aline giordano

Dear Robert Smith - October 2016

Dear Robert Smith - October 2016

© Aline Giordano 2011 & 2016

Dear Robert Smith

In 2011, and until quite recently, when I looked at this photograph I took of you at Bestival, I saw a crying figure; I saw pain. That was me, and that was mine. I don’t feel that way now. In this photograph for the first time, I see your guitar pointing towards my future. Today I see and read hope. So, thank you Robert Smith - and thank you to my fellow fans, this letter is also for you.

I wrote many stories linking my life and your songs when I felt hounded, when I was trapped inside the pain. Here is a little sample:

I love The Cure. In my teenage years, immersing myself in their music became a form of escapism. This shaped my identity at a time when I was trying to make a better place for myself, in an oppressive and constraining home that aspired to the middle-class dream. Listening to The Cure, I cut myself off emotionally from the home while remaining within the comfortable physical boundaries of the house. With bouts of deviant attitude and timid rejection of the fatherly order, I indulged in their music. My father hated The Cure and said that he hated them so much that he ‘vomited them’, he would repeat incessantly ‘je les vomis’. All the more reason to seek refuge in their music, turn up the volume and play the same song over and over, ad nauseam, until my father would dare to vomit his rage. The song ‘Play For Today’ was a favourite. The lyrics ‘Tell me I’m wrong I don’t really care’ were particularly comforting to the silently frustrated teenager that I was. Their music provided the emotional support that I could not find elsewhere. Listening to The Cure in the here-and-now reminds me of a past which the protective parent inside me has distorted and simplified so that I can cope with it. I have a romanticized version of my teenage years, when loved ones were loving and when they were still alive. At the epicentre of this reconstructed past is the music of The Cure. Many memories converge on and others expand out of this: such as when my brother used to play the album ‘Seventeen Seconds’ in the car on our way to school, it felt like every single morning. He pushed the tape into the cassette player and I heard ‘Reflection’ and Robert Smith’s singing while I was gazing through the car window; it became a ritual. At least, this is how I want to remember the few moments that I shared with my brother, who, later on, decided to escape reality, not just through music like me, but totally, for real. I doubt that mother liked the music much but she let us be ourselves and listen to ‘our’ music in her car.

I wrote blindly – viscerally - a lot of it about my relationship with music and especially your music - about how much your music meant to me. I felt as if something in me needed to be heard. Whenever the need became too strong I would sit down and write. I thought: Well that’s what a music fan does. Then, I thought a little bit harder and I started to read. John Fisk wrote about fandom. He wrote that fans construct their own subjective meanings out of the work that the object of their fandom produces. How so very true. In my case, it was through your music that I developed a sense of identity and empowerment.

It began in 1985. I heard The Lovecats, The Walk, Shake Dog Shake, Charlotte Sometimes, M. I copied them onto a cassette and it went with me everywhere on my Walkman. I heard your English voice (I’m French) - English words. I heard sadness and pain expressed in your songs. Before that, at school, I could not make sense of English at all; I could not understand it, I couldn’t learn it. Your words taught me English. Later on it was through your music and words that I mourned the death of my brother. Through your songs - your language - I could sing my pain. Some fans, like me, have a need to go beyond this interior monologue with their favourite artist’s music and engage in textual productivity (says Fisk) to become cultural agents themselves. How I can relate to this! As a teenager I surrounded myself with photos of The Cure on my bedroom walls. I was making photo-montages of images of artists, one in particular featured you (of course). This was 1989. I was at college. The leafy context I introduced fitted well with the imagery of The Cure at the time. The French fan club must have thought the same as they printed my image in their newsletter.

I have always seen myself as a fan but I didn’t question ‘your’ function in all of this. Actually, I did - but I was not equipped to make much sense of it. Today, finally, I can look at this picture of you and understand a little bit more about the relationship. Robert Smith: you became my tuteur de résilience; I invested heavily in your music and the photographic representation of the band – I had to. Reading Lani-Bayle’s text book on resilience, I now realise I may also have become my own tuteur de résilience, as a photographer and story-teller. Writing my stories and photographing my favourite artists, I was reinventing myself, putting my objects of fandom and myself at the centre of these stories. I was representing myself through words and images, reconstructing my life, and this writing of myself, this writing of The Cure, has always been in English – the language you gave me. What a wonderful gift.

A picture of you, or any other artists I am fond of, is coherent straight away in my mind. Why? The blind search for the self has been soothed now that I have discovered the theory of ‘résilience’. I understand that I was taking care of myself through my art (and that of other photographers) and in doing so I kept myself not only alive but healthy enough to grow. When I look at this picture of you that I took in 2011, I know how much it evokes other images of you from earlier and more recent times. Of course, the Boys Don’t Cry sleeve comes to mind immediately. This picture as well as all those that I stuck on my wall as a teenager, are connected to events in my life, emotions I felt in 1985, in 2011 and in all the years between and since; emotions that I felt and that I saw in my pictures of you. Were these feelings yours or mine? I hardly knew. And now, right now, looking at this picture, I see all the elements for what they are: the blurred background and foreground, the black, the artist’s back. I see they are the same as what I saw then, and yet I see them differently. I wrote this story in 2013. I translated my mother’s words because at that time I could not find my own.

