expect, a reminder that you can miss the clues (if any) and then it’s too late, and the regret of that, which I’m sure a few of us have experienced by now.  But The Reasons Why is far more edgy.

Somewhere, a while back, I read a moronic, very short review of 4:13 Dream, where the reviewer was assuming that the song was Robert Smith being some kind of gothic drama queen, and as per that stereotype, crooning about his own potential suicide.  If you look up the lyrics on genius.com, it does have a note that this is about an actual suicide note sent to Robert Smith by someone he knew, way back in 1987.

So the first thing I thought was, why would you take an edgy tone about something like that?  Especially if the person succeeded?

Here’s an anecdote.  A friend of mine who lives nearby is an incredibly good listener and a compassionate, thoughtful, highly informed person, and so she gets a lot of people discussing their problems with her.  When that’s a balanced thing, that’s OK.  But she had this one person who was starting to really load her up, to the point she’d ring her in the middle of the night, during the kinds of hours most people are in bed, when distraught people actually have the option of calling a range of helplines.  On being asked to ring during reasonable hours and presented with alternative sources of support, she started threatening my friend that she was going to get in her car and jump off The Gap, a popular local suicide spot.  Now that was manipulative and nasty, and if I had to write a poem about that, it would be edgy because of that.  You simply don’t treat people in this manner.  And if the person had gone and jumped, it would have been on her, and not on my friend, because it just doesn’t work this way.

That’s one possible reason for being edgy about something like this.  The details on the public record about the situation that gave rise to The Reasons Why are scant.  Was the suicide note actually sent to Robert Smith by the person who wrote it?  And if so, aren’t such notes traditionally just left in a place where they will be found later by connections, rather than sent to a particular individual?  The problem with sending something like that to a particular person is that it does put rather a burden on that person, by singling them out.  I guess it depends on the tone, and the previous communications between the two people, and the nature of their relationship.

So let’s have a look at the lyrics:

THE REASONS WHY

I won’t try to bring you down about my suicide
Got no need to understand about my big surprise
Oh I am falling through the sky
You remember this?
I am falling in their eyes
You remember the kiss?

I won’t try to bring you down about my suicide
Got no need to understand about my big surprise
I won’t beg to hang you up about my love of life
If you promise not to sing about the reasons why

I am writing you a letter
Getting better
Can I see you?
When…
All the lights go out together
Blame the weather
Yeah the cold again
In the darkness for a second
I am sure I see them smiling then
I feel them calling me
Yeah they are calling me

And I am falling through the stars
You remember now?
Yeah I am falling in their arms
You remember how?
Oh I am falling through the sky
You remember this ?
I am falling in their eyes
You remember the kiss?

I won’t try to pull you in about my sacrifice
Makes no sense to get upset about the other side
I won’t beg to put you out about my right to die
If you promise not to sing about the reasons why

I am calling you at midnight
Feeling alright…can I tell you?
When?
On the line no sound but my words
Must be night birds on the wire again
In the silence for a second
I am sure I hear them laughing then
I feel them calling me
Yeah they are calling me

And I am falling through the stars
You remember now?
Yeah I am falling in their arms
You remember how?
Oh I am falling through the sky
You remember this ?
I am falling in their eyes
You remember the kiss?

We know
They said
You’re holding on
To nothing left of something gone
We know
They said
In letting go
Of fear and dread
And all you know
You’ll lose the need of certainty
And make-believe eternity
To find the true reality
In beautiful infinity

But I won’t try to bring you down about my suicide
If you promise not to sing about the reasons why

There’s a lot going on, and much of it is rather inscrutable, especially the reference to the kiss.  But there’s also a lot to make you think.  Next time around, I’ll just annotate some thoughts onto the lyrics, but I’m leaving the copy above as is, so people can read it and get their own impressions first, without having to read mine.

One important thing when trying to make sense of what’s going on here is to remember that these lyrics aren’t just words on a page; they are sung with a certain kind of tone, which doesn’t sound particularly sympathetic or sad to me (unlike Cut Here).  It sounds somewhat annoyed to me, or at the very least, somewhat hammed up.  I don’t think this is straight grief over losing a friend – and perhaps this is not a friend, or at least not the sort that you could feel thoroughly good about in their lifetime.

Feel free to chime in with your own impressions.  I’ll get back to it next time.

March 25, 2020

Well, I started annotating the lyrics to The Reasons Why but wasn’t enjoying the process with this one, so I’m going to leave it.  I want to finish with this album so I can start listening to the two others that have arrived.

