“Phil Collins and The Cure as a Sort of Comical Demise and Resuscitation of Modern Pop Culture”

I just made kind of a funny observation, if you don’t mind: it seems that after pretty much every economic recession, there follows a fashion “advancement” that entails women baring more anatomy, as a general trend in society. Most recently, we had the propagation of yoga pants as a token of civil assimilation, in 2012, following the economic downturn of late the previous decade. My focus for this post, though, will center on the late 1970s and early 1980s, which, as we know, furnished the stock market ebb under Carter, an energy crisis, and, to follow, Madonna’s cone-shaped bra. 

Interestingly, this is also roughly the epoch of the Eagles and “Those Shoes,” a song that, more or less, laments a nice, introverted woman dressing up in really slutty attire. And to the extent that this earmarks a certain inner, spiritual death, or the relinquishment of something artistic and abstract in favor of the carnal and concrete, then Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” can be embraced as a dark metaphor for this degraded cultural phenomenon, full of themes of loss, mortality and pure, downright hatred.

“In the Air Tonight” is an important song, for better or worse, for a couple of reasons: we still hear it all the time on Big Brother Radio, Eminem mentions it in the venerable “Stan,” and it’s been sampled in a major hip-hop song (what song this is I neither know nor care, otherwise I’d look it up). Some songs just FEEL like they should be the last song ever created, or should be named the national anthem, because of a certain ultimacy, or genuine kind of sacrific, they carry. Journey’s “Open Arms” would perhaps be another case, which, ironically, we also hear all the time, hence suggesting their droll applicability to lots of situations in life, rather than the sort of catharsis accompanying heartbreak or a Shakespearean “sea change,” of sorts. And to that extent, these songs actually mean something, in a sense grafting a genre even on the far side of pop in its ability to hit quick and hard. 

In the case of Journey and Steve Perry, then, he becomes the archetypal, broken-hearted “nice guy,” and Phil Collins steps into the shoes of the sovereign visionary, soudning the death knell of modern culture and the commencement of our existences as that of mindless, anticlimactic, naked babboons. Contrary to popular belief, “In the Air Tonight” is not actually a true story, based on an event of a drowning. Wikipedia cites Collins as relating that “I’m not quite sure what the song is about, but there is a lot of anger, a lot of despair and a lot of frustration.” Wikipedia adds that “Collins wrote the song wrote the song amid the grief he felt after divorcing his first wife Andrea Bertorelli in 1980.” He tried it with this girl and it didn’t work and now he’s standing amidst “those shoes” and Debbie Harry walking braless pretty much everywhere and all the meaning has been sucked out of life, in our promiscuity, for him. Hence the stark, prominent element of mortality in “In the Air Tonight” and the keen sense of abandonment and betrayal. 

Bruce Springsteen fills in some key areas of violence and American atrocity and Prince dazzles us with ape-like sexuality for its own sake, but at some point we come to The Cure and their masterpiece, “Friday I’m in Love.” I’d even like to note the playful, amused expression on Robert Smith’s face in the video for this song, as if he knows he’s playing a big joke, and that maybe it’s even more fun that way. Kurt Cobain came along and pretty much explicated the futility of present culture: “Here we are now / Entertain us”, but Smith takes things in an interesting direction to complement, comically extolling the enterprise of “love” as something tactile, and that, at its most ardent and gratifying, has the potential to furnish the opportunity to “see (someone) eat in the middle of the night”. Of course, by this time it was probably Saturday, but we won’t get into little trivialities like that.  


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