November 1985 - Rock This Town
(Belgium) (Translation below)
In the middle of Cure the great interview
"Robert Smith without eye shadow"
Robert Smith without eye shadow.
Robert Smith’s states of mind, or a young generation’s state of mind suddenly embarks upstairs: “past 25 years of age, you’d better think of what you’re doing, otherwise you could die from one day to another without knowing why”.
The Cure started boring me two years ago, at the time of “The Top”. Before that, I was a total fan since their first imported single on Fiction records called “Killing An Arab” and I wanted to know by God, who stole it from me.
Robert Smith intrigued me, I found his career fascination, he wouldn’t stop transiting between his band and the Banshees, he got drunk with work and the echo of his success in all genres, old romantic reflex added strange reflections to his slightly menacing aura.
In 83, The Cure had announced a more commercial turn with a big agility, which evidently irritated some of their die-hard fans. They screamed to death at the issue of the very disco “Let’s Go To Bed” (three months later, these same fans were buying in masses the New Order’s Blue Monday - go figure!). Then there was the fab “Love Cats”, with its delirious video and an unthinkable budget: at the same time shabby and psychedelic, the camera swirled around Robert Smith and Laurence Tolhurst cramped by a collection of dirty old empailed cats. Miaoww!
At the time, Simon Gallup, the original bass player, had beat it. The Cure was reduced to the minimal proportion. With a new sound the machine had been relaunched in time for a new album “The Top” mentioned above (only exception to its terminal boredom was the single “The Caterpillar”, story of a girl-caterpillar who transforms into a butterfly flicka flicka flicka) and a tour of which was issued a totally shitty live album. We are in 85. Gallup has returned, The Cure triumphs with In Between Days, the album “The Head On The Door” is astonishing and the group gets ready to fill Forest National (Brussels Belgium). It’s therefore time to get to the interview.
- Rock This Town: I was gathering my thoughts a while ago and I remembered the first Cure concert in Brussels, at Klacik in Dec. ’79. Do you remember that era?
- RS: yes, we were very uncomfortable especially because of “material” problems. We had no money we slept in the van. We were touring without any financial support from the label because we didn’t want to owe them anything. As a result, we tried to survive week by week. But it was fun, the fans tried to give us a hand.
- What was the initial idea behind forming The Cure?
- It’s still the same today, it hasn’t changed. A deep dislike for the current music scene. Very few interesting artists interest me and those whose records I keep listening to seem to have the same attitude towards success as I do. In 7 years of existence, The Cure has known various levels of popularity without really being affected. It’s the same for the people that I listen to, the Stranglers, the Bunnymen, Costello, the Banshees or New Order.
- Regarding the sleeves artwork, it’s always the same mystery.
- I’ve never felt compelled to show my face on an album cover nor give a very definite image, because people tend to get a preconceived idea before listening to the songs. If we put on long hair pieces and false beards, the public would interpret differently our career than if we’d had bald heads and dark glasses, however it would be the same music. Therefore we’ve created a gap between the album images and our presence on stage, on TV or in magazines.
- But you look, personally, very flashy.
- Yes, I come across many Robert Smiths in the street and it’s extremely bizarre. I’ve never paid much attention to my look: it’s the way I am, that’s it. I have a very unconscious attitude, very irrational regarding my hair cut, my clothes or my make-up, and I have no notion of what is stylish or fashionable. I go only by my instinct.
- Do you remember the reason why you wore make-up for the first time?
- I started putting-on eye-liner at the age of 15, I was still in school, I did it because no one else did and because it widened the eyes, which made me more attractive, at least I thought so. It all went from there but it hasn’t much to do with the conventional notion of narcissism or vanity: when you wear make-up you don’t necessarily improve your look but in my particular case, my eyes are imprecisely defined that people would have a hard time finding them if I didn’t use any eye shadow. At the time of “Pornography” I used the make-up like war paint: I covered my face with lipstick like taking a blood bath. The make-up is a mask, I act differently when I wear it.
- When you look in the mirror each morning, do you find yourself rather great or horrible?
- I find myself mostly indescribable.
- Well, let’s talk a bit about the group. Simon Gallup left and then came back, what happened?
- He left because we had a bad fight. Actually, I think that the last concert we played with him at the time was in Brussels (on June 11, 82 at l’Ancienne Belgique, author’s note). A fight too many really. We were at a point where we couldn’t stand each seeing each other, we had to keep hitting each other until one of us broke and it couldn’t have been me. It was after that concert that we got poisoned to a point of no return, we couldn’t agree on anything, which created an impossible frustration: him as I, were convinced that the other had to change. What’s surprising today is that we’re on better terms than when we thought were the best friends on earth.
