A week of songs: day five

OK, so thanks to the Facebook chain post doing the rounds, I’m doing that song-a-day-for-a-week thing where I post a song I like and write a bit about it. You should do it too, eh? (Seriously, if you like the post, go write your own, and tell me in the comments, as I’d like to read your picks.)

This is day five. It’s a fair whack after day four, but it’s sequentially day four. You know, life gets in the way sometimes. Anyway, the song I’ve chosen is “A Forest” by The Cure.

I was not a Cure fan from an early age. I grew up in country New South Wales and then, for some years, in Auckland, New Zealand, and found that I hadn’t really been exposed to them in the same grinding way I’d been exposed to Bruce Hornsby & The Range. (Yes, I guess that just is the way it is.) So when a friend of mine from school – Andrew Malone, who I can’t seem to find these days – loaned me his tape of Disintegration, the 13-year-old me was ecstatic. Of course, the single “Lullaby” got a thrashing, but the self-involved weirdness of the album seemed to burrow into me.

I had no idea, when I kept flipping that tape, that this was a band that had already had a proper career, especially one with the sort of grim, marked-for-death fatalism that’d characterised albums such as Pornography, say. (The ideal album for angsty teen boys, letmetellyer.)

The first time I heard this song was on the Standing On A Beach collection I’d scored as my first proper Cure purchase, because it had the most songs on it. I had the tape version which gathered a bunch of b-sides (including the brilliant “I’m Cold”) and knew I had to hear more.

The first time I heard “A Forest”, in its truncated single form, I felt changed. Everything was mysterious but comforting at once: the oddly metallic flanged guitar, the leaden, solid bassline, the workmanlike drums. The echoes on vocals and synth washes. Everything’s kind of fucked up and I had no idea what was going on except then that solo – if you could even call it that – came in, sounding like someone rattling a springs in a draw, somehow.

I needed more. I’m pretty sure I scoured K-Mart throw-out bins until I discovered a nine-buck copy of Seventeen Seconds, still one of my favourite things the band has done. If you had to distill their goals at that point, “A Forest” would be a pretty good. That era does the literate-yet-mysterious thing well, and Smith’s guitar playing’s simplicity is a strength. None of the musicianship is stellar – it’s probably Simon Gallup’s bass that pulls everything together – but in terms of simple economy in service of mood, this period is exceptional. Goth rock without hackneyed vampiric shit, and certainly without the larding of effects which would become the band’s stock-in-trade in decades to come.

The album version is longer than the single version I was familiar with, and when I discovered the Live In Orange video I discovered the live versions went even longer still.

I can honestly say that it’s this video and a collection of books I won from Drum Media that began my lifelong love affair with the Fender Jazzmaster. In fact, the first two effect pedals I bought when I began learning guitar were Boss ones – a Chorus and a Flanger because I knew Robert Smith had them on his pedal board. The joy I felt at going home and nailing the sound of the guitar on this recording was incredible – I probably haven’t felt that good playing guitar since. Of course, this song was practically the first thing I ever figured out by myself. I’m an OK player – certainly not great – but there’s something about the simplicity of a lot of the lines in Smith’s playing that inform a lot of what I do, or how I think about guitar lines. If I pick up a guitar with nothing in mind, this song is what I’ll play, thoughtlessly.

I never got to see The Cure play until I was living in London. Would you believe I listened to my mother during their Wish tour, and didn’t see them because I had a maths exam the next day? (Newsflash: fuck maths, said the lit grad.) But I worked around the corner from the Astoria, where in 2000 the launch for Bloodflowers was being held. It was a fanclub-only thing and I’d no ticket – so in my only-ever instance of buying from scalpers, I paid thirty quid and went inside and watched the band play a couple of new album tracks, and a fair chunk of favourites. I was three feet away from the dude who had kept me company through the seemingly-awful years of teenage datelessness, and when their first encore ended with “A Forest” I cried.

And it was worth it.

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