From a Cure lament to goodbye to the pal I failed to meet
I had an interesting Twitter correspondence the other day with the intriguingly twitter-handled Yoor Woolie. Has to be a Scot, you’d reckon? Just call me Sherlock ….
It also brought up a guilty incident from my own past, which I will come to later.
Woolie had originally tweeted: “20 years ago today, we lost one of the most unique vocalists this country has ever produced, Dundonian, Billy Mackenzie”
Mackenzie (above, left) was perhaps best known as the man with the lovely soaring falsetto vocals on songs such Party Fears Two, with the Associates, but to me, he was the tragic musician who died by suicide and was the subject of one of my favourite Cure songs, Cut Here.
The story goes that Robert Smith wrote it after hearing of Mackenzie’s tragic death soon after the frontman had snubbed Mackenzie backstage after a Cure gig.
I tweeted Woolie to reference that Cure song, assuming he would know it, and I recommended it to anyone following him on Twitter. Of course he knew it. He answered:
“Seemingly Robert seen Billy backstage and rubbered him a couple of weeks prior to his suicide”
You would have to read that with a broad Scottish brogue, wouldn’t you, to get the full poetic value?
In the song Smith laments his failure to properly greet his old pal on what turned out to be their final meeting:
“So dizzy Mr Busy, too much rush to talk to Billy
All the silly frilly things have to first get done
In a minute sometime soon, maybe next time, make it June
Until later doesn’t always come”
Depression and the death of his mother are believed to have contributed to Mackenzie’s suicide, and Smith was hardly responsible for his friend’s death, but his guilt at not taking the time to say hello to his old pal properly that last time is so vividly expressed in the song’s lyrics.
“I should’ve stopped to think, I should’ve made the time
I could’ve had that drink, I could’ve talked a while
I would’ve done it right, I would’ve moved us on
But I didn’t, now it’s all too late
It’s over, over
And you’re gone
I miss you, I miss you, I miss you
I miss you, I miss you, I miss you so much”
According to Wikipedia, Billy Mackenzie overdosed on a combination of paracetamol and prescription medication in the garden shed of his father’s house on January 22nd, 1997. He was 39.
I particularly love the haunting finale to the song:
“But how how many times can I walk away and wish “If only”
But how many times can I talk this way and wish “If only”
Keep on making the same mistake
Keep on aching the same heartbreak
I wish “If only”
But “If only”
Is a wish too late”
“If only is a wish too late”. What a line!
It’s a line that has come to haunt myself.
Years back, I was friendly with a guy in college, but our contact afterwards was only sporadic. The word had pulled us in different directions, as it does, but the poor guy also developed schizophrenia, which was to haunt the rest of his days. He was looked after by his family, especially his devoted siblings.
I remember going to visit him in hospital and how hard it was seeing this vibrant, larger-than-life character reduced to a shuffling, silent Boo Radley-esque figure.
Thereafter there would be occasional meetings, and reports from mutual friends of his trials and adventures, usually associated with problems with his medication, or whenever he stopped taking this stuff that was compromising his whole way of being and doing.
Happily, in his latter years, the medication seemed to have been largely under control and he was living as good a life as he could under the circumstances.
He was never one to complain about his lot, and when we met the old corny jokes were still being tossed out, if not quite as flamboyantly as before.
You would ask how he was and he would tell you, the good and the bad, but really he saw meeting up as an opportunity to partake in the banter and bullshit of ordinary life. He just wanted to sit and talk a while.
A friend of ours told me our man was coming to town and would I be free to meet up? Of course!
What happened then? A few things. I had a lot on that week, and the meeting was at a really awkward time and place for me, as I don’t drive.
The upshot? I only consciously remembered the meeting about 20 minutes before the time, and I was miles away. No way I would make it in time before heading off to work. I rang our friend to apologise and ensure he was at least there to meet our pal. He was.
Then what? Days later I get a call from my friend to tell me our man had died of a heart-attack.
Amidst all the heartache and sadness as we gathered at the crematorium for our pal’s funeral, there was one last, great belly laugh as the casket descended into the fire with the requested song Always look on the bright side of life belting out.
So, I forgot our meeting that few weeks before? Yeah, right!
I studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy for a few years, and one of the big lessons in it all is how we resist doing things we consciously believe we want to do. Even if they are good for us, or beneficial. This resistance is shaped by forces we aren’t even conscious of.
So on the surface we want to do one thing sometimes, but work to make sure we do the opposite.
Some part of me obviously didn’t want to meet up, or at least was reluctant to do so, and I unconsciously fouled it up. I made sure I didn’t make it.
Now we don’t know why Robert Smith didn’t stop and talk properly with Billy Mackenzie that last time, but there might be something of the unconscious forces at play in his guilty observation in Cut Here: “And over my shoulder as I walk away I see you give that look goodbye. I still see that look in your eye”.
Now it could be Smith just using poetic licence in the light of what happened later …
As for me, I can make all the excuses I want, but I didn’t show up. I rubbered my friend. It doesn’t quite wash to try and blame my unconscious motivations. No, I rubbered him alright.
Oh man, how can I convey the guilt and regret I have about not making that last meeting. If only …
If only … a wish too late.
— Enda Sheppard