Thursday, January 18, 2007

Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me

I have four friends in four countries. Our lives could not have been any more different save for one striking blast of synchronicity that still leaves us spellbound when we think about it. In the spring of 1987, almost 20 years before we became friends, we were a stoned mullethead in Chicago, an ex-punk picking up photography in London, a future lit major in Australia, a willfully mute artsy type in Kingston and a quasi bohemian in Paris. But for one magical summer in 1987 (magic being black of course) all five of us with no knowledge of each other’s existence, were doing the same thing at the same time: Marooning ourselves in our bedrooms to listen to The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.

I don’t remember 1987 by any sequence of days and dates; I remember it by breaths I lost, gasping at “Just Like Heaven.” I can’t recall any major events but I do remember the sad drum clatter of “Like Cockatoos,” fighting against the thunder strings and the titanic, looping bass. I know at precisely which bar of “The Kiss” the vocals come in and I remember experiencing something between epiphany and euphoria when I screamed “Get that FUCKING voice out of my head” along with Robert Smith. I remember trying not to lose it in the middle of “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep,” because I thought right then that I would never experience love. I was in U.S. for the summer after the roughest school year of my life. To paraphrase what Oprah once said about books, great music, hearing great records was the first time I felt loved, ever. Records like Kiss me Kiss me Kiss me, and Sign O’ The Times, (another double album masterpiece released that year) were so loaded with riches that they felt like gifts I didn’t deserve.

All I know is that when I listened to The Cure everything that I hated about myself at the beginning became everything I loved about myself at the end. This was my mute season, the summer I stopped talking because I had grown tired of being one of the most hated kids in high school. I spent that Easter trying to devise painless ways to kill myself because I just did not belong. I wanted to be one of the normal, cool kids so badly that I decided that the only way to make my life better was to end it. People always mocked me when I spoke so I stopped speaking, leaving it up to others to decide whether I was sick or rude. Drowning seemed too violent and slashing my wrists meant, well, the slashing part. I heard that falling from a building was like diving into water. I was dead set on dying but instead I went to Chicago. I stayed with my uncle, aunt and cousins who were all wonderful people, but fundamentalist Christians who didn’t take too kindly to popular music. I remember waiting until everybody was asleep and tiptoeing downstairs to watch Friday night videos on Superstation TBS.

One day we were driving home from Wednesday church service when we stopped at a gas station. Somebody was switching stations on the radio. Out of nowhere the strangest, high-pitched voice burst through the little car stereo. “Everything you do is so ingeeeeeeeeeeeeeniousssssss! He-she-it said. Five seconds later that same voice was howling “Why, why why why why can’t I be yoooooouuuuuuu?” The radio was quickly switched off. “You like that?” somebody asked me. “No,” I said, the first but not the last time I lied about music. I didn’t know who the band was or the name of the song, but I bought Billboard the next day hoping that the name of the song was Why Can’t I Be You. There it was on both the college rock and dance charts. I bought the record in secret, and spent nights staring at the huge lip-sticked cover, dying to go back home so that I could play it loud with the headphones on.

As a writer what interests me most is the commonality of experience, how we co-exist even as we choose not to coexist. Or put another way, how all of us are living the same lives even as we choose not to share them. In 1987 my future friends and me spent summer being alone together. 1987 was a particularly lonely summer and back then Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and Sign on the times were the only friends I had. But Sign O’ the Times was drama on an international scale. Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me was a private thing, an underground back when the word meant something. The Cure were a band whose exaggerated freakiness and geekiness underscored my own. A band that taught me to celebrate the very things about me that others disliked. I was a Jamaican kid in love with Love and Rockets and Echo and the Bunnymen and couldn’t understand why I was being crucified for not liking dancehall reggae. Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me was one of the first true epics of the alternative nation, back when we were all swimming in our own innerspace, unaware that we had become a movement. That was something we would not realize until all of us; goths, nerds, punks, hardcore kids, straight edgers, artfags, grunge boys, Riot Grrrls, hip-hoppers, new wavers and no-wavers all showed up at Pixies Concerts.

I recently bought the re-mastered double CD and found myself doing what I always do: skipping to “Like Cockatoos,” then playing the rest in entirety. I think of Robert Smith’s puppy dog whelp and how everyone around me hated it. I remember that being the exact point when loving something everybody else hates became the greatest pleasure in the world. I extended this to loving other things, among them the Pixies, Shakespeare and myself. Maybe it’s a stretch to say that loving the Cure helped me to love myself but in my mind it makes perfect sense. Don’t get me wrong, Disintegration is their masterpiece. In fact my favourite song of the 1989 might be Love Song. Or Lullaby. Or Fascination Street. But Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me is MY record. The one where I got to know and love not only this great band, but myself as well.