‘A few years ago I asked my adoptive mother to put down on paper anything she could remember about my adoption. She wrote to me straight away: We received an envelope. A little Korean girl named Wang was in an English orphanage in Seoul and was scheduled to be sent to France, to us. We were warned not to get attached to the enclosed photograph as babies often died and could be replaced by another without anyone knowing or perhaps even caring. So many papers had been filled in and cash exchanged by then, death would not prevent another successful international transaction. Imagine our stress! What were you going through during those months? Yes, I wonder. What was little Wang going through? It’s funny how sometimes songs can express better things you have barely thought. As I am trying to figure out if I can indeed answer this question, my iTunes has just shuffled to ‘Sinking’. Robert Smith’s voice is filling the room with: ‘The secrets I hide / Twist me inside / They make me weaker / So I trick myself / Like everybody else / I crouch in fear and wait… / If only I could remember / Anything at all’. That’s that one question answered (or avoided). We prepared your room. Your brothers, given their young age, were as excited as if they had been waiting for Father Christmas. Yet we felt that the unknown was intimidating for them. We explained where you were, what you looked like and told them that you had no mummy or daddy yet. They looked puzzled. How could it be that a baby has no mummy or daddy? They very kindly offered to give you their bed so that you’d feel at home straight away. We hoped so much that you’d be with us to go on our summer holidays, but we received some bad news. There were delays and further delays and we didn’t know why. Finally, we received a phone call. Your arrival had been scheduled for 21st December 1972. On that cold wintery morning we drove to Paris Orly airport. In the hall we saw air-hostesses walking one in front of another each carrying an infant in their arms. We were looking for “ours”, for you, and thought that given your age (11 months) you’d be walking already. You arrived last, in the arms of an hostess, warmly wrapped up. You were tiny, very tiny, red with fever, with lips so dry they were bleeding and eyelids stuck together. We drove you home and called our doctor in a panic. Your fever had now reached 40 degrees. He said he would come straight away, but warned us: he was no expert in Asian tropical diseases. I thought ‘one day in France, but you might not make two’. After a prompt and thorough examination the doctor looked relieved and told us that you were only suffering from a rhinopharyngitis and that with antibiotics you would make a swift recovery, which you did. When information about your birth is scarce, every single word counts. I read my mother’s letter regularly. It makes me cry. It makes me smile. This is all I have as my roots. That and an email dated 8th December 2010 from the Post-Adoption Service Center at Holt International Children’s Services in which the officer apologises twice for not being able to find much information about me or my blood family. He writes: ‘On vous a trouvée dans la rue le 23-01-1971 à 23h10 dans la ville de Tae-gu’. That is all that is known about me. No need to apologise. All these years I had convinced myself that my loving mother, unable to raise a child, had carefully dropped me by the Police Station in Seoul (which my orphanage documents seemed to indicate) so that someone would take care of me. But, life it would seem isn’t like that. Let’s be realistic. I was abandoned in the streets and the conditions in which I was abandoned still haunt me to this day.’

In 2013 I relied on my mother’s words, because I had no memory of what it was like to be little Wang, no memory of what that ‘I’ had gone through. I was haunted by not knowing, and I went in search of her – of the two of us. I even went to South Korea, trying to find that past and to give myself back a memory that I did not have. What I found was nothing, except that one thing: that the story I had told myself for years, the picture I had made of my birth-mother was not the way that it was. The ‘memory’ I had clung to as consolation was not a memory, just a wish, a misunderstanding. The how and why of my abandonment and the life of that mother I never knew are unknowable. In 2013 I still mourned that – was haunted by that: now, it is different.

My mother, the woman who has always been my mother, even through her grief, did save me, and gave me my chance of life. Despite all the blows that life keeps on delivering, she is always my mother for me. My brother killed himself. Whatever I might think or feel about the why of that, no-one can ever truly know. Although it did not sustain him, my brother gave me The Cure and Robert Smith. These then, were my first tuteurs de résilience: My true mother, Yvette, and you, Robert Smith, the one my brother gave to me – and the third one is me, who has learned through you both, and been sustained, and now has found a way to understand and to be resilient for herself.

So thank you once again. Thank you Robert Smith.

This photo of Robert Smith was taken at Bestival, Isle of Wight, 10th September 2011.

My photos of The Cure at London Apollo, 21st December 2014.

My photos of The Cure at London Royal Albert Hall, 29th March 2014, in support of Teenage Cancer Trust.

My review of The Cure at London Royal Albert Hall, 29th March 2014, in support of Teenage Cancer Trust.

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