Thursday, April 03, 2008

head on the door

One of the most vivid memories I have of music doesn't even involve hearing it.

I still haven't heard the song, to this day, and I think the reason why may have something to do with the fact it was by The Cure. I don't begrudge the Cure, or their listeners. They're just a band that I was sort of adjacent to, listening-wise, but never completely immersed in. A few songs sank in here and there either from my friends or -- naturally -- a given mixtape from someone I was entangled with. "Charlotte Sometimes." "Fascination Street." "Why Can't I Be You." The usual on-the-nose basics that brand me a hopeless piker to any true Follower of Robert, or FORs as we shall refer to them here.

In the 10th grade my good friend Michelle was an FOR, through and through. Not in the sense of black eyeliner and the cartoonish (yet valid) stereotypes of the image that appears in everyone's head when I say "Cure Listener." Certainly she, and both of us really, looked what in 1988 passed for 'alternative'-minded in some form or another. Her with the requisite Big Sweaters, dark and occasionally streaked hair, occasionally omnipresent Wayfarer sunglasses masking the usual details such accessories mask.

I won't get into what I looked like. Another time.

Michelle was cool, is what I'm saying. She knew a few more bands than I did, dated Older Guys (which translated to people a few years ahead or, even cooler, someone out of school. Her and I were never involved, though of course I entertained the idea from my bramble-covered state of invisibility in the Friends Zone. (This isn't that kind of story -- Every male in high school, by the way, 'entertains an idea' about every plausible girl he comes across. Just throwing that out there.)

ANYWAY, Michelle came home with me after school one day. Me being harmless but a latchkey kid, I presume, made this a decent idea to her for some reason, though I'm reasonably certain it never happened again.

What this meant is Michelle was going to meet my Neighbor Friends, or the people you hang out with after school because all your other friends are across town. Maybe I was the only one who had such things, but inevitably there's the folks you hang out with in high school, and the folks you hang out with when you'rein your geographic circle. I have to confess, I was a little anxious of my Cool Friend mingling these people, particularly since a ruling part of me was still, yes, entertaining Those Ideas about her and I.

Regardless, there we were with Robbie and Jeremy that afternoon, two kids the same age as me who lived a few doors down in our nondescript high-desert subdivision. And despite my fears about suddenly being revealed as the complete and utter dork that I was sure I was by association, everyone got along really well.

Now it's important to note the two distinct personalities of Robbie and Jeremy, two kids who knew eachother well before I moved into the neighborhood two years prio. Neither one of them were terribly bright, not that many people reveal themselves as such at that age. Rob, for instance, was in the 'special' classes in our school, as was Jeremy I think though since his parents had sentenced him to the nearby bible high school he was already at a disadvantage on a few fronts. Rob was a charmer though, a good-looking kid with cocky ease about him, and I think he spent most of that afternoon working some engaging mix of aloof indifference and an utter, fearless clown. Everyone liked Robbie.

Jeremy, on the other hand, was a bit of an oaf to put it kindly. He was a little portly, had tangled blonde hair and the incurably goofy but eager-to-please social style that always left him on the outside of most things, even more so than the usual Pastor's Son. He had a good heart though, as most kids who have a Rough Go Of It do.

While walking back to my parents house, the conversation inevitably turned to music. I had discovered Depeche Mode around this time, and bounced between early CD purchases like "Some Great Reward," "Black Celebration" and REM's "Life's Rich Pageant" in my parents' 'big' stereo in the living room days they were at work. Michelle told Jeremy how much she loved the Cure and the Smiths as we walked and Jeremy, whose older brother introduced us all to Depeche Mode a year prior (an exceptional feat given that he wore a dusty desert mullet, dropout moustache and generally rolled around in his pickup truck to Queensryche), could barely contain himself.

"I know them!" He said with an amped-up, pre-Ritalin mania. "Kiss me, kiss me, KISS ME!" he half-yelled, his head cocking to the side as he barked out what I assume were lyrics. I can still see his face twisting in some weird parody of Robert Smith's haystack-headed angst, ridiculous gray plastic sunglasses framing his swollen, sweaty face.

"What is that?" Michelle asked. I had seen her wear a shirt bearing the very same words maybe only a few days before.

"It's the Cure!" Jeremy said, bouncing back and forth next to us. I think we were on our way to shooting baskets or something at my house at this point. I think I could've invited Michelle to join me in gutting a seal in my front yard and been more interesting to her around this time.

Michelle smiled, "But what are you doing to it?" She finished with a small, horrified laugh, and I joined right in. I had no idea what the song sounded like -- and I still don't -- but I'm as sure now as I was then it couldn't have sounded anything like that.

Jeremy was humiliated, briefly, but he bounced back a short time later. Sadly, I don't think it was a terribly new sensation. I later proved I wasn't much of a basketball player, and Michelle made out with Robbie. I think she got in trouble that same night for getting home late.

I don't remember much more from that day, which is probably for the best. But I remember that moment. I remember how important that song was to Michelle, how sacred. It was as if Jeremy had lit Robert Smith on fire in front of her.

I'm not sure why this moment stuck with me. I think it was the first time I realized how sacred songs -- and their bands -- could be, and any attempt to reinterpret them can't be taken lightly. They're too personal, their originators too distinct. The song isn't only the band's, it's yours too, and anyone who treads upon it needs to do so with reverence, and only after filling out the proper forms at the District Office.

This isn't one of those songs for me. But it seems appropriate.

The Cure, 'Primary'