The Crow Road

“God, what did any of it matter, in the end? You lived; you died. You were as indistinguishable from a distance as one of these blades of grass, and who was to say more important? Growing, surrounded by your kin, you out-living some, some out-living you. You didn’t have to adjust the scale much, either, to reduce us to the sort of distant irrelevance of this bedraggled field. The grass was lucky if it grew, was shone upon and rained upon, and was not burned, and was not pulled up by the roots, or poisoned, or buried when the ground was turned over, and some bits just happened to be on a line that humans wanted to walk on, and so got trampled, broken, pressed flat, with no malice; just effect.”

(Iain Banks) 

Pictures of Youth Pt 2

In the second part of the Maker’s thrilling two-part saga, The Stud Brothers and The Cure get utterly smashed and talk about the Japanese’s cruelty to fish the band’s cruelty to former member Lol Tolhurst, the rigours of a rock ‘n ‘roll tour when you’re not really a rock ‘n ‘roll band and Robert Smith’s threat to end it all.

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“I really don’t know what I’m doing here I really think I should’ve gone to bed tonight” — Open, from Wish

We’re getting drunk with The Cure. Not tipsy or tiddly but really f***ing caned. It’s four in the morning and we’re firing on all cylinders.

There is, naturally, nothing at all wrong with interviewing people when they’re drunk or indeed being drunk when you interview people. Drunkenness can accomplish a great deal. It can, for instance, unlock secrets and confirm hopes. It can urge the indolent into action and the cowardly into battle. It can lift burdens from anxious minds and it can often make you talk a whole lot of bollocks (which is also okay, you can tell a lot by people’s bollocks)

Open, the first track on The Cure’s forthcoming album, Wish, is about that, bollocks and all, though it comes from Robert Smith’s own peculiarly pessimistic angle.

Presently, we’re just talking bullocks. The secrets and hopes can wait till later.

We’re talking bollocks about the Japanese for no better reason than that The Cure, Robert Smith tells us, are halfway through an arduous month of press and are tomorrow to be interviewed by Japan’s top pop programme, the astonishingly named Funky Tomato.

When we first hear him mention the programme we assume Funky Tomato to be his own witty nickname for some prospective Japanese interviewer.

Apparently not. In Japan, according to Robert Smith, there is genuinely a programme called Funky Tomato.

We discuss that. Then, having exhausted the subject of the Japanese’ slavish but fatally flawed following of Western culture, we discuss their unscrupulous business practices and their unholy taste for alcohol and endangered species. Two-thirds of the way through whales and why they should not be harpooned, the conversation takes a distinctly surreal turn.

Robert , evidently keen to further explore barbarity, announces the existence of a Japanese cannibal killer.

“Have you heard about him?”

No, but we’ll bet he’s a real bastard.

“Too right,” agrees Smith. “He was living in Paris and he ate one of his models, bit by bit over the period of a month. He got put away on the grounds that he was raging mad, he was put under psychiatric care. Then, two years later, his dad who was head of a big multinational got hi out and took him back to Japan where he’s now a free citizen in Yokohama. He’s written three best-selling books and has become a media celebrity.

“Apparently, the first book is about the different parts of the human body and what they taste like and the third one’s about fetishism and how he’d like to be eaten. Only in Japan — those inscrutable Nintendo bastards! Xenophobia, we’re back again!”

We’re drinking Foster’s Export, having politely refused Simon Gallup’s offer of Crucial Brew, Tennents Super, Chablis and some liquorice-flavoured brain-erasing bastard juice.

“They’re also pongy, the Japanese,” says Simon, burping ferociously.

“Seriously,” says Robert, “talk to one of them, close your eyes and you can imagine you’re at the bottom of the sea.”

Boris nods philosophically.

“It’s the fish, you see,” he says. “They like to eat fish when they’re alive, to kill them in the most painful and watch them suffer. Lol (Tolhurst — former Cure member and band pariah) loved it over there, he’d walk into a restaurant and find the most horrific was of preparing an animal and say, ‘I want that one and I want it to die slowly’. Once he stubbed out a cigarette in a fish’s eye and said ‘You call that an ashtray?'”