So, Freakshow.  It’s not a song I particularly enjoy, but it’s not the worst thing they’ve done either; however, it does contain one of the worst guitar sounds that ever came out of The Cure – that bit in the middle that sounds like a dentist’s drill.  :1f632:

And so to the lyrics:

FREAKSHOW

I can’t believe it, I must be dreaming
She turns the sound down
Says, “I am heaving
This is a freakshow”

…did someone not appreciate the narrator’s musical taste / TV programme?   :winking_tongue   This is actually very funny!  Both the over-the-top comment, and the narrator’s disbelief at the situation.  And while this could be a million scenarios, it’s very funny to imagine it as a husband-wife interaction.  :lol:  There’s this sense of throwing down the gauntlet here.

And I am screaming
She spins the world round
I want to stop
Bittersweet again
Her opening move
Down and out in black
Soft shiny and smooth
Looks like the alien
Crowd got groove
She burns her name into my arm
But I can never get through
To play the game
She’s trying to lose
Her ultraviolet makes it
Harder to choose

Mmm, tealeaves again.  Opening move to what?  A metaphorical dance?  The references to ultraviolet and the alien crowd are pretty impenetrable.  Ultraviolet to me personally has connotations of danger – because it burns you and causes skin cancer, so it’s a rather unfriendly part of the spectrum of light.  But, that doesn’t remotely mean any such connotation was intended by the author.  All I’m really getting here is the fuzzy sense that this is some kind of murky relationship interaction / commentary.

Looks like the edge
Of the earth got moved
She blurs a way across the floor
I spin to swallow the view
And it’s the same sway
Yeah, it’s the same slide
It’s the same stare, oh
It’s the same smile
Yeah, it’s the same but
It’s not quite right
Oh, it’s insane
She shakes like a freak
Stuck in the middle
Of the room for a week

Looks like the only way
To get on the beat
Is take her up on how to swing
But I am missing my feet
And it’s the same sway
Yeah, it’s the same slide
It’s the same stare, oh
It’s the same smile
Yeah, it’s the same but
It’s not quite right
I’m in a step, out
She two more steps down
For three steps up, clap
And go around, ow

Still some sort of metaphorical dance – or maybe this is some kind of preliminary courtship ritual?  :angel

It makes my head buzz
She wants to come now
I try to stop
Always infra dig her
Finishing move
Up and down in black
Soft shiny and smooth
Looks like the alien
Crowd got groove
She cuts a number out my arm
But I can never get through
To play this game
She’s trying to lose
The stuff from Mars
Makes it harder to choose

I remember when I first listened to this, joking to a friend, “What is this about?  Kinky sex?  Or just walking the dog?”  Clearly not about walking the dog.  There’s something rather off-balance here though.

Looks like the final frontier got moved
She blurs a way across the floor
I spin to swallow the view
And it’s the same sway
Yeah, it’s the same slide
It’s the same strip, oh
It’s the same smile
Yeah, it’s the same
But it’s not quite right
I can’t believe it, I must be dreaming
She turns the lights up
Says she is leaving
This is a freakshow

And I am beaten
She spins the world round

So – what?  The choice of music / viewing was objected to, there was some kind of bizarre courtship ritual that may or may not have involved actual dancing, or maybe it’s a metaphor, there was some kind of consummation, and then the woman says, “Wham-bam thankyou mister, I’m going now!”?  …and it looks like she won that round, anyway.  And that the narrator kinda likes her spinning the world around.

Your guess is as good as mine.  Feel free to help me out here!

Oh heck, while I’m here I may as well address a few other songs, so I can get this over with.  Sirensong is not the kind of song I get the urge to listen to over and over; I find it musically middling, and if I had to express how much I relate to its lyrics, I would have to use negative numbers.  This time the lyrics aren’t inscrutable, and I find some of the ideas in it thoroughly offputting.  It’s not that I don’t think men get attracted to women, and vice versa, and other combinations, but it’s the bilge that goes with it in some popular songs that I don’t like.  This whole “she had me in her magic spell” concept is just so cheap, to me, as if you’re not a free agent, as if we’ve not moved on from the idea of women as temptresses or “uncovered meat” – Australians will understand the reference, famously made by a particularly daft imam – not that all imams are daft, but this one was, about women, and about men not accepting responsibility for their own sexual desires, and I’m disappointed Robert Smith is blowing out of that same old jaded horn.  “And I was tricked,” my backside, unless it’s a reference to sexual biochemistry, in which case I’ll pass it – but not if it’s another limp reiteration of, “It was Eve’s fault, she offered me the apple!”

Interested people can look up the lyrics and form their own impressions.  To me though, there’s nothing magical about this song, or this description of a sexual attraction / interaction; it’s too stuffed with passing the buck, not accepting responsibility, poor-me-I-can’t-help-myself.   And the finish of it is in the same vein: 

My whole life hanging
On a single word
To be hers evermore
Or mine alone

This is not a healthy way to think about love and partnership, this is basically codependency again – thinking that another person has that much power over you (and that you’re willing to give it up to them), and that this is OK with you.  A healthy relationship doesn’t have that kind of power imbalance or those kinds of power games.  And the concept of ownership – that in a relationship, the other person owns you (and/or you them) – that’s just way off.  You each own your own self and share it with the other – but perhaps that’s too unromantic, or not dramatic enough for some people.

