Dialogo abstraído con Robert Smith

El líder de The Cure reflexiona sobre la trayectoria de un grupo que lleva años avisando de un final que no llega. “No me veo en casa”, asegura

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Robert Smith (Blackpool, 1959) habla de forma entrecortada, absorto en un mundo interior no tan sombrío como sugiere su estética gótica. Deshinchado sobre el sofá blanco, parece preguntarse a sí mismo, “¿qué hago aquí?”. Claro que después de tocar tres horas largas con The Cure, el agotamiento influye. El maratoniano concierto puso el broche final a la primera jornada del Bilbao BBK Live, que ayer despidió su séptima edición con Keane y Garbage como platos fuertes.

Pero en sus 53 años no solo pesa el cansancio físico: “La banda está en un momento de reflexión, intentamos demostrarnos que lo que hacemos todavía es genuinamente bueno como para seguir. Los festivales son un buen barómetro”. Y añade, “aquí tienes que hacer un equilibrio entre tocar lento pero mojándote, comprometido… como un buen beso”.

Los problemas técnicos con el teclado retrasaron el recital casi una hora, y fue Smith quien salió al escenario, acompañado solo por su guitarra, a salvar los muebles cantando la mítica Boys Don’t Cry. “Soy muy viejo para aspirar a ser lo más grande, me conformo con formar parte de los recuerdos de la gente, que se vayan pensando que ha sido un concierto extraordinario”, y divaga de nuevo: “Esa idea llevada a otros ámbitos haría del mundo un lugar mejor… quizás…”.

La formación, nacida en los 70 e indemne hasta la actualidad, lleva años amenazando con el final. En su última gira, coincidiendo con el 50 cumpleaños de Smith, The Cure se explayó con temas de sus tres primeros discos: “Fue indulgente y nostálgico”, reconoce, “pensé que si podía meterme de lleno en esas canciones a mi edad, si pudiera entender por qué lo hicimos, entonces habría llegado el momento de parar”. Pero no fue así. “Esto es lo que soy, siempre quise crear una alternativa musical y estética y no veo el momento de parar”. La gira europea Summer Cure, en la que están inmersos, y el concierto más largo de todo el BBK Live dan fe de su resistencia.

Conforme se suelta, parece olvidar a los medios para mantener un diálogo abstraído con el Robert Smith del pasado. “Tengo esta voz en la cabeza de un joven yo que me recuerda que he conseguido lo que siempre soñé, y no quiero que me diga ‘estás acabado’, no quiero”.

Cuenta que rechazaron participar en las recientes celebraciones del Diamond Jubilee de Isabel II. “En mi país aman a la monarquía, yo odio ese sistema, hacen creer a los ciudadanos que son mejores que ellos sin hacer nada, ¡nada!”. Pese a los improperios, imposibles de transcribir aquí, reconoce que en su tierra natal le espera una buena vida, junto a Mary Poole, su amor desde el instituto. “Pero no me veo en casa, no me imagino dejando el escenario todavía”. Se hunde más en el sillón para declarar, con los ojos cerrados, “sobretodo cantar, es la clave, me encanta cantar”. Robert Smith concluye hablando muy bajito, para sí mismo, con cierta amargura. “Aunque en casa también podría cantar… sí, estaría mejor en casa, cantando para nadie… mucho mejor”.

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“I don’t have responsibilities of my own, but I’m keenly aware of other people’s, so I try not to bleat about how my life is so fucking hard, because it isn’t. Mary always says to me, “You could be here…” She teases me, like your wife does. I’m sure both of them would rather be here than sat at home. She’s tired of this life. She needs to know I’m doing this for a good reason, that there’s a new experience there. For example, playing Wrong Number with Reeves, that’s an experience that I’ve never had before and it’s a great feeling. That’s what it’s about, we certainly don’t need the money. Nowadays I like to think we’re an irritant. We’ve been written out of history in one sense, like we’re just not important. Do I sound bitter?”

Mary Poole

Rob Fitzpatrick goes on the road with Robert Smith and The Cure

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Robert Smith, Cure keyboard-player Roger O’Donnell and I are in a black van – the sort of multi-seat box soccer “moms” ferry their offspring around in – rolling down a motorway somewhere between Zurich and the small southern German town of Singen. It is early evening and the sun warms the lush green hills that surround us.

Smith and I are having a beer while O’Donnell tells us about touring America with The Thompson Twins in support to The Police somewhere in the long-lost mid-’80s. We’re pulling up to a junction when Smith tells me how The Cure were playing in Moscow a week or so ago and everywhere they went there were posters for an upcoming show by Sting. “Unfortunately they’d written his name in Cyrillic script,” he says, chucking a peanut in his mouth. “And that’s how I know Sting in Russian is spelled C, U, M, T.” We laugh out loud and take another drink and let the light play on our sunglasses, and I think to myself, could there be any nicer way to spend Saturday evening?

The night before I meet The Cure I get an email from Smith – which, like all his others, IS ENTIRELY IN CAPITALS – informing me that as they have a show in Hamburg the night before he might be quiet and “a touch grumpy” when we first meet at baggage reclaim. However, I shouldn’t worry as he guarantees he’ll be “open and effusive” come midnight. What actually happens is he, like the rest of the band, is open and effusive and friendly and funny from the very first second we meet. There they are, getting eyed nervously at Belt 39, a gaggle of fully grown men who appear to quite like each other despite having had three hours’ fitful sleep and being told their hand luggage was removed from the flight. Some band members panic about having to wear blue jeans on stage. Others worry about their in-ear monitors and boots. Bass-player Simon Gallup (tatts, quiff, sunglasses, motorcycle boots, looks about 30) worries about his shaving kit. But Smith, over six foot in massive goth boots, dressed from head to toe in well-worn black, with remnants of last night’s lipstick still on his face and a thick, wiry explosion of hair, just smiles. “I have everything I need in this bag,” he says, clutching a voluminous rucksack, his eyes hidden behind wraparound shades. You can’t lead one of the world’s finest bands for 35 years without learning a thing or two.

