Dark Wave to the Rescue! Part 2 Come Closer and See, See Into the Dark

It’s Labor Day weekend in the States, football is back and everyone is getting ready to tailgate. And what do I do? I reach for my vinyl copy of the Cure’s 1980 release, Seventeen Seconds. I hold the pressing in my battle-scarred hands and gaze at the cover art. I’m presented with the logo the band used in its early years seated atop an obscured photograph. To me, the image looks like the view from behind a rain smudged windshield in late summer. You see, I have a knack for getting the maximum number of wipes out of a set of wiper blades. I’m often presented with a similar looking greasy smear when precipitation levels are just low enough to warrant wipers but not really strong enough to wash away grime and maintain a clear field of vision. This happenstance most often occurs in early September after the aquatic onslaught of spring and summer comes to a close. Feelings of failure begin to instantaneously brew in my gut, and my inner rage boils over regarding these small, inanimate objects. The early warning signs of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) have started up once again. Help me Robert Smith. You’re my only hope. Once I’ve mumbled a few PG-rated obscenities, I slip the disc out of it’s protective sleeve, place it on the turntable, and drop the needle.

The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds – September to October

What follows is a listing of key songs from The Cure’s sophomore release, Seventeen Seconds. You’ll find my notes regarding the proper date/time/situational pairing peppered into each section. Consider it a little guidebook for following my seasonal depression at home or on the go.

A Reflection

The album begins with an instrumental track that kicks off my annual descent into darkness. “A Reflection” starts with a synthesized pulsating sound subtly ticking away the seconds. Life is passing us by. Good thing Robert is about to explain how meaningless it all is! We hear simple guitar chords ring out over a sorrowful, single note piano melody. The chords eventually resolve in a way that almost sounds hopeful, but trust me, that’s not where things are heading. It’s early autumn, leaves are starting to fall, and much like the notes of the piano melody, my inner sense of well-being descends as well.

A Play for Today

I’m especially fond of this one because who among us doesn’t run dialogue inside his or her head before testing it out in real life? My poor, beleaguered wife is leading lady in all of my internal screenplays. I hand craft each word to painstaking detail, but nevertheless she always likes to improvise. Actors, am I right? In this set of lyrics, Smith bathes in his flaws and expresses apathy toward making any personal improvements. He emphasizes his partner’s constant need for him to be more than what he’s capable of being. He anticipates her words and deeds offering only apathy in return. “It’s not a case of doing what’s right. It’s just the way I feel that matters. Tell me I’m wrong. I don’t really care.” I see this as the classic tale of a summer romance turned sour. The perfect emotional cocktail for early September! Things will only grow colder and deader from here. As strange as it may sound, I get a cozy feeling from knowing that someone else is imperfect and that someone else behaves in this manner. I get some kind of “I’m-not-a-maniac-after-all” validation from it.

In Your House

This part might sound unflattering or even strange coming from a fan, but dear LORD is this track boring! I believe that if seasonal depression had a soundtrack, it would sure as hell contain the lifeless drum beats repeated throughout this song. The incessant thumping makes me feel instantly disengaged and soulless. I like to tell myself that Robert Smith was going for this sensation as he developed these songs with the band. It certainly mirrors how I feel in late September. Things at that time of year seem to just plod along, taking me with them. Lyrically we get Robert walking through someone’s house in a milky haze. He likens it to swimming. The point of view is purposely detached. “I play at night in your house. I live another life. Pretending to swim in your house. I change the time in your house. The hours I take go so slow.” The hours do move slowly my man, but thankfully this little tune is over in about four minutes.

The Final Sound

All I can say about this one… ever had a bit too much to drink… in a room filled with musical instruments and a recording device? No? Well, if you ever do find yourself in such a position, “The Final Sound” is what you’d discover the next morning when you press “play” on the night before. For me, late September reeks of this kind of frustrated desperation.