You see a lot of these misconceptions about love in songs written by young people, but to see this one coming from a middle-aged person is a bit disappointing.  It really is a pity they don’t do thorough relationships education in schools, since so many people have the misfortune to grow up in dysfunctional families, and then have to learn the hard way through their 20s and beyond (and some never do).  And I don’t care if the author agrees with the narrator here or not, it just perpetuates stuff that I personally really think is unhelpful rubbish.  It does not particularly invite you to critique the viewpoint, it’s just flat and there and not the kind of thing I want to spend my time listening to.

The Real Snow White perhaps does invite critique of attitudes (or perhaps not) – I’ll deal with that next time.

March 30, 2020

Confession time:  When I was listening to the B-sides collection, I liked most of the material from CDs 2-4, and some of the things I wasn’t so keen on at first kind of grew on me, like Doing The Unstuck, despite its Playschool vibes.  I think that’s something of a parallel to my acutely disliking the songs Love Cats and Why Can’t I Be You as a teenager, but then actually beginning to like them in midlife, when I had unwound a bit and was starting to have fun in ways I simply didn’t as a youngster.  So there you go, our tastes can change – just like I started eating avocado with relish in my mid-20s, after abhorring the taste as a kid; or giving myself a push to try sashimi when the fish had been caught and prepared that very morning by a work colleague I trusted (and I’ve eaten it ever since).

But the confession I have to make is that the opposite is happening for me with much of 4:13 Dream.  When I first listened to it, I was thinking, “OK, it’s The Cure on holidays.”  It does have a cruisy kind of vibe.  And I do really like the first three songs, that part has not changed – but after that, things are getting murky for me, and I’m actually liking a lot of the songs less the more I listen to them.  I’ve wondered why that is.

In part it’s issues with lyrics – that with some of the songs, as I’m getting to know the lyrics, I’m finding myself objecting to viewpoints presented, whether or not actually endorsed.  Or I’m wishing that there was more clarity and less “read the tealeaves” – and that has me wondering whether Mr Smith is sometimes trying to write lyrics to go with a song-under-construction, rather than having lyrics and setting those to music – not that it’s necessarily a binary thing.

The most wishy-washy of U2’s early albums lyrically is October – where Bono famously lost his folder with the prepared lyrics just before they were booked into the studio, and had to recreate from memory, and in some cases just ad-lib.  So, some of the songs got a bit murky lyrically, which was not the case for the albums immediately before and after.  But in general, Bono writes above-average lyrics which reflect a wide-ranging literary diet, and an intimacy around language.  He generally writes clearly, and has a sense of the words he’s using – and much as I’ve not liked some of his preachiness through the 90s especially, and am kind of rubbed up the wrong way a lot these days when I hear him talk, I still really respect his feel for language, and the way he often paints with words.

Mike Scott is another favourite lyricist, for similar reasons, as is Suzanne Vega, and it’s nice to know they’re still on the same planet as the rest of us, after all these years, which is where they have the edge on Bono (hahaha, sorry, I only just realised the pun ?), whose own lovely wife described him as being “unencumbered by reality” and I laughed so much when I heard that!

So Robert Smith is a funny one.  I do think he’s on the same planet as the rest of us most of the time, and I don’t wince when I hear him interviewed (although I don’t always agree with him either).  I don’t think he goes around thinking he knows vastly more than he actually does, while I do think Bono does (he has some really obvious blind spots), despite of the fact that I would also wager that Bono has read more seriously and more widely than Robert Smith over the course of his lifetime, and spent more hours in total with his nose in a book.  That’s my professional hunch, from being an educator for 20 years.  I think Robert Smith possibly has less cognitive bias than Bono (we all have cognitive bias to some extent) and possibly is less invested in his working hypotheses of the world – but I obviously haven’t sat down and tested them on these parameters.  It’s just that I’ve read a lot of student essays, poetry and creative writing in my life, from students I knew reasonably well as people, and have noticed certain patterns that correlate with these parameters, so that when I’m reading someone’s lyrics it’s going through that same analytical machinery, and I think about it as I would student work, with the same interest in the person behind the work.

Robert Smith has written some fabulous lyrics, but also some pretty ordinary ones.  I think he’s generally improved with age and experience there.  I love a lot of the music that has come from The Cure, but not all of it, and one of the occasionally repeating friction points with material from this band for me is lyrics rubbing me up the wrong way, either because murky or a bit sloppy or because not that well thought through logically.  I think Robert Smith is better at painting with his guitar than he is at painting with words – and he’s exceptionally good at painting with his guitar, from my perspective – I’m often holding my breath because so blown away by that.

