10:15 Saturday Night
image © 2011 Aline Giordano
text © 2013 Aline Giordano
I love The Cure. In my teenage years, immersing myself in their music became a form of escapism. This shaped my identity at a time when I was trying to make that better place for myself, in an oppressive and constraining home that aspired to the middle-class dream.
Listening to The Cure, I cut myself off emotionally from the home while still being within the comfortable physical boundaries of the house. With bouts of deviant attitude and timid rejection of the fatherly order, I indulged in their music. My father hated The Cure and said that he hated them so much that he ‘vomited them’, he would repeat incessantly ‘je les vomis’. All the more reason to seek refuge in their music, turn up the volume loud and play the same song over and over, ad-nauseam, until my father would dare vomit his rage. The song ‘Play For Today’ was a favourite of mine. The lyrics ‘Tell me I’m wrong I don’t really care’ were particularly comforting to the silently frustrated teenager that I was. Their music provided the emotional support that I could not find elsewhere. How could that be? To start with, communication at home was poor. My brothers and I communicated through exchanging records, quibbling about them, arguing over them. As for parent-children communication, this was practically non-existent. We were given orders, criticized, and rarely praised when we deserved it. The music provided a space ‘within which dominant relations of power can be challenged, resisted, evaded or ignored’. In my case evasion was critical.
By building my own collection of cassettes and vinyls of recordings and bootlegs of The Cure, I developed a sense of identity and empowerment. It helped me construct a transient yet real world. At school, hardly any one had heard of The Cure. This was after all 1985, North West deep rural France. The Cure would become ‘famous’ in France only a couple of years later. But in 1985, liking them earned me the label of being different, at school. I was the girl who had weird musical taste. With difference and weirdness came the much needed feeling of nascent identity and freedom from the suffocating oppression at home. As a side-effect, my level of English improved dramatically. Although I still could not translate an apple pie recipe from English into French, I had an extended vocabulary on despair, death and depression, key themes of The Cure’s repertoire.
Listening to The Cure in the here-and-now reminds me of a past which the protective parent inside me has distorted and simplified so that I can cope with it. I have a romanticized version of my teenage years, when loved ones were loving and when they were still alive. At the epicenter of this reconstructed past is the music of The Cure, where many memories converge and others expand out of, such as when my brother used to play the album ‘Seventeen Seconds’ in the car on our way to school, it felt like every single morning. He pushed the tape in the cassette player and I heard ‘Reflection’ and Robert Smith’s singing while I was gazing through the car window; it became a ritual. At least, this is how I want to remember the few moments that I shared with my brother, who, later on, decided to escape reality, not just through music like me, but totally, for real. I doubt that mother liked the music much but she let us be ourselves and listen to ‘our’ music in her car.
I find Robert Smith’s voice soothing. As I wrote in my review of The Cure’s concert at London’s Wembley Arena in March 2008:
‘When Robert Smith sang “I think I’m old and I’m feeling pain”, “it’s so cold it’s like the cold if you were dead”, I had tears running down my face. And then I smiled for a second. His voice has this effect on me… rather his songs have always been with me throughout my life since I was 10. Hearing him sing live, hearing his voice fill the entire Arena was a bit much to take for me.’
This is my reality as a fan: the rituals, the cathartic tears and feeling of happiness intertwined, the soothing, the memories, the admiration for Robert Smith, the obsession with his music and, I shall make no secret of this any longer, the need to make connection with him, just to tell him my appreciation. The closest I came to being able to do that was at Bestival in September 2011. I just happened to be wandering backstage. Needless to say I knew this was out of bounds, even with a press pass, but still, the need to make connection was so strong… I froze. I recognized the messed-up hair. Here he was, talking to PJ Harvey. The photographer in me wanted to record the moment, the fan in me wanted to say ‘hello’. So I reached out for the camera and approached. A security guard signaled to me not to take photographs or come any closer. I may be a fan, but I have dignity. I may be a photographer but I have respect. So, I turned back and walked away. The closest I’ve come to Robert Smith: 10:15 (metres) on a Saturday night.
Grossberg, L. (1992), ‘Is there a Fan in the House?: The Affective Sensibility of Fandom’. In L. Lewis, A (ed.), Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media. London: Routledge.