A Forest

“A Forest” is one of the most popular songs The Cure ever recorded. Often played live, this one is a real crowd pleaser. It has everything. Creepy lyrics, a driving bass line, and a drum beat to which you can actually dance! It tells the story of a man lost in the woods, searching for the girl he will never find. A “boo scary” vibe permeates the recording which has helped me establish a strong mental connection between this song and October. Even though it’s intense, I’ve listened to “A Forest” so many times that it now has a calming effect on me. It’s like a classic horror flick. The kind you’ve grown familiar with and can now put on to help you fall asleep.

At Night

Let me paint a picture for you. It’s late October and you’re an adult, so I mean, Halloween isn’t really what it used to be. Perhaps you’re running a random errand in your car: it’s dark, and the air outside is cold. You don’t really feel like laughing, or rocking out to the latest from… oh hell, I can’t name anyone current. You reach under the seat to find your heavily scratched copy of Seventeen Seconds on compact disc. You insert the disc and skip to track nine. There goes that stoic drumming again… but wait, a fuzzy guitar riff? And synth too?! Embrace the anguish, as you sink deep into the night. It’s going to be ok.  Your pal Robert is here too.

Seventeen Seconds

Seventeen Seconds could be described as an album about fear. The fear of settling down and the fear of isolation are all front and center on this recording. Perhaps the greatest fear discussed is the fear that life is passing us by. “Seventeen Seconds”, the title track from which the album derives its name, closes things out with the phrase: “seventeen seconds, a measure of life.” For me, in the grip of SAD, that’s what always remains in forefront of my mind. The passage of time with me playing the part of an observer. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, or what I have to look forward to in life, I’m mindful of the fact that time is ever in motion. It’s just sweeping me along without my permission. It’s late October, and I am on the outside looking in once again. It’s healthy to dwell on this kind of stuff, right?

Next up, we endure November and December with The Cure’s 1981 release, Faith.

What Ever Happened to Dig?

Dig Believe VideoAnyone who watched MTV in the early 90s will undoubtedly remember Buzz Clips. These videos were often in heavy rotation on the channel and largely consisted of new and noteworthy alternative rock acts. Buzz Clips caught the eye of many young high schoolers, myself included, who were eager to get a guitar, save up for a fuzz box, and make mom move the LeSabre from the garage so the guys could come over and “practice”.

One band that made its way into the Buzz Bin, was Southern California’s Dig. Formed by Scott Hackwith and guitarist Dix Denney, the band recorded their self-titled debut album in 1993. It spawned one hit single “Believe” which landed them a place in Buzz clip history and even earned the group appearances on MTV’s The John Stewart Show and NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

Strangely enough, if you try to find any of the band’s albums for sale digitally, or even attempt to stream their albums from your streaming service of choice, you’ll notice there isn’t much available. The band was somehow lost in the shuffle after the alternative rock boom of the early 90s took the dirt nap. In order to get a copy of the debut album today you have to find a used one online, or stumble into a used record store in real life and hope you get lucky. I’ll be honest, that last part sounds kind of fun. Still though, it’s sad that the band’s music isn’t widely available. That’s what the Internet is supposed to be good for, right? I swear, Internet, the one time I go lookin’ and you let me down.

I know what you’re probably thinking. “Well, most of that 90s rock was crap. All the bands sounded the same. And that Dig record, the one with the video on MTV, probably wasn’t that great to begin with. I mean, you only mentioned that one song.”

But that’s just it, the album Dig released via Radioactive in 1993 was actually pretty good. Solid even. I struggle to think of a throwaway track. Now, I should mention you do need to calibrate your expectations a bit when listening. Dial it in for “distorted-stoner-SoCal-rock-circa-1990” and you’ll be fine. We’re not talking Pet Sounds or anything here folks.

Anyway I think someone has posted the self-titled album on YouTube, but that’s about it for its digital availability. Check it out if you can, or like the good old days, hunt it down in the wild. At the very least it’ll build character.

