One of the first Cure songs I heard was not actually sung by The Cure. It was a cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong,” done by 311, a band hailing from Omaha, Nebraska that created songs meant to live somewhere in the seafoam along the California coast, while a bonfire spits embers into the surf.
As a child, I loved “Lovesong” — it was wistful and soft, an ethereal, hypnotic hymn, and I spent many car rides with my temples pressed against the window of my family’s silver Honda minivan, memorizing the lyrics incorrectly. In the original version of the song, in a split-second interlude between the chorus and the third verse, Cure frontman Robert Smith sighs to some unknown other, “Fly me to the moon.” At age six, those achingly beautiful words about love and longing imprinted on my soft adolescent mind, floating me to a place of raw emotion before I was even old enough to understand the acute experience of such feelings.
In June at Madison Square Garden, Smith sang those same words for the last night of The Cure’s New York City summer tour stay. But he didn’t whisper; he belted them, beseeching some entity in the celestial ether to carry him to the cosmos, all while wearing his signature, red-lipped harlequin makeup, his black hair a frizzled crown beckoning pigeons from across the city to nest within.
Before the show, I had met my parents for a drink near Penn Station. Our laughs ricocheted around the bar until a shared yet unspoken sentiment gently nudged us to leave. It was a symbolic meeting of sorts, a full circle moment in which The Cure’s gothic energy — specifically during the live rendition of “A Forest,” in all its downbeat, verdant glory — ultimately mimicked my own melancholy.
It was my last night living in New York since the summer of 2016, when I had moved there to attend college as an unwitting, gangly 18-year-old. Seven years later, I was leaving, moving back to my parent’s home in coastal New Jersey indefinitely to save money, soon to spend every waking moment prematurely scouring StreetEasy and furnishing haphazard plans to move back. While I’m grateful to be extremely close with my family, leaving New York behind in my mid-20s, if only for the short term, was a less-than-ideal scenario.
During “A Forest,” the backdrop screen behind the band displayed footage of barren and stripped trees lurching in jerky motions. The clips conjured memories of Snow White tearing through the woods in a technicolor fever dream while spindly branches snare her blue and yellow dress. And while I may have dressed as the Disney princess for Halloween three years in a row as a kid, I knew the real reason the performance resonated with me (other than simply liking the song) was its disorienting quality. “Lost in a forest, all alone,” just about summed up my pervasive sense of confusion.
Bending the emotion stuffed into song lyrics so that it mirrors the reality of our own lives is nothing new, but finding commonalities with and an appreciation for more dated music has become something of a recent phenomenon, at least for my generation. As The Atlantic reported last year, “Old songs now represent 70% of the U.S. music market,” per music-analytics firm, MCR data.
I should qualify that, at least for myself, old songs have always defined the bulk of my playlists. I’ve never been particularly privy to whatever is sliding in and out of the U.S. Top 50 list unless it includes Lana Del Rey or the Arctic Monkeys. My parents, who met in high school, were (and still are) bonafide concert junkies, with my dad spending the earliest years of his career working in the music industry. They were vegetarians with too many foster pets, spending many nights in their 20s moshing up and down the east coast to the likes of Nirvana, Metallica and the Foo Fighters. They had a deep appreciation for David Bowie, The Doors, Bauhaus, The Police, Peter Gabriel, The Cure (before their “Boys Don’t Cry” heyday), Led Zeppelin and many, many more.
By extension, so would I, and I developed a precocious music taste at an early age, warbling off Red Hot Chili Peppers lyrics at the beach and listening to The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on repeat before many a middle school cross country race.
I was largely content to live within those musically monolithic walls, supremely enjoying the fact that I’d been spoon-fed “In Utero” since I was in utero.
When I received an iPod shuffle for Christmas in 2009, I also was given a CD of New Order’s “Power, Corruption & Lies.” My parents, in an effort to stave off the sound pollution they saw as early to mid-2000s pop music, diligently downloaded pre-selected albums on my new device for me: The Psychedelic Furs’ “Forever Now” (1982) and “Mirror Moves” (1984), interspersed with the best of U2’s ’80s hits.
My parents had U2’d my iTunes account before the Dublin quartet would have the chance to in 2014. There were times I’d gripe over this, relishing the moments when I could listen to Lady Gaga, unfiltered, in my babysitter’s car without worrying about broaching the ill-fated question: “Can I put [insert local pop radio station] on?” But even as a kid, I was largely content to live within those musically monolithic walls, supremely enjoying the fact that I’d been spoon-fed “In Utero” since I was in utero. It was cool, something to be proud of, something that I had finessed (with a not-so-gentle push from my parents) that was idiosyncratically mine.