So yeah, on 4:13 Dream, on closer acquaintance, some of the lyrics began to grate on me, and with Sirensong to the point of not wishing to play that track again at our house, when there are so many tracks I enjoy a lot more, both by this band and others.

But in addition to that, after the first three songs, some of the music, and some of the vocal delivery style, was also grating on me.  The Cure are so very good at doing gorgeously atmospheric soundscapes, and at playing together like a bunch of string players rather than a bunch of people competing for attention, that it’s kind of odd to get moments on this album where I’m actually putting my hands over my ears because the guitar is so screechy and annoying.  OK, I get it, you can’t always do things the same way artistically or you become a caricature of yourself.  And aesthetics are so debatable – what is beautiful?  What sounds beautiful?  And yes, a lot of that is in the eyes and ears of the beholder.  Additionally, artists have the unalienable right to experiment with their work, and if they want to do something differently, then so they should, even if the result isn’t enjoyable to the majority of people.  Heck, much of the music I listen to is alternative, and I tend not to like music that the majority likes, and to like the least, out of The Cure’s catalogue, the songs that were popular hits for them (people gotta eat, musicians actually and audiences have different tastes which it is right to cater for).

And having said that, onto the next song.

THE REAL SNOW WHITE

You’ve got what I want

Oh yeah!
It’s only for the night
And I will give it back tomorrow I swear
She can barely breathe
Don’t stare
I know the dress is tight
But it was all I had to wear
Give me what I need
Please share
You know it’s only right
And I would never lie to you
I wouldn’t dare

I made a promise to myself
I wouldn’t start with anyone else but
You know how it is with these promises
Made in the heat of the moment

They’re made to be broken in two
Sometimes the only thing to do

Oh no!
It’s all coming back
How I came to in a sticky three-day hole
Didn’t see the sign
Go slow
Too busy tuning static on the radio
She hissed it in a song
Don’t go
It always fades to black
But that’s why I love the trip
It’s so inevitable

I made a promise to myself
I wouldn’t start with anyone else but
You know how it is with these promises
Made in the heat of the moment

They’re made to be less than they seem
Whenever you’ve got what I need

And you’ve got what I need
Aaaiiieee!
For service with a smile
I have to walk in on my hands
And roll for free
You say it’s all the same
Ennui
You’re not the real snow white
The real snow white is on my knee
I didn’t need to get ID
It’s simply minimum height
And getting all dressed up
In seven ways to please

I made a promise to myself
I wouldn’t start with anyone else but
You know how it is with these promises
Made in the heat of the moment

They’re made to be broken one day
If there’s no time to get away

Uh-oh!
She wasn’t made to shine
She was really only ever made to glow
I left her in the dark
No show
Quiet sucking on a line
It was a tricky gun to load
And I didn’t get to fire
Hi-ho!
She’s off to work for time
I should have finished out with higher
Up than low

I made a promise to myself
I wouldn’t start with anyone else but
You know how it is with these promises
Made in the heat of the moment

They’re made before right becomes wrong
Whenever you’ve got what I want

And you’ve got what I want
Oh yeah!
It’s only for the night
And I will give it back tomorrow
I swear

As I mentioned at the end of the last post, I have a feeling this song caricatures and exposes an attitude about relationships, and holds it up for critique.  If that’s the case, it’s certainly effective, because the long descriptive parts in the song especially repel me to the point of physical nausea.  This is a universe I have thankfully never visited, although I saw portals to it all around me, and this way of doing things has always personally deeply repelled me.  If that’s what other people want to do, fine, but not with me (and various people did want to do that with me, unsuccessfully I might add, and it made me want to throw up).

That stuff is the complete opposite of what I actually have in my life, and what I treasure above anything.  I do have difficulty understanding what draws some people to apparently prefer a modus operandi of disposable relationships, using other people and throwing them away, running from thrill to thrill, saying whatever they need to say to get what they want (and this to me is the especially disgusting part – because that is then no longer an informed and mutually consenting transaction, but a way of deceiving another person).  It’s not even as if the sex is going to be any better (and there’s statistics to back this up, e.g. listen here); but I suppose some people get their kicks out of feeling powerful, and bigger and more important than another person, and/or they think that the more people they bed, the more desirable it proves they are, and they prefer operating on that shallow level to the idea of real intimacy with another human being.  Or maybe, those people are just simple stimulus-response machines without much central processing capacity.  Search me.  I’m a child of the 80s and my leaving yearbook was filled with professed aims in life like:

– To go to Paris and get laid as much as possible
– To be rich by age 25 and never have to work another day
– To drive a Ferrari and marry a supermodel

…and all the me-me-me of it all made me want to throw up; as indeed does all the me-me-me in contemporary Australian society – most recently demonstrated with the hoarding of toilet paper – congratulations, people, you now have enough toilet paper for a year, while old Mrs Jones down the road is wiping her backside with rags, are you proud of that?  …and also amply demonstrated, during the course of “normal” Australian times, by road rage, pushing into queues, people throwing rubbish out of their car windows, scammers emailing us on a daily basis, and no longer being able to answer our telephone to unknown numbers because we’re assailed by telemarketers and answering such calls only encourages them – to give but a few examples – and none of this is necessary – if only people had respect for each other, themselves and the biosphere that supports us.

