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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Lipstick

Disclaimer: I wrote this 3 years ago or so for an old blog. It's not about books.

If somehow I'd never heard it, and you gave me a copy of The Cure's Disintegration today and said, "this album affected me profoundly, and even now there's nothing I'd rather listen to if there were just one left on Earth," I'd look at the guy on the cover, say "Is that lipstick?" and then shake my head.

I'd listen to it, sure. Maybe all of the way through, at least once. I'm not sure what it would do to me, though. Listening to it right now it's impossible to separate it from what comes along with it, which is to say every second of every day of years 16-18. What I'm saying is that I understand that the record itself might not mean anything to you, there's probably one that does. And as it plays, I have to admit to myself that yeah, at 32, with so much more experience and a wife and a family, it really is the best. Freaking. Album. Ever.

As I think back, there are probably other CDs I've listened to more. Add it Up, by Violent Femmes, maybe. I can still recite that entire album from start to finish without playing it. Oingo Boingo's Boingo Alive is up there. The self-titled Rage Against the MachineThe Wall. Nothing, though, takes me back to specific moments of my mixed-up teenage years like Disintegration.

I listened to it in the projection booth at the Newgate Movies 4, for example, as I closed up. Cleaning the projectors, covering the film on those massive platters with the big cloth, turning off all the lights in each of the theaters. Driving home at one a.m. on a school night, nobody on the road, "Fascination Street" playing on home stereo speakers spliced into a car stereo that sits loose between the two front seats.

Most of my friends hated my whole 80's catalog (a decade too late), so much of my listenings took place on my own, which is the best way to listen to Disintegration. There's just too much sound going on at once for it to be background sound to a car full of noisy kids who think it's a good idea to shoot plastic disks at passing cars from their parents' minivan with the easily remembered vanity plate. It's for long drives home from dates that you're not sure if they turned out or not, and if they did, is that a good thing? Because if you had fun, it just means you like her more, and as a teenager liking a girl a lot never turned out all that hot.

The clashing, clanging intro "Plainsong" is for playing too loudly in your headphones on that massive discman as you ride in the too-small backseat to your last Scout Camp. Where you'll find out that while you're too old for the knots and the white kids dressed like Native Americans, you will take a backpacking trip and subsequent 200-foot rappel down a rock face that will foreshadow the pursuits of your (so far) adult life.

"The Same Deep Water as You" lasts for nine minutes and nineteen seconds, but feels like an hour. Somehow in a good way. It's the track where at some point you forget that you were listening to anything, and you find yourself in the middle of thinking about something you've never considered before. The soundtrack for a brain that, while being absorbed almost completely with growth and chemistry flowing throughout, is still capable of profound insights that will stick with you forever. Even as you remind yourself constantly how stupid you were the rest of the time.

And then there's the tracks that give Robert Smith his reputation for depressing breakup songs. "Pictures of You" with its line "If only I'd thought of the right words, I could have held on to your heart." And the title track, Disintegration, the perfect song for the kid who fell in love with every girl only to talk himself out of it the time she doesn't say hi back in the hall.

So it's all come back round to breaking apart again
Breaking apart like I'm made up of glass again
Making it up behind my back again
Holding my breath for the fear of sleep again
Holding it up behind my head again
Cut in deep to the heart of the bone again
Round and round and round and it's coming apart again over and over and over

Now that I know that I'm breaking to pieces I'll pull out my heart and I'll feed it to anyone
...It's easier for me to get closer to heaven than ever feel whole again

And even then you know it's too dramatic. You're aware that you have to have a girlfriend first to break up and then wallow in a good breakup song. And to get a girlfriend you're going to have to somehow get past the point where your mom has to offer to pay for it before you ask someone to the Homecoming Dance. And even then someone else is going to ask her for you.

But you do understand that part about not feeling whole, because you're not. Not when you're 16 or 17 or 18.

And yet later on in that timeline, at 21, you'll listen to the album in another dark movie theater with your future wife. She'll tell you years later that she fell in love with you to The Cure. She'll fall asleep with her head on your chest as you listen to it eleven years later and you figure that if music helps make you who you are, and this one helped make you someone that a woman like her would love, at some point you're going to have to call it your favorite ever. Even with that lipstick.