Pictures of Youth Pt. 1

Melody Maker
March 7, 1992
Pages 25-26.

[Since the release of their '89 album, Disintegration, THE CURE have become
one of the biggest bands on the planet. With a new single and an album
ready on the launch-pad, Captain Bob and his mascara men look set to
inflict yet more mayhem and melancholy on an unsuspecting public. In the
first of a two-part story, THE STUD BROTHERS visited The Manor, where the
band were putting the finishing touches to their latest meisterwerk and
discovered what makes the band so child-like.]

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Robert Smith is wearing very little lipstick. His hair is shorter and
considerably less wild than the jet explosion we remember from the videos,
His jumper, though suitably shapeless, doesn't hang dejectedly below his
knees. That he's been able to largely deny himself cosmetics says much
about his present state of mind. Cosmetics are an addiction and like all
addictions they're at their most compulsive when you're at your most
vulnerable.

Despite the fact that he's surrounded by extravagantly, gratuitously
comfortable furniture, Robert chooses to kneel in the carpet. He looks at
home. Happy. The last six months of recording The Cure's new album, Wish,
he tells us, have been fun.

"The fun thing," he says, "is something people always miss out on with us.
It's been brilliant making this album, but even as far back as Faith or
Pornography we were still having a good crack. People would see me and
Simon laughing and drinking ourselves unconscious together and they
couldn't understand how we could be like that and still be in this
angst-ridden band. But it's easy to be like that -- it's what being little,
being a child, is all about. When you're grown up, you can't do it cos you
think about it too much."

We're sitting in the halls of The Manor, a rambling but homely Tudor
mansion in the Oxfordshire countryside. Some years ago Richard Branson
bought the place and converted it into a recording studio. Infinite care
must've been taken in the conversion. All the state-of-the-art technology's
been hidden away in an adjoining barn, so there's precious little in
evidence to betray its present function.

An atmosphere of pleasant idleness pervades the place, accentuated by the
comely open fires and Olde Worlde oak beams. You can't really imagine doing
anything more strenuous here than playing hide and seek. Mild mischief is
the more the house demands of you, and there's more to suggest that The
Cure have seceded to that demand.

The huge, gaudy mural that decorates The Manor's atrium and that Branson
commissioned to honour those who helped to forge his empire is no longer
what it was six months ago. The mural pictures a youthful, still
gender-bending Boy George and a young Mike Oldfield. Several steps back are
Jim Kerr and Feargal Sharkey (Sharkey, peering inexplicably from behind a
bush, looks even more furtive than usual). All of them are painted in the
first flush of their success. Between George and Oldfield is the focal
point -- Phil Collins, complete with smug, man if the people smile and (six
months ago) a full pre-Eighties head of hair. Collins' smug grin remains.
Those luxuriant locks have disappeared and been replaced by the shiny pink
pate that's come to characterise the man.

The Cure decided a little realism was called for so Perry Bamonte , their
keyboardist and sometime guitarist, stole down from his bedroom one night
and, with the aid of several lagers and a cheap kiddies' paintbox, sheared
the bastard.

Perry 's talent for portraying people in the most unflattering
circumstances is manifest. Brutal caricatures of the group, their wives and
entourage are plastered around the studio. Interspersed with then are
photocopies of Smith's favourite Emily Dickinson poems and salacious
headlines from The Sport and The News Of The World. In the dining-room
there is what can only be described as a league of lunacy. Under the
inscription, "The Merry Manor Mad Chart", The Cure, their friends and
acquaintances are all pictured, again by Perry 's savage pencil, each in
order of insanity. The rules were as follows: each participant was given
five votes, the first of which (worth five points) he or she had
necessarily to award to themselves -- Smith insisting everyone accept
there's a good deal of madness in all of us. The other four votes (worth 4,
3, 2 and 1 points) were awarded to whoever the contestant believed to be
the craziest of their fellow voters.

The winner by a clear majority was Louise, The Manor's housekeeper. Since
the results were made public, Louise had disappeared. Simon Gallup, The
Cure's bassist, came in at Four, Perry at Five, Robert at a modest but
respectable Eight, Porl Thompson , the guitarist, at Nine and the drummer,
Boris Williams, at 12.

