As their stunning new concert film comes to home video, one writer explores the importance of a goth-rock masterpiece to an 18-year-old Midwestern boy in the summer of 1989
There I stood on the massive, concrete wraparound porch of my parents’ Indiana farmhouse, endlessly rewinding and playing the title track of The Cure’s Disintegration, tears racing down my face.
It was August 1989, and my best friend had just said goodbye to me, with neither of us knowing how long it would be until we saw each other again.
Disintegration came out at the start of May of that year, so I’d been listening to it fairly obsessively for much of the summer. Lead single “Fascination Street,” while not a top 40 radio hit, had moved from the Buzz Bin to Heavy Rotation on MTV by the start of July. The massive, unexpected, and frankly shocking (to longtime Cure fans, at least) success of “Love Song” — which would ascend all the way to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October, only held out of the top spot by Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” — was yet to come. But by August, Disintegration already felt incredibly lived in, to this gay, goth-hearted, lonely teenager.
I spent the summer, following my bad freshman year of college, back at home, working with my closest friends in our local college cafeteria’s dishroom. We had a beat-up boombox in there, and rotated tapes in and out of it; as I recall, we played Disintegration a lot — the album’s songs with more thrust, like “Fascination Street” and “Prayers for Rain,” helped work go along more quickly. With this record, however, a return to the heavy gothness of the likes of Pornography and Faith years earlier, I tended to focus on its gloriously despondent lyrics. No one wrote depression quite like Robert Smith (save, perhaps, Ian Curtis, but he wasn’t making new music at the end of the ‘80s). My clinically depressed, sad little heart responded quite strongly to Smith’s lyrics, with music that perfectly backed them up.
The Head on the Door, the first Cure album I would’ve heard around its time of release, was a fairly brilliant dark goth-pop album; I gravitated immediately to closer “Sinking,” still my favorite track to this day. Its follow-up, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, had its moments but was overall a bit poppier than I wanted — needed — from Smith and co. But Disintegration was a perfect synthesis of everything they could do: the guitar textures were (are) stunning, and Smith’s lyrics in many ways never sharper, and when I say “sharper,” I mean akin to something you’d use to slit your wrists. During my freshman year of college, I’d come perilously close to attempting suicide, so this depression Smith was expressing was something I understood. What I didn’t fully understand at the time was that I was in the midst of my first significant bout of depression, which lasted for the better part of two years, encompassing all of 1989.
My best friend Robin was pretty depressed, too, and having an awful time at home with his parents. It was one of my days off, and apparently Robin left work, saying he was sick, went to his house and packed up a few things, and then drove to my house. He was heading off to college, early, just leaving, having just had it with his family and everyone else. But first he came to say goodbye to me. He told me, in garbled language, what he was doing, and hugged me and said “Goodbye, Tom.” I was shocked, stunned, and didn’t know what to do. (There was nothing to do, of course.) So as and after he drove away, I followed my emotions and listened to Disintegration, focusing on the lyric “Both of us knew/How the end always is,” sobbing.
I don’t know what I would’ve listened to had I not had Disintegration there. But I’m glad I did, because I felt like someone else understood what I was going through, how I was feeling. And that’s why generations upon generations of people have fallen for The Cure’s music — because Robert Smith has been, for decades, such an acute chronicler of depression and sadness. He’s never done it better than he did on Disintegration, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.
VIDEO: The Cure “Disintegration” live from the concert film The Cure Live 40