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Lyrics and Life

 

By Caitlin Ward

02/18/2015
Boys Don’t Cry
The Cure

I would say I’m sorry 
If I thought that it would change your mind
But I know that this time
I have said too much
Been too unkind

CHORUS
I try to laugh about it
Cover it all up with lies
I try and laugh about it
Hiding the tears in my eyes
Because boys don’t cry
Boys don’t cry

I would break down at your feet
And beg forgiveness
Plead with you
But I know that it’s too late
And now there’s nothing I can do

CHORUS

I would tell you
That I loved you
If I thought that you would stay
But I know that it’s no use
That you’ve already
Gone away

Misjudged your limit
Pushed you too far
Took you for granted
I thought that you needed me more

Now I would do most anything
To get you back by my side
But I just keep on laughing
Hiding the tears in my eyes
Because boys don’t cry
Boys don’t cry
Boys don’t cry

I think it’s hard to say that you like The Cure without some sort of explanation, because it can say a lot of different things about you, depending on how you explain it. In 1980, when the Boys Don’t Cry single was first released, the English band was a lot like any other post punk group of the time: lyrics that were unhappy but a bit ironically so, a relatively stripped down sound, and a group of guys who weren’t much concerned with the way they looked.

I’m not entirely sure what happened after that. It might have been because the 1980s were getting on, or it was something in the water, or the fact that their lead singer, Robert Smith, was going through a particularly dark patch, but the next three albums by the band are the sort that make you wonder if life is really worth living. In its gentler moments, the music is merely depressing. At other times, it makes you feel like there are spiders crawling up your arms. It was, according to people who keep track of this sort of thing, the birth of Goth rock — not just because of the music, but also because the band had developed a penchant for black clothing, white makeup and impressive hair.

After a few years of that, they seemed to have calmed down, and by the late 1980s, when they had achieved international success, they looked and sounded like a slightly gloomy version of New Romantics. They were less about Karma Chameleons and more about the deaths of people’s hearts, but they had stopped with the shapeless creatures kissing in the hanging gardens.

As you might have guessed, the creatures in gardens with masks and the spiders era is not the one I particularly enjoy. I like a bit of angst in my music sometimes, but there are limits. Mostly, I like their very first album. The band was apparently not very happy with the way it came out, but I like the way it sounds, and I like the way it’s happy and sad at the same time.

And strangely enough, despite the youth and inexperience of the writers at the time, the lyrics come off as much more thoughtful than much of their later work. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think they’re ever particularly happy. But it’s not necessarily that Smith is feeling better about himself in Boys Don’t Cry than he is in, say, Pictures of You, or The Hanging Garden. It’s more that there’s an aspect of self-awareness and self-mockery that keeps the song from sinking into self indulgence.

But again, rather strangely, the song itself seems to be talking about the speaker’s inability to express the sort of feelings that are rampant in the band’s subsequent albums. I don’t know if that’s a win or not, really, because given how those subsequent albums go, it might not have always been the best idea to let it out, anyway.

Or perhaps, the real issue begins a few steps further back — before any of the songs were written in the first place. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the western world was not fantastic at letting people feel things, or be vulnerable. In many ways, that’s what this song is about: it’s communicating a feeling and a vulnerability, but in a backhanded way. It’s not about what the speaker feels or wants to do; it’s about what the speaker is not allowed to feel or do because “boys don’t cry.” There’s sadness and guilt in the song, but he’s not going to take the risk of showing that unless there’s something to be gained — in this case, reconciliation and forgiveness. Without the guarantee of those things, he’s not willing to chance it. Of course, the whole point of vulnerability is that there is an inherent risk, and no guarantee.

But here’s the thing: if all of those feelings have to stay inside, it’s no wonder they fester and turn in on themselves and get all creepy and spider-like. There’s no one to measure them against, no one to forgive him, no way to have that reconciliation.

It’s 35 years on from the release of this song, but I don’t think it’s got much better in terms of our ability to deal with forgiveness and reconciliation. I’m not meaning to psychoanalyze Robert Smith overmuch, but I think this song really does speak to a culture’s inability to embrace its weakness.

It’s that part of this song that I’ve been thinking about as we move into the lenten season: just how we embrace our weakness. As a faith community, we’re moving into a time to reflect upon those weaknesses, in terms of our ability to be hurt, but also in terms of our ability to hurt.

I’ve joked before that Catholicism is a religion based on acknowledging our own inadequacy. I don’t know if I’ve ever found a better way to describe it, though. You can get buried in terms like guilt and shame and pride, but it’s probably not helpful. Fundamentally, Catholicism in general, and Easter in particular, is reconciling ourselves to the fact that we are vulnerable and imperfect, and we can’t save ourselves. So there’s not much point in hiding the tears in our eyes. We should probably all just have a good cry at some point in the next 40 days.

Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings