Disintegration's Saving Grace

The Cure Part II
New Musical Express
April 15th, 1989
Interview by James Brown
reprinted without permission

As the world readies itself for the eleventh Cure LP 'Disintegration' ROBERT SMITH concludes the NME interview with tales of American excess, country life and his future as an employee in a Mental Asylum. JAMES BROWN takes notes. DEREK RIDGERS gets his crimpers out.

"I drink some more beer, Grolsch - what an asshole. Beba puts on another tape, The Cure. I take three more pills. " Another drink, another song, another high from Brett Easton Ellis' teenage junk diary The Rules Of Attraction. "The other day Porl told me he'd been reading the Australian Smash Hits and this kid from Neighbours, Jason Donovan, had said 'Favourite Band: The Cure'. That was very strange." Robert Smith on the fame game.

From American pulp literature to Australian trash television, The Cure have smacked one great big splashy red lipstick kiss across the whole world. How have they done it? Just listen to all the Cure fans you know when they hear 'Lullaby' and you'll receive your answer on a plate.

The Cure's rise in popularity has been a strange ~~ one. A shimmering glint of intelligence in a darkness of superficiality and banality, Smith reckons that once a fan is hooked they probably have problems letting go. Whereas most bands do just one daring or off-the-wall project in their lifetime, a 'Wild Boys' video or a shuttlecock down the underpants, Smith and his assorted creams have regularly dipped and dropped and re- designed their formula.

From his own temporary visits to the House of The Banshees to their groundbreaking trek to South America, The Cure have never shied away from experimentation. Musically they have died and been re-incarnated many times. But beyond the fringe there has been The Glove project, The Cure In Orange's attempt at grandeur, the initial lack of image, the Carnage Visors support film on the Faith Tour. Each in their own way have given the band a different dimension.

For example: Carnage Visors has to be the most boring support act of all time, even more laborious than the Yugoslavian lumberjack who used to open for Laibach by chopping up wood. And to this day Smith still considers The Cure In Orange, the Tim Pope-directed live feature film, to be "frightening- like a vampire film".

Until they pulled out the stops and helped restart a dying crimper industry The Cure can have won few fans on, fashion front. For the period of time" spanning the band's first three LPs Chris Parry and Robert Smith deliberately kept away from an particular image. This was a dynamic move as The Cure were then sartorial equivalent of a pile of old washing up.

Smith was born in Blackpool which explains the more recent lust for day-glo glamour and tack, but before then? From high-waisters to jump suits to lipstick to kimonos, Leigh Bowery must have been groaning with jealousy. Today, with his hair teased vertically and scrawled lipstick, the man has a settled and identifiable image. Stability within insanity, if such is possible. And the appeal of The Cure is balanced between their musical originality and Smith's mystique. Initially inspired, according to one old press release, by "punk and the Penguin Modern Classics" Smith created a sort of English Literature for Music Lovers and has never looked back. Nowadays he has few worries about the role of his band.

"The groups is there to escape the oppressiveness, it's a way of screaming," he says. "The reason we formed the group wasn't for all those usual reasons like being bored. It was so we didn't have to work for other people. Whereas now I try hard for The Cure never to be seen to be involved with banality.

I don't give a shit if Bros sell 20 million LPs next year, I know that I won't be buying them so why should I care? don't really listen to us, I find it too difficult. I'm still inside 'Disintegration'. There are songs that I really like by the group, but it's like a diary. It makes me upset to think it's gone."

Despite seeing The Cure as part of "the coloured zone where people go to escape", Smith has regularly used the group to help raise money for political and socially concerned organisations but has never attempted to fuse the two creatively. The band have performed benefits for Greenpeace, mental health, victimised homosexuals and CND, yet such causes have never screamed from the lyric sheets of their LPs.

"I like music that has a lack of reality to its musical content," he admits. "The Cure's music doesn't reflect the material world in a very obvious way which I think is its strength. I almost feel embarrassed by music that has a social and political edge because it always seems so diluted to become acceptable that it's utterly pointless.

"I suppose it is some worth if you decide a certain percentage of your audience are complete morons and they need to be told certain elementary things about the world. I don't really meet that many people that I could illuminate on certain key issues. I've never been in touch with a lot of the normal world.

"I still know a lot of the people I used to know before The Cure and they're doctors and bank officials and they like Dire Straits and I think they feel sorry for me."

One of the most illuminating experiences of late for Smith has been the time he spent recording in the country. Shocked by the freedom, he enthuses gleefully about such a life. Like some sort of soot-headed city dweller out of the London sewers Smith took that entourage down to his drummer's house to record the forthcoming LP and got a local mother and daughter to cater for the 15- strong group.