So yeah, I hope The Real Snow White is intended as a critique, and I think it probably is.  Why does this song strike me as a caricature, when Sirensong didn’t particularly?  Well, in part because it’s even more preposterous, and because Robert Smith is definitely hamming all this up vocally, whereas the tone of Sirensong didn’t seem to suggest a caricature, at least to me.  If you don’t know a person from a bar of soap, it can be difficult to tell whether they’re serious or being the devil’s advocate.

I personally think there’s clues even in the opening, which really goes like this:

You’ve got what I want
YOU’ve got what I want
You’ve GOT what I want
You’ve got WHAT I want
You’ve got what *I* want
You’ve got what I WANT

…and the whole It’s only for the night / And I will give it back tomorrow, I swear is just completely ridiculous, although I have to say, it’s not as if some people don’t believe completely ridiculous things like this – but these follow-up lines just tip it over the edge for me:  Give me what I need / Please share / You know it’s only right / And I would never lie to you / I wouldn’t dare.

Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal is often used in senior high school classrooms to introduce the idea of satire.  Students generally get it without having to be spoonfed – that the author doesn’t actually mean what he’s saying, he’s using it to caricature other people’s attitudes he’s objecting to.  In part it might be the familiarity of many with Gulliver’s Travels that helps this recognition – and in part it’s because it’s just so over-the-top to suggest cannibalism as a means of solving a social problem.

But here’s an example that used to be easily recognised by young people as satire, and now, not so much:

For quite a while after Live Aid back in 1984, young people were aware who Bob Geldof was and what his real feelings on social injustice were, so the majority of my students picked this song up as tongue-in-cheek immediately.  But, fast-forward to 2005, and I had my first class of 16-year-olds who sat like stunned mullets listening to this song, getting progressively more outraged by the perceived flippancy and nonchalance of the nasty piece of work singing it.  And then I had to calm them down and tell them something about Bob Geldof.

I was initially thinking, “Wow, was something in the water the year these people were conceived?  Not a single person wondered if this might be satire.”  But, irrespective of this, I do think that if you’re not familiar with the context of a piece, or with an author’s actual views, then it can be very difficult to pick something as satire or not, especially since so many outrageous suggestions are made on a daily basis these days that people do actually fully mean.

So you might say to me, “Sue, the author of this Cure song has been married for umpteen years to someone he met back in high school and he seems to worship the ground she treads upon, I can cite you so many songs, so why can’t you obviously pick it as satire?”

It’s because I don’t actually know this person, and because the subject of people’s love relationships is really complicated.  You can’t assume, even if someone has been married 50 years, that they actually respect their partner (and I know examples of couples like this who really, really do not), even if they appear to, and everyone thinks they do; or that they’re monogamous (and a heck of a lot of marriages are actually not).  Some people have flings on the side and are always accepted back, some people have open marriages where it’s OK with both of them, at least at the outset, that you don’t always dine at home, and they never actually promised each other sexual exclusivity, but had a different arrangement, and yet if you ask them, they say they really love each other, and this might actually be the case.  And I personally don’t know how that works, and how that might get compartmentalised, so therefore I can’t simply infer that any song that’s obviously not about monogamy but written by a married person is therefore necessarily satire.

When I was doing my final teaching practicum for my Dip.Ed. I was hosted by a Science department which was unbelievably good fun.  By pure chance, my supervising teacher turned out to be the same teacher who had taught me Biology when I was a high school student, and he introduced me to his classes rather comically as, “This is the best student above and beyond that I have ever taught in my life, and I not infrequently changed answer keys because she picked up mistakes in them, and you would do well to attend to her if you’d like the chance to achieve a fraction of what she did.”  But unless you knew me, or him, you wouldn’t know if that was true or not, because it sounded like such a ham.  Anyway, most of us in that department got on great; these teachers were not only science geeks, but most of them really cared about their students, and this is not always the case.

And after about a week, we all started mock insulting each other. We would say the most outrageous things to each other’s faces, like, “Yeah, what would a geriatric like you know about that?” or, “It is such a misery to be forced to work with a colleague like you!” or, “OMG, are you doing this answer key?  In that case I’ll have to spend hours fixing it later!” or, “I pity your poor traumatised students!”  It was super hilarious because we actually respected each other very deeply.  So the male staff would make misogynistic jokes a lot around me, and one day I just looked at them, went over to the guillotine, lifted the blade, and then slowly, pointedly lowered it down, with a meaningful look around the room, and they all crossed their legs.  I was just laughing all the time.  It’s a great anti-stress strategy, if you have the right kinds of colleagues.

