To Wish Impossible Things – The Cure For What Ails
By Matthew R. Davis
If Only Tonight We Could Sleep is the title of my first collection of horror stories. “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” is the title of a dreamy, hypnotic track from The Cure’s 1987 album Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. Coincidence? Not in the slightest. So how did this confluence come to be?
The easy answer is that I was struggling to come up with a title for my book. I didn’t want to name it after any of the stories and the closest thing I had to a decent moniker was Knives of Ice, so when that song leaped off the page at me – it’s mentioned in the final story, featuring on a mixtape that soundtracks the lives of two lovers torn apart by a malignant hunger – I tried the title on for size and it clicked neatly into place. Not only did it have a poetic and mildly foreboding ring well suited to a suite of heartfelt and haunting tales, but I’d be paying tribute to the band that has meant more to me than any other.
My early memories of The Cure are entangled with impressions of Melissa, a high school crush who impacted my taste in women and music both. She was slender, sharp, complicated – intelligent and alternative, righteous and vulnerable – all cigarettes and sarcasm, the romantic ideal of a sensitive teenage boy who was awakening to the toxic trappings of life and beginning to reject the bigotry and boredom that seemed endemic to his surroundings. I was a rock and metal guy first and foremost, so her musical interests seemed foreign to me at the time: Suede, Smashing Pumpkins, Morrissey… The Cure. We got along well enough that I couldn’t shake thoughts of being more than friends, but I was a shy, callow youth and my fantasies never became anything more than that. By the time I caught up to where she’d been, Melissa was off to the city and out of my life – but although she didn’t technically introduce me to The Cure, something of her spirit lingered when I began courting their music, like an ex-girlfriend introducing me to a new love.
And I found so much to adore there, from their beginnings as a scrappy post-punk trio through their bleak and powerful early ‘80s output to the wild mood swings and diverse musical odysseys of everything they’ve done since. Yes, they evoke melancholy better than anyone, and yes, they sometimes explode into paroxysms of joyous pop, but they explore so much between those two ends of the spectrum. You want violent but helpless fury? “Doubt” and “One Hundred Years” and “Shiver and Shake” are just the tip of the iceberg. Literary references do the trick for you? They’ve leaned into this right from the start, basing songs on Charlotte Sometimes and Gormenghast, on Camus and Baudelaire and Kafka. The Cure sing about love and loss but also ageing and obsolescence, sex and obsession, introversion and extroversion, illusion and delusion. Robert Smith mourns lost love pretty well for a guy who’s been with the same woman since they were both fifteen, but he also excels at snapshots of domestic life that reveal the mundanity beneath the romance and vice versa; if he hadn’t picked up a guitar instead, he’d have made an insightful novelist.
I’ve seen The Cure live on four occasions to date, and these shows have punctuated my life like chapter breaks. The first concert was on the same week that I left Port Pirie and moved to Adelaide, as if to welcome me to my new home – I even saw Melissa there, though our brief conversation was a reminder that the past was long behind us; the third show came a couple of months into a new relationship, articulating the happiness I felt with this wonderful woman who sat beside me, laughing every time Robert Smith said his distinctive thank YOU! and kissing me deep during every romantic pop highlight; the fourth concert was at the Sydney Opera House to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Disintegration and it fell around the time I began to accept that my ended but lingering relationship had itself disintegrated too much to ever be repaired, those beautifully morose songs raining down around and through me as I sat beside that same wonderful woman and tried not to fall apart.
So how could something that’s resonated in my soul for over half of my life not be incredibly influential on my own work? The Cure’s simple sad refrains and relatively sparse arrangements profoundly affected my songwriting and Simon Gallup is a huge influence on my bass-playing, but looking at my fiction, the title of If Only Tonight We Could Sleep is only one of the more obvious examples. “Dawn Dressed in Rain” is a song turned into a story, Wish’s epic “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea” rewritten as fiction with a bleak but touching twist; “Colours That Flicker in Water” and “Softly Through the Shadows” take their titles from Cure lyrics, the former featuring a dread three-piece that could be a terrifying version of Crawley’s finest and the latter not so far removed from the whimsical childhood terrors of “Lullaby”. Various characters wear Disintegration T-shirts or listen to Cure albums or own the same “Boys Don’t Cry” poster that’s been on my bedroom walls for over a decade. I’ve even written a King-sized epic set during my high school years, chronicling the discovery of sickening corruption and murder in a small town by a slender, sharp, complicated girl whose favourite band is The Cure…
The shadows run deep in this music. Robert has quite the morbid streak, and he’s a deft touch when it comes to strange scenes that could have come from a damaged mind – when I first read the lyrics to Pornography, they came across to me like surreal snippets of Ramsey Campbell’s fiction, and each of that album’s songs could easily be turned into dark short stories. That should be enough to intrigue any horror writer, but for those who engage with the personal and emotional aspects of the genre – like me – the depth and diversity of The Cure’s vast catalogue is a well that never runs dry. Giddy love, detached ennui, powerless rage, bone-deep weariness, domestic bliss, murderous fantasy, narcotic delusion, cosy melancholy, frantic self-doubt, aching loss – all human emotion and experience is there in those songs, and they conjure a world that is at once ours and also a place of dream, a realm that is incredibly alluring for all its impossibility. Little wonder that the band was for many years signed to a label called Fiction.
I’ve drawn writing inspiration from Electric Wizard and Megadeth, from Chelsea Wolfe and The Sisters of Mercy, from Something for Kate and Lana Del Rey… but like a lifelong best friend, The Cure has always been there for me, and always will be. Whether it’s fiction or reality in question, they have helped me to find a way through, a way forward. When I want to express the joy of a loving heart; when I need to deal with the depthless agony of a broken one; when I require a reminder of life’s myriad colours and shapes and flavours and textures, of the power of passion, dreams, and desire –
I’ve got The Cure.
Matthew R. Davis
Photo Credit: Red Wall Photography
Matthew R. Davis is an author and musician based in Adelaide, South Australia, with over fifty short story publications to his name so far. He reads for awards panels, performs spoken word, plays bass and sings in alternative metal bands, explores derelict buildings, edits and sometimes scores video clips and short films, and generally tries to do all the things. His first collection of horror stories, If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, is out now through Things in the Well; his first novel, Midnight in the Chapel of Love, will be released by JournalStone Publishing in January 2021.
Find out more at www.matthewrdavisfiction.wordpress.com
“Colours That Flicker in Water” appears in Petrified Punks (Oscillate Wildly Press). “Softly Through the Shadows” appears in Trickster’s Treats #3 (Things in the Well).
If Only Tonight We Could Sleep
If Only Tonight We Could Sleep by Matthew R. Davis collects thirteen heartfelt and haunting horror tales, including the Australian Shadows Awards-recognised “This Impossible Gift” and “The Heart of the Mission”, each illustrated with darkly beautiful images by Red Wallflower Photography.