Exploring the Back Catalogue: Step Into The Light & General Reflections

Going largely backwards through a decades-long back catalogue after falling in love with a latter-day album is the reverse of how it generally works with music, but run-of-the-mill with literature. It’s like starting Dickens with Great Expectations, or Shakespeare with Hamlet, and then backtracking to their earlier work. In literature, nobody expects you to fetishise the first couple of efforts by an author and then bemoan the rest of their work, but that’s standard procedure for some music aficionados, in the context of contemporary music. Why is that?

I suspect that’s actually got a lot to do with the nostalgia goggles many people wear about their teenage years, and the intensity with which many people experience music, thoughts and ideas (plus hormones!) in their teens. If life or music doesn’t seem as bright after that, in my view it’s likely that the vision looking at life and music has dimmed, and it’s more productive to try to do something about that – to learn how to tend to your eyes and to live fully and with intention – rather than to fossilise, and to worship the past. Also, to understand that it’s actually neither possible nor desirable to always live life at 100 miles an hour (but that’s another topic).

That’s the audience end. What about the artist end? Like writers, musicians tend to improve with practice. In literature, though, a writer’s voice tends to become if anything more distinct with time, while in music people may end up sounding like everyone else, after starting with something distinctly their own. Maybe it’s because in music you can learn the rules and conventions too well, and this interferes with doing fresh, unique, original things. Maybe it’s because music is a more collaborative and social pursuit than writing and exposes you to more peer pressure, fashions etc.

Some of the contemporary artists whose music I liked growing up did end up sounding much like everyone else to me down the track, if they continued operating beyond 5-10 years. Some did not, e.g. Suzanne Vega, Pink Floyd, The Church, The Waterboys, Big Country, Sinéad O’Connor, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Tom Petty, the Warumpi Band, Yothu Yindi. And pretty soon, I became more interested in folk, world music and classical than what I heard on contemporary radio, and spent many years taking a scenic tour of those genres. I didn’t really revisit contemporary music until I got married in my mid-30s and my husband brought a huge, varied music library into my life that included interesting contemporary music I had missed.

We all miss lots of things. Our brains have space for around 150 people maximum to interact with meaningfully in the same medium-term time frame and properly remember, and likewise, a limit for the number of different artists we can appreciate in a reasonably integrated manner. I prefer deep dives to miles of surface paddling. At the same time, I appreciate diversity and dislike over-specialisation and tunnel vision. I like bringing together ideas from different perspectives. I love science and philosophy as well as language, literature, music and visual art. Within science, I taught both physical and life sciences, and felt thrilled with biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, genetics, zoology, botany, ecology, microbiology, earth science and astrophysics alike. I’m interested in microcosms and macrocosms and everything in-between. I’m curious about human relationships and the mind. I want to know where mathematics intersects with art, and why we are how we are. I have lots of questions and a big bunch of working hypotheses that get modified as more information comes in.

I love music, but have only so much processing space for it and select my deep dives carefully. The Cure is a band I’ve come to in midlife, with Bloodflowers, and although I don’t like all of the flavours of music they play, I really appreciate that they still manage to preserve a rare authenticity about what they do after decades of composing and playing music. Meanwhile, their musicianship has continued to grow, the lyrics have become generally more mature and thoughtful, Robert Smith has developed into an excellent singer, and I think they’re better than ever as a live band. As I’m trawling through their back catalogue, I’m finding the encounter with their material fertile ground for open journalling on music, life, the universe and everything – for integrating various aspects of life that I find absorbing.

Below I’ll include two edited “reprints” from the journal so far. The first is on two comparatively “new” Cure songs I caught on the Curætion film that were instant favourites with me – particularly Step Into The Light, and I’ll tell you why. The second is about Bloodflowers, which I started listening to years before I ever started specifically writing about this topic.

July 12, 2020

TWO “NEW” SONGS

One of the delights of watching the Curætion gig is the centre of the show, which is two comparatively new songs that sit between the one-song-per-album-in-chronological-order – forwards and then backwards – main sets.  It’s like the axis on which a globe rotates.

It Can Never Be The Same is a grief song, and no matter which person the song was originally written for, the experience is so universal that it can be for anyone we’ve lost.  It’s a beautiful song, and the stage backdrop of that flickering little candle flame pushed to and fro by the wind is such a powerful metaphor for the fragility of life and the ease of blowing it out, and the inevitability of that for all of us.  It’s so good to have songs like this, because we all have to deal with losing people we love, and will all be that person one day, who has ceased to be.  To know that actually helps us to live better lives.

