Hagley Road to Ladywood, "a peek into media culture & society"

July 21, 2008

"The Caterpillar"


It was May 1984. I was with my adorable Irish girlfriend in a t-shirt store in Berkeley and an incredible song appeared from the PA system. I had to find out what it was. I couldn’t stand listening to radio, but I was desperate to stop burning out my late-’60s music, so I pressed through the first vague answers and ended up at Rasputin Records buying a military-green can with “Survival Sampler” in a stencil font. There was an audio cassette inside with about a dozen songs, including the one I was looking for – Never Never by the Assembly. The rest were one each by Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Aztec Camera, Scritti Polliti, King Crimson, China Crisis, The Bluebells, The Church, Etc., and the best one, The Caterpillar, by a group called The Cure.

It was so new. I couldn’t assimilate it all. I would fast-forward to Never Never. Some of it I didn’t like very much. My friends were negative. I was still in the fog. My whole self-image hinged on trying to be fully conscious, but I was so deep in the fog I let “Survival Sampler” sit for almost two years. Finally, I saw it again and thought “Hey, I kind of liked this tape! I started playing it a lot, listening for The Caterpillar. And then, after I had heard it maybe thirty times, I woke up. All the lyrics were perfectly familiar to me by then, but finally I saw the point. “..flowing in and filling up my hopeless heart; oh never never go.” “WAIT!” I thought, “in those very few understated words, this guy is talking about extremely passionate, desperate LOVE! Beyond what most people are even able to conceive. His way is quietly perfect! What could possibly say it better than ‘Oh never never go’? One little adjustment through the sense of understatement, and this singer is expressing pure, soft, hopeless, eternal love. Understatement is part of his genius.

This deepest-of-all messages is penetrating the barricades, slipping sideways through the cracks of the daily façade. Listen to most lyrics and soon find them hollow. Listen to this lyric and the more you listen the deeper it takes you. Just give intelligence a chance: picture it, and you will not be disappointed; you will discover IT!” All this poured into me in two or three moments of one electrifying realization. So I listened – breathlessly. “You flicker and you’re beautiful; you glow inside my head; you hold me hypnotized; I’m mesmerized; your flames the flames that kiss me dead.” NO! Good grief, he really says that?: “Your flames the flames that kiss me dead.” The very core of the deepest, most perennial mythic message about the meaning of real, passionate Love, God, the death of the ego (and body) and the discovery of the soul. How many times had I heard those words and not heard them? And all in the nonchalance of understatement: this beautiful singer did not care if I understood; he was singing eternal truth as a bird does, hardly knowing the import of his own song; he was not awaiting my judgment; it was up to me to plow through two years of solid fog and HEAR what I was hearing.

I needed more from The Cure. Soon I found that Robert Smith’s near-constant theme was precisely that most important and newest and most eternal topic: the ubiquitous disconnect between daily chattering experience and the genuine feelings of the heart and soul – the disconnect that even I – I who make a life of pursuing truth – had missed for two solid years. In the new light of my awakened intelligence I now heard some of the other songs for the first time. Soon I was buying as much as I could from the other groups on “Survival Sampler,” especially Depeche Mode, The Smiths, and Aztec Camera. Just in time too, because my life was about to end – or would have ended, if God had not sent this music, especially The Cure, to be the soundtrack of the death-time, to show me the glory of staying honest in the midst of the Wasteland, not sink in despair but make it a motif: dress in mourning for myself, and for the zombie or ghost my bride was about to become, instead of a bride, and for almost everyone in the world.

Roddie Frame says, “The inconceivable and the birth of the true.” David Gahan says, “It’s just a question of time before they lay their hands on you and make you just like the rest.” Robert Smith says, “It’s easier for me to get closer to Heaven than ever feel whole again.”


Easter came along when our love was in its first fresh weeks, and Meave suggested a Spanish mass, because it would be more traditional. The church was all rosy inside and half empty. Right behind Meave was a young Latina mom, with her infant in her arms. I saw the tiny baby touch Meave’s hair and I saw her turn around; her eye-contact with the child unleashed her smile, the size and brilliance of innermost eternity – one gently lingering, infinitely “sincere” flash of teeth and eyes, unlike anything I had ever seen.

he baby returned the smile and then, as Meave turned forward again, I saw it aghast, lunging forward, frantic to follow that glorious divinity, maybe a familiar reflection of something it had seen not too long ago. The mom had seen it too, but she had not seen it; she could not understand what was wrong with her baby, who struggled to clamber over the back of the pew and cried very hard and understandably when prevented by her stammering, apologizing, uncomprehending mother.

There is nothing on Earth more beautiful than an adult human being who has retained all the grace of infancy. Not long after that, I was alone and waiting in the bright little living-room of the house Meave shared with some other Berkeley students, a sunny afternoon pouring all its easy promise through the open windows. I happened to spy one of Meave’s poems on a stack of books and papers. This, two years before first learning of The Cure, was the moment I entered their Field. My jaded expectations crumbled into amazement as I read:

we evolve by slow breaths
as eyeless fish
we sprout ourselves
with boneless limbs
and swim through sleep
like swamp-bred things
we rise and feed
off the lower leaves
of whatever’s wet or
vegetable our lungs
grow deep we surface
and submerge and surface
with bodies so soft
they rot in the steam
of pre-dawn
we see them leave
these skinless imprints
of ourselves embedded
in leaden sheets
the daylight is a hole
in the dry mouth
of a dream
the original sounds
are mud-sunk sluggish

She was purity in modern form, “as white as any lily, as gentle as a dove.” (Spancil Hill, sung by Corrib Folk.) But I knew something didn’t fit. The modern world had taken her in, “just like the rest,” though it had not registered in her personality, which remained uniquely, adorably whole. As our complete friendship reached realms of knowing intimacy that were new to her, she would block further communication; physical contact could proceed without it. Something had happened to her.