One day we were all in full flight like this during recess, when unbeknownst to us, a new librarian entered the room, and when we noticed her, her jaw was basically on the ground.  She thought we meant these things! ? It really can be so hard to tell, if you don’t know the people – and yet so obvious, when you do.

So there you go, satire and how to tell (or not).

The Hungry Ghost next time – and discussion on any or all of this is always incredibly welcome, so long as we all play nicely! ?

February 3, 2020

I didn’t realise just how good The Hungry Ghost is until I saw a live version:

In the studio version, I like the instrumentation, but find the vocal a bit screechy.  Live, it’s not screechy at all (hooray!) – and consistently so (I’ve looked at a few).  He’s actually singing it lower down on the scale.  (I always felt that most of the violin student pieces I had to learn sounded so much better if I took them down at least half an octave – much more resonance when you do that, and less ear-shatteringness.)

And so we come to a pattern:  How is it that so many of The Cure’s songs come across extra well live?  Why is it that even songs that I don’t particularly like on a CD, I will usually really enjoy live?  To make it a fair comparison, it’s true for just audio, I don’t have to be watching a concert (although that adds another couple of dozen dimensions).

So that’s one aspect where The Cure to me are quite different from a lot of bands.  So often it’s the other way around, and you get disappointed when people play live and it doesn’t come off as well as it did on CD, with all the benefits of doing takes, editing etc.  It’s also a major reason I’ve become such a fan of this band – because I’ve just never been disappointed sitting down watching a concert film of theirs, whether the official DVDs or music festival footage etc.

Brett also prefers a lot of The Cure’s songs live – citing Apart as an example of a song that grows a mile in concert.  I usually even prefer Robert Smith’s vocals live – in part because he’s actually become a better singer as he’s gotten older, so there’s a richer tone and then the studio stuff can sound watery or nasal in comparison, especially the stuff from way back.

Brett said to me, “Well, when you practice for a few decades, you just learn to do things better.”  Maybe that explains why The Forest never jumped out at me from the Best-Of I pulled out of Brett’s collection after falling in love with the Bloodflowers album on his iPod over five years ago now.  Yet when I caught it on the Hyde Park film and also on the Lodz footage, I enjoyed that number tremendously.

Back to The Hungry Ghost – let’s look at the lyrics:

THE HUNGRY GHOST

All the things we never know we need
Looks like we get them in the end
Measure time in leisure time and greed
And by the time we get to spend

A floating bed
A head of stone
A home plugged into every phone
Kimono coral floral print
Exclusive tint and cut reclusive

No it doesn’t come for free
But it’s the price
We pay for happiness

No don’t talk about more to life than this
Dream a world maybe no one owns
No don’t think about all the life we miss
Swallow doubt as the hunger grows

Make believe it’s like no one knows
Even if we turn more to most
We’ll never satisfy the hungry ghost

All the stuff we know we never want
Seems like we get it anyway
Safe to say it isn’t really wrong
Not when we know we only
Throw it all away

Yeah all of this we never know we want
Its like we get it anyway
Safe to say it isn’t ever wrong
Better to get than to delay

A 3d screen
A cleaner fit
A bit pulled out of every hit
Addicted latest greatest piece
Design caprice and make the headline

No it doesn’t come for free
But it’s the price
We pay for happiness

No don’t talk about more to life than this
Dream a world maybe no one owns
No don’t think about all the life we miss
Swallow doubt as the hunger grows

Make believe its like no one knows
Even if we turn more to most
We’ll never satisfy the hungry ghost

And all of this
We know we never need
Well it’s the price
We pay for happiness

Every song is a sort of Rorschach test, and I think this one is a critique of consumerism.

The first thing I thought of when I contemplated these lyrics was a story about Socrates in the marketplace.  Legend has it he spent the whole morning silently walking around the market looking at things, with his acolytes following him around, waiting for him to break his silence.  When he finally spoke many hours later, he said, “So many things I don’t need!”

Imagine if Socrates was around today, and someone took him to a supermarket, or to K-Mart.  How many more things he doesn’t need!  Seriously – if we shop at the local Woolworths, over 95% of what they sell, we’d never even contemplate buying.  Apart from the fruit and vegetable section, meat and dairy, and the deli counter, the vast majority of the stuff on all the shelves in-between isn’t even food, although the packets pretend it is.  It’s stuff that’s making people and the planet sick; and both are sicker than ever, the former with “lifestyle diseases” and the latter with the pollution and rubbish directly resulting from our Western consumer lifestyles.

