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.
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” 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.
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 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.