Before he joined The Cure, Boris worked in a nuts and bolts factory, planted Christmas trees and was sacked from a warehouse for stealing a book called Drop Out, and is considered by the rest of the band to be the most enigmatic of them all. (Robert says, “He is the most mysterious bloke in the whole world. See how we’re all enthralled when he speaks? We know nothing about Boris.”)

We ponder the ugliness of stubbing cigarettes out in fish’s eyes and decide in the interest of ourselves, Boris, Lol, The Cure and world peace to introduce some culture into conversation. We wonder if any of The Cure patronised the recent Japanese exhibition at the Victoria and Albert.

There’s a resounding “No”.

It was very good. They recreated an entire Tokyo street.

“Complete with noise?” asks Robert, disinterestedly.

Oh yeah.

“And potato-sellers?”

What?

“Oh yeah, they’re everywhere, night and day. It’s like, ‘Shut up! It’s five am, I don’t WANT a potato!’ The worst thing about Japan though,” he continues, “is that ball-bearing game they play, Patchenko. You never win anything, just another game or a toaster if you’re lucky and a fluffy toaster if you’re very lucky. It’s terrible.”

Are you big in Japan?

“Well,” says Simon, “Boris is big there because he’s got fair hair. I don’t think the rest of us will be until we dye our hear blonde.”

“I think,” says Boris, “they like music to be more obvious and packaged. They seem to like a lot of heavy metal bands and they’re a little non-plussed by us.”

“We’re in a lot of cartoon books though,” says Robert, optimistically. “But they don’t seem to have a handle on what we do at all. It’ll be like Bon Jovi Meets Madonna or something and I’ll be in the last box, slumped there with a bottle saying some Japanese words of wisdom. It’s really weird, actually.”

“We didn’t know what was going on when we went over there,” says Simon.”We thought, ‘We won’t play, we’ll just do interviews’ and we ended up on all these game shows where we’d be surrounded by loads of 13-year-old girls and the presenter would go, “Right! Draw a picture of each other NOW!”

At least they didn’t tie you to the back of a horse and drag you through a field.

“No,” agrees Robert, “but after five days it did feel like ‘Endurance’. We started drinking that Gold Sake, the King Of Sakes, on the second say so I honestly can’t remember much about it. We won’t be going back, there’s nothing to be won.”

Even presuming that Smith does not intend to take The Cure back to Japan, the group are about to embark on a massive world tour to promote the album Wish. (Wish, we should reaffirm, is superb — metallic, morbid, joyless, joyful, tender, spiteful, a fraught, fantastic classic).

Over the past 10 years, Smith had continually claimed that he would never tour again. This suggests that either, as has been mooted before, that Smith is a pathological liar or simply that he’s prone, like the best of us, to saying things in the heat of the moment, talking bollocks.

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“I’ve only said it seriously once,” he says, emphatically, “and that was after the Disintegration tour. I meant it then, I really couldn’t imagine doing it all again.”

“It’s a bit like when you’re really pissed,” says Simon , “and you say, ‘That’s the last beer I’m ever gonna have’. You mean it at the time but two nights later you’re gagging for another one.”

Simon, as we said last week, has the winning habit of couching most of his observations in alcohol-related metaphors. For Simon , it seems, a single night’s hard drinking can encapsulate all human experience. He’s probably right.

“It was physically and mentally draining,” says Robert. “For six months afterwards I was really unbearable, I just hated everything. I thought it wasn’t worth it, even with those brilliant times on stage where the whole band gets into a song and we’re oblivious to everything and finish and wondering why all those people are staring at us.

“I felt that it divorces your life, splits it down the middle so you’re onstage or offstage and the whole hyper-reality of it makes you feel like an idiot. It’s true in a way, it’s like recovering from a really bad hangover.”

How did the rest of you feel when Robert suddenly announced you wouldn’t be touring again?

“Relieved in a way,” says Simon. “Because we were all exhausted. But I think even then that we knew in the back of our minds that we’d do it again. Going back to the drink thing, you always do know that you’ll have another drink some day whether it changes from lager to wine. In this case, with this tour, we’re on to the whiskey.”

While on Wish there are moments so upbeat they rate as heavenly, notably the wondrous Friday I’m In Love, they’re matched by the dense and the deeply traumatic. for instance Open and Trust. Since Smith has said on numerous occasions that onstage he relives the mood that inspired each song, we wonder if the Wish tour won’t prove to be as difficult as the Disintegration ordeal.

