Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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The Banality of Eloquence

Last summer I struggled to like the new Cure album. Most of the songs appealed to me from a musical standpoint on the first few listens, but the words left me non-plussed. You could argue that the quality of Robert Smith's lyrics has actually been on a downward spiral, though sometimes a slow-moving one, since Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, which remains my favorite Cure record overall, both for its length and its diversity. But there's a dramatic fall-off from Wild Mood Swings and Bloodflowers -- neither of them close to the Cure's best -- to 2004's The Cure. Or so I thought last July.

Now I'm remembering that the apparent banality of the words on The Cure didn't prevent me from feeling inexplicably unsettled by them. As I heard them the first time driving I-10 between Indio and Blythe, I found myself disappointed, yet thinking hard in spite or because of that disappointment. A year later, I still wish the lyrics were more obviously "good" than they are -- bear in mind that I wrote a 98-page honors thesis on The Cure -- yet am coming to realize that there's something in their lack of complexity that makes them compelling, particularly for someone living through the intensity that has been inundating me over the past few months.

As I was listening for a song to quote here, though, I realized that I would first need to return to the first Cure album that left me feeling lyrically unsatisfied, 1989's Disintegration. Although that one grew on me after a while, it still has moments of awkwardness that bother me in spite of the sublime music. Again, though, I have found the lyrics more moving to me personally, more easily applied to the practice of everyday life than the surreal darkness of the lyrics to Pornography. While I might rather think about, "the blind man kissing my hands," I can do more with songs about the ruts into which long-term relationships fall.

My favorite song on Disintegration eventually became the musical bed for a commercial about picture-taking. I'm sure Robert Smith licked the irony from his lips as he went to pick up his check, because if there was ever a song about the limitations of pictures, not to mention the taking of them -- I've been reading about Heidegger's many way of playing on the verb nehmen, which means "to take" -- it's "Pictures of You":
I've been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they're real
I've been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures are
All I can feel

You standing quiet in the rain
As I ran to your heart to be near
And we kissed as the sky fell in
Holding you close
How I always held close in your fear
You running soft through the night
You were bigger and brighter and wider than snow
And screamed at the make-believe
Screamed at the sky
And you finally found all your courage
To let it all go

You fallen into my arms
Crying for the death of your heart
You were stone white
So delicate
Lost in the cold
You were always so lost in the dark
You how you used to be
Slow drowned
You were angels
So much more than everything
Hold for the last time then slip away quietly
Open my eyes
But I never see anything

If only I'd thought of the right words
I could have held on to your heart
If only I'd thought of the right words
I wouldn't be breaking apart
All my pictures of you

Looking so long at these pictures of you
But I never hold on to your heart
Looking so long for the words to be true
But always just breaking apart
My pictures of you

There was nothing in the world
That I ever wanted more
Than to feel you deep in my heart
There was nothing in the world
That I ever wanted more
Than to never feel the breaking apart
All my pictures of you
Interestingly, though the song is suffused with sadness, it has always made me happy. The music has a lot to do with that. But my idiosyncratic reading of the lyrics is also a factor. Even before I'd read anything by Jacques Lacan, I had a clear sense that the pictures we make and take of ourselves and others are the biggest stumbling block on the path to personal and political transformation. Robert Smith's words managed to convey to me both the inevitable failure of attempts to possess another and the possibility that this failure actually might constitute the only kind of success that matters. To put this another way, I took the lines,"I never hold on to your heart," and, "always just breaking apart my pictures of you," as expressions of short-term disappointment that masks the extent to which long-term happiness depends on the inability to possess one's love, whether literally or through the metonymy for which pictures are the figure. I recognize now that I was reading Smith's lyrics against the grain. If the ones he wrote for The Cure are any indication, though, he might well have endorsed my approach.
Tags: autobiography, memory, music, theory

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