In The Manor's kitchen is a notice-board upon which the comparatively sane
Boris, known due to his vampiric appearance as The Count, has taken to
scrawling insulting messages to visiting journalists. A recent message,
directed at a group of American hacks, read "Get a proper job, you lazy
bastards" -- an extraordinary request given Boris is a drummer in a pop
band. Also on the notice-board are the preliminary results of a poll to
elect The Cure's support when they tour America. Currently it's led by Lush
with God Machine in hot pursuit.

Most curious of all though, is a tiny crayon drawing pinned near the
console in the studio's control-room. In unafraid childish strokes the
group are seem standing outside a house, presumably The Manor, beneath a
beaming yellow sun and scribbled strip of blue sky. It's signed: "Perry .
Aged 31 1/2".

The Cure, more than any other group we've met, have refused to grow up. Of
course, all groups in one way or another are able to refute responsibility.
That's not the same thing, though. Most groups are simply brats --
egotistical, myopic, plain ruthless -- forever declaring their inalienable
right to do exactly as they please, but never really knowing quite what
they want to do.

The Cure, who've quietly become millionaires doing exactly as they please,
are remarkable for their intelligence and ardour rather than pigheadedness
and excess, for their wide-eyed curiosity rather than blinkered
self-obsession, and for the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.

From Three Imaginary Boys through Faith and Pornography to Disintegration
and the forthcoming Wish, however quirky, melancholy or desolate they've
sounded, there's a part of The Core that's remained untouched by the
process of ageing and invulnerable to cynicism. a part that's still
perfectly pure. Even Disintegration at its most monstrously bleak railed
against the idea that someone or something might or could pollute that last
oasis.

Wish, though considerably different from the 1989's Disintegration still
carries that torch. It's an album of extraordinary depth, ranging from the
brilliantly shallow to the devastatingly profound. Open sees Smith as his
most appalled and astonished, appearing in the eye of a hurricane of
guitars, contemplating his own dipsomania.

The equally metallic From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea, sustained by
piercing guitar hooks and Gallup's weird tenor bass, is as heavy as it is
immediate and ought surely to be a single. Trust would be almost
melancholic were it not for the cinematic sweep of its melody, played on
funereal piano. Instead, it has us thinking of neon lights, wet
metropolitan streets and Smith, lovelorn, as the classic traffic island
castaway.

High, soon to be released as a single, is a happy-go-lucky skip down
Desolation Avenue, the mood considerably buoyed up by the spacey twang of
the guitars.

Most amazing of all though is Friday I'm In Love, not because it's the best
song on the album, but because it's so blissfully and exuberantly carefree
-- far more so than Lullaby or Lovesong from Disintegration, more so even
than LoveCats. It's difficult to imagine any group of any age anywhere
whiting something so wonderfully ingenuous. It's a brilliant pop song, so
brilliant that American executives upon first hearing it declared it a
sure-fire Number One.

"They ran around the studio going, 'Oh Gaaad, oh Gaaad, it's gotta be, it's
gotta be!" says Robert .

Sitting with The Cure now, half-cut on the lager they've persistently
proffered us (though The Cure's hospitality is legendary, we hadn't
expected it to be quite so legendary), we wonder what mood inspired the
song.

"There's another one we've done that's even more jolly," says Smith,
delighted that we not only noticed the song, but liked it. Fans often tend
to be infuriated by The Cure when they write an unashamed pop song.

"Yeah," says Simon . "If we release something poppy over here it normally
plummets pretty quick."

"Over here," explains Robert , "people have a different idea of what we do,
it's tainted by the idea that we're doing it as a pisstake rather than
being genuinely happy. Which we were when we did Friday."

It's curious that some of The Cure's fans believe the group so incapable of
unqualified happiness that they view every pop song they write as an
excursion in camp.

"It is odd," says Perry , seemingly as mystified by this as we are. Perry
's sitting on a sofa across from Robert , beside Porl who's lying with his
head on Simon 's lap. Occasionally, Simon strokes Porl 's hair, sometimes
even kisses it.

"Everyone has good and bad days," Perry continues "and it seemed all of
ours coincided when we did Friday. Plus, of course, Friday guarantees us
airplay."

Also something that worries their fans.

"That was a joke," says Perry .