- Restarting such a relationship could be completely hypocritical, like “ok let’s forget everything and start over”
- We haven’t forgotten anything and that’s why its working. I hadn’t seen Simon for more than a year, then I went to see him on stage with his new group. While talking over a drink, later, we realized that the reasons for which we were friends were still the same it was our attitude towards The Cure that drove us apart. Today we know which excesses to avoid in order not to fall into the same traps.
- It’s you who talks about excesses and you’ve built a reputation of alcoholic, not mentioning the rest…
- I dropped everything and took a time off. I still have my crises from time to time because I have an excessive nature, but I’ve learned to be excessive in abstinence as in consumption. Furthermore, we’re part of a football team for which you have to keep a certain physical condition.
- Then it’s the old cliché of redemption by exercise!
- It could be but the temptation of alcohol or drugs is born from frustration and boredom that you feel on tour. You’d better direct your aggression to giving kicks into a football than drinking yourself to death and shouting at everyone. I don’t think it’s a cliché, if you don’t do nay exercise you become like a vegetable…past 25 years, you’d better think of what you’re doing otherwise from one day to another your could die without knowing why.
- What do you think of the anti-drug campaign launched by the English government?
- It’s completely pathetic, this campaign is destined to distract people’s attention from the real issues…Heroin is but a symptom of a deep sickness, it’s not the cause. I disapprove of this campaign because it’s the starting point of a reduction of personal freedoms, freedom of choice…It’s at the social level that things are gong bad, in England like the rest of Europe, that’s where efforts should be made. Coming from the Thatcher administration, it’s a lowly demagogy it’s an electoral campaign. On one hand she starts the anti-heroin operation, on the other she votes a new law which passes this week, so that pubs could stay open longer! That also to gather votes. You suppress the junkies and you encourage alcoholism. It’s insane!
- Let’s talk about the lyrics of the new songs. There’s a constant of nightmares, shivers and screams…the mood invokes alcoholic hallucinations and yet you claim to be “clean” today…
- It’s different because I wanted to show a certain detachment. The nightmarish mood of “Pornography” would leave no doubt when I spoke in the first person it was clear that I was completely immersed in these hallucinations. The “I” is noticeably less autobiographical today. The person imagines the nightmares rather than lives them. In my sense it makes the album more accessible. The listener’s attention is required.
- Do you think that one day you’ll be able to use the word “happiness”?
- In a song, no, I really doubt it. Actually, I shouldn’t say that, I don’t know. Or rather, I hope to be able to but I have a hard time picturing it.
- What does this sentence mean: I am paralyzed by the blood of Christ?
- It’s a drink! The blood of Christ is a Portuguese wine that some friends offered me once. I emptied the bottle and had a hard time remembering my name. That’s why the song has a pseudo-flamenco feeling. Actually that’s not true, the wine is called The tears of Christ but I changed it to get a more aggressive image. It’s the only song on the album that I wrote while completely wasted, I really imagined I was someone else.
- At a certain time, 2 or 3 years ago you worked like a maniac, leading 3 careers: with the group, the psychedelic experience of The Glove and The Banshees.
- I suppose I needed to completely drown myself in work to avoid facing my private life. Now, the situation has changed and I’d love to have more time for it…
- The Cure has filled Wembley and when you’ll come to Forest National you will play for more than 6,000 people. That is a big change…
- Clearly, the ideal size would be 3,000 seats, but when you’re playing 5 nights in a row at Hammersmith Odeon for e.g. there’s a big chance that one of the concerts will tank. When all the energies are concentrated on one event it’s different, everything has to be impeccable. We present a complete show, the sound, the lighting, all the production is up to a standard but not in an outdated sense: we can still create the same atmosphere I think because it only depends on us.
- In Between Days is a big hit…do you see it one day as No.1 in the charts?
- Sincerely not. At the time of “Pornography” we had reached a frustrating point in the sense that we couldn’t catch a break. What I thought to be very good singles like Boys Don’t Cry, almost never got played on the radio. The frustration didn’t come from the sales, it’s not what makes a single better, but from not being able to offer an alternative to what was then in the top 20. With “The Walk” and “The Top” we’ve opened doors, we’ve shown more people the idea behind The Cure.
- And what’s this idea?
- What I mean is that the level of popularity we’ve reached is enough, I don’t need any more because I don’t want to lose control. Success becomes restrictive beyond a certain limit: instead of being able to do more and more things, you do less and less. The current level is ideal. The concept of being rich has no meaning for me. It’s longevity that I’m interested in, not the money-makers like Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
- Ok, I’ll rephrase my question: what’s the idea behind The Cure?
- it’s the old Punk Ideal: we’re no different from the people who listen to our records.
Thanks so much Caroline for TRANSLATING.