“Maybe,” says Robert. “I have mixed feelings about going out on tour again. I worry about the effect it’s gonna have on everyone, I really do. I can see it being like it was last time only multiplied because of what the group is now. I think that it’ll be even more intense onstage, the songs that are already more intense will be more so and it’ll be a lot more difficult to divorce from that. You run the risk of it all merging into this world of hyper-reality.

“Honestly, you can turn f***ing mental sometimes. Not in a ‘We’ve been on the road for three months and we’re all f***ing mental’ way, but because it’s so intense onstage for three hours. But when I said I won’t be touring again, I always know that I can, that I have that opportunity. That intensity is a big feeling, it’s not easy to throw away.”

Have you ever behaved like utter beasts on tour? (By the way, put to major rock bands of commercial significance, this question is unlikely to provide an honest answer. It’s rather like asking a prominent politician if they are or have ever been a member of the Communist Party. Though it’s certain nearly all of them well have flirted with the left, they’re not about to admit it to the press).

“Well,” says Simon , “as you get towards the coast you do get that holiday feeling. When we started the Disintegration tour we went down to Dover on the coach and because we’d stopped at Waitrose to stock up on beer and curries . . .”

“And Rice Krispies,” interrupts Robert. “The things you can’t get abroad.”

“Of course, Rice Krispies,” stresses Simon. “We missed the ferry across and had to spend the night in a hotel. It was great, just like going on holiday.”

Rice Krispies? It’s hardly Guns N’ Roses. What about narcotics and underage girls?

“I think we’re excellent ambassadors abroad,” says Robert, neatly avoiding the question. “I do. You couldn’t wish for a finer group of five English people abroad.”

He ponders this momentarily.

“Except of course…”

Except?

“Except of course when the World Cup’s on and we’re in an Austrian bar and we’ve just been beaten by Germany.”

So what happened?

“Loads of speccy German gits gave us a hard time.”

Yeah, right. Excellent ambassadors abroad. You’re not doing yourselves any favours in Japan or Germany.

“Well,” says Robert, “it was all a bit different when the World Cup was on. We were doing a lot of European festivals and we all got a bit blokey. But we’re never really rock’ n’ roll. Even with just a smattering of a foreign language we can tell what people are saying about us and it’s usually, ‘Oh,they’re funny English people, they didn’t throw up on the carpet.'”

So you never behave like a rock’ n’ roll band in the truest and most revolting sense?

“No,” says Simon. “In fact if we do puke, we tend to clean it up afterwards.”

Smith nods thoughtfully then become suddenly indignant.

“Yeah, right,” he announces. “Do you remember the time we got thrown out of that bar for puking and it wasn’t even us? It was that Japanese bloke!”

“Basically,” says Simon , “it’s very simple. We always say, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’. I hadn’t really noticed that until last weekend when we had some record company people over and I watched the way they treated people. They just said, ‘Beer’ and ‘Wine’, never ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’, and it’s just an easy thing to do.

“The people around bands are normally more rock’ n’ roll than the bands and if any of us changes like that, did that rock; n; roll stuff, I don’t think that we’d trust each other any more. Lol was into that stuff, horrible c***.”

And this was just one of many unsolicited attacks on Tolhurst — unsolicited in the sense that, while he may of asked for it, we never did. Tolhurst was once (reputedly) Smith’s best friend. Robert now refers to him as, among other things, “a fat, horrible, useless c***”. And that’s when he’s being polite. Tolhurst was a member of The Cure for some 10 years, the latter part of that time was spent as Band Whipping Boy, a role currently played by the group’s personal manager Bruno who, by all accounts, enjoys the part.

Although we feel certain that we’re unlikely to meet a more gregarious and amenable bunch of blokes than Robert, Simon, Boris, Porl and Perry, we’re equally sure that they’re all eminently capable of being seriously f***ing nasty. Their music, and Smith’s lyrics in articular, suggest as much.

Don’t they ever wonder who’ll be the next Lol?

“It couldn’t happen,” says Robert. “Lol was the whipping boy because he didn’t do anything. Now everyone pulls their weight, everyone contributes. Like I say, it’s a band, not a dictatorial.”