Step Into The Light, the other mid-section song not attached to an album release, also really appealed to me, both musically and thematically.  I was catching enough of the lyrics on the first listen last night to get the drift, and went to look them up.  Here’s one version but other “takes” are around, and the second line in this one doesn’t make sense to me.

STEP INTO THE LIGHT

All of your faith in simple shadows from my hope for something more
How about yourself were caught in any reason to be sure
You believe, there’s nothing more to add
You believe, it’s as simple as that

I don’t care about the aliens, ghosts, and fairies, all the voices in your head
It’s when your “I believe it’s true, I know,” I start to get upset

Because you don’t know, you don’t know, you don’t know
You just want it all true
No, you don’t know, you don’t know, you don’t know
You just have to say you do
You can’t really know, you can only believe with a confidence born of deceit

The only angels you should hear are reason, honesty, equality and love
The only devils you should fear are hatred, ignorance, greed and a world full of people scared dumb

You believe, it’s as simple as that
You believe, there’s nothing more to add

I don’t care about your sinners, saints, and saviours, acting with mysterious ways
It’s when your “I believe it’s true, I know!” I start to feel dismayed

Because you don’t know, you don’t know, you don’t know
You just want it all true
No you don’t know, you don’t know, you don’t know
You just have to say you do

You can’t really know, you can only believe
It really is insane, all this crazy desperate need
For unknowable magic, strange supernatural power
You’re flying through space at a million miles an hour
For 4 billion years, the sun keeps coming up
It’s all too wonderful for words but for you it’s not enough
You should step out of the shadows yeah and step into the light

I’ll stick with this version for now, until I’ve got an opinion one way or the other on what’s actually being sung.

I empathise with this song, because I can’t tell you how often I’ve had to listen to people who seem to think belief and knowledge are synonymous.  Simply consulting the dictionary would tell you it’s not.  I actually lived this distinction for about 25 years, because for much of my life I was essentially a Christian mystic – starting with a mind-blowing event at age 14 discussed here (in the last quarter of this long long post, look for the Turner paintings).  These days I’m agnostic, but even when I wasn’t, it always rubbed me up the wrong way when religious people insisted they “knew” God existed, and even worse, that they “knew” what “he” thought and wanted (which was exactly what they wanted to think, and wanted), and even worse than that, when they started prescribing this as a universal pattern of what everyone should think and want.  Not only is all of that totally non sequitur when examined logically, it’s also really dangerous and leads to a lot of intolerance and moral-high-horsemanship.

I always felt that to mistake belief for knowledge did a disservice both to spirituality, and to rationality.  From a spiritual perspective, it’s pointless to believe in a God you think you know is there.  That’s like believing in your saucepan, or your refrigerator, or your armchair.  The whole point of believing, to me, was similar to when you believe in a friend – when you believe in their capacity for being decent and kind, even when you’re also confronted with their flaws.  And I don’t mean putting on rose-tinted spectacles, but learning to love a person because you love their heart, which I know is a wishy-washy concept but bear with me here; you love the goodwill of the person, their striving to live well even as they fall short, you have compassion for their flaws and for your own.  This is far easier with acknowledged flaws you know a person is earnestly working on, than with flaws that are invisible to their owner or they are in denial over.  And because this is a difficult topic, let me just categorically state that not everyone truly cares about others, and wants to work on their flaws, and some of those people are, at best, unpleasant, and at worst, psychopathic, and I recommend not exposing yourself to people like this more than absolutely necessary, and calling out their behaviour when they mistreat others instead of standing by and saying nothing.  Some of them might be amenable to learning to do things better; others will stay toxic and destructive no matter what (because only we ourselves can decide to change, and if we don’t then that’s where we will stay stuck, instead of evolving).

Anyway, believing in God was a bit like believing in your friends:  Choosing to believe that there was some force for good and some kind of higher love you could be a part of.  I didn’t think God was a personal slot machine that you could (or should) send your personal wishes off to like a sort of cosmic Santa, or that the reason you tried to do the right thing is because it would increase your “pointscore” for getting into higher echelons of afterlife – it was about love and respect.  Any of you who have seen the series The Good Place will be aware of the many pitfalls of “personal goodness” – fabulous series.