"It was," says Robert . "The airplay thing isn't something you think about
when you're making an album, it's just a game you get roped into
afterwards. Last Sunday, when the American record company came over to hear
some stuff, it was the first time they'd heard Friday. We hadn't played it
to them before cos we knew they'd want it to be the first single and we
don't think it's the very best introduction to an album like Wish -- it's
not a fair reflection cos it's so lightweight. We'll probably put it out
once people have had the chance to hear the whole album. It's a funny song
and it'll probably be funnier for non- Cure fans cos they'll go, "That's
not The Cure'. Not that we did it for that reason. The minute I'd sung it
and come back in, knowing everything else was gonna play it, there was a
mixture of disbelief and real joy that I'd actually sung something that was
as up as the music."

So why is it people think you're taking the piss?

"I don't know," shrugs Simon . "Thing is, we're not cos we enjoy dumb pop
songs, we really do -- if they're done well, and Friday is done well."

We hadn't really considered Friday to be dumb.

"Not dumb as in moronic or throw-away," says Simon . "More like being drunk
or something."

Simon , by the way, has the unusual habit of couching many of his
observations in alcohol-related metaphors.

"Naively dumb," says Boris .

"Thing is," says Robert , "I wouldn't bother something like that if I
didn't genuinely feel like that sometimes. In fact, I feel like that as
much as I feel like anything else."

We'd always wondered whether Cure songs were ingenious conceptualisations
of a particular mood or written in the prickly heat of that mood. Was
Robert really as dejected as he sounded on Disintegration, or more
currently, Trust?

"When we did Disintegration," he says, "there was an entirely different
atmosphere than the one we had doing this new stuff. It was pretty savage
compared to this."

"I remember," says Simon Deep Water on Disintegration. It was a really
sombre night."

"There were a lot of nights like that," remembers Robert . "But the way
that I've done vocals on this album are symptomatic of the whole was of
recording. On Disintegration I was much more isolated. I'd come in, do the
vocal then disappear again, but now I kind of hang around for a while in
the control-room with everyone else

"I mean, with Disintegration, Lol (Tolhurst, former friend and Cure member)
was still acting as an irritant, but I think right from the word go our
whole approach was pointing towards doing something really grim. That was
the mood, even though there were lighter moments like Lovesong and Lullaby.
The overall feeling was more . . ."

He shakes his head.

". . . intense. Actually, that's probably the wrong word cos the stuff
we've just done is more intense. I think this album is more of a group
think whereas Disintegration had more of am imposed atmosphere."

Imposed by whom?

"By me," says Robert , surprised that we should even ask.

"It was really unlikely," Perry explains, "that if Robert was singing a
serious vocal that was taking all night, the rest of the band would be in
the control-room larking about."

"I hope that Robert knew that even if we weren't singing we all felt the
same way," Simon concludes, "I think Robert 's mood infected us and our
silence reflected back to increase his mood."

"But here," says Robert , "I've just waited until I felt like doing it,
gone in, done it and not thought too much about it. Some of the slower
songs still took all night, but really it's difficult to rationalise it
all, it doesn't make any sense. It's just that within the group the whole
atmosphere's been better here, its been more fun, more enjoyable, even
though some of the songs that've come out of it are really rowdy or intense
or aggressive.

"The band has just gone in and done these songs whereas before I felt more
aware of trying to impose that on everybody, telling them how it should be.
With Disintegration, they may've felt quite jolly before they went in, but
not afterwards. I think the place we recorded it made a difference, too. It
was much bigger and we all felt further apart."

Smith, even kneeling suppliantly before us, is an imposing personality,
though not overbearing. We have the distinct impression he's one of those
people whose moods can be contagious.

He nods.

"Yeah, but everyone in the band's like that now, that's the big difference
three years on," he says. "During Disintegration O could switch off from
everyone else and I couldn't do it now, it'd be impossible. It's like it's
all turned on its head, Now everyone's involved, not just in the
atmosphere, but in contributing to the songs down to the last detail. The
four of us have been together since Head On The Door and Perry 's (former
Cure guitar roadie) always been here and now everyone feels they can
contribute, say anything they want.

"I feel immeasurably more comfortably about it all than I did three years
ago, there's much less pressure. With Disintegration I'd go out the back
door cos I couldn't face anyone if they thought what I'd just dome was bad
and I thought it was good. There'd have been a real dilemma there. But now
I can walk back in and take any criticism. It's so much easier to talk to
each other."