Along with that self-aggrandizement came an annoyingly compulsive gatekeeper-ness on my part, specifically when much of what I’d listened to growing up went mainstream. I was frustrated when Luca Guadagnino popularized “Love My Way” amongst Gen Z through the drippy peachiness of “Call Me By Your Name,” and felt embittered when Season 2 of “Stranger Things” didn’t give enough screentime to The Cars’ “Moving In Stereo” (although I get what the directors were trying to do by tugging on the “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” Phoebe Cates pool scene.) Like Kate Bush, I was caught off guard by the show’s — but mainly TikTok’s — mega-resurgence of “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God.)” When I watched Netflix’s true crime documentary “Don’t F*ck With Cats”, I was horrified to learn how the killer played New Order’s “True Faith” while he committed unthinkable acts, essentially bastardizing a once-favorite song of mine. And when “The Last of Us” made use of Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again” to signal that something was rotten in the state of Denmark, I was a punctured balloon, pointing at the TV screen with droopy fingers as I mumbled some unintelligible incantation to my roommates about how I was hoping to get tickets to see the band for their upcoming North American tour.
In my large family of seven, music has created an unequivocally shared existence.
Let me be clear, I’m not simply some elitist, ornery crustacean, falling asleep and waking up to the thought that the most sacred songs on my Spotify must remain vaulted, never to reach the ears of curious friends. Isn’t music made to be discovered and then resurrected from the catacombs of time somewhere down the line? Shouldn’t these old tunes be plucked from the days of their infancy and plugged into a 2023 cartridge to be born into new life?
This process of rediscovery may in fact be a sign of the times, or rather, a continuation of them — Rolling Stone recently proclaimed, “The Cure Are This Summer’s Hottest Rock Tour. Yes, Really.” At the concert, much of the setlist reached far back into The Cure’s catalog, pulling from tracks like “Push,” “10:15 Saturday Night,” “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” and “The Walk.” To my surprise, they didn’t even perform “The Lovecats.”
More than anything, however, my sense of affectionate protectiveness over songs of this ilk stems mainly from their innate connection to my identity. And not merely my personal identity — in my large family of seven, music has created an unequivocally shared existence. From a young age, my parents nurtured in my siblings and me a distinctive piece of themselves, allowing their five scions to snap and spurt in their own unique musical directions while wholesomely shepherding us under a unifying taste. What my parents had set out to instill in us has evolved into a Spotify symbiosis amongst my brother and sisters. When my sister asked, “Hey, which ‘Talking Heads’ song is that?” one recent weekend morning,” I happily told her that it was “Perfect World.” Though her identification with and experience of the song would be wholly different from my own, I knew she would maintain the same sense of earnest care for it that I had, swaddling it around her when she needed it most or simply for fun.
I am certainly happy that my generation has haplessly stumbled upon such amazing artists, all while imbibing the Kool-Aid of some pretty A-1 television shows and films. What leaves me with a perennial sense of anxiety is the fear that those stomping, synthy, shuffling-eyed old songs that mean so much to me will be chopped and diced and julienned so aggressively that their golden kernels of “substance” that legendary producer Teddy Riley speaks about will be lost on the modern-day listener. Sure, The The’s “This Is The Day” doesn’t mean the same thing to me that it does to my mom. But over years of listening, that song, and so many others, has sunken so deeply into my psyche that I can’t help but feel a visceral twang of piety for something incomprehensibly vast anytime it comes on. It’s how I’m certain I’ll feel this fall, when I attend Depeche Mode’s tour in New York with my parents.
Several days after we saw The Cure, my parents and I sat in the quiet darkness of our dining room, scooping heaps of tangled spaghetti onto plates and debriefing about the concert. “They dug really deep. Those were some deep cuts,” my dad said, my mom nodding in agreement. The setlist had reflected their longtime appreciation of the band, and between forkfuls of twirled pasta, my parents hypothesized that The Cure’s three-night residency in New York had been a sort of “thank you” to veteran fans. I smiled in agreement, feeling the energy of the moment, and so many similar moments before it flow between us, seeping into our old home’s walls and floorboards with the sun’s final surges.
In the next room, an episode of M*A*S*H that no one was really watching rolled onto the TV. My brother sat on the couch, locked in a debate with his laptop screen, trying to parse out just how much was too much to spend on Pearl Jam tickets. One of my sisters walked through the front door, sand from the beach constellated across her tanned back sprinkling across the floor with each step, as our two Great Pyrenees rose to meet her.
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