In the deep dark recesses of my wife's vast collection of bootlegged Cure concert cassettes, there lies one of the most extraordinary rock performances I have ever heard, from 20 years ago this week. In what was almost certainly the first show that the Goth-mopesters played after the Tiananmen Square massacre, lead vocalist Robert Smith went on a long improvised monologue/sketch in the middle of "A Forest," acting out a sadistic torture scene between a Chinese interrogator and a student protester. "And then he puts his gun in your mouth," Smith cries, voice cracking with sobs "and then he says I LOVE YOU!" (This is based on my memory, not a transcript, etc.) It goes on like that for a long while, just disturbing and disturbed and anguished and angry, until Smith's distinctive, high-ranged wail keeps repeating: "We will never forget! We will NEVAH forget! We will NE-VAH forget! WE WILL NE-VAH FORGET!!"
Well, we've forgotten. Though I suppose I shouldn't speak for good ol' Fat Bob.
If I can briefly indulge in some generational nostalgia (wait! come back!), for many of us at or around age 40 there have been exactly two eras: before Tiananmen, and after. Before, our entire horizon was consumed by the Cold War–it would last forever, Kremlin reformer-of-the-week notwithstanding, and history would continue being something we'd only read about, or experienced in crappy Bob Zemeckis movies. Half the world or thereabouts would always be plunged in undifferentiated darkness, and Sting would always sing terrible songs about Oppenheimer's deadly toy.
Afterward, the ground just never felt the same under your feet. Revolutions, it turned out, were no longer just proxy skirmishes in the bloody third world. Also, they would be televised. Life went from dull certainty to vertigo-inducing flux. It was a pretty good time to be 20…unless you were Chinese.
This anniversary, which Nick Gillespie and Steve Chapman write about below, leaves me feeling more than a bit ambivalent. In many ways, the greatest two stories of the past 20 years have been the hundreds of millions worldwide freed from the shackles of Communist slavery–a process that was partly catalyzed even by the setback in China–and the lifting of hundreds of millions from poverty within China itself through a variety of economic reforms.
But even the happy existence of the latter fact can't remove from my Robert Smith-sized gut a feeling of utter revulsion that not only has the same political party that perpetrated such horrific violence 20 years ago today maintained its monopoly on power, but that we have, almost all of us, and for whatever reason, forgotten.
** Well, so much for my memory.