Go to K-Mart, and it’s filled with largely plastic junk with a deliberately low life span, so you have to throw it away in a year and buy another one (if you buy into this mindset).  There’s clothes made by what amounts to slave labour in developing countries, again designed to wear out quickly, but it’s cheap so many people just buy them all over again, adding another tide of rubbish to a planet we’re using as a garbage dump, while perpetuating the low social justice standards of the corporations producing this rubbish.

I wasn’t a kid that long ago, from a historical perspective.  Washing machines and refrigerators were once designed to last a lifetime, with perhaps a few repairs, and to be eminently repairable.  Not anymore; the salesman, when we bought our refrigerator back in 2013, told us not to expect it to last longer than five years – and he didn’t have anything designed to last longer.  (It’s still working, but the problem is the lack of choice in the matter when everything in the market is like that; and that’s why we need regulation instead of “market forces”… so that we’ll have one refrigerator for a human life span, not 16, with 15 sitting in landfill at the time of your death, and now multiply that by many millions…)

20 years ago, if I bought a cotton T-shirt, it lasted upwards of 5 years without going out of shape.  Now, cotton T-shirts last one year maximum before they start to look ratty. I’d rather buy a decent one that was going to last at 5 times the price, than 5 shirts in 5 years; but I can’t find anything like that where I live.  I’d have to take up sewing, and I’m already running a homestead (which we built ourselves because everything on offer on the market in our price range was crap, and guess what, our house isn’t crap, even though it wasn’t built by professional builders… frightening! – but we weren’t going to do with our house what’s been forced upon us with cotton T-shirts…), managing pasture and tree fodder, trimming eight sets of horse and donkey hooves every 4-6 weeks, looking after a small herd of beef cattle and our own beehives, growing our own fruit and vegetables, cooking all our food from scratch, stopping the garden from turning into a jungle, revegetating roadsides, continuing to plant in-pasture shelter belts, doing fence and other infrastructure maintenance around 62 hectares of land, and together with my husband, mosaic burning 50 hectares of Australian sclerophyll to maintain its stunning biodiversity, and relative fire safety.  Nominally we’re volunteer bushfire brigade too, but our particular brigade sits on its hands; and then there’s my sideline of writing articles.  If a house cow didn’t make it into my Eden because I was already over-committed, then I’m not going to start sewing my own clothes anytime soon either.  You simply can’t do everything.

I’m sure Socrates would be impressed by some of our technological whizz-bang compared to back in his day, but also appalled by our priorities, and by what we’ve done to this planet, and each other.

I’m going to come back to the song and do some annotating.

All the things we never know we need
Looks like we get them in the end

This seems to me to comment on the inevitability almost, of ending up with unnecessary stuff if you’re living in the West.  It’s just the way the whole society is set up.  I’m a member of the counter-cultural Grass Roots movement in Australia, which is loosely based around a sustainability / self-sufficiency / alternative magazine I write for.  We try very hard to get away from the consumerist mentality, but it took Brett and me half our statistical lifespans before we were off-grid and on renewable energy, stopped flushing 30,000 litres of drinking water a year down the toilet, stopped wasting all the nutrients that went through us by having a (very civilised and totally odourless) compost toilet and recycling those nutrients back into our organic food production system as nature intends, instead of polluting waterways and oceans with it; before our savings and superannuation were with people who hopefully don’t finance military weapons and social and environmental exploitation; before all our banking business was with a community bank instead of a for-corporate-profit model, before half our groceries were grower-direct without corporate middlemen, before we could afford to get a block of rural land and demonstrate more environmentally friendly agriculture which actually increases rather than reduces biodiversity and doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilisers and fossil-fuel driven machinery for its operation, stuff like that.

It’s just such an uphill to get away from things like this.  You have to swim against the tide almost every step of the way, and be so careful with your resources to get out of the suburban cycle of working (typically) for the big end of town while also paying most of your income to the big end of town via rent / mortgage, electricity and other utilities, supermarket and big retailer shopping.  It’s something you actively have to extract yourself from, and to do that in any major way that makes you largely independent of the big end of town is not easy.

Measure time in leisure time and greed

Nice line here – with internal rhyming as well.  :cool  Makes me think about how value is ascribed to things in Western society.  It’s funny, you know, the veterinarian came by the other day to attend to some animals of ours, first time since the pandemic, and he was saying to me, “Well, I hope this is going to teach people that life is about more than toys and status symbols – that it’s really about relationships and reading books and cooking your own food and getting outdoors for a walk, things like that!”  Indeed.

