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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Narcissus, The Cure, My Friend Steven, and London, all in one package

I've been a fan of The Cure for longer than I'd like to admit, and it all goes back to being exposed to them by a friend I've had even longer than my fandom. Since his birthday is just a little more than 24 hours away, and he's on my mind (and also, so far away), I thought I would make some comments about the lyrics to one of The Cure's songs--a song which comes up in my life from time to time, a song which I still listen to, blaring, in my VW from a cassette tape recorded in my own college days. The song is called "Just Like Heaven," and at first listen, the up-tempo, danceable beat may tempt you to think of it as a happy song. It's anything but, however.

To further elaborate on this whole set of memories--the long-held friendship, the birthday, the significance of the song--I'm going to add another layer.

If you know me and have read much here, then you also know that one of the defining events of my life was a trip to London, England, while I was a college student. As it happened, on that trip, I spent some hours in the Tate Museum. While there, I planted myself in front of this surrealist Salvador Dali painting, The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, even taking time to try to sketch it out myself. 

And while studying it, a man came up beside me and lingered, likewise studying the piece.  When I lifted my eyes to see who it was standing there, I came face-to-face with Robert Smith, lead singer and front man for The Cure. Our eyes met. I recognized him. He nodded at me, realizing he had been recognized, said simply, "Hello." I was thankful for the cue, frozen a bit as I was. I replied unblinking, "Hello." And he was on his way, trailed about 15 feet behind by a tittering gaggle of pleated-mini-skirt-wearing schoolgirls.

It's possibly my favorite brush with celebrity.

Anyway, back to the song. It's a rather dark song, which I did not understand at the time I first came to enjoy its happy beat. But it's not insignificant that the painting was themed after Narcissus, and this song was produced by the man who like me, found that painting so intriguing as to pause and reflect upon it.

Narcissus just couldn't get enough of himself. In fact, his whole focus was on his own person. He spent all his time gazing at his reflection in the water--total self absorption. Eventually, the gods responded to Narcissus and made him completely useless for anything but eye candy by turning him into an inanimate life form--a flower. If image is all there is to you, then so be it, Narc old friend. Dali saw the hardness of the heart that can think only of itself. He depicted Narcissus first hardening like stone before the god-given transformation to a lesser life form was, perhaps mercifully, perhaps judgmentally, complete. If one looks at oneself, and only oneself, for too long, you can possibly expect the same kind of hardening to occur.

And that's where the song comes in. It's a tragic piece, really. I read into it depression more than narcissism, but both or either could be the case. Read the lyrics and see what you think:

Just Like Heaven by The Cure

"Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick
The one that makes me scream," she said,
"The one that makes me laugh," she said.
Threw her arms around my neck.
"Show me how you do it? And I'll promise you,
I'll promise that I'll run away with you, I'll run away with you."

Spinning on that dizzy edge,
Kissed her face and kissed her head,
Dreamed of all the different ways, I had to make her glow.
"Why are you so far away?" she said.
"Why won't you ever know that I'm in love with you?
That I'm in love with you?"

You, soft and only, you lost and lonely
You, strange as angels
Dancing in the deepest oceans
Twisting in the water,
You're just like a dream.
You're just like a dream.

Daylight licked me into shape.
I must have been asleep for days.
And moving lips to breathe her name
I opened up my eyes,
And found myself alone, alone, alone above a raging sea,
Stole the only girl I loved, drowned her deep inside of me.
You soft and only
You lost and lonely
You just like heaven.

The song opens with a woman obviously very interested in the man. She is asking him to share himself with her, and expressing back to him how great her delight is in him. Open up to me, show me the parts of you that I adore, and I will give you all myself, leaving behind everything else. It sounds like a great love story.

But his response isn't outward to her. He doesn't show her what she asks for. He is turned inward, like Narcissus. He speaks of spinning on a dizzy edge. Is this the edge of new love, which twists our minds with its thrill? Or is it the dizzy edge, the razor blade, of the mental condition of depression? I tend to think it is the latter, because of what comes next. Depression robs us of full contact with others outside ourselves. We balance a thin, dizzying edge, trying to walk it well, hiding the imbalance that causes us to teeter always back inward toward ourselves, thinking only of our wants, our hurts, our insecurities, our fears of failures being exposed. Even in the presence of the one who so desires just to enjoy him, he doesn't respond to her. He responds to himself, and sinks into a self-centered daydream about how he might or might not meet her request.

She notices. She knows he has turned inward. Why are you so far away? when he is right there with her, but he won't engage. He won't connect. He is inside himself instead. Even her declaration of love for him won't snap it out of him. Depression is like this. The reality of others' love doesn't go in, it doesn't compute. It traps an individual in a self-absorbed state, much to the dismay of the loving ones trying to reach in and break through.

He then enters into an ethereal meditation about her, showing how, while he sees her partly, it's not a real view. It's a vision, inside his mind, strange and out of reach. He can see that something has broken her, left her lost, lonely, twisting this way and that, about to be swept away. But he doesn't reach out to her, even then. He has teetered over the dizzy edge into his own internalized place, and she remains on the outside, out of reach.

How much time passes before he comes to his senses? We don't know, but somehow the light does find him.  He awakes, and now, perhaps he would be healed, ready for the relationship of joy and presence that she wanted with him. But she's gone. His apathy, whether caused by depression or total self-absorption, has destroyed her. She could wait no longer, or perhaps she really was consumed within his self-centeredness. She is gone. And he is left with just a distant view of the raging chaos that was his story, and the dream of her, out of reach.

I don't link this song to my friend Steven because of the narcissim or apathy it depicts, but because he is the one who gave me this musical group, with their thought-provoking lyrics and imagery, and their willingness to explore artistically some of the harder life issues that plague humankind. The song is heartbreaking. It is a warning, a prophet's cry. Sleepers, Awake! it says. It's easier said than done, but if the daylight is causing your hard heart to stir, don't shake it off and return to your darkness. Turn toward it, before the reality of the ones who love you become only distant images in darkened trances.

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