But even in the years I very much believed in a God of love and respect, I was aware that this was a choice I had made, to believe this in the absence of it being a concrete thing right in front of me that could be measured (not that this is necessarily proof of anything either); and I never thought I knew this God existed.  In fact, to me, one of the whole points of that was making that choice, taking that leap.  It was something I could give, when I felt like so much had been given to me.  It was a way of being a part of something good that seemed to transcend the human condition.

But I always remained on the fringes, because I couldn’t subscribe to dogma, nor go down the road of “I know blah blah blah.”  I always accepted that I could be wrong, and it seemed to me that people who felt they knew were lacking in intellectual humility.  And later on, I ended up thinking I was wrong about the existence of some sort of personal God (I went into the why in the post I linked to above); but it doesn’t mean that it didn’t have value, and didn’t shape me in ways that helped me to live better.  As I’ve heard around the progressive spiritual communities, “Dismount your donkey at the summit.”  In fact, here’s a quote:

Your Donkey

Some places in this world are very hard to climb, and people use animals. Each person can only ride one, and each animal might have a different name. The riders go up the trail in different orders, and they discuss their varying opinions about their experiences.  They may even have conflicting opinions: One traveller may think the trip thrilling, another may find it terrifying, and a third may find it banal.

At the summit all the travellers stand in the same place.  Each of them has the same chance to view the same vistas.  The donkeys are put to rest and graze; they are not needed anymore.

We all travel the path of Tao. The donkeys are the various doctrines that each of us embraces. What does it matter which doctrine we embrace as long as it leads us to the summit? Your donkey might be a Zen donkey, mine might be a Tao donkey. There are Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and even Agnostic donkeys. All lead to the same place.  Why poke fun at others over the name of their donkey?  Aren’t you riding one yourself?

We should put aside both the donkeys and our interim experiences once we arrive at the summit.  Whether we climbed in suffering or joy is immaterial; we are there. All religions have different names for the ways of getting to the holy summit.  Once we reach the summit, we no longer need names, and we can experience all things directly.

(from 365 Tao Daily Meditations by Den Ming-Dao)

So that’s the general idea.  Of course, you can argue about whether people get to the same mountaintop, whether there is a mountaintop at all, whether they see the same things when they get there, etc etc etc, and I’m generally dubious about a lot of this stuff.  But, I do know donkeys are a good thing.  ?

Changing perspective slightly:

…and one more, because they are so adorable:

So Step Into The Light deals with a topic I’ve thought about a lot myself, too.  I’m going to take a closer look, and do some annotating.

STEP INTO THE LIGHT

All of your faith in simple shadows from my hope for something more
How about yourself were caught in any reason to be sure
You believe, there’s nothing more to add
You believe, it’s as simple as that

I don’t care about the aliens, ghosts, and fairies, all the voices in your head
It’s when your “I believe it’s true, I know,” I start to get upset

As I said earlier, I’m not 100% sure this is an accurate transcription, plus the song may have evolved/been sung differently at different times.  The first two lines don’t altogether make sense to me – particularly the second – and could Line 6 really have you’re instead of your?  That would make slightly more sense, in a slangy way.

I’d like to draw attention to the title – since this is the kind of invitation missionaries at your door will often presumptuously make to you – and since the writer has flipped that here, to tell persons of that ilk to take a good look at their own philosophies – if you go to the last line – more on that later.

The sense I’m getting from the beginning of that song is a person who’s quite tolerant of what might be going on in other people’s minds coming up against the hard boundary of not accepting what they can pretty comprehensively see is pure BS – the mistaking of personal belief for rock-solid, verifiable knowledge.

Because you don’t know, you don’t know, you don’t know
You just want it all true
No, you don’t know, you don’t know, you don’t know
You just have to say you do
You can’t really know, you can only believe with a confidence born of deceit

Interesting take, the confidence born of deceit.  Is it time for another excursion into the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

Cognitive bias affects all of us, as the clip shows.  But you can see how it definitely applies to the delusion of certainty in religion, as well.

The only angels you should hear are reason, honesty, equality and love
The only devils you should fear are hatred, ignorance, greed and a world full of people scared dumb

I love these lines; very astute.  If you had to pick four core virtues, and four core vices, which would you pick?  These very much hit the spot, and get to the centre of the mess we see.