What is there to say about Robert Smith and The Cure? A band who set out to be “the punk Beatles” but became so much more. There isn’t one of us reading this who couldn’t whistle at least ten of their songs off the top of our heads – and, honestly, who else could you say that about? The Cure created their own corner of pop, a place that ran on humour and mystery and transgression; a place with enough danger to be exciting, but somewhere always anchored in something real and admirable and ambitious. Smith has never been the wraith-like child-man he’s been painted as. He checks us in to the hotel; he has the print-outs of what he wants tonight’s set to look like; he does the contract negotiations in the dressing-room and, long past 4am, it’s he who wades into the chaotic scenes going on at our hotel reception when their entry-key system breaks down and the crew can’t get into their rooms. This is someone who had a relentless drive to succeed. And he did in spades. Now they are grand elder statesmen rightly enjoying an Indian summer of long, invigorating shows across Europe’s biggest festivals, but in the late 1980s The Cure were being lined up as the next U2 and that enormo-dome world was theirs for the taking.

“We tasted that for a year,” Smith says. “But it wasn’t what I wanted. We did two stadium tours across America, had a number-one album (with Wish), and I was congratulated and told I was amazing wherever we went.”

A kind soul puts two fresh drinks on our table.

“And that,” he smiles, “was the most miserable year I had ever had.”

What music was the first music you heard that made you think, “Wow!”?

That’s going back! My earliest memories are of 1963, 1964 and 1965. I’ve got an older brother who’s 12 or 13 years older than me, and a sister who’s 10 years older. My mum wasn’t supposed to have any more kids, and suddenly she had me, and then she had my younger sister, so there were two of us versus the two of them! They looked after us, and they taught us stuff, so we learned Beatles songs, me and my little sister, in 1963, ’64. My older brother gave me a guitar and we learnt together, which sounds really tacky, but it was a bonding experience. But the moment when I could play G minor and he couldn’t grasp what G minor was, I knew I had passed him. He was into The Rolling Stones and then there was Captain Beefheart and then Pink Floyd. Meanwhile, my older sister was always more pop-orientated.

So you had the best of both worlds?
Yes, it was a strange environment, me knowing the words to quite trippy stuff. I had no idea what it meant, but I had early memories of singing really dumb but glorious pop songs, likeDream, by the Everly Brothers. If that came on the radio now, I would still sing along. That put the idea of melody into my head. My mum and dad were much more into Gilbert and Sullivan, which in their own way are fantastic songs – brilliantly written with great melodies. Meanwhile my brother would smoke dope in the garage and listen to Eric Clapton with his mates. They’d play the Blues Breakers record all the time, really loud: I loved it. And Crossroads is fantastic, that’s one of the first things I tried to learn on the acoustic guitar.

Weren’t you an Alex Harvey fan?
Yeah, a lot later. I discovered my own music around 13 and went to concerts on my own.

What was your first gig?
Rory Gallagher, he was a genius. That was the Brighton Dome and I bought a ticket on a whim. I got my dad to phone up, he knew someone who knew someone who knew someone. I went down on the train, stopped in the pub, had two pints…

Aged 13?
Yeah! I wore big glam shoes when I wanted to get served in the pub. In those days you got served in the pub if you were ten, to be honest.

Simpler times…
Exactly! You’d give someone an extra 15p and they’d buy you a pint while you sat outside. But I came away from that gig thinking it was so fucking excellent that I went on a series of Brighton jaunts for the next few years to see whoever was playing. I saw Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Alex Harvey because I’d seen him on a BBC2 arts show doing Next with a string quartet, and that was another hugely formative moment because it was so fucking good. He was, essentially, the first punk. I mean it’s a trite thing to say, but he really had that attitude of confusing people and his background was so theatrical. Alex was in tandem with Bowie. Just like everyone else my age, I remember seeing Starman on Top Of The Pops in the summer of 1972. That year I went on holiday with my family and throughout it all I had these images of him doing Starman in my head. He lived the life that you dreamed about. I thought it must beso good to be David Bowie.

Did you see him live at that time?
I did, he played in London at the horrible, soulless Earls Court, and he played for less than an hour. Now, that ticket cost me an awful lot of money. My friends and I had saved up our dinner money! In a funny way, that was the biggest legacy I ever got from Bowie. It taught me to never underestimate how much this means to the people that come to see you.

So he disappointed you?
Not as such, what he was doing was genius, but there wasn’t enough of it! He had a million songs he could have done, but he didn’t. He went home. And so we left feeling rubbish. To this day, I remember that feeling of somebody who’s very young, who’s looked forward to something so much…

You don’t want to be left wanting more; you want to be filled up to the brim?
Yes! I want the lights to come up and think, “Fuck!”