It may be a band and Smith may not be dictatorial but surely there wouldn’t be a Cure without him.

“No,” admits Simon , calmly, “there wouldn’t be, there’d be no point. We all know how much Robert puts into his words. We couldn’t get anyone else and we wouldn’t want to.”

“The others could go off and do something else,” says Robert, “I could do something else, we could all do anything, but it wouldn’t be The Cure. It would be really tedious, it wouldn’t be any fun, there just wouldn’t be that intensity any more. We wouldn’t do it. We’re a band, a real band.”

A great band. Wish is one f***ing marvelous album.

Believe it.

© Melody Maker

Pictures of Youth Pt. 1

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.

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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 favorite 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 Cure 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.”

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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 conceptualizations 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 groupthink 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 I 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.

© Melody Maker

Breaktime

Dopo il grande successo ottenuto con DISINTEGRATION, un vero e proprio ritorno alle origini piu’ dark del gruppo, i Cure sono poi usciti con MIXED UP, una raccolta dei loro successi in versione remix, che spiazza per l’ennesima volta i loro fan. Dopo un live intitolato ENTREAT, che mostra il gruppo in gran forma, bisogna aspettare il 1992 per vedere la pubblicazione di WISH, la nuova prova del gruppo, un album brillante che unisce le atmosfere solari di KISS ME, KISS ME, KISS ME a quelle più cupe di DISINTEGRATION.

Immagine

Cureografia – 1992

Immagine

Dr. Robert Explains It All

In a rare solo interview, Cure leader Robert Smith dissects his cult, defines his own punk, and pursues his Wish

Robert Smith sits alone at the office of Fiction, the U.K. label of the Cure, the band he formed at age 17 and has led for a decade and a half since. It’s a rare opportunity to meet one-on-one with the group’s vocalist, songwriter and sometimes-guitarist; determined to promote the idea that “The Cure Is A Band,” all of Smith ‘s recent encounters have seen him flanked by his cohorts:drummer Boris Williams , guitarists Porl Thompson and Perry Bamonte , and longest serving Cure member, bassist Simon Gallup . Tonight the ageless Smith , who’s wearing eyeliner but no trace of lipstick, looks somewhat drained after a five hour session with his accountant, doubtless administering the lucre generated by the Stateside success of the Disintegration album and the “best of” compilation Standing on a Beach/Staring at the Sea. After years as a cult icon, the Cure is now a big band, but without the coarsening and adherence to formula that such mass popularity usually requires.

The Cure began in 1976 as the Easy Cure, then a trio, spurred into being by punk’s do it yourself fervor. The groups 1979 debut, Three Imaginary Boys, lay somewhere between power pop and the edgy, art-punk-minimalism of Wire and Siouxsie and the Banshees, the latter of whom Chris Parry signed to Polydor before starting his Fiction label, with the Cure as its flagship. (With a few early singles tagged on, the debut is titled Boys Don’t Cry in the US, where the groups albums are available on Elektra/Fiction, unless otherwise noted.) With Seventeen Seconds (1980) and Faith (1981), the Cure’s tormented angst-rock garnered an intensely devout cult following. By Pornography (1982), the group’s music had reached a peak of morbid introspection that many found impenetrable. After this high-point of alienation Smith veered toward pop with the vaguely dance-oriented Lets Go To Bed and The Walk singles. But it was only with 1983’s Lovecats that the Cure really got a handle on the joie de vivre of pure pop. A singles collection, Japanese Whispers (Fiction/Sire in the US), marked the breakthrough.

Thereafter, the Cure’s albums – The Top (1984), The Head on the Door (1985) and Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (1987) – explored both life’s dark side and its light-hearted aspects; stylistically, the group shed the oppressively homogenous sound of its angst era for a kaleidoscope of psychedelic, art-rock and mutant pop textures. Disintegration(1989) was a slight return to the morose Cure of the early 80’s, but that didn’t prevent the first single Love Song, from reaching number two on the US charts. By the end of the decade the Cure had sold over eight million records worldwide without ever having settled into a predictable career trajectory or losing its innate combustibility. As Smith once put it, If I didn’t feel the Cure could fall apart any minute, it would be completely worthless.

