Pornography

Published one year ago this week in my memoir Fragments. My mother’s birthday was last week. I totally forgot.

Percussive.
Dark, haunting, haunted.
Repetitive, chromatic – evoking angst, possibly fear.
Lyrics shouted from a distance, from the bottom of a ravine.
Echoing, urgent.
Chanting, mumbling, confusion.
Chest tight, stomach in knots.

Eight complex songs, each fantastically crafted. Taken together, a masterpiece.
It’s beautiful and ugly. It leaves me depressed and anxious.

Pornography by the Cure.

I listened to this album nightly for several months. As my mother died. She was sick, and then became sicker. My father more and more desperate. Medical intervention increasingly experimental. Me, scared and sad. Drawn to the music that matched my mood. I put it on the turntable, volume low. So low I had to strain to hear it. And I fell asleep. Night after night. Resigned. My life would change.

My mother would die, but I soldiered on. Booze helped: gallons of it. Doubles, triples. Water glasses. Straight gin over ice and olives, think about the vermouth. That’s a martini. No brain activity, no memories. A few hours of peace.

Flashback: Sixteen years old, leaving the hospital with my dad. My mother admitted, surgery scheduled for morning. Radical mastectomy.

Me: “Is mom gonna die?”
Dad: “No, she’ll be okay. She’ll live at least until you’re out of college.”
Me: Relieved. That seemed like a long time.

Prophetic? A lucky guess? An accurate prognosis? She died six years later. Just a few months after my college graduation. Forty-nine years old. Three years younger than I am now. A short life. She completed the hard work of raising three boys to adulthood, and then her steady decline. She missed the rewards. The freedom of an empty nest. The pride in productive, self-reliant children. The actualization of the career she began when we were in our early teens. The joy of welcoming grandchildren into the world. The financial security my father has enjoyed for the past twenty-some years.

Pornography became the soundtrack of my life. It invaded my head and stayed there. My nightly listenings lingered through the next day. A clattering, pounding, cacophony of drums and noise. The aura of the album is depressing. The lyrics, nihilistic. Pornography was a constant companion. A distracting din. Blocking the pain of losing a parent, a friend. Comforting me with its repetitious rhythms and melodies.

In time, I moved on to angrier music. Morphed from resigned depression to rage. Speedmetal and Hardcore. Beating myself up. Slam-dancing and stage-diving in half-empty clubs in decaying D.C. neighborhoods. Secondary bands that no one remembers. Me, electrified and powered by the driving beat, liberally dosed with alcohol and caffeine – or cocaine or crystal meth.

Over the years, my stereo components died, and I didn’t replace them. I could no longer play vinyl. Pornography was destroyed with most of my records in a basement flood. Forgotten as I moved on. My growing CD collection skewed towards the punk bands of the Seventies and Eighties. And the hard-driving alt-rockers of the Nineties. And of course I re-purchased the rocking classics from my youth. The arty, depressing sound of the Cure completely bypassed and ignored.

Into my thirties, my drinking never slowed. Beer and Jägermeister. A bar-fly, a regular on the D.C. hipster bar scene. Music bars, pool bars, beer bars. Wild, drunken nights accompanied by a soundtrack of live music or amped up jukeboxes. My rare quiet nights at home: a book and a bottle of wine, maybe two. Life was a nightly alcoholic haze regardless of my activity.

In my forties, finally sober. Still drinking, but not getting drunk. No longer in D.C. An escapee from city life. Settled down in small-town America. Starting a family. Now buying MP3s from sketchy Russian websites. My musical tastes expanded: alt-country girls, those melodic singer/songwriters with something interesting to say. The roots-rock and the Fifties pop that heralded the coming rock and roll revolution. The hippie and folk movement of the Sixties and early Seventies. Even some rap and pop.

And then I remembered the Cure. I remembered Pornography. One of a handful of perfect albums in history. Strong and consistent, beginning to end. In rare company: The Clash’s London Calling, Nirvana’s Nevermind, Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions. Maybe the Beatles’ Revolver – a top pick by everyone else – the songs are all great, but they don’t fit together well.