You believe, it’s as simple as that
You believe, there’s nothing more to add

I don’t care about your sinners, saints, and saviours, acting with mysterious ways
It’s when your “I believe it’s true, I know!” I start to feel dismayed

Because you don’t know, you don’t know, you don’t know
You just want it all true
No you don’t know, you don’t know, you don’t know
You just have to say you do

You can’t really know, you can only believe
It really is insane, all this crazy desperate need
For unknowable magic, strange supernatural power
You’re flying through space at a million miles an hour
For 4 billion years, the sun keeps coming up
It’s all too wonderful for words but for you it’s not enough
You should step out of the shadows yeah and step into the light

I find that last stanza especially powerful – the idea of people needing to play make-believe (and often a very banal kind of make-believe, if you’ve ever read a Watchtower magazine – count me out) when the whole world is so miraculous, but they can’t seem to see it.  I’ve never read a better description of that blindness, by the way, than this:

To summarize briefly: A white rabbit is pulled out of a top hat. Because it is an extremely large rabbit, the trick takes many billions of years. All mortals are born at the very tip of the rabbit’s fine hairs, where they are in a position to wonder at the impossibility of the trick. But as they grow older they work themselves ever deeper into the fur. And there they stay. They become so comfortable they never risk crawling back up the fragile hairs again. Only philosophers embark on this perilous expedition to the outermost reaches of language and existence. Some of them fall off, but others cling on desperately and yell at the people nestling deep in the snug softness, stuffing themselves with delicious food and drink.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” they yell, “we are floating in space!” But none of the people down there care. “What a bunch of troublemakers!” they say. And they keep on chatting: Would you pass the butter, please? How much have our stocks risen today? What is the price of tomatoes? Have you heard that Princess Di is expecting again?

Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World

One thing that’s particularly annoyed me in my life is the attitude many of the more fundamentalist religious folk take about this planet – like it’s a commodity, like it’s disposable.  “God gave it to us, we can do what we want with it, and he’s making a better one later anyway so who cares about this one.”  Oh yeah?  So, what, Monet gives you Water Lilies and you’re gonna put it on the ground and shit on it?  Very nice.  Plus, of course, we don’t all agree, in this case, that there is a Monet or that Monet gave you a painting.  So you’re going to shit on the painting all of us are actually living in?

And this from people who think they have a monopoly on light?  It’s so deeply ironic.  Great last line in this song – reminding people to please sweep their own doorsteps first, and take a good look at themselves, and their definition of light and darkness, because hey, you might be the one who’s sitting in the dark here, and the people you’re used to thinking of as unenlightened just might have a thing or two they can teach you, that you actually are sadly lacking.

Of course, in another irony, Jesus already said a lot of stuff like this (or at least, it was attributed thusly).  Here’s a good one:  Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.

It’s just so funny how a lot of people who go around trying to push the Bible on other people actually don’t seem to have read this bit, or maybe it just went whoosh:angel

Happy Sunday.  Definitely time to get out of bed now.  ;)

July 14, 2020

Fun fact about Trilogy:  It starts with the words, “It doesn’t matter if we all die!” and it ends with,  “I wish you were dead!” ?

That’s something cheery I noticed the first time I ever watched that concert, as a new Cure fan.  I listened to the first sentence, and said to Brett, “Well, that’s a good start!” ? And when I heard the last line in the encore, I got acidosis from the bout of laughter this induced…

…AND A LITTLE ABOUT BLOODFLOWERS

Meanwhile, another random thought about the back catalogue of studio CDs, as I’m delving further back.  Bloodflowers is still my personal favourite – listening to that made me into a Cure fan in the first place – and that was less than six years ago, when I discovered it on my husband’s iPod, which he was encouraging me to borrow when working outdoors.  Thinking of The Cure as primarily a pop band, owing to radio programming in Australia, I was intrigued that my very noir other half would have multiple albums by this band.  So I put on the one studio album by The Cure on this iPod, and my jaw hit the ground, and kind of stayed there for the rest of the day.

It was the first time in many years I’d listened to a “new” album I loved start to finish, and I couldn’t get over the difference between what I was hearing, and the stuff from this band commonly played on Australian radio.  This was an entirely different universe.  I’d had no idea this band had a serious side, and that their serious stuff was so magnificent.

I’m old enough to feature on Grumpy Old Men/Women and I certainly have a lot of material to offer that show. ?  One of my recurring grumps is about the demise of the album since the iPod/music streaming age.  It was fabulous to hear an actual album again, in the true sense of the word.  Something that wasn’t just a few good songs and a lot of padding – something that was breathtaking start to finish, and cohesive.