Backstage at a modern rock festival is a lot like being at work. Most people are on laptops or phones, tapping away while drinking mineral water and looking a wee bit earnest. When you look around, you realise that almost everyone, whether in a band or not, looks sort of the same – Ray-Bans, tatts, beard/hat, raggedy T-shirt, skinny jeans. No one looks anything like The Cure at all, which is sort of brilliant. When Smith walks through the backstage area, even the people in bands you recognise (hello, matey from Mars Volta; hello, lady from Katzenjammer) can’t help themselves gawping just a little. The Cure’s dressing room is at the end of a corridor next to tonight’s headliners, New Order. For most of the evening the door is tight shut, but at one point that other blond singer of the Sumner clan, Bernard, pops out and hollers, “Hello, Robert!” and the two have an enormously cheery chat; grizzled veterans still in the trenches, still topping the bills. It is an utterly disarming moment.

We jump back in the van and are whisked to the rear of the stage just in time to see The xx say, “Thangeweverymatch, g’night!” When Smith goes to say hello, they beam at him. Not one of them looks a day over 16. Unlike pretty much every person I’ve ever spoken to in a band, Smith actually says he’d like to go back to being at their stage of life, for it not to be all done yet, for the story still to be written. Back in the dressing room, Gallup and guitarist Reeves Gabrels – he of Tin Machine and Rubber Rodeo – walk around with their instruments around their necks absent-mindedly strumming. It reminds me a little of a description I once read of a porn-film set where the male actors would wander about nude, forever tugging at themselves to stay in, well, shape.

Tonight The Cure will play a “short” set – two hours, only about 100 hits – and just seconds before they go on, Smith will call his wife, Mary, to make sure she’s OK (they’re childhood sweethearts and met when Robert was 14 and Mary 15, and married in 1988).

From my vantage point from the side of the stage I can see the crowd going back for miles, and the next day I find my phone is full of blurry (half-drunk) shots taken through the endless dry ice. Inside info: at the very back of the stage is a little tent full of towels and booze. That’s where the band stands before the encore. Next to it is a private portaloo. After they come off stage we drink champagne in the dressing room and someone passes around sandwiches. Smith, Gallup and I head back to see New Order, who are very good but we all agree they’re missing something without Hooky.

“Surely they’re old enough to get over it,” Smith says. “Fucking hell! Me and him have!” he adds, indicating his bass-player stood next to him.

What do you remember of being a very new band?
When we started doing this, I was still at school. When we did Three Imaginary Boys it was spiky, it wasn’t really me. I remember bending Lol’s ear to be a bit more like XTC. I played with the Banshees [after their guitarist John McGeoch suddenly left] through our first tour, and it allowed me to think beyond what we were doing. I wanted to have a band that does what Steve Severin and Budgie do, where they just get a bassline and the drum part and Siouxsie wails.

Who were you listening to then?
Nick Drake and Van Morrison were my touchstones. And funnily enough, Space Oddity. But I also listened to the Gayane Ballet Suite by Khachaturian, which sounds terribly pretentious, but if anyone listens to it, they’ll discover the most brilliant sound. I wanted to incorporate all that into an album, and that was what Seventeen Seconds was all about. My dream was to be someone who could go anywhere and play music: in some ways that’s still my dream. As with everyone that’s young, I exuded confidence, but I wasn’t a confident person, just better at bull-shitting than everyone else.

Were you a control freak?
Totally. If anyone ever touched what I was trying to do, I would literally fire them. The record company were never allowed near us and I drove for the Seventeen Seconds and Faith tours rather than have anyone near us who was an outsider. I was obsessed, but it all ended in tears with Pornography.

Why?
Because I was mental. I remember being number one in New Zealand. I was about 20 and these two guys gave me acid and it was fucking excellent. I loved it, and for quite a few years afterwards I took a lot of acid. It allowed me to see other people’s point of view. It’s funny looking back, because I opened the Doors Of Perception but I didn’t quite walk through.

Did you want to be a pop star?
No! I just wanted to not regret anything. That was my driving force. It sounds really old-fashioned and naive, but integrity was paramount. That’s why I liked Alex Harvey and Nick Drake and Jimi Hendrix, because they had integrity.

“I saw Rory Gallagher – genius. And Tom Petty. And Alex Harvey doing Next with a string quartet, another hugely formative moment”

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Recently I interviewed Damon Albarn, and he was saying how his approach to creativity is to get up every day, take his daughter to school, go to the studio, smoke a spliff and go, “Right, here we go then…”

Nick Cave does the same thing, doesn’t he? OK, I’ll have to think very seriously about what I’m going to say. I hate… (long pause) No, I don’t hate anything. (Pause) Right, I feel that there’s a great desire from a certain hardcore part of our audience for new Cure stuff constantly. But as I grow older, I feel that would sully what we have done before. I have an overwhelming urge to do stuff, from time to time, but it’s less frequent as I grow older. And I don’t ever agonise about it. If I don’t write words, I’ve got nothing to say, it’s that simple. We’ve made 13 albums and I’d love to do a 14th – in fact we’ve almost finished a 14th – but there’s no rush for it.

Is that about age?
Simon was saying to me today, you don’t feel age on stage. That’s true, and our songs transcend age. For a brief moment. I’m never going to do a Madonna and go on stage in suspenders and tights and pretend I’m 20. We’re not a young band any more, but in our heads, particularly with me and Simon, that punk idea is still there. We know when it’s shit, and we know when it’s really good. Like tonight was really good. I could sing! I don’t want to be the responsible adult on stage, that’s why I still drink. If I can’t do this in the way I did it when I was 15, I won’t do it.

Do you still get the same thrill?
I do, but the other side of it is, now that we’re older I realise that we’re coming close to the end of what we’re doing. So I’m determined to milk every moment of what I do on stage.