When I asked, she turned away and curled up protectively. “Scarred, your back was turned curled like an embryo. Take another face; you will be kissed again.” Years before I would understand, our bed was becoming “a shallow grave, a monument to the ruined age.” The living grave of shallowness itself. I sought only to let new love work its own way through barricades that were no longer needed. But the resistance was firm. Finally I asked one day if anything bad had happened to her. “No,” she said. She was “sure.” I told her it was ok, but if she should ever happen to think of something, would she please just tell me to sit down and let me know. A few moments passed and she said “Sit down.”

She had been abused by the entire mainstream world. Starting at age thirteen she had been insidiously compelled to pose totally naked, every year or two, for a wealthy, Catholic, famous “art” photographer, who had co-opted her status-seeking parents – transplanted to Hollywood USA – into giving their “consent” in lieu of hers. The man made no secret of his big ongoing project, his book of nude “girls growing,” and no one was so indiscreet as to raise any objections; no one dared to seem so politically incorrect. It was something which neither she nor anyone in her family would ever talk or think about, and which none of her extended Irish family would ever tolerate, yet the photographs were due to be published soon by a prestigious New York firm in a book entitled My Early Morning Friend.

A genuine human relationship had entered Meave’s world just in time to discover this abuse and to arduously, ultimately prevent publication – in 100% accord with Meave’s wishes and the wishes of both her parents, who only blamed each other, and who were infuriated at having to talk about so unpleasant a subject. Her father turned all his guilt into anger at me, attacking the messenger, anger which erupted where reason could allow no escape from his own responsibility. Along the way, the help we tried to get from the Catholic Church, and the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse, and the National Organization of Women, and from the enforcers of federal law, and all the others, proved 100% consistent.

All initially acknowledged their certain desire to help us prevent something so wrong; but when they realized that adult use of nude minors in mainstream entertainment had been an established fact – and had won their silent approval – and had been “justified” by nothing more than the deceptive arguments of the media itself, which totally “forgot” the crucial consent issues that are supposed to rule where minors are concerned – each and every adult bureaucracy turned bitterly against us, desperate to deny and perpetuate so telling an error.

They all did this by delay and deception – stonewalling our desperate trust – and keeping this issue grinding away at our life for almost two years. How naïve we were. Meave had always been obviously special. So she had simply been more powerfully targeted. And she had maintained her brilliance by never thinking of what hung over her head, and what she would be required to do, every year or two. And when she had to deal with it – when she had to stop publication – and when this ground her face into the grotesque falseness of the mainstream world – she could not continue to BE at all. Neither of us knew that. She carried on beautifully, and there never was a happier couple.

Our marriage was planned. The gown was ordered. The church, reception-hall, band, and food were all reserved and arranged. And then one sunny morning she just collapsed into bitterness and fury. She could not stand to talk to me or think of me at all. She moved in with her father. She turned to promiscuity again. She did not look the same. Harder than losing a dear friend to death is seeing her die in life, seeing her collapse into unfair hate for what she loved most – and for oneself. Her extended collapse took place precisely as The Cure was becoming our background music. The music faded in as she faded out. Meave had been a poet, sharing Robert’s themes without having heard of him, and many of his songs described her experience and our experience with uncanny perfection. Meave could not stand to hear them, and she was honest about why. Their truth had become a truth she could not bear to know. My full knowledge of that truth required my banishment. She returned to harmony with her father’s denial.

My world opened into a new time of brilliant music, the poetry that was in her heart, even as she had to close her heart like a tomb. Our pastel romance came to be the brittle egg from which flowered forth a universe of real feeling.

The scope of our story – larger than the life we had almost found – became a kind of consolation. The welcoming music of the universe itself became my constant reminder of eternal hope, where black realism still holds sacred all the beauty that is ordinarily pastel false. “Remembering you, running soft through the night, you were bigger and brighter and wider than snow, and screamed at the make-believe, screamed at the sky, and you finally found all your courage to let it all go. Remembering you, how you used to be, slow-drowned, you were angels, so much more than everything..”

I live every day in the scope of the love I found in Meave, before she was taken away. I think my world would have come to a brittle end, if a universe of awesome music had not come along just then – The Cure, Depeche Mode, Clan of Xymox, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, and always shining in front, with incredible diversity, The Cure – to show that I am not alone, to offer coping without the mental death of denial.

What might have been bitterness or despair became buoyed by surreal truth and transcendence. I know why I wear black all the time. It is not because my heart is dead, but because it is not dead, and so I know the difference. I live in luminous death, in the death that is true love, so I need not hurry to die. I mourn for what is mentally dead, and the range of emotion includes the whole spectrum, from making a joke of it all, to knowing the full depth of the blackness. In that surrealism I find the love of Meave shining forever through everything and everyone, even through the black itself.

On the gray gas-tank of my Ducati Monster I have painted green Tibetan flames, straight from the Book of the Dead – the flames, her flames, that kiss me dead. I do not crash because I live in full awareness of life beyond death.
The license-plate: CUREAL.

(From: Dave Kersting --whereabouts: unknown)

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