I’ve not actually written about this album very much, because it was with me years before I joined this forum, and here I’ve just concentrated on “new” things as they’ve come in.  There’s a convoluted explanation on the Music For Emotional Health thread about why this was the perfect album for a difficult six months (plus aftermath) in my life at the time, and why Where The Birds Always Sing in particular really spoke to me in the scenario I was in, simultaneously validating some very dark thoughts I was thinking at the time, and consoling me – in part because I realised I wasn’t alone with those thoughts – which is one of the best things there is about art, literature, music etc.

For many of us, our favourite albums (and books, and poems, and cartoons etc) will always remain the ones which really spoke to us at crucial times – pieces of art that were a friend when we were sorely in need.  That’s one reason why I think it’s unlikely that I’m ever going to prefer any Cure album to Bloodflowers.  Another is that I’ve sampled widely from a lot of their albums not yet in our collection, and that I relate a lot more to the lyrics written by more mature versions of this band than their early incarnations – as you’d expect, since I’m 40+ myself, and life is cumulative, and so are the realisations you have as you live it.

It was a happy accident to hear Robert Smith’s entering-midlife reflections when I’d just entered midlife recently myself – and not before that.  Sometimes you just get the right thing at the right time.  And by the way, it wasn’t midlife I was grappling with, it was complex PTSD saying, “Hello, here I am, let me show you some footage you’ve only seen without sound and emotion and as if from far away before this – let me show you the real thing with surround-sound and all the horror of a little child seeing these things – the child you once were.”  That stuff was a bit more in-my-face than midlife, but of course it’s always nice to hear from “age contemporaries” when you’ve reached a certain point along the road.

And at that point, layers of experience and decades of thinking count very, very much, and it’s nice to compare notes.  ? If any Cure album has a shot at usurping Bloodflowers in my heart, then perhaps the one that’s in the works right now – although honestly, it would probably need to coincide with another existential crisis in my life in order to have that kind of deep personal impact – and I really hope I’m not going to have to have another one like this anytime soon.  I’m quite content for Bloodflowers to remain my personal favourite.   ?

I’m pretty sure a lot of the “old” fans (as in, the ones from way back) count some of the “old” Cure albums as their personal favourites for precisely that kind of reason – that it was a space to breathe and to find validation when they were going through difficult and/or formative things as young people.  A lot of my personal favourite albums come from my teenage years/early 20s.  But, Bloodflowers equals those for me, probably surpasses them – not that I find it necessary to rank my all-time favourites (just like we have five donkeys and honestly none of them is my favourite, they all are).  As great as it is to re-listen to albums that meant a lot to me when I was just starting out on the road, I find it even better to listen to albums that managed to speak equally to me when I was much further down that road, and in another phase of things being turned upside-down.

If you’re reading and you’re thinking about why some of your favourite albums mean so much to you, it’s perfectly fine for you to jump in here and share – since this is thematic here just now, and it’s always cool to have readers joining in.  That’s if you don’t find it confronting to share your innermost thoughts in public – if you do, that’s OK too. 

Here’s why I started writing this post:  Yesterday, I was giving Disintegration another spin.  Previously, I’ve said that Bloodflowers narrowly pips Disintegration for me as my personal favourite, so far – but this opinion may be revised.  Right now, I’m weighing up whether I actually don’t prefer KMKMKM to Disintegration.  At the moment, I do – at the moment, the sheer energy of KMKMKM, and the beautiful playing on it, especially of those bent, Eastern scales, really has me spellbound.  Plus, I actually tend to dislike a couple of tracks on Disintegration because I’ll be listening to the lyrics and finding myself going, “Oh please, this really is the wallowings of a still comparatively immature person!”

When I was in my 20s, a friend in her 70s said to me, “You know you’re getting old when the newsreaders and postmen start looking too young to be out of school, to you.”  ?

Anyway, I decided that while Bloodflowers is definitely my favourite Cure album, for very personal reasons and because it was in the right place at the right time, I’m no longer going to even attempt to impose any kind of specific preference order on any of the others.  I like aspects of all of them, and what I’m drawn to depends on my mood, and what I’m thinking, and what’s going on in my life.  It seems to me just as silly to try to play favourites with them, as it is to do that with our donkeys.

It’s just that Bloodflowers, in my life, was like Brego coming for Aragorn, and will therefore always be extra special to me. ♥

from Lord of the Rings

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