You’re contemplating the end of The Cure?
Well, we are a lot closer to the end! We couldn’t tour in the same way as we used to. It would be physically impossible for me to tour, because I refuse to not do this (lifts drink). I’m not going to go on and just sing the songs, but I also know I’m heading towards my mid-fifties, so there’s no fucking way I’m going to do a hundred shows in four months and they’ll all be great shows.

So the last tour was the last tour?
Yes. I haven’t said this for 20 years, but the last tour was the last world tour that I will ever do with The Cure. That tour taxed me so phenomenally. It’s a sad admission, but actually I’ve never, ever performed without taking some kind of stimulant: I can’t do it. My natural state is not one of a performer, it’s like something I’ve been saddled with. I love writing songs, I love writing words, I love singing at home, I love doing demos. We go in the studio, and then we go on stage, and I have to be this performer. I fucking love doing it, but I have to be able to do it my way.

Have you ever had a real job?
Are you saying this isn’t a real job?

Well, it’s not really. Have you ever done a day’s work in your life?
When I left school I was a postman for a brief period: about a week. And I was a gardener for an equally brief period. Slightly longer, actually: two weeks. Then I went back on the dole. A huge part of my drive to succeed has been the idea of not having to get up in the morning.

I was touched by seeing you phone Mary just before you went on stage.
Well, Mary lives on my hours, so she’ll have been waiting up. I’ll phone her again in about an hour’s time [about 4am]. She’s on her own at home and I like to hear her say, “I hope it’s good.” She always says, “Sing well!”

You played Just Like Heaven tonight and there’s that lyric, “Why are you so far away, she said”, which always sounds so real. Like you love this person so much, but they’re always pissing off somewhere.

That’s why throughout the tours of 1987, 1989 and 1992 we took all the wives, all the girlfriends, all the family. We had three buses full of entourage, but we could afford it. We would have entire hotels sometimes. It was insane, the money we spent. But what else would we do with it? The whole point was then you didn’t go home and have to explain what you’d done. Of course, all that tailed off after Wish, because I went a bit mental.

In what way?
Because I couldn’t take the attention any more. When you’re U2, what do you do? It wasn’t us, it wasn’t me.

Didn’t you ever want to be the biggest band in the world?
No! I wanted to be the band that I would love, going to my grave. That has always been my dream. There’s a price to be paid for being U2 and it’s not a price I want to pay. So many people earn so much money out of a band when they’re on that trajectory. You are surrounded by fucking arseholes. You end up with people you would have pissed on when you were 17.

He still phones his wife before going on stage. “I like to hear her say, ‘I hope it’s good’. She always says, ‘Sing well!’”

Would you rather be at home with your feet up watching the telly?
I would love to be at home but I can’t be. I can cancel if I want. Or not book it in the first place. Or just not turn up.

But you don’t.
No, of course I don’t, because I’d rather do this! There is never any question of that.

You only ever do what you want, when you want to do it?
Yes. We would do more if I didn’t have such a happy home life. But we will never do another world tour. I have loved pretty much all of my life and there have been other times when I’ve wished myself on Mars rather than do this, but that’s entirely my own fault.

Bands love to moan, don’t they?
Oh God they do, and when bands bleat it’s because they’re just doing too much. They’re tired! My entire extended family do normal jobs, they’re policeman and ambulance-drivers. You wouldn’t expect them to drink twelve pints and take four lines of coke and moan about getting up.

My theory about you was always that you had freed yourself of all responsibility, but I’m not sure that’s true now.

I don’t have responsibilities of my own, but I’m keenly aware of other people’s, so I try not to bleat about how my life is so fucking hard, because it isn’t. Mary always says to me, “You could be here…” She teases me, like your wife does. I’m sure both of them would rather be here than sat at home. She’s tired of this life. She needs to know I’m doing this for a good reason, that there’s a new experience there. For example, playing Wrong Number with Reeves, that’s an experience that I’ve never had before and it’s a great feeling. That’s what it’s about, we certainly don’t need the money. Nowadays I like to think we’re an irritant. We’ve been written out of history in one sense, like we’re just not important. Do I sound bitter?

No. I’m just surprised to hear it, because my experience is that everyone has at least some emotional connection with The Cure.
I walked into this one. But the thing that keeps me sane is that every band likes The Cure. That matters. But media-wise, in Britain we’re not liked because… I haven’t played the game.

That’s not true!
Of course it fucking is! People like us again now, but that’s down to our Bestival resurgence. And it wasn’t even that good. They were a fucking great audience, and they wanted us to be good, and we played some good songs, but in a weird four-piece way. I sang my heart out, and the ripples went out and suddenly, “Fucking hell, it’s The Cure, they’re still going!” If I had thinner skin, I would be weeping!

Do you feel like you’ve not been properly appreciated?
Of course I do, how many covers have I been on! Millions! Look, I apologise. I’m griping and I don’t actually feel it at all. Have I come across as angry?

No, I’m just surprised that you think like that.
The band would like me to engage more, really. And the reason why I don’t is because I don’t want to. But, can I say this, and this is like the dumbest thing anyone can ever say in an interview, but as I get older I find myself being honest, and it’s boring as fuck! I hate myself, I really do. Why can’t I just make stuff up any more? Then I think, what’s the point? I no longer want people to be “intrigued” by me. Anyway, I thought we were excellent tonight, I really did. I still want a crowd to think, “Fuck, I want to be in The Cure!” It’s dumb, but that’s pop music. It’s like you were saying earlier – in the cold light of day it’s fucking stupid, but at the time, when you’re just drawn into it, it’s everything, it’s still absolutely everything.