Despite Smith and his group’s contrary nature, much of the new album Wish , is surprisingly in sync with the British alternative state-of-art – not that Robert Smith ‘s ever been afraid to be affected by the pop climate (remember the New Order tribute.pastiche of Inbetween Days from Head On The Door ?). But on Wish it sounds like he’s been listening closely to the British movement of “shoegazers” or “The Scene That Celebrates Itself”, and in particular to Ride and My Bloody Valentine (both bands for which he professed admiration). You can hear it in the super saturated Husker Du meets Hendrix maelstrom of End, in the oceanic iridescence of From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea, and in the gilded, glazed guitar mosaics of High and To Wish Impossible Things, all of which vaguely resemble shoegazers like Slowdive and Lush. The Cure has made these kinds of noises before (indeed, a number of shoegazers have been influenced by Smith ‘s group and Siouxsie and The Banshees). But it hasn’t made them for a while, and never in such a timely fashion.

I definitely think it would have been a totally different record if we’d had the same songs but recorded them at the time of Disintegration, Robert Smith agrees. But he says it was actually recording the wah-wah tempest of Never Enough (the only new song on the group’s 1990 remix album, Mixed Up) that made the Cure want to be a guitar band again.

According to Smith , when keyboard player Roger O’Donnell slipped out of the group after the Disintegration tour, the Cure decided to replace him with another guitarist, Perry Bamonte . Porl Thompson ‘s always been very guitar oriented, he’s got loads of old guitars and amps and he’s always very worried about his sound. In the past he’s probably been restrained by the group and by the way I’ve always liked things to be very minimal. But this times everyone’s played out a bit more. Because we didn’t have a keyboard player, no one was really bothered with working out keyboard parts. On Disintegration there were all these lush synthesizer arrangements, but this time we tried to do it mostly with guitars. We also had in mind the way it feels live, to play as a guitar band; its so much more exciting.

The new album is a stylistic mixed bag, whereas Disintegration was a more uniform, emotionally and musically: a steady wash of somber sound and mood. Wish spans a spectrum of feelings from giddy euphoria to deep melancholy, from bewilderment to idyllic nonchalance.

Disintegration was less obviously varied as this album,” says Smith , “but there were songs like Lullaby, Love Song, Fascination Street, that were nothing to do with the rest of the album. But overall there was a mood slightly…downered. Even on Lullaby there was a somber side to it. Whereas on this album there are some out-and-out jump in the air type songs.

Some of Wish’s songs are fairly legible, like the poignant Apart, which deals with the desolation that comes when a gulf inexplicably opens up between lovers. Others are harder to fathom. End beseeches,please stop loving me, I am none of these things, but it’s not clear if the plea’s addressed to the Cure fans, Smith ‘s wife, to a friend…

It’s kind of a mixture, says Smith . In one sense, its me addressing myself. It’s about the persona I sometimes fall into. On another level, it’s addressed to people who expect me to know things and have answers – fans, and on a personal level, certain individuals. And it has a broader idea, to do with the way you fall into a way of acting that isn’t really true, but because it’s the easy path, it just becomes habitual even though it’s not really the way you want to be. Sometimes whole relationships are based on these habits. It goes beyond my circumstances as a star, because I think a lot of people put on an act. I think I had it at the back of my mind when I wrote the song that when it came to performing it live, it would remind me that I’m not reducible to what I am doing. I do need reminding, because it’s got to the scale where I could quite happily fall into the rock star trip. It might seem like its quite late in the day for it to all go to my head, since we’ve been going so long, but the success has reached the magnitude where it’s insistent and insidious.

On End, Smith also bemoans the fact that all my wishes have come true. It must be something that he’s felt at several points in his career: been there, done that..so what now? .

Any desires I have left unfulfilled, says Smith , are so extreme that there’s no chance of them ever happening. I would really love to go into space, I always have since I was little, but as I get older, it’s less and less likely that I’d pass the medical! The only things that I wish for are the unattainable things. Apart from that, I don’t really have strong desires, except on behalf of other people. Generally, peace and plenty. My wishes are more on a global level. To Wish Impossible Things Is specifically about realationships. The notion of Three Wishes, all though history, has this aspect where if you wish for selfish things, it backfires on the third wish. But wishes never seem to take in the notion of wishing for other people, general wishes, or wishes about interacting with other people. In all relationships, there’s always aching holes, and that’s where the impossible wishes come into it

Doing the Unstuck seems to be about disconnecting from the hectic schedules from productive life, and drifting in innocent blissful indolence. It’s something Smith wishes he could do more often.

