Fifteen Minutes of Robert Smith

Oct. 1990
Reproduced without permission

Christina went to the Cure's pirate radio broadcast in London and talked to their Pasty-faced singer about God and excess in the wee hours.

The Cure is staging this pirate radio broadcast to promote Mixed Up, their recent album of remixes. The idea was to invite some music journalists, MTV, and a couple of American DJs to witness the Cure talking about and playing cuts from their new release, their 13th in 11 years. Cure FM was supposed to go on the air at midnight, but there is a problem with some technical thing, so now, at 2 A.M. 20 or so people are just milling around a bare room looking lost. The band was up the entire previous night shooting a typically weird video for the only new song on the record, Never Enough, and they seem a little out of it. Though exhausted, they amiably ignore the problems with the transmitter, Robert Smith's lipstick has pretty much worn off, except for a faint red stain on the skin around his mouth. He's pudgy and deathly pale, with a smile on his face. His outfit screams 1983: black leggings, a large purple T-shirt, big high-top sneakers and spiky new wave hair, Boris Williams, the drummer, flirts with the teenage daughter of the band's long-time manager before sitting down in a chair and breaking it. Simon Gallup, the muscle-less, black-clad, waxy-skinned, eyeliner-wearing bass player, is so drunk that he repeats the same joke about his infant son's anatomy at least six times. Though as a child I was a minor Cure fan, right now I am bored, jet-lagged, irritated by the delay and increasingly pessimistic about getting to interview Robert Smith on the air, as the publicist promised.

An interminable half hour later, the technical difficulty is corrected and we adjourn to the studio. Obsessive Cure lovers who, two hours after the posted start time, are still madly spinning their radio dials in search of the broadcast, are finally rewarded for their efforts. This DJ from San Diego begins interviewing Robert Smith on the air. Robert's wife Mary is sitting across the room on a couch, facing the window. She and Robert met when they were 14 and have been together ever since (they are both hovering around 30 now). She is one of those larger girls who carries weight well, and wears a white cotton knit wrap top and long skirt. With her bloodless skin, long black hair teased up high in the front and scads of lipstick and eye makeup, her whole look is rather gothic, as one would expect.

From where I sit, I can hardly hear what the DJ and Robert are discussing, because they are surrounded by cameramen and photographers. They play a cover of the Cure's Just Like Heaven by Dinosaur Jr. , and I inch close enough to hear a few syllables of their chat. This is cool, says Robert, smiling. The purveyor of gloom and doom is not above having fun with something as mundane as a radio show. After playing a few more songs (including two versions of the Doors' Hello I Love You - the original and the Cure's cover), Robert is replaced at the mike by other members of the band and I am finally granted a private audience.

We go to another room Robert sits on a couch and I perch next to him. What did you do today? I ask (lame attempt to be chummy). Finished the video this morning, and then went home and got woken up by the postman, and then Mary's sister arrived from Wales with her two children for a party we're having later on today for their youngest brother's 21st birthday party, and then I went shopping to buy the food and drink and I found out that my credit card had been stopped and so 1 couldn't buy what I wanted, and then I went back home and ordered a taxi to come here, he says without pausing. Mr. and Mrs. Smith live in Sussex, on the outskirts of London, where they grew up, and Robert is something of a homebody, Though his publicist warned me that he detests interviews, he has a very sweet way about him He says the whole idea of the radio show was to avoid doing regular press. We gave out all the leaflets [announcing the show], and it was just a cheap way, an easy way, for people to get to know we were releasing an album, he says. They're putting out this album of past hits-from their early club single A Forest to 1989's Lovesong because, he explains, our singles were selling for unreal prices like 25 pounds or 35 pounds each [the equivalent of about 50 or 70 dollars]. So I thought it would be good to put all those old 12-inchers out on a budget-priced album, so for three pounds people could get the whole lot.

The band ended up remixing their old songs (Robert did three himself; on the other seven they worked with various DJs/producers) and recording Never Enough. The song is about excess, says Robert. Anything I do is not enough, There always has to be something else or you'd stop, and the fact that there is always something else drives you into excess. He wrote it after they had been in the studio three days trying to record a single for Mixed Up We recorded four songs and they sounded like crap, and I was really depressed, he says. Everyone knew it wasn't working. I wrote Never Enough that night and said, 'Let's record this.'

Practically every album the Cure releases is reported to be their last, so the question "Will there be another album?" rears its ugly head. I hope so, he says. If we wanted to do something and it sounds good, we'll do something. But if we don't do anything again it doesn't really matter. I'm too sort of old in my head about this for it to make any difference.

I sense poor Robert getting depressed, so I abruptly change the subject and ask him what he was like as a teenager. Just the same only thinner, he says. I got thrown out of school when I'd reached the point where I was actually studying to go to the university. I could never really accept that people who were not that much older than me knew more than I did. I was lucky I had my mom to back me up. But apart from my last year in school, I had good times as a teenager. Who doesn't?

Well, some don't, I say. American teenagers are growing up in a much bigger country, he responds. I've always thought that in England there's not that much competition. In America there is. I think I may have been tempted to give up had I been American. It would have been a lot harder, In England it's much easier to stand up and say, 'Piss off.' Robert went to Catholic school, and coming from a Catholic background myself, I have to ask about his upbringing. I wasn't really raised Catholic, he says, The last time I was taken to church was when I was about eight. They let me alone after that. My Catholic upbringing has been tempered also by my older brother, who went to India as a hippie and came back with lots of pictures of women with eight arms to stick on my bedroom wall and upset my little sister he used to tell us about reincarnation. I don't have any of the guilt problems that most Catholics have. I went through that at about the age of nine, and decided if I threw up on the floor, I just threw up on the floor. I ask him if he believes in God. No, he says. Not at all. I feel very jealous some of the time, in the depths of the night of people who do. I think that a lot of belief comes with age. I'll probably fall into religion or something as I get older. If I give up, I will. It's just fear, fear of not existing, that drives people to believe in things. Everyone has that fear, but it's just a question of whether you have the strength to deny it, that's all.

Robert is called back into the DJ booth. He does phone interviews. He autographs some T-shirts for a future radio giveaway. Then he's on the air: Excess. I've slept 4 hours this weekend and been up 42. I enjoy those 4 hours but I've enjoyed those 42 just as much. I'd like to thank those who stayed up with me. He plays Never Enough for those die-hard listeners, and then he and Mary go home.

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

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