With that, Smith jumps up to try and sort the key problem at the check-in desk. It’s 4.30 in the morning and he has to be up in a few hours to fly home for a family football party (he’s already put in his pizza order), but he wades in regardless – still wearing his stage makeup, still all in black, still that bloke from The Cure.

Still the very best we have.

© Rob Fitzpatrick.

Robert Smith a XL: “Comincio ad essere vecchio per il palco”

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La copertina di XL Repubblica di Luglio/Agosto 2012 mostra il primo piano di Robert Smith, leader indiscusso dei Cure.

Il cantautore e chitarrista britannico, come ormai la sua carriera dice, non ama molto parlare di sé ne, tanto meno, essere intervistato. Sono pochissime, infatti, quelle rilasciate dal leader dei Cure, in questi anni di carriera.

XL non si fa scappare l’occasione ed intervista, per mezzo di Deborah Ameri, Robert Smith nel suo momento preferito, ossia la notte, quello che, a detta dello stesso Robert, è in grado di rappresentarlo meglio e nella quale riesce ad essere più produttivo.

Prima di passare all’intervista, ricordiamo che i Cure saranno in Italia per due date che si segnalano già come imperdibili, il 7 Luglio 2012 la formazione sarà protagonista della giornata finale dell‘Heineken Jammin Festival 2012 mentre il 9 Luglio i Cure si sposteranno a Roma per la data all’interno del Rock in Roma.

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Sospinti dall’intervista di XL Repubblica a Robert Smith, iniziamo ripercorrendo alcune tappe fondamentali di un personaggio di cui, forse, si parla fin troppo poco ma che, non è esagerato considerare uno dei grandi geni della musica attuale. Nato il 21 aprile 1959 a Blackpool, Robert Smith si dimostra essere un uomo molto più “normale” di quanto la leggenda dice di lui. Sposatosi dopo 14 anni di fidanzamento con Mary Poole, la compagna di una vita, con cui Robert vive ancora felicemente, il musicista dimostra di avere le idee chiare su qualsiasi argomento. Passando alla musica, il grande amore di Robert è sempre stato solo uno, i Cure.

La vita musicale legata ai Cure non lo esclude però da collaborazioni molto varie che Robert Smith ha collezionato in questi anni nonché un disco da solista che è diventato un po’ una chimera per i fan della formazione, ancora oggi, non si sa se ci sarà mai una data d’uscita. I dischi dei Cure, però, altro non sono che una creazione di Robert Smith che nel corso degli anni ha praticamente curato quasi tutte le melodie e i testi.

Leggendo l’intervista rilasciata ad XL sono da subito chiari alcuni concetti: Robert ama vivere di notte, quello è il suo regno e le sue giornate tipo sono composte da riposo durante il giorno e di vita durante la notte. Parlando del suo amore verso la notte e del fatto che continuamente viene dipinto come una persona strana, ecco come si esprime Smith:

Quando la gente inizia a conoscermi non può credere quanto normale io sia. Non sono uno che si fa notare. C’è una parte di me che è assolutamente silenziosa. E una piccola parte che invece sfugge al controllo. La cosa più estrema ed eccentrica per me è salire sul palco e cantare di fronte ad un mare di persone. Quando penso a me stesso come il cantante di un gruppo famoso non posso credere che sia davvero io. 

Leggendo Robert Smith la sensazione suscitata può essere solo quella di un innamoramento, della convinzione di trovarsi davanti ad un personaggio affascinante, non solo quando incanta tutti i presenti sul palco.  Si passa poi alle etichette musicali e, con totale candore, Robert dice che i Cure non sono definibili, in quanto non si possono considerare né goth né pop ma semplicemente “Siamo i Cure”.

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C’è una profonda lucidità nelle parole di Smith che prosegue dicendo che ormai da dieci anni sta scrivendo la sua autobiografia ma, ancora oggi, non è finita. Robert prosegue spiegano che non riesce a dedicarci più di due ore al giorno e, la sua intenzione è quella di farla uscire quando i Cure cesseranno l’attività.  Interrogato anche sul proseguo dei Cure, Robert rassicura i fan dicendo che prima di andare in pensione, ci sarà almeno ancora un disco che, a quanto pare, non dovrebbe tardare molto. Ecco una delle parti più significative a riguardo:

Ho sempre fatto musica per il mio piacere personale non per vendere qualcosa. Ma sicuramente prima di dire addio alle scene pubblicheremo il disco. Sarà la continuazione di quello precedente e sarà accompagnato da un dvd del concerto di Parigi nel 2008 e magari da un live di questa estate. Sarà lento e pieno di emozioni. Il tipico sound dei Cure. 

Illuminante ed interessante anche la parte in cui Robert afferma di scivolare lentamente verso la pensione ma che, tutto questo, non gli dispiace affatto:

Non credo di poter continuare a lungo, ho 53 anni, comincio a essere un po’ vecchio per il palco. Voglio andarmene finché sono famoso, finché sono in grado di esibirmi ad alti livelli. Non ci tengo a diventare la parodia di me stesso. 

Infine, una piccola chicca, volete sapere qual è la band preferita di Mister Smith?

La mia band preferita al mondo sono gli Explosions in The Sky. Sul mio iPod ho 17.000 canzoni, la mia intera collezione di cd. C’è anche roba che ho comprato da teenager e nemmeno la riconosco. La sto riascoltando in ordine alfabetico. Ho appena cominciato la D. Impiegherò tre anni per arrivare alla E. Ho un gusto eclettico e cambio spesso genere: i cambiamenti mi piacciono molto. Tranne quando riguardano me stesso. 