Smith's lyrics suggest he believes his life to be full of internal dramas,
instantaneous and sensational. This is something he shares with his fans.
Almost anyone who's ever liked The Cure has used their music to turn petty
grievances and minor delights into earthshaking traumas. Everything's so
much more terrible, so much more significant when it happens to Robert
Smith, and Smith's ability to reflect and relate that confirms the
generally held belief that each one of us is more important than anyone
else.

"I'm only presenting my point of view," says Smith. "I mean, I don't think
things are more unfair when they happen to me. I don't think I write more
words from a purely selfish point of view, otherwise I think I'd be a
really shit writer. I'd be much worse than I am cos I've really tried hard
over the years to make the songs much more than me just moaning about
something."

We're not saying you're moaning.

"Well, that's what it is," he says. "It's my way of moaning, it's true.
Some of it is tantrum-like, but it's not just me that feels these things."

It's very childish, isn't it, to see yourself as the centre of the
universe? Do you think in The Cure there's a general refusal to grow up?

"Very much so," says Simon . "there's no need for us to, there's no need
for anyone to really. It's only when people think about their age all the
time and try to be young that they start looking really old. We don't
really think about it at all."

"Growing up," says Robert , "sort of implies responsibility and doing
things that you don't really want to do and in that sense I don't think any
of us will ever grow up. But if growing up means realising what goes on,
then we're more grown up -- and have been for years -- than most people we
meet who're older or younger than us. Being grown up is like accepting
you've got so far and then stopping. Refusing to grow up is like refusing
to accept your limitations. That's why I don't think we'll ever grow up."

The thing that perpetually bewilders children is that they can't have it
all, that they can't have their cake and eat it. The idea that there are
natural limitations is anathema to a child, but most children, particularly
British children, have it drummed into them.

"I never had that," says Robert . "It's really weird but my parents used to
tell me I could do anything I wanted to. I used to say, 'Well, what if I
want to be an astronaut and go to the moon?" and my dad used to say, 'If
you really want to you can'. I used to think he was talking absolute
rubbish, particularly when I was 21 and he was still saying that. But in a
way it really stuck with me cos my dad ended up doing exactly what he
wanted to do. To an outside point of view he's totally conformed, he's had
a family and four kids but he's only ever done things that made him
genuinely happy.

"He jacked in his job cos it made him unhappy and he didn't want to
compromise his entire life just for the sake of carrying it through. It's
very admirable, that quality, and I think it's very rare in people. Most
people feel so conditioned, so oppressed by everything that goes on around
them that they just give in. You have to refuse to give in. People might
say it's easy for us, easy to sit around here for six months, but to get
here hasn't been easy. It's been good fun, but it hasn't been easy."

While we have to accept that Smith's never really suffered from feeling
limitations, there is, oddly, a palpable sense of loss to The Cure.

Smith nods again.

"That comes from knowing that real childhood is gone, it's about loss of
time. People always misinterpret that and think I'm worried about getting
old but it's not that, it's about knowing that you're running out of time.
They're two different things. It's about wishing you could have as mush
time as you seemed to have when you were really little and things just
seemed to stretch out forever. You can't ever get it back, but you can
really struggle. That's where the genuine sense of loss comes from and it's
why I like the idea of writing , cos writers seem to be of indeterminate
age. I was amazed when I found out Patrick White (author of The Vivisector
and The Burnt Ones) was 78, he always seemed so young. I love that."

He thinks about this.

"I suppose," he says, "it's a very selfish thing that goes on with The
Cure. I mean, we do things for you own ends and I think the audience that
genuinely likes us likes is cos of that fact, that we do things we like
doing, regardless of what they want us to do."

And of course it's work. By not pandering to expectations, by refusing to
believe in limitations, The Cure have become one of biggest bands on the
planet. There are a lot of ex-Cure fans, people too old, too involved, too
mortgaged to believe in a wealth of possibility and too tired to feel
genuinely, savagely angry when those possibilities are denied them. They no
longer understand The Cure and probably wonder how they ever did.

But there are also legions of new Cure fans, each of whom believe they're
the most important thing on Earth. There are millions of them.

The Cure. Average age 31 1/2.

Kids' stuff. Too right.


Last Revised: Monday, 15-May-2006 15:00:06 CDT

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