"At first they were quite fearful of what, our attitudes towards them were going to to be. But by the end they really liked us, even though they did still think our whole lifestyle was weird. The great thing about the freedom of recording in our own time was that if we suddenly decided to go off and do something in the middle of the night we could do so. We could just get into the cars and go somewhere.

"You go down to where the band live and people say 'hello' to you in the street. That was really weird and then you realise it isn't at all and that it's London that's weird. Not that I said 'hello' back. I just cowled." Instrumental in the winning of worldwide fame has been the way America suddenly dropped its preconceptions and grabbed The Cure to its star-spangling bosom. Whereas it took 'Let's Go To Bed', 'The Walk' and 'Love Cats' throughout 1983 to shake up The Cure's British image, Smith is wary that in America just one good video can set a group on its way to success. In South America The Cure's rise has been such that although there are always pockets of Goths, the majority of their enormous live audience see the band purely as a classic singles group. When their videos were released Stateside many people were, according to Smith, "shocked that we'd been making them since I had a fringe." "The quieter a group in normality, the worse they get in America," he continues. "The first time we went to America was nine years ago on the strength of 'A Forest' just so we could say we'd been there. We were an underground band for years with strong support in certain towns we could keep going back to.

"We used to play to 250 people in a club in Chicago and I used to wonder why we did it but looking back it was pretty good fun. It was pretty horrendous some of the things we did. Then there was a really bizarre phase [ around the time of 'Love Cats' when suddenly we started to go to the West Coast and the hotel would be ringed by people screaming. It was so strange to come to that in the space of 18 months from the concerts before where it had been full of intense looking blokes with beards.

"I think it would be quite good to do a Cure concert without me singing. A couple of times on the last tour when we were about to go on and do the encore and the others would already be on stage I'd slip on a jacket and go out front just to make sure everything looked and sounded right."

If Smith is inclined to slip off on his own on tour his band must be more than aware of how likely he might just slip off on his own for good. Smith describes the control he has over his music with affection and admits the reason he doesn't get angry often is because he has the set up running so that he takes care of anything that might go wrong.

Even though about to roll The Cure out around the world - "Going to Budapest might be a really liberating event" - Smith discusses it with a finality. He is also currently pondering what to do with the solo LP he has recorded, ready to release.

"Each time I do another LP I wonder whether it's worth releasing it because I could just do it at home and keep it for myself. I have the tapes of the material I was going to do as a solo record that I've had for two and-a-half years now it becomes more and more ridiculous as to why I should go out and do it for other people to listen to.

"Mind you, when I am singing in my own studio I invent people listening, an audience Not a set list of characters, some of them are real, and when I'm singing I always have them in mind. for certain types of songs I always have the same person

"I know that they eventually listen to the songs but they don't know that I'm thinking about them listening to it when I'm recording I always find out what they think and quite often they don't like the songs "

A solitary character who claims to have made few real friends since he's been in the band, Robert Smith's past slide into alcohol-orientated decadence has been well charted. His "I'm almost an alcoholic now. I haven't had one night this year when I haven't been drunk" has become legendary Describing that time as "hollow" and "unmemorable" Smith still drinks but his excesses are kept more "normal now more celebratory than a lifestyle." "I wanted to get away from myself as this morose and deeply tortured person, I found that really stressful, I was never really very bothered with that image. What's frightening is that I find it so unimportant and yet people are writing virtual suicide notes to me. That's something I've never been able to grasp and I think it would have upset me if I had come to terms with it.

"I think a lot of people around me at the time of 'Pornography' seemed to enjoy seeing me in that state. It's so much easier and more enjoyable now than it was five years ago. I know now that I could turn round and tell them all to f - off, I could do that before but I used to worry about what we'd do next."

If you're going to be a pop star and wear lipstick and tarantula crops then it's important for the public image to be seen to be soul deep, mystical and attractive. Whether or not he will admit to having cultivated The Robert Smith Persona and all the deadly nightshade, suicide note and butterfly wings that go with it, that image is there and Robert Smith of The Cure appears to now cope with it very well.

Detached but addicted, "becoming more spongelike as I grow older," he's just as ready to live within a warm and stable set up as he used to be ready to live within a wine bottle.

For the future Robert Smith suggests, like every other bored musician, that film scores might lie ahead, more interestingly he also claims he would like to divorce himself from music and go and work in a mental hospital. For the moment he sees no new bands jamming a spur up his backside attempting to replace The Cure, this he finds both remarkable and disappointing.

"My stuff has always come from a lack of faith in anything," he reckons, yet he takes pleasure in cooking, the works of Denton Welsh and Dylan Thomas and his ever increasing catalogue of old records.

Is it really possible to be both a pop star and normal? Or do we have to presume a basic lack of sanity is required for both? Robert Smith, one of the few remaining everyday nutters capable of crooning a decent tune.

Last Revised: Monday, 15-May-2006 15:00:05 CDT

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