I was going to say that my biggest wish was not to have to get up in the morning, and that’s not strictly true, but there are days when I feel like that. It’s like watching models saying that they’ve got a glamorous life, and then you find out that they can’t eat what they want, they can’t drink, they have to get up at five in the morning and get to bed by nine at night, and the truth is that they don’t do anything glamorous at all except walk up and down the catwalk and wander about in front of cameras. It’s one of those myths that modeling is glamorous, because it looks like glamour. And sometimes I think to myself,’I’m free, I don’t have to get up’, but that’s not the case cos I’m always doing something. Sometimes there are days where I refuse to do my duties. And I think there should be moments in everyone’s lives where they take that risk and say ‘Oh fuck it, I’m not prepared to carry on functioning’. I suppose that’s a feeling you would associate with being in the Cure. Unstuck is about throwing your hands in the air and saying, ‘I’m off’. But then again there is a thread running through the Cure that’s all about escapism.

In fact, a lot of what the Cure is about is a refusal, or at least a reluctance, to grow up, to desire to avoid all the things (responsibility, compromise, sobriety) that come with adulthood. Despite being a very big business, at the heart of the Cure is a spirit of play.

I met some people recently, says Smith , and I guessed really wildly and innacurately about their age. I thought they were in their forties, but they were only two years older than me, in their mid-30’s. They’d passed across the great divide. Some of it’s to do with having children. I don’t see why they can’t continue being like a kid. Obviously you change as you grow old, you become more cynical, but there are people that manage to avoid that. I know a couple people that are still quite a bit older than me, but are still genuinely excited by things; they do things and really get caught up in them. Children can do that, get caught up in non-productive activity, but its harder and harder to do that as you get older. At least, not unless you take mind- altering substances, of course!

Robert Smith grew up in Crawley, a quintessentially English suburb. And the Cures following has always consisted of that handful of lost dreamers in every suburban small town, that together make up a vast legion of the unaffiliated and disillusioned, who dream of a vague “something more” from life but secretly deep down inside know they will probably never get it. The Cure has always had an escapist, magical mystery side to their music, but the other half of its repertoire has been mope rock, forlorn and mournful for the lost innocence of childhood, and the prematurely foregone possibilities of adolescence.

Smith himself, however, is not so sure that the Cure represents lost dreams for lost dreamers; he’s reluctant to reduce Cure fans to a type. I think our audience has now got so diverse where it seems weird to talk in general terms about what we represent to them. The Cure is liked by some people that I don’t even like! There’s people who like us just because we do good pop singles like High. There’s other people who’d die for the group. When it gets to that level, people who are really caught up in the band,it’s frightening to be a part of it, because I know that we don’t understand anything better than those people. We represent different things to different things to different people, even from country to country. Even to different sexes and to different age groups. Polygram commissioned a survey of Cure fans, because I’ve had this long running argument with record companies about what constitutes our audience. The companies believe the media representations of the Cure audience as all dressed in black, sitting alone in their bedrooms, being miserable. And they were shocked at the actual breadth of the Cure audience. I don’t know what we represent to them. I don’t even know what the Cure represents to me! If we hadn’t had the good songs throughout our history, to back up our attitude, we wouldn’t have gotten this far. All that stuff about what we mean to our fans is too muddled to unravel really. We are a very selfish group. We don’t worry about what we represent.

But perhaps its this very self-indulgence that is part of the Cure’s appeal. Most people are obliged to forego following their whims and fancies, are forced to be responsible and regular. Perhaps the Cure represents a life based on exploring your own thoughts, exploring sounds, being playful. Smith thinks this might be true of its hardcore audience, the people who like us past a certain age. But at heart, he’s wary of dissecting the what is exactly it is that the Cure’s following get out of the group, or why they’re so devoutly loyal.

