October 1985 - OOR (Holland)
"The Cure’s Frustrated Choir Boy"
The Cure’s Frustrated
Bert van de Kamp (Translated by Lennert Oosterling)
For years he claims to wish he’d never become famous. Though meanwhile his star is rising, and keeps rising unstoppably. Robert Smith, a suffering young genius. The guy with the fog lost round in his head. Founder, singer, songwriter and engine of The Cure, who with ‘The Head On The Door’ delivered one of the most commercial records in their career, and who’s picture complete with the make-up and the Saturn-like hairdo is cheering up most teenager’s bedroom. “I hate to be looked upon a pop star “ Robert Smith, Idol against every possible odd!
‘It’s a game’. Smith claims. ‘And you play until you get bored of it; although I do think we have a little more to offer than the rest of the pop bands.
Because Smith won’t get out of bed until 12 noon, The Cure rented a Piper Cup for this interview.
‘It’s great! You pay for the gas and the pilot only and you step side all the queues and hours of waiting, you don’t need to get a hotel. And with the five of us, we pay what we would have been paying for a regular flight if we’d been with 8 adults’.
A night person, that is what he is…
‘I love the night, all the peace that comes with the dark. I don’t really like the day. People just spend their time buying things they don’t really need. I’ll just get out of bed when the cricket matches are on. Most of the people consider that to be the embodiment of boredom. It grew on me; cricket turns out to be really interesting!
likes to lie. He gets his kicks out of spreading confusion. People are not
really his favorite of species, he told me in an earlier meeting. It reflects in
his work, he seems to be a disturbed man, hunted by nightmares about insanity,
death and sickness. He didn’t call his band ‘The Cure’ for no reason, way back
when! Though, strange enough all the early stuff was sort of poppy! With singles
as ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and with the most recent hit single ‘Inbetween days’, The
Cure seem to have gone full circle.
With that, Smith (definitively??) waives away 3 album lasting gloom. The brilliance of 17 Seconds, through the beautiful but way too easy Faith to the heavily overproduced black Pornography. Together with Joy Division, The cure called the shots in the era of gloom rock and doom laid music. Ian Curtis did not survive this era. Robert Smith did and he knows for sure that here are some older fans who do not appreciate that fact.
‘I just thought of myself as too young to die, in the end’.
broke the chains with the past so drastically that he even broke up the band to
join Siouxsie and the Banshees. And after the hobby band ‘The Glove’s short
existence, he made the LP The Walk together with Lol Tolhurst. After this he
recorded the new Cure album ‘The Top’ practically all by himself. So, for those
who haven’t figured it out yet: The Cure was and is Robert Smith.
At this moment he, again, created a group around him and wants to go tour. In this crew was not only a spot for old friend Lol, even Simon, who was forced to leave the group previously and started his own band ‘Fools Dance’
‘Simon wasn’t all that happy in Fools Dance so one night when we went out drinking I asked him back. Which he did.’
New names in The Cure are Porl Thompson, who was in the band at the very start, and Boris Williams who took place behind the drums. This way, Robert created everything he rejected a couple of years back: A fulltime pop-group.
Reason: ‘I started missing it an awful lot’. ‘There aren’t that many groups that make intelligent pop music the way we do. I’ll make sure we won’t sell out. We’ll always have our own little things that set us apart.
After pornography I felt the need to write silly pop songs, but now that Simon is back, I think it might be time for something a bit more serious. Not only the press was surprised about the direction into which The Cure was heading, so was Simon. I was working on this book on the Cure with this girl from France. It made me dig up all these old pictures and stories, you know. That is basically what the head on the door is. I started writing while taking a trip on memory lane. The album is basically a book about 7 years of music.
The Cure’s first record ‘Three Imaginary Boys’ saw the light of day in 1979. The response to this album surprised Robert.
