Last time I saw Robert Smith of the Cure, he was lying on a bed of spider webs and being swallowed by and giant gummy spider mouth. This, incidentally, was in the video for the single Lullaby, off Disintegration, the Cure's latest album. He looked far more comfortable there than he does now. He's slumped in a polka-dot shirt on a floral hotel sofa, lipstick graffitied over the lower quarter of his pudgy face, dead-black-Persian cat hair standing on end, eyelined eyes pleading for mercy. But there is no mercy! There's a new album. A new band lineup. New nuptials. All manner of of new Cure-type stuff to be probed and prodded at, not to mention all the old stuff. Like this brief history of the Cure we've assembled for any of you out there who are latecomers to the band's wild and dreamy gloriousness.
Robert Smith was born in Blackpool, Northern England's top seaside resort, on April 21, 1959. When he was six years old, he was dragged, screaming, to Crawley, the doormat you wipe your feet on before leaving the countryside for London. He went to an experimental progressive school where he learned to play football, pour tea (which he's doing successfully now), wear a black velvet dress - (which he did less successfully , he got beaten up for it) and where he met a 14-year-old school chum named Mary, whom he married in a Benedictine monastery last year. He listened to Jimi Hendrix, played football and dated Mary. He also formed his first band, Malice, which became the Easy Cure and finally the Cure in 1977. The lineup, like the music, changed regularly. And still does. Lol Tolhurst, the only one besides Robert to have been in the band from the onset, was recently fired for reasons I don't want to go into. And Robert keeps threatening to fire himself (and did once, to play guitar in Siouxsie and the Banshees). Robert is, understandably, often described as "eccentric." When he's not being described as "miserable," that is. One woman in America did a thesis on the Cure's lyrics and found he'd "died 74 times, exactly, in our songs, which I found pretty fascinating," says Robert. Do you take sugar?
But I'm not really miserable or eccentric I don't think. I'm probably a lot more rational and a lot more normal than people think. I do tend to get a bit introspective sometimes, but then I took up drinking and went around exploding all the time instead of going around looking miserable.
He does look a bit vulnerable under that big floppy shirt, though, like a little kid who lost his teddy bear and security blanket.
I used to have a stuffed cat and blanket, actually, that I took everywhere with me, he admits, but they got burned in the studio, unfortunately, and I haven't recovered. I wouldn't say I'm vulnerable but I have developed a vulnerable facade, which I suppose wards off people's excesses. I think people won't feel that they want to claw at me and throw themselves at me if I look like I'm going to break. So it's contrived to a certain extent. But it does come to me more naturally than striding purposefully around the room. Because I do feel like a husk , like I'm trapped inside a body that I don't own or particularly like. I really would rather be left alone.
I really don't go out anywhere anymore when I don't have to. I just sit. Mary, my wife, goes out all the time , she's a nurse , and I get really worried when she doesn't come home. I hate London now. I'm the last one in the group that still lives in London, and I'm going to move into the countryside at the end of the year. Boris [Williams, the Cure's drummer] lives in the country in an old tumbledown house that's got just enough room for us all to stay there if we don't mind sleeping in the downstairs rooms. We pretty much made Disintegration there, like a big family.
He's still very close to his real family , in fact, Robert spends so much time at his Mom and Dad's in Crawley that they end up throwing him out. Don't they find him pretty weird, this melancholic little man in makeup?
No, because my Mom and Dad are weirder than I am, comes the reply. They don't behave like normal parents. They just sort of go out and get drunk or they go on odd trips, take a bus, go see the buildings at the airport. My Dad retired early. He worked for a drug company, strangely enough, Robert laughs. Pharmaceuticals. (He doesn't take drugs, he says, he's just naturally strange, and he gave up drinking a while ago.)
His parents, Robert says, encouraged me to do whatever I wanted, even things maybe I shouldn't have done. My older brother used to take me and my younger sister out to pubs on Sunday lunchtimes to see jazz bands when I was 10 and she was eight and he was 28 or 29.
