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Music

The fateful night that Robert Smith wrote an entire The Cure album

Trawl through the endless annals of nonsense online that perpetuates like an interminable cyber enema and one of the so-called mysteries that you are bound to come across is the Codex Gigas. It’s apparently a 92cm thick manuscript full of calligraphed text and elaborate sketches completed in one single night by the devil himself. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t. 

However, the masterpiece that is The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds was penned in a single evening, or at least nearly all of the lyrics and ideas were. All by the accursed hand of Robert Smith. And the tale is not the sort of mystery you’ll regrettably waste your time with online, but rather the sort of comical twaddle you’d dismiss as too fanciful in the boozer, only to realise that indeed, as pub lore decrees, the world is truly stranger than fiction and a comical tale is fitting of The Cure’s peculiar masterpiece. 

In this instance, the devil was also absent. But three businessmen in an elevator were, and after a brief exchange of words with an antagonistic goth in a Newcastle Hotel, they kicked his head in a bit. Broken but unbowed a roughed-up Robert Smith who had been playing downstairs with Siouxsie and the Banshees that night, scuttled away to his hotel room and wrote his own dark manuscript. As Carson McCullers once wrote: “People are never so free with themselves […] as when there is some possibility of commotion or calamity ahead.” For Smith, even with the calamity behind him, it seemed to free up his creative flow. 

According to the book The Cure FAQ, the fateful night in question was October 3rd, 1979. The battered and road-weary Smith, already pulling in a different creative direction to the Banshees, hobbled into his hotel room, and scribbled away into the night, until the sun broke through the autumn fog of the Tyne. 

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The plagued and afeared sense bled into The Cures sound on their second record, and lyrics like, “The girl was never there / It’s always the same / I’m running towards nothing / Again and again and again and again…” seem to reflect the sense of a dogged pursuit. Smith then absconded to his parent’s basement in Crawley and set about building up the arrangements first conceived in his bruised and boozy brain. The rapid results – almost fully formed within a week – went on to become The Cure’s definitive second record which introduced them to the world in earnest. 

‘A Forest’ was the band’s first venture into the UK top 40 and it remains an eerie atmospheric classic today. In many ways the track is the perfect calling card for the band, not many other acts could’ve worked such a near mystic moody-art-school-Enya track into the launching platform of their career. 

The song also represents the beauty of Smith’s lyrics. He is able to craft the classic tale of a frontman unlucky in his search for love into something almost mythical. The dark imagery of the track relishes in moody introspection – akin to the emotional atmosphere of his bedroom-bound songwriting hero Nick Drake – and that is a style that influenced so many songwriters to come. So, in a way, not to be glib, but thank god for angry businessmen I suppose. 

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