And by the time we get to spend

A floating bed
A head of stone
A home plugged into every phone
Kimono coral floral print
Exclusive tint and cut reclusive

I like the lampoony examples used here.  I particularly like the “A home plugged into every phone” line and how it reverses the way it’s normally used, it’s very astute.  We’ve gone from times when homes had phones, to times when phones have homes, potentially, if you buy into all that in my view excessive technology (we like to keep things simple, troglodytes that we are).  Technology goes from servant to master; the home is now just an accessory rather than a human centrepoint.  Except you still have a choice you can exercise, you don’t have to be a lemming and you can actually choose to live differently, instead of accepting an externally invented blueprint.

No it doesn’t come for free
But it’s the price
We pay for happiness

Material stuff doesn’t come for free indeed – not only is there a personal cost in time and energy either to make something, or to earn the money to be able to buy something – but there’s the social and environmental cost to consider; and that’s the part a lot of people consider the least in the whole equation, if at all.  That’s really unfortunate, because it’s killing our communities and the planet to chiefly consider what happens to our own bank balance.  It’s shooting ourselves, and everyone else, in the foot.

Partly it’s the brainwash – it’s just so “normal” to live a consumerist lifestyle, to buy what amounts to slave labour manufactured clothing and other stuff from big corporations and their subsidiaries, to have your house built by the typical building company who gives you surface glitz and disposable trendiness instead of a passive-solar, eco-friendly, low-running-energy, comfortable, built-to-last home without unnecessary frills, to bank at the big banks who finance the arms companies and environmental destruction, to buy your electricity from big coal instead of going off-grid on solar and other renewables for yourself, to purchase mostly from big players and franchises, to aspire to the things you’re told to aspire to by Screwtape’s little league of advertising executives.  Monkey-see, monkey-do.

Now that so many people are off their hamster wheels and confined to their homes with time to think about stuff, let’s hope that society will be more awake after this pandemic has passed.

No don’t talk about more to life than this
Dream a world maybe no one owns
No don’t think about all the life we miss
Swallow doubt as the hunger grows

That’s like the official brainwash in a nutshell, isn’t it.  That last line is very clever.  The Hungry Ghost, that’s a similar entity to what religious people call the God-Shaped Hole, because there’s lots of different takes on what the primary problem is that makes us do all these substitute behaviours, and seek comfort in things that can’t truly comfort us.  In the West, we’re encouraged to believe that buying stuff will make us feel better, especially expensive stuff which can be used to kid yourself you’re somehow superior to others, if you’re into that.  It doesn’t actually work for very long, so people work towards the next hit, in a sort of gadget addiction.

Religious people in the West tend to say, “No, it’s not stuff you need, it’s God and purpose.”  Well, they got the purpose part right, that’s part of it, but in many ways they’re creating another addiction, another brainwash.  I’m not trying to discredit all religion.  Personally I view a lot of organised religion with distaste, but really, secular organisations, in my experience, have very similar problems with being toxic and hypocritical.  In many ways, soccer hooligans aren’t much different from religious fundamentalists.

I think we all have different takes on it, but my take is that much of that vacuum inside of us is to do with a lack of authenticity, and a lack of meaningful connectedness to others.  Therefore, it can be addressed directly, and dealt with directly.  If we can learn to be authentic selves (not collages of other display models), and to connect to others from that basis, then a lot of that vacuum just disappears, in my view.

Make believe it’s like no one knows
Even if we turn more to most
We’ll never satisfy the hungry ghost

…that’s right, it’s a bottomless pit.  In some ways, it’s like eating junk food:  You can eat a dozen commercial Australian donuts (ring-shaped greasy things with cinnamon on), and I once did exactly that, in one sitting, when I was 23 and the wolf was at the door.  It didn’t matter how many donuts I ate, it didn’t stop me being hungry; I only stopped because I started to feel sick.  But if you eat something with actual nutritional value, instead of empty calories, you stop feeling hungry.  So, the way to make someone buy more and more, and consume more and more, is to sell them empty things that won’t deal with their actual needs, just with “I-want.”

All the stuff we know we never want
Seems like we get it anyway
Safe to say it isn’t really wrong
Not when we know we only
Throw it all away

And I think this verse is just dripping with undertone.  Look at how Mr Smith delivers that verse in the live clip above.

Yeah all of this we never know we want
Its like we get it anyway
Safe to say it isn’t ever wrong
Better to get than to delay

Yep, those last two lines are typical of the bilge that’s fed to us in the name of consumerism.  It’s the brainwash we all grew up with.  It’s nice to see Robert Smith discovering his inner hippie, and making a song and dance about this.  It is eroding human relationships and killing the biosphere, after all.  No small thing.

A 3d screen
A cleaner fit
A bit pulled out of every hit
Addicted latest greatest piece
Design caprice and make the headline

Isn’t that absurd?  Yet that’s what underpins the sacred cow of capitalism and its mantra of economic growth.

The rest of the lyrics are repeating blocks we’ve heard before in the song, so I will leave it at this.  Full marks for this one – the music, the lyrics, and speaking out about something that really needs to be addressed.  ♥

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