The Hurting by Tears for Fears came out in 1983 on the back of their smash hit number 1 single, Mad World. I was 16. I felt constantly angry and afraid at that age, flooded by hormones and haunted by insecurities and fears, my sexuality fully formed but with the emotional control of adulthood still some way in front of me, not yet within reach.
Of course we never fully master emotional control; there are always times of imbalance, flashes of feelings. We get better at handling them, though. I was hurting, the intense way all teenagers who feel isolated do. It felt like danger was all around me in a hostile, homophobic world where difference was discouraged and could have you beaten, or killed.
My bedroom was my safe space long before we started using terms like ‘safe space’. I spent many hours in there, quietly hurting, reading books and comics or using my hairbrush as a pretend microphone, dancing on my own, imagining myself a singer. I mean, I can sing, always could. I don’t cause people to cover their ears with pained expressions but I’m not and never could have been a singer. The closest I’ve ever got is taking a turn at karaoke.
The Hurting perfectly matched my mood swings, my sense of a world ready to persecute me when I went out into it. It is a dark, twisted collection of songs, heavily influenced by ideas around oppression, psychiatry, therapy, childhood trauma… Serious stuff indeed.
The hurting of the psyche
And yet, The Hurting remains a pop album, albeit somewhat different to what the likes of Duran Duran and The Human League were putting out in the early 80s. It has some commonality with its peers – melodies, hooks, catchy choruses – but lyrically it is far deeper and more complex. It is the kind of pop album largely absent from up and coming artists today, in an age when pop is expected to be club-ready, anthemic, escapist. The Hurting is somewhat gothic. It is about the psyche, pain, and loss. I listen to it at 54 and get new things from it I simply couldn’t at 16. Hindsight isn’t always useless; in some contexts, it allows us to review the past and better understand it.
Most of us – sadly, not all – survive beyond the damage and feelings we experience but can’t fully understand as kids; we grow, despite everything. If we undergo therapy and/or in some other way acquire self-awareness and learn to reflect, to look at and analyse our present and past, we come to acknowledge the hurting inside us that never went away. It can’t be erased but we can meet it, get to know why it is present within us, learn to live with it in ways that are not destructive to our wellbeing. We find our peace, our internal harmony.
Listening to The Hurting today reminds me of my victories over pains that should not be forgotten.