My Mom wasn't supposed to have me, that's why there's such a big age gap among us, Robert explains. And once they got me, they didn't like the idea of having an only child, so they had my sister. Which is good, because I would have hated not having a younger sister. It meant I could get away with murder! When I was five and she was about three, I encouraged her not to learn to speak so I could interpret for her. I would say, 'Oh, she wants ice cream' when in fact she was desperate to go to the toilet. But we got the ice cream!
His sister, he says, is the family's musical genius, but too shy to perform. I learned piano with her, but she was always so much better so I just gave up, frustrated. But that's how I started playing guitar, because her hands were too small to get around the guitar neck and I thought, 'She can't beat me at this!' His older brother taught him a few chords, and the rest came from listening to said brother's record collection.
Who did he impersonate in front of the bedroom mirror then?
I didn't have a bedroom mirror! Robert says. In fact, there was never a mirror in the bathroom either. There was a mirror in the hallway and that was it, a really old mirror that was really horrible. When I was very young I remember coming downstairs when we first moved there , I was about six , and I thought I saw somebody in the mirror and there was no one there. I used to hate that mirror. Every time I came downstairs I used to avoid looking at it. My bedroom at home still hasn't got a mirror in it, just a little stand-up one that Mary insists on having to do her makeup.
At least we've discovered why his lipstick's always smeary. He got into playing music "gradually," he says, right from starting off playing just for beer in our local pubs: Even me singing, that was gradual. We used to have singers-who were such utter wankers that I decided to try to sing myself. It's okay now but I hate the first record we ever made, my voice on it. In a perverse way, performing seems natural for me, even though I still feel really uncomfortable sometimes. Sometimes it'll just click suddenly and I'll see everyone and wonder what the hell I'm doing onstage. Because I can't dance and I just have to stand there and I feel sort of awkward.
But other times, when I get lost in it, I kind of realize why I'm doing it, he muses. It can all get very emotional and mystical , it's not that I feel like, 'We are in touch, we are one!' or something, it's just like another really exciting way to lose your identity. It's like I'm watching myself singing onstage sometimes. Really weird.
But I actually feel less of a need to perform now. I went through a stage where I just wanted to go onstage and scream, but that's gradually winding down now. I can see a definite stop to us.
Robert's always said he'll break up the Cure if they finally get a number one record. That looks suspiciously like what might happen with Disintegration, a return to the intense, moody type of Cure stuff. And they're taking their new world tour to the kind of strange places they've always wanted to visit , places like Bulgaria and Hungary, says Robert , just in case they don't get another chance at them. They're also digging through the back catalogue of 11 albums to find their old favorites, which they plan to include onstage. There have been rumors that Robert is talking himself into leaving the Cure for a solo career, he's already written and demoed a whole solo album at home, only he's not sure he wants to release it. Singing alone, he says, is a bit naked, and I get embarrassed by it. I don't mind doing it for myself or the group or for Mary, but I don't know that I want to do it for other people.
Writing music, he says, comes easy; it's just the words that come hard. He takes a satchel with him everywhere, filled with notes and ideas about Life and Death and Feelings and general Big Stuff like that. I make lists of everything, he says, even lists of lists, so I can throw them away and not carry a lot of useless baggage around in my head. He describes the writing as a kind of struggle against the other- wise all-enveloping futility of life.
There's only one song on Disintegration about Mary, his new bride: Lovesong. That's because it wasn't particularly traumatic, getting married. Marriage is an institution that means nothing.
So why do it, babies?
I'm not responsible enough to be a father, Robert shudders. Everyone looks at Mary's stomach and gives me knowing looks, whereas we have no intention of having children at all. I'm thinking of telling everybody I've had a vasectomy, to get them off my back! We just got married to have a nice day, so that Mary could walk down an aisle in a white dress and just have all my aunties and uncles there. It's really dumb but I was sort of overcome. We waited until we knew it wouldn't make any difference to us before we got married, because we didn't want it to make us grow up.
I find that having an audience of 10,000 people singing along with a song you've written , it's like there's something that goes beyond ego and beyond flattery, it's almost like other people affirming that you're there. That's like having babies, really. It makes you more real somehow. These are my babies! That's a nice cliche, isn't it? Robert laughs. A bunch of really morose, retarded children I've given birth to!