© Greta C

Robert Smith e la ricerca di una nuova cura

The Cure chiudono la terza serata dell’Heineken Jammin Festival edizione 2012 con un’esibizione attesissima e inusuale. Che induce a una riflessione sul futuro della storica band del post punk inglese

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Sul palco Robert Smith sorride. Un sorriso freddo, scenico, quasi un riflesso incondizionato mentre intona le note iniziali di Lovesong, il brano che soddisfa le prime attese del pubblico di fan storici, giovani goth e musicofili dai gusti eterogenei.

Chi lo segue da tempo sa leggere ben oltre il sorriso di circostanza impresso sul viso cinereo di questo romantico Pierrot dal cuore di tenebra. Assorto e silenzioso, fa scivolare le dita lungo le corde di una chitarra loquace, su cui campeggia la scritta “2012: citizens not subjects” (2012: cittadini non sudditi), in un chiaro riferimento al giubileo elisabettiano.

A 33 anni dalla pubblicazione del loro primo album, Three Imaginary Boys, e a quattro dal più recente, 4:13 Dream, i Cure sono tornati, attesissimi, in Italia.
Non con un nuovo disco da promuovere, ma come headliner della terza serata conclusiva dell’Heineken Jammin Festival. La scelta del leader è chiara e l’aveva annunciata egli stesso: sarà un’estate di tour attraverso i principali Festival internazionali.
Per l’occasione la band sfoggia una line up seminuova: con Smith ci sono Simon Gallup, Roger O’Donnell, Jason Cooper e Reeves Gabrels. Anche la scaletta live, focalizzata sui brani più pop degli album più recenti, appare studiata più per un pubblico da Festival che per gli estimatori.

Si dovrà attendere il primo bis per un viaggio a ritroso nel puro universo Cure. Shake dog shake, Bananafishbones, The Top: tre oscure perline tratte da uno degli album meno acclamati, ma decisamente tra i più onirici della band inglese.

L’emozione è forte, ma dura poco. Giusto il tempo di un paio di bis e di una riflessione più profonda sulla storia di una band che ha rivoluzionato il mondo della musica post punk, inventando uno stile unico, incisivo, permeato da un nichilismo romantico e da un sound, inconfondibile, che unisce sapientemente rock dell’oscurità e dolcezza decadente. E testi forti, spesso lisergici, che affrontano e si confrontano con gli aspetti più scomodi della vita, le emozioni più delicate o inquietanti, i lati bui dell’esistenza.

Oggi come allora, la ricerca del cinquantatreenne Robert Smith sembra ancora The Cure, la cura. A un malessere esistenziale eviscerato e combattuto, negli anni, in tutte le sue forme. Forse in parte risolto, apparentemente riemerso con un’insistenza che potrebbe imporre all’artista una svolta urgente (“Non sono depresso, è solo che non credo nella gioia” su XL di agosto 2012). Verso la ricerca di una maggiore consapevolezza sull’amore, sul dolore, sul senso della vita.

See you soon“, “Ci vediamo presto”, dice Mr Smith per rassicurare il pubblico in visibilio (attirato dall’idea che questo potrebbe essere il suo ultimo live) prima di chiudere l’esibizione, regalando quella che è la canzone-manifesto degli innamorati feriti, con ancora un briciolo di orgoglio: Boys don’t cry.
E suona come una sincera promessa ai fan. Oltre all’ennesima, audace sfida con se stesso.

© Alice Politi

The Cure, la messa (non) è finita

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I Cure tornano a esibirsi in Italia il 7 luglio a Rho per l’Heineken Jammin Festival e il 9 al Rock in Roma. Le due date italiane s’inseriscono in un tour europeo che partirà, a maggio, dall’Olanda e attraverserà Spagna, Svezia, Germania, Francia e Danimarca, prima di giungere nel nostro paese.

Che dire? Un motivo per parlare dei Cure si trova a prescindere: tour, cambi di formazione, album, rossetti sbavati, occhi bistrati e capelli cotonati. Fino a prova contraria, il gruppo ha scritto pagine importanti del rock, ispirando uno stuolo di ragazzini, capaci di ricalcare uno stile in verità unico e inimitabile. Non tutto è oro quello che luccica, parlare della discografia ad esempio, genera qualche ansia, ciò che Robert Smith ha fatto della sua creatura dopo l’uscita di Wish nel lontano ‘92 resta, in termini musicali, una delle più grandi “tragedie” della storia recente.

A rischiarare cuore e mente ci pensa però “Il Vangelo secondo Robert”. Rileggendo le antiche parabole, si scopre che il contributo dei Cure allo sviluppo della New Wave è pressoché fondamentale. Per farsene un’idea, si faccia riferimento “ai salmi” descritti da Simon Reynolds in Post-punk 1978-84. Affermare che quel tomo sia la bibbia dell’intero periodo non è certo un’esagerazione. Un musicofilo attento e severo dovrebbe tenerlo – accanto al rosario – sul comodino del letto, da sfogliare ogni sera “prima delle preghiere”.

E se è vero che la fede alimenta la verità, Seventeen Seconds, Faith e Pornography sono gli oracoli a cui aggrapparsi, concepiti – “senza peccare” – tra il 1980 e la fine del 1982. I dischi esaudiscono ogni supplica e sono la risposta concreta per chi crede che la musica possa rappresentare una manifestazione divina in terra. A Forest, Primary e A Strange Day: valgano le suddette per descrivere, in parte, la magia intonsa di un trittico da consegnare ai posteri ma, se dovesse rimanere tempo, si provi a dare uno sguardo a quanto successo “prima e dopo”.