Listening to Pornography, twenty years later. Thumping and moody as always, infectious. An album to play at work in the early morning. Cranked up on my computer speakers at 6:00 a.m. Knocking out routine tasks in the office all alone. Jittery from coffee and a two-hour drive. Still commuting to my job in D.C. Pornography stayed in my head, stayed there all day. Eventually, I realized, I felt like crap – agitated. I studied Pavlov in college. I understand conditioned response. But it took months to realize that Pornography was leaving me depressed. Taking me back, over and over, to the worst moment in my life.

I can’t listen to it anymore. Not even a song. Thirty years since my mother died, and Pornography still has this power over me. One song and the album is in my head for days. Leaving me distracted and sad. Recently, I was talking with a friend about music. Pornography came up, and I’ve been hearing it ever since. Not the whole album, not even a whole song. Just one lick, over and over. Crawling under my skin like a parasite. Bringing me down. I wish I could listen to it. I wish I could forget it. Pornography was a friend when I needed one. But that relationship is done. Now it’s just a reminder of death.

17 thoughts on “Pornography

  1. Forty-nine is so young, I feel so sad for your mother. I watched my aunt die around the same age of the same thing and it was brutal. Really brutal. Ugly and painful and heart-wrenching and devastating. I’m sorry for your mother and I’m sorry for your father and I’m sorry for you.

    I think you’re wise to leave that record in the past where it belongs, like an anchor to a memory.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Was there a song or music that your mother played for you when you were young that was uplifting and happy? With all of us, when the negative tape recording seems to come to our minds, we have to replace it with something positive and we have to “focus” our thoughts on ONLY thinking of the positive. So, I think it would be nice if you remembered a song that made your Mom happy, THAT would erase the old horrible song from your mind… I think. You have an excellent writing style.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I would encourage you to find that POSITIVE thing your mother liked. Was it a FLOWER, the birds chirping, gardening… there has to be something that when you THINK of this you remember your mother smiling and happy. For me, if I think of my mother I know she loved the library, she enjoyed British shows on PBS, she’s from Italy, so Opera and classical music…. ONCE you can find that happy memory, you need to keep focusing on it and for sure you will become happy. They say when someone passes away, they come back to us through an animal. My father/n/law did that. I was out walking and a deer came and stopped in the middle of the road and wouldn’t move, he just kept staring at me and I had the strong feeling that it was HIM, letting me know everything was Ok. I bet you can find something good. There is always something good around us, we just have to want to see it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. When Joni Mitchell’s album “Hejira” came out, its darker songs fit that period of my life. After a while, though, I put it away. For many years as it turned out. Now I’ve worked through those darker times, and the songs don’t bring me down. I just love the moody music. Music can really define periods of our lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Music can be a powerful stimulant for memory and mood. I have a lot of songs that evoke specific people, though few that I physically avoid. I can’t actually listen to Sweet Caroline without tearing up. As strange as it sounds that Neil Diamond, aka The Jazz Singer, is what cracks my crunchy shell, it’s because that was my maternal grandmother’s favorite song. I would wake up in the morning to her blaring it as my alarm clock. I sing it with gusto when I hear it just like my Nan but its always a bittersweet thing for me. Some music elicits response with its sound intentionally, some is merely by personal association. And then there is the intersection of choosing dark music for dark times that seers it into us. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Right on point Jeff. I relate to the experience and the era.
    Love your thoughts on true Albums too. I remember my parents thinking youth music was terrible, and their parents also hated all music that came after their youth. But today? Great music is coming out of our ears. I was trying to tell my teenage sons about “Albums” and the way songs can work together into a piece. It still happens. I nominate Beck’s Morning Phase.

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    • Well, depending on how you define “youth” all of my album picks might be coming from mine. But I’m very disconnected from music today. After the pop music on the radio (that my kids listen to), all I’m left with is the music I’ve been listening to for 30 years. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Just to let you know. I have a list of links on my site where I cycle in “good” blog urls from time to time. I put yours up today based on several of the posts I’ve read.

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  6. Thanks for sharing this moment (s) in your life that were very personal. My Mom passed away very suddenly so not sure if that made any difference in how I ended up handling it. I dove into health and fitness to the point of obsession. I didn’t want to end up like her in that respect. Music can be a such an emotional stimulant. Reading your piece it feels like Pornography is like a drug calling you back to feel bad again. There are a few songs that do that to me. Send me back to a dark time in my life and I end up angered and tend to shut down. Like anything that is sending you to a place where there is no light or positiveness, stay away from it. It is tempting you yes, but only to make you feel dark again.

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