‘I was just happy to make at least one album, at all! It was too eclectic. When it finally came out I was convinced nobody would ever release anything else by The Cure. So, how should we picture a young Robert Smith? Was he, even back then at age 17, the same somber and hunted by nightmares guy he is now? ‘Worse!! Music always used to be an outlet for those feelings and fears. At this point I’m living a rather careless life. I don’t really need that outlet anymore….. At least a lot less than I used to.
His school years were pretty normal, he says, until he turned 15 that is. That’s when he started rebelling and getting in conflicts with his teachers.
‘I attended this really strict catholic school and I got suspended more then once because of the negative influence I had on my fellow students. While all I really did was questioning and second guessing Catholicism. In the end I could come back and finish my exams by attending private classes. Just me by myself in a big classroom. Obviously I could imagine much more fun things to do at the time but I really wanted to pass. I just wanted to show those Bastards that I wasn’t stupid. My majors were English, French and Biology. During those private classes I discovered Dylan Thomas, who is to this date my favorite poet. I wasn’t even interested in poetry, I just approached it as an intellectual test, but Thomas stood out. The way he manipulated words and sentences was really inspiring.
early proof for Robert being well read goes back to the band’s very first single
‘Killing an Arab’ which was inspired by l’ Etranger.
Ever since the ‘me’ in his
words came a lot closer to the real him.
‘How do you know? – Robert snaps. I always sing in ‘I’. It’s easier for me. I can’t speak for ‘them’ or ‘us’. I just place myself into someone else’s feelings and write about that. And even if I do write about me, it’s about how I could have been. Not about how I am right now. I see myself as a fictional character when I’m writing. Because if everything that I write about actually did happen to me, I would have been dead.
I do still read, to keep my brains activated. No magazines but the real heavy stuff, you know? I just do that so I won’t up a fucking idiot. At the moment I am reading this book by Jean Jacques Rousseau. He once claimed that mankind was good by its nature. Though, at the end of his life he took that back and started getting all paranoid thinking all the world had set out to make his life miserable. Interesting stuff. It’s called ‘Confessions’.
Right from the start the Cure gained a lot of attention. NME’s Nick Kent actually drove to Crawly to explore the legendary local scene. He was disappointed to find out that there was no such thing and Robert Smith was still living with his parents.
‘I always liked living with my parents. It’s only been 18 months since I got my own flat in London and I still visit them on a regular basis. I just love talking to them; you always hear things about yourself that you couldn’t possibly have remembered. They always let their kids do whatever they dreamed of, and all of us actually reached what we wanted most out of life. My brother has got a farm, like the hippy-ish ideal, my sister was a big rolling stones fan who turned into a super mom.
My parents always come to our London gigs, but never come backstage. They’re afraid to find me surrounded by naked girls…. Doing stuff.
My parents always worked their hardest on believing in themselves. Being from Manchester they never had a lot of money. The were the typical labor family. However, my dad worked himself up into the Pharmacy industry. The problem with those labor families is that hey are at peace with being just that and working all their lives. My parents decided not to settle for second best and are very happy with being where they are now.
Nice parents. So, what do they think of Robert’s work about death and disease then?
‘They don’t care. Ever since I was a kid I have been debating the inevitability of death. I actually used to use it as an excuse not to get punished when I did something wrong. We were at this wedding one day and I was bored and decided to set off this gasoline bomb. Everybody was really shocked and my dad wanted to punish me…so I was like ‘What ‘s the difference…we are all going to die anyway’. I suppose they do think I’m a little weird, now that I think of it.
Besides The Cure, the biggest part in his other life is the love of his life
‘Our relationship is uhm, dynamic. With all the ups and downs that come with that. The thing is that we both have those days when we don’t want to talk to anybody, so that gets ‘edgy’. We are good together though, we like the same things and she is truly my friend. It wouldn’t really have mattered if she were a guy. Yeah…. No… yes, that would have mattered, I take that back. I wouldn’t love her the same as I do, forget I said that.
Just like me, she lives two separate lives. When I’m on tour she spends her time with a really close friend of hers. She refuses to come with me on tour because she hates all the attention. Which is just jealousy *laughs*. So we came to this understanding that whenever I’m gone, she can do whatever it is she wants to do.