Maybe too much emphasis is placed on our hardcore fans. I feel sometimes like I’m crusading on behalf of something, and that this is going to pin me down to something that I’d ultimately resent. I’ve been through that with Faith and Pornography, people wanting me and the Cure to stand for something. Smith ‘s referring to his early-80’s status as Messiah for the overcoat-clad tribe of gloom and doomers. All that nearly drove me round the bend and I don’t need any encouragement.

Part of Robert Smith ‘s appeal, at least to the female half of the Cure following, has always been his little lost boy aura. Bright girls dream of a boy who does cry, who’s vulnerable, sensitive, even though few find one. Even now he still seems more like a “boy” than a “man”. (Smith has just turned 33, Wish was released on his birthday, April 21)

I was faced by this dilemma with the lyrics of Wendy Time on the album. It’s the first time I’ve used the word ‘man’ in relationship to myself in a song. So it is seeping through into music. Five years ago, the line in question would have been ‘the last boy on earth.’ I’ve always been worried about doing music past the age of 30, about how to retain a certain dignity. The vulnerable, lost little boy side of my image is gradually disappearing, if it isn’t gone already. But the emotional side of the group will never disappear, I’m in the unusual position of having four very close male friends around me in this group; I don’t feel the slightest bit of inhibition around them. I’ve got more intimate as I’ve got older.”

Around the time of Disintegration, Robert Smith declared, I think we’re still a punk band. It’s an attitude more than anything. The history of the last 15 years of British rock has been a series of disagreements about what exactly that attitude was. Groups have gone on wildly different trajectories-from ABC to the Style Council to the Pogues to the KLF- in pursuit of their cherished version of what punk was all about.

Living in Crawley, travelling up to London to see punk gigs in 1977, reminisces Smith , what inspired me was the notion that you could do it yourself. The bands were so awful I really didn’t think, ‘if they’re doin it, I can do it’. It was loud and fast and noisy, and I was at the right age for that. Because of not living in London or other big punk centers, it wasn’t a stylistic thing for me. If you walked around Crawley with safety pins, you’d get beaten up. The risked involved didn’t seem to make sense. So luckily there aren’t any photos of me in bondage trousers. I thought punk was more a mental state.

The very first time we played at our school hall, we bluffed our way in by saying we were gonna play jazz-fusion, then stared playin loud fast music. And that made us a punk band, so everyone hated us and walked out, but we didn’t care cuz we were doin what we wanted. I suppose that all punk means to me is: not compromising and not doing things that you don’t want to do. And anyone who follows that is a punk, I guess. But then, that could make Phil Collins punk, if he’s genuinely into what he does!

The Cure was never a threat; its particular effect was more on the level of mischief or mystery. Groups who start out making grand confrontational gestures tend to buckle rather quickly and turn into transvestites. But the Cure has endured by being elusive, indeterminate, unpredictable. It’s sold a lot of records but it has never pandered.

We’ve never really been bothered with confronting people. We’ve gradually become more accepted, just ‘cos we’ve been around for so long. We’ve upset a lot of people in the business ‘cos we’ve shown that you can do things exactly how you wantand be successful. Most confrontational gestures are so shallow that they’re laughable. The KLF carrying machine guns at the British record industry awards – you just have to look at the front page of any newspaper to put that kind of gesture in proper perspective. There should be confrontation in pop, but I think the people doing it often believe they are achieving a lot more than they actually are. The premeditated, Malcolm McLaren idea of confrontation is lamentable. Things are only really threatening if someone does something for it’s own sake and it happens to upset people. The only time we’ve come close to that is the Killing an Arab debacle.

That song was grossly misconstrued as racist by sections of the US media. In fact, it was inspired by Camus’ novel The Stranger, the story of a nihilistic young man in French colonial Algeria, who, involved in an altercation with a native, chooses to pull the trigger out of sheer fatalistic indifference. Embroiled in unwanted controversy, Smith was obliged to defend himself, denouncing his accusers as Philistine bigots. “for a couple of days we made the national news in America. And it was the last thing in the world I wanted to get caught up in. Debating Camus on US cable television was totally surreal.”

The Cure hasn’t been subversive so much as topsy-turvy: by cultivating its capacity for caprice and perversity, its managed to remain indefinable.