Album Info

Dig Artist: Dig
Album: Dig
Label: Radioactive
Released: 1993
Track listing:

Let Me Know

I’ll Stay High

Unlucky Friend

Anymore

Conversation

Believe

Feet Don’t Touch the Ground

Ride the Wave

Green Room

Tight Brain

F**k You

Decide

A Forest Single Cover

Dark Wave to the Rescue! Part 1 The Cure for Seasonal Affective Disorder

If I’m ever asked to rank gloomy guys with messy hair from best to worst, Robert Smith of The Cure would sit comfortably atop a list populated by such greats as Alan Moore, Edgar Allan Poe, and Oscar the Grouch. Am I drawn in by Robert’s unorthodox yet lovable (if you let it grow on you) vocal style? Do I most adore his ability to construct bitchin’ soundscapes with layer upon layer of affected guitar? Or do I simply have a penchant for dismal introspection? Oh, who am I kidding, we all know it’s the makeup. He’s like a sad clown version of Paul Stanley, sans platform boots.

Now before I proceed, any long time fan of The Cure will be quick to point out that Smith has penned more than his fair share of saccharine ditties. “Just Like Heaven” immediately comes to mind and also “Mint Car” if you prefer to dabble in the 90s. For the sake of this essay, however, I propose we all forget about those tracks and turn the clock back to the year 1979. Here we find a young Mr. Smith, fresh on the cusp of adulthood, having a hard go of things. I mean, I’m assuming he was struggling since it must have been at this exact moment that he flopped open the black composition notebook he undoubtedly used for writing song lyrics and hastily scrawled the following cry for help:

“I’m running towards nothing. Again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.”

In a scene that plays out in my mind time and time again, here is where I play the part of Robert’s witty, slightly overweight best friend. I toss my arm around him and say, “Hey old chum, it’s going to be alright. We’ve all been there. Now finish that freaky little poem, plug in that rad Strat knock off of yours, and make music history you beautiful bastard!”

The Disorder

I mean, I can sympathize after all. Each year, as the warm embrace of summer is disrupted by the cool kiss of autumn, my naturally lifted spirits also falter. Before I proceed, I by no means wish to belittle the pain of those who suffer from a depressive disorder that plagues them throughout the year. I just wish to chronicle how my melancholy rears its ugly head in typical fashion as the year begins to wind down and the epic three month long holiday season in the U.S. slowly drains my will to live. The proper name for this condition is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and it can last for an indeterminate amount of time, for me typically lifting during the springtime thaw. Since my depression is a temporary thing, I just keep my head down and soldier through it all, clinging to any artistic endeavor I can find that might bring some solace to my achy soul. For me, this means firing up the old record player (all post-punk and new wave should be enjoyed on vinyl) and presenting myself with a kick ass soundtrack, custom built for wallowing in misery.

The Cure

Yes, I have a ritual of sorts that I enact each year as SAD shows up at my doorstep, a fresh coat of black lipstick smeared across its maw, donning a black turtleneck while holding a stack of Cormac McCarthy novels under its arm. This annual ceremony always begins in September when I feel pulled by unseen forces to take a journey through the legendary trilogy of albums The Cure released from 1980 to 1982. Ok, so another side note, Robert Smith considers the following Cure albums to be the band’s official “trilogy”: Pornography, Disintegration, and Bloodflowers. While those are certainly epic records, many Cure fans, myself included, consider the real “trilogy” to be the albums released in the early 80s: Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography. Mostly because these records all deal with nihilistic themes and have a similar sonic aura to them. Plus, I mean, they all came out back to back. Keep it simple, I say! Anyway, these albums warm my heart by reminding me that I’m not alone in my anguish. It’s almost as if Robert comes up alongside me and says, “forget that other rubbish, it’s perfectly fine for a boy to shed a few tears.”

In the posts that follow, I will take a closer look at the albums that comprise The Cure’s early 80s trilogy. I’ll break each album down, review a few standout tracks, and attempt to illustrate how each one pairs nicely with a particular phase of my seasonal depression. In doing so, I will reveal why I find the trilogy to be so captivating and how these records act as an embalming agent of sorts, preserving my sanity for revival at a later date. So turn down the lights dear reader, grab a warm beverage, and search for Seventeen Seconds on Spotify (if you must). I won’t judge.