Gli esordi del gruppo raccontano la ricerca di “un centro di gravità permanente”: Three Immaginary Boys (1979) e Boys Don’t Cry (1980) divertono e raccontano come sia possibile generare in soli due minuti e ventuno secondi autentici capolavori.
Poiché manca spazio per scrivere nei dettagli, “queste Mie” siano da ritenere semplici impressioni a corredo di “un viaggio senza ritorno”. Volendo approfondire, esiste la rete; “la qualunque” è a portata di tutti: approfittatene!

Tornando ai Cure, i cinque album d’inediti usciti dopo Pornography, rivelano la precisa volontà di cercare nuovi orizzonti. La conversione è in atto e The Top (1984) ne anticipa le dinamiche; sostenere dunque che un disco meriti di trovare spazio nella propria collezione, anche solo per un pezzo-capolavoro, è un inno alle proprie contraddizioni! Ma se la canzone si chiama Shake Dog Shake, la logica non ha ragione d’essere.
A proposito di contraddizioni, ci sarebbe The Head on the Door (1985). Close to Me se la ricordano tutti, così come In Between Days e A Night Like This ovvero, tre splendide pop song in grado di traghettare la band nel mare magnum delle classifiche commerciali; le considerazioni a riguardo sono logiche e scontate, pertanto da evitare.
Il disco incompreso però è Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (1987), il quale anziché proseguire lungo la strada maestra, s’inerpica nei sentieri impervi della sperimentazione, se così vogliamo chiamarla: un territorio sdrucciolevole che non si confà alle abitudini della band anche se il risultato – a conti fatti –  è lodevole, soprattutto quando a prendere il sopravvento sono le consuetudini.
La maturità si chiama Disintegration (1989), canzoni come Fascination Street e Disintegration svelano la nuova identità della band, capace di autorigenerarsi, mettendo a fuoco in maniera compiuta il passato. Se non fosse per tutte quelle tastiere, il disco “potrebbe gareggiare” senza timore con i lavori migliori.

Il viaggio come già detto termina ufficiosamente nel ’92: Wish è il canto del cigno, vagamente stonato se possibile, ma anche in questo caso esistono perle da lucidare. Da allora la fede ha lasciato il posto al dubbio: Wild Mood Swing (1996), Bloodflower (2000), The Cure (2004) e infine 4:13 Dream (2008) sono “la profezia capovolta” da cui fuggire; album concepiti – “peccando” – tra il ‘93 e la fine del 2008. I dischi esaudiscono ogni maledizione e sono una risposta concreta per chi crede che la musica possa essere invece una manifestazione profana sulla terra.

Non rimane che attendere “Il Messia”: Robert Smith è pronto a risorgere e soprattutto a salvarci, con un “Live” che promette miracoli in serie. In scaletta – infatti – ci saranno soltanto “le laudi” incluse negli album in odore di santificazione. Che i Cure siano con voi e con il vostro spirito; andate in pace, la messa (non) è finita.

 

9 canzoni 9 … per celebrare la parabola dei Cure

Lato A

• 10:15 Saturday Night

• Jumping Someone Else’ s Train

• A Forest

• Primary

Lato B

• A Strange Day

• Shake Dog Shake

• Charlotte Sometimes

• Fascination Street

• Open

© Marco Pipitone

Trois questions à Robert Smith chanteur de The Cure

Le musicien s’est confié mercredi soir à l’issue d’un concert durant lequel The Cure a passé en revue les hymnes new wave comme les tubes pop qui firent du groupe le roi des hit-parades durant les années 1980.

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Après 1985 et 2002, le concert de ce soir était votre troisième Paléo. On devinait un réel plaisir de jouer. Je me suis battu depuis deux mois pour obtenir plus de temps sur scène. Deux heures, ce n’est pas assez. Ça n’a pas pu se faire, c’est frustrant. L’envie de jouer est plus que jamais là, je ne me suis pas senti aussi bien dans le groupe depuis très longtemps. Il y a cette intensité, ce plaisir, cette urgence… A chacune de nos venues ici, j’annonce que c’est notre dernier concert en Suisse. Un jour, ce sera vrai. Nous sommes plus près de la fin que du début. Cette réalité nous pousse à donner le meilleur. C’est le cas: je chante mieux, je me sens mieux.

A 24?ans, vous écriviez certaines chansons que vous avez jouées ce soir, comme One Hundred Years. Sa première phrase dit: «Ce n’est pas grave si nous mourons tous». Que ressentez-vous lorsque vous les chantez trente ans plus tard? J’aime le jeune Cure, il est toujours là, enfoui. Mais les gens changent, heureusement. A 20?ans, je n’avais pas connu la «vraie» mort, quand les gens que tu aimes commencent à disparaître autour de toi. Aujourd’hui, j’interprète One Hundred Years comme si je venais de l’écrire, avec tout ce que je connais de la vie. La première phrase est plus difficile à chanter à mesure que je vieillis.

Si vous deviez ne conserver qu’un seul de vos disques? J’ai une tendresse particulière pour la trilogie Pornography, Disintegration et Bloodflowers. Ce sont des albums solo, en quelque sorte, des photographies très exactes de moi à trois moments de ma vie.

©  François Barras & Jo. B.