The Cure’s videos are directed by Tim Pope. Smith really does believe in him and his abilities to get the correct point across.
We get along well. He is not as conventional as others and that is what I like most about him. His visual ideas are really good, and more importantly, he doesn’t think he’s better than the artists. He’s just easy going, really.
We talk about the Top for a while, and I ask him if there were as much ‘medicines’ involved as it appears in the songs on that album.
‘No’ He claims. Before I started making The Top, I used to take a lot of psychedelic drugs though, I was going through a sort of a dark period (again) but once I started recording I had gotten over that. I’m not really pleased with the outcome, though. It was good fun making the album but it just took too long. I spend 3 months on The Top. I just get frustrated when I spend too much time on one project. On the other hand, Shake Dog Shake is one of the best songs I have ever written.
So, what about all the references to ‘Christ’ in The Top and in The Blood? Did Smith go religious?
‘The Blood is nothing but a Portuguese drink called ‘the tears of Christ’, and the references in the top are quotes from this girl I used to hang out with. She had adopted all these weird ways of talking from “Franny and Zoey”. She went like ‘That is 42 Jesus blocks away from here’. I just thought it was funny and actually started talking like that for a while, that is when I decided to use it in a song.
I confess to Robert that I do miss that gorgeous guitar sound of 17 Seconds and Faith. Is it just progress in his playing?
Not really. I don’t even have a guitar in my flat at the moment. I prefer singing nowadays. It’s funny because Mary arranges flowers every now and then so whenever we go to a church to set them up, I immediately walk up to the altar and just start echoing away. Lovely! I am, after all, nothing but a frustrated choir boy! I just don’t want to become too good of a guitar player. I don’t want to become Dire Straits. To walk on stage knowing you’ll never make a mistake, or therefore never play something new. I like improvising, just to see if I’m capable of doing that. And even if I were to fuck a song up completely, at least I tried something else for a change, you know?
So, did his music change at all over the past 7 years?
Not really, I think. I just got mellow, really. In the beginning I used to rebel a lot whereas now I don’t do that anymore. I even became a green peace supporter, which I never would have done a couple of years back. Also, I became a vegetarian, and no: That has nothing to do with The Smiths.
Ah! The Smiths, the legendary row between the bands… I decide to provoke Robert for a bit and say ‘But Morrissey is the same as you are…both tortured artists!
No! Morrissey is sick!! Once, one of the British music magazines asked him who he’d kill first if he were in a room with me and Mark E. Smith. He replied that if he’d only have one bullet he’d line us up and kill us both. He hates because we had this public row once. In those situations it always gets kind of macho, even if you don’t want it to be…. It’s hard to swallow your pride in public. So ever since we have been throwing mud in interviews. I’m sure that, in the end it will turn into something good, though.
And what does Robert himself think of the Cure?
Well, I can’t listen to our records. Every now and then when I’m drunk I’ll put on an old b-side. I don’t really listen to a lot of music anyway. Except for classical, which I prefer above anything else.
And does the increasing popularity of his band bother him?
No, actually. I mean, that whole teen pop-idol is a myth, really. How do you think I get in touch with people? The exact same way as you do. It’s not as if I go up to a girl and say ‘Hey, I’m Robert Smith and I’m the singer of The Cure…you may have heard one of our singles on the radio’. You really need to cooperate, in a way, to be recognized when you’re walking the street. Sure, if we’d take the whole band and just walk up and down Oxford St. with lots of security people, people will take notice. However, if either one of us separately walks the street, people wouldn’t know who we were. It used to fascinate me, though. Being so famous that you can’t go into a club without being recognized…. But then; I don’t go to clubs, so it doesn’t bother me at all. I think the moment I can’t walk the streets anymore without people running me over, I quit. I’ll go do something else.
Bert Van der Kamp
OOR – NL
THANKS to: Lennert for the TRANSLATION.