Hello, welcome to our blogging the cure series. The previous two posts have set the ground rules. Let’s start by introducing the Cure’s first album, Three Imaginary Boys, and then analyze the first song, 10:15 Saturday night.
Three Imaginary Boys – 1979
The very first album is Three Imaginary Boys. Smith has claimed that he had limited control over which songs went on it, or over the album’s cover. But, as we will discover, the fact that the last song is the title song, just like on 17 Seconds, Faith, and Pornography, suggests that Smith at least got a say in that part of the process.
By 1980, the Cure releases Boys Don’t Cry, in the US. Some say it’s the same album as TIB, but, really it’s entirely different, and so it will be analyzed separately. As TIB was coming out in the UK, the Cure released their first single, which was Killing an Arab, which in itself is a highly significant statement about RS’s early work, and his whole outlook on things, as we will see. But KA doesn’t make it onto TIB – strangely – already b/c of lyrical controversy? Probably. And Boy’s Don’t Cry is also not on TIB. BDC was probably written just after TIB was released? Who knows? I can look into it.
But for now, the main point is that these songs, both on TIB and BDC, are early lyrics, early attempts at craft, which are begun when RS is 16-17, and the album is released when he is 19 going on 20. So these really are juvenilia. They are often angry, ok, but also surprisingly violent, intentionally shocking. Not what one expects from RS at all, from later works. One gets the sense that in these early pieces, RS is really just giving vent to his adolescent powers, for the most part, fine, one has to get these things out. I wrote poetry somewhat similar to this in subject and tone at the time, absent the murdering people references, tho! Still, frustrated about girls, etc.
One gets the sense that he was wanting to shock in his lyrics, in order to gain fame. The culture of the UK at that time had few outs for working-class youth such as RS and his buddies, but one obvious way out was to emulate the Beatles, and become TV heroes, or at least to become notorious like the Sex Pistols, etc.
This is called post-punk. What are its obvious relations to punk? The anger, the intention to shock, are punkish. The sparse music. But there isn’t much really about anarchy or antiauthoritarianism here. Political-ness isn’t really RS’s bag, at any time in his career. But let’s see about this as we go through the songs.
The first song on Three Imaginary Boys is:
10.15 Saturday Night
10.15 on a Saturday night
And the tap drips
Under the strip light
And I’m sitting
In the kitchen sink
And the tap drips
Drip, drip, drip
Waiting for the
Telephone to ring
And I’m wondering
Where she’s been
And I’m crying
And the tap drips
Drip, drip, drip
It’s always the same
Ok, reading these lyrics, one is struck by the strength of the image. One can easily dismiss this as juvenile, simplistic, and, by itself, it’s arguably light fare. But then one puts on the actual music, and listens along, and you realize that this isn’t garbage. It’s very deliberate and crafted. And it starts out very scary, spooky, and the notion of the tap dripping.
So, it does a pretty good job of conjuring life in a student apartment in England: crummy lighting – a fluorescent ‘’strip light’’, crummy 1950s faucets, cheap materials – I was a student in the UK in the early 1990s, and can really easily conjure an image of sitting in the kitchen/common area of our dormitory, on those weeknights or even (heaven forfend) weekend nights where I had nothing to do, or where I had been out but gotten home early, or else where I was waiting to go out later, and had hours to kill. In that kind of apartment situation, you’re living alone or with roommates who might be indifferent to you or vice versa, every hour, especially in the evenings or nights, can easily seem like an eternity. Add to this adolescent restlessness, and a sense that one really ought to be out, and seeing life and being in it, out with friends, and add further the sex drive which gives you crushes on several girls of your acquaintance… and this is a potent mix. And then, in this scenario, of course, the girl in question is maybe going to call, and maybe not. And she might well be out on a date with someone else. Or she might not. And she might really like you, or slightly like you, and she might not. And she might be dating one or more other guys, and she might not. And you have plenty of time to think about this. And the tap drips, and you’re sitting on the kitchen counter, or perhaps even, in the sink. But I hope you wouldn’t sit in the sink if the tap was actually dripping.
Of course, if you are tripping or high on something, or really drunk, you might be sitting in the sink, and then having the tap drip in the sink means that you will be sitting in a puddle, or at least feel the tap dripping against your back, and having it dribble down your buttcrack, or against the wasteband of your pants, and you might not even notice. Because that’s what this image really does seem to imply. So I would argue that a bit of closer inspection suggests that the protagonist is not only lovesick, but probably (at the last) drunk on something. Given that we know that Robert was a heroin addict either by this point, or within a few years of this point, I think we can also add that this song has a strong undercurrent of being under the influence.
As a drug song, if we take it that way, and/or want to read it in this light, this does not at all glorify the drug taking lifestyle, as many 1960s and 70s songs had done, but instead shows a much more realistic portrait of what happens to the addict most of the time: most of the hours you spend coming down are spent in your own domestic space, often a pretty crummy one, waiting for friends to call, or a girlfriend to make your day/weekend, literally having the clock tick and the tap drip, to mark the time. And no money to go out, or to spend on anything else.
So if all of this can be said about this relatively simple song, then we’re off to a pretty good start I would say. Not bad for juvenilia.
And, we might as well add that as an album opener (which I had never really experienced before, because I had the US version – Boys Don’t Cry), this does work surprisingly well, mostly because of the music. As noted above, the music builds from almost nothing, and blends the music very well with the lyrics. The music itself is very strong, confident, and articulate already – heralding Smith’s real genius in this regard, and it makes a stronger statement with its guitar than basically any other alternative songs that I have heard – I mean, by varying precisely what the guitar does, dynamics, specific notes, moving from creepy quiet passages to a standard ‘punkish’ bridge. The Cure themselves don’t do this type of experimental, non-traditional guitar, with the guitarwork mirroring the lyrics so precisely, much after about 1981. This type of craft, and the interplay between music and lyrics, is notable for that reason as well.