Dark Nights on the Net with The Cure

San Diego Union Tribune
September 24, 1996

Robert Smith hated computers. For years, The Cure's front man and world-class brooder felt machines dehumanized the process of making music.

But over time, Smith realized the computer has become the ultimate punk instrument and the Internet its global underground club. There are no record companies telling artists what to do. No restrictions -- except self-imposed ones -- on what you can create.

Now, the group hopes to do what few mainstream rock acts have done before: build a museum on the Net.

In a sense, we're taking back control, says Smith, 37. All you've got to do is put in a bit of time and have a bit of imagination. Still, I would never play computer games instead of playing guitar.

I'm too old for that.

Smith's fascination with the Net started last year, when he learned that fans had established World Wide Web sites devoted to the British group, complete with photographs, gossip, bootleg songs and concert footage.

At the same time, Elektra Records asked Smith to create an official Web presence for promotional purposes. But Smith said the company's idea was pure rubbish, pointing out that Elektra's staff wanted to post photographs that included musicians who were no longer part of the band.

We're the kind of group that attracts people who get very obsessed by what we do and why we do it, Smith said. But there was a lot of misinformation being spread. That made me want to do something on-line, coupled with the fact that (keyboardist) Roger (O'Donnell) has always been very much into computers.

O'Donnell, who was in the band from 1987 to 1990, has long used computers for personal and professional purposes.

When O'Donnell rejoined The Cure last year, he inadvertently became the band's official on-line mouthpiece. But his views didn't always match Smith's.

One point of contention is the band's official stance on bootleg records: O'Donnell had posted that he hates them, but Smith doesn't care about the illegal recordings.

Because I wasn't on-line, and Roger was, people immediately assumed The Cure doesn't like bootlegs, Smith said. This whole raging debate went on and on, and I thought, 'I need to do something because this is getting out of hand.'

Instead of relying on an outside company to create the site, the band members decided to do most of it themselves. (However, the site is being produced by Robert Goodale, who heads the New York-based on-line music company SonicNet.)


Today, Smith and his fellow band members are devoted to their portable computers. While on tour, they often spend their free time designing their "home" on the World Wide Web.

People kept telling us, 'No, you can't do this, you can't do that. You can only use the Net as a promotional device or an ad,' said O'Donnell, who writes most of the computer language for the site. But we wanted to make it more entertaining. And we don't take 'no' very well.

Enter The Cure's virtual house -- http://www.the-cure.com -- an appealing look at a band that is often seen as morose and coldly aloof. The site's front door is a photomontage of the British country manor where the band lived while recording its latest record, Wild Mood Swings.

Click on the front door and explore the house. Chat with other fans, and sometimes members of the band, in the conservatory. Listen to samples from the group's entire 19-record discography in the library, or watch live concerts in the lounge. Scrawl a message on the walls of the bathroom.

The Web site offers fans a deeper insight into their heroes' interests. Instead of tying the house to other Net-based Cure information, Smith describes his passion for astronomy and offers users links to sites at the SETI Institute and the Hubble Space Telescope.

The "house" also will serve as an electronic museum, of sorts. While the band toured this summer, it carried a digital camera that transmitted live concert images to the Web site. Smith planned to post unreleased home-demo recordings, as well as personal photographs and music-video outtakes.

The on-line project will peak next summer, when the band celebrates its 20-year anniversary. A book, published by Omnibus Press, is scheduled to be released then.

But a lot of archive material won't fit in a book . . . you can't hear old demos on paper, Smith said. By this time next year, we'll have an entire official history of the band up there.

Last Revised: Monday, 15-May-2006 14:59:53 CDT

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