It’s very difficult, having been around so long; a persona builds up around you that’s continually reinforced despite your attempts to break away from it. It’s like trying to fight your way out of papier-mache; There’s always people sticking bits of wet newspaper to you all the time. I conjure up in my mind figures like Jim Kerr [of Simple Minds] or Bono, and I always have an image of what they represent. It might be really far away from the truth, but they’re trapped in it. I often hear people say or read things about me and the group and they are completely at odds with how I think about us. We do things from time to time that are mischievous, and in the videos we play around with caricatures of ourselves. But at other times, we’re not really mischievous: That implies that we’re doing things for nuisance value, and we never have. We can’t win really: we’re either considered a really doomy group that inspires suicides or a we’re a bunch of whimsical wackos. We’ve never really been championed or considered hip, and so we’ve never been treated as a group that stands for something, like, say Neil Young or the Fall have. Which I’m glad about, but the downside is that we’re dismissed as either suicidal or whimsical.

For all Smith ‘s belief that the “attitude” has been a constant, the Cure didn’t really draw much from the punk, apart from the initial impetus to do-it-themselves. Punk’s main influence on the Cure was minimalism, a distaste for sonic excess. Hence, the clipped crisp power pop of Boys Don’t Cry, the terse, translucent, bleakly oblique Seventeen Seconds. When the Cure tried to develop musically, while still inhibited by punks less-is-more aesthetic, the result was the grey draze of Faith and the angst – ridden entropy of Pornography – some of the most dispirited and ehydrated music ever put to vinyl. but once the Cure stepped out of the fog of post-punk production and into the glossy light of Love Cats, it wasn’t long before the group became what it always essentially was, an art-rock group, maximalist rather than minimalist, indulgent rather than austere. And then cam the over-rip, highly strung textures of The Top and Head on the Door, the sprawling art-pop explorations of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, the lush luxurious desolation of Disintegration.

The truth is that punk rock was just a blip, a brief interruption, in the perennial tradition of English art-rock. Robert Smith was once described by the Aquarian Weekly as “the male Kate Bush”, which is probably going way too far, but it does highlight the way the Cure enjoys the English art- rock blessing/curses of eccentricity, self-consciousness, stylization, preciousness. Above all, the Cure has always been a literate band. Smith is a voracious reader. Recent input includes Stendhal (“very trying”), Blaise Cendrars (“very peculiar”), the poems of Cattulus (“very ribald”). And Nietzche

I just read Ecce Homo, which he wrote at the end of his life, when he was going mad. It’s Nietzche summing up his life and his work, and it’s pretty disturbing, by the end he’s majestically deluded. I also read a book about Nietzche and that era. I didn’t realize that his sister founded New Germania in Paraguay. She took 82 perfect Aryan specimens and attempted to found the new super race. The colony is now virtually extinct, because there was so much inter-breeding over four generations.

I try and combat this feeling that I’m missing out on something very fundamental to life that I should have by now realized, by reading ferociously. And I still come to books that ave been recommended to me by people I consider wise, and I always wonder “have I missed the point, or is this something I knew anyway”. I think it’s really worrying, getting older and not really knowing anything more intellectually. I don’t think I know any more than when I was 15 , except on an experiential level. I only things that I wish I didn’t know. But I never really craved wisdom. I enjoy the discussions we have in the group. Everyone’s well read. The discussions can soar sometimes.

Which leads on to another set of polarities that Robert Smith oscillates between. On one hand, he’s arty and literate; on the other, he’s very much ‘an ordinary bloke’, partial to beer, soccer, Indian food, soap operas.

I don’t think its two sides to my character; its all me. In the group we have quite intense emotional conversations about things. At the same time, we can go to the pub and get so drunk that I don’t remember how I got home, but I don’t feel bad about it later; I don’t think it doesn’t fit with how I’m supposed to be. Equally, I wouldn’t feel embarrassed if someone asked me what I was reading at the studio, and I said Love by Stendhal. I never feel guilty about either end of the spectrum. I object to people who only exist to go down to the pub, or people who think ‘oh no, you can’t watch football, its just a pack of men kicking a ball ‘round a field.’ I would feel weird excluding one aspect ‘cos I felt it wasn’t appropriate. It’s all me.

June 1992

© Simon Reynolds & Pulse Magazine