How to sound like Robert Smith

The Cure are the great survivors of the punk era. They have been together – albeit with an ever-changing line-up – for nearly 20 years, during which time their mix of gothic, independent, and quirky pop styles has allowed them to transcend the vagaries of fashion and enjoy enormous,  and continuous commercial success.

Robert Smiths ‘s sound is steeped in simplicity.  The key here is good song writing as oppossed to racks of endless equipment. A simple Boss Distortion is all that required here.  The Cure are often identified with the gothic rock subgenre of alternative rock, and are viewed as one of the form’s definitive bands. However, the band has routinely rejected classification, particularly as a gothic rock band. Robert Smith said in 2006, “It’s so pitiful when ‘goth’ is still tagged onto the name The Cure”, and added, “We’re not categorisable.

I suppose we were post-punk when we came out, but in total it’s impossible  I just play Cure music, whatever that is.” Smith has also expressed his distaste for gothic rock, describing it as “incredibly dull and monotonous. A dirge really.”[ While typically viewed as producers of dark and gloomy music, The Cure have also yielded a number of upbeat songs. Spin has said “The Cure have always been an either/or sort of band: either  Robert Smith is wallowing in gothic sadness or he’s licking sticky-sweet cotton-candy pop off his lipstick-stained fingers.”

The Cure’s primary musical traits have been listed as “dominant, melodic bass lines; whiny, strangulated vocals; and a lyric obsession with existential, almost literary despair.”  Most Cure songs start with Smith and Gallup writing the drum parts and basslines. Both record demos at home and then bring them into the studio for fine-tuning. Smith said in 1992, “I think when people talk about the ‘Cure sound,’ they mean songs based on 6-string bass, acoustic guitar, and my voice, plus the string sound from the Solina.

The Solina

The Solina String Ensemble is often thought of as THE String Machine of the late 1970’s disco era. It’s a multi-orchestral machine with violin, viola, trumpet, horn, cello and contrabass. Instead of attack and decay there are crescendo and sustain controls (which sound more orchestral but are the same thing). Apparently this synth really makes a great string sound, but that’s all really… It has gate and trigger outs from the polyphonic keyboard. Completely cased in wood (or wood-like) panels with a clean and discrete layout. It’s old, it’s vintage, and it’s been used by Air, The Eagles, Elton John, Pink Floyd, The Cure, Joy Division, OMD, Josh Wink, STYX, Tangerine Dream, Keane, Japan, and New Order.

“On top of this foundation is laid “towering layers of guitars and synthesizers”. Keyboards have been a component of the band’s sound since Seventeen Seconds, and their importance increased with their extensive use on Disintegration.

As  for Guitar’s Robert  says  “Most of the guitar work has been done on a limited edition Gibson Chet Atkins – a huge guitar with gold all over it.”

Amps

Ampeg VL-503 Combo / 1×12

Guitars

Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman Electric Guitar

Ovation Balladeer 12 String 6751 Acoustic Guitar

Pedals

Boss BF-2 Flanger

Boss CH-1 Super Chorus

Boss DD-3 Digital Delay

Boss DS-1 Distortion

Boss PH-2 Super Phaser

Boss PN-2 Tremolo Pan

Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive

Dunlop Original CryBaby Wah Pedal

ROBERT SMITH (GUITAR, BASS, LEAD VOCALS, KEYBOARDS): AKG C12 mic; Ampeg Combo SVT112; Banjo (5 string); Boss effects pedals; Coral Sitar guitar; Emu Emulator II; Fender 6 string bass; Fender Jazzmaster; Gibson Chet Atkins ltd edition guitar; Gibson SG custom guitar; Gretsch Tennessee Rose guitar; Jen Cry Baby Wah Wah pedal; Marshall Bluesbreaker combo; Mosrite guitar; Ovation 12 string guitar; PHD custom guitar; Sitar; Takamine 12 string acoustic guitar; Takamine 6 string acoustic guitar; Vox AC30 ammp; Yairi Classical guitar & Schecter UltraCure six-string bass

 The following is a year by year exposition of what Robert Smith used meticulously described:
in 1981 : the built-in chorus of a Roland JC-160 amp / the built in phaser of a Peavey Musician Mark III head amp (and that’s still to be checked out a MXR Flanger – he used this one extensively with the Banshees, I still have a doubt about its use with The Cure).
in 1982 : the built in phaser of a Peavey Musician Mark III head amp / a Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man (analog Chorus / Vibrato / Delay).
in 1983 / 1984 : still the Peavey phaser + a Boss CE-2 Chorus + a Boss BF-2 (located at the end of the FX chain).
in 1985 / 1992 : same amp, same phaser + and numerous chorus (CE-2 / CH-1, following the convenience) + Boss BF-2
from 1996 onwards : introduction of a Boss PH-2 (Roberts didn’t use his peavey anymore but Ampeg VL503 or Line6 Flextone instead), Boss BF-2, Boss CE-5.
– in 2006: CE2 or JC-120. He’s been using the CE2 into various amps (Marshalls a lot) live for the last decade, but it might well have been the JC-120 in the studio.But it’s not just the chorus – there’s a lot of compression there and he deliberately tunes his high E string a little flat. Slow rate, full depth.
The lead (descending) riff is a Fender Bass VI into a Boss CE-2 and DD-3 and a Peavy Bass amp. I can’t remember the pedal settings but Robert Smith likes to use “intuitive” symmetrical setings like 12:00 speed 12:00 depth or 10:00 speed and 2:00 depth. In any event the Bass VI is THE KEY to the tone on “Just like heaven”.
Have fun.

© itsstecole & Sebouh Gemdjian