Smith: A Suitable Case for Treatment
Fiona Russell Powell
Face October 1995
"We can't make it. We are ready to die when we are born. We are
the patsies. And I hate the intellectual freak who realises all this
and condescends to it and makes himself seemingly superior because he
feels he just doesn t belong and therefore is." (Charles Bukowski)
I look inside myself and see my heart is black " (Jagger/Richard)
off picking half a lemon (his favourite fruit) out of the fridge and
sucking on it, and this slurping is driving me up the wall
because I'm speeding, but I can't say anything became he's a popstar
with a capital P just like the Pope, so I smile politely whereas I'd
wring his fucking neck. What's worse is that this intellectual slob knows
that I know that he knows, because nothing passes unseen before the candid
blue gaze buried in a pudding face.
At Fiction Records' headquarters which is a house but not a home near
Baker Street. Robert Smith arrives late as usual in his "Russian
junkmobile" (a jeep) and wants to sit outside because it's a sunny
day. How strange . . . That's one of my preconceptions squashed right
away (at least I have the grace to admit it). I would have preferred
to stay in a nice cool dark room and so the tables are turned. And keep
on turning for two-and-a-half hours.
I'm not being bossy, just practical when I ask to please take your hands
away from your mouth because I can't hear what you're saying. Poor Robert
- everything's upside-down. Interview time - turn your insides out. Actually,
if the truth be known, the surgeon would find him in perfect health,
his father-confessor would find his soul fully-clothed because, to Robert,
life's just a never-ending story. The Cure proffer and thrive on lies.
I don't mind being spun a yarn or two as long as it doesn't turn into
a blanket. This little fly has got a brain; he manages to pull a few
legs and never jumps into the web. Robert's really into role-playing,
as you can see. Not only at work, but also at home in his recently acquired
flat in Maida Vale, with his one and only-ever girlfriend Mary.
'A lot of that role-playing is sort of true. I made a video of us the
other week. I left a video-camera in the corner of the room and after
a couple of hours you forget that it's on and I was quite horrified at
the amount of rubbish we say t0 each other. It's like listening to mental
thing is, we've known each other for so long that I don't have to finish
saying things. It's got down to one word and she knows
what I'm going to say. It makes conversation really ... I don't dress
up anymore. Mary does though. She used to dress as a witch to scare little
children and she likes to practise on me. I feel more natural in the
company of people who are mentally unbalanced because you're always more
alert, wondering what they're going to do next…it's funny if you're
with somebody who suddenly starts crying. Well, it's not funny, it's
quite disturbing. She likes that, more so than I do. I can never take
anyone back to the flat because I never know who is going to answer the
door. She says please don't bring anyone back because I'd feel restricted'.
The only person who has been to the flat in the last three months was
Simon Gallup, our bass player, but then she was just wearing my pyjamas
I think she was pretending to be me! Not that I wear them anymore - except
for fashion purposes.'"
A hint of Robert's preconceptions of me and THE FACE slip out. Indeed,
he devotes a full 15 minutes to sermonising about the dubious morals
of people who set themselves up as arbiters of style, how much he hates
THE FACE etc etc. which was a foregone conclusion anyway. He says he "couldn't
bear" to know any "trendy people" and yet The Cure's clothes
are made by John Flet, St. Martin's toast of this year; and Michael
Kostiff, who designed Siouxsie Sioux's flat and Susanne Bartsch's new
shop among other things, has been involved with The Cure since doing
the sleeve for the "Pornography" LP. Both are achingly fashionable
persons (for their sins). All of Robert's haranguing falls on deaf ears
though because I agree with most of it. So I look at what I see and then
A face that cracked a thousand mirrors.
A voice that cut a thousand throats.
" I CAN IMAGINE one of our songs inspiring people to suicide but not to
Robert Smith has collected a lot of wayward souls during his prolific
career, diehard disciples who believe that Robert's songs of pure pearly
pessimism are parables about themselves. It’s' true about me: Bob
told me so.
It's a popular misconception that Robert Smith is a merchant of doom
and gloom, a cosmic prophet and very, very weird. He's not at all. Of
course; he is one of the fortunate few who has very clear vision (maybe
20/20 which would make him a genius in George Bernard Shaw's book) which
he has not allowed to be dulled by circumstances and daily living. There
are some people who look up to Robert Smith as the saviour of modern
music; these same people treat music as a religion, confusing Robert
Smith with Karyl Wojtyla in front of the mike. It's a fact that Robert
" I've met some people who are really obsessive about music. And a couple
of people who are obsessed about me. But if it wasn't me, it would probably
be religion; they just need to be obsessed by something. I can't do anything
about those people."
Give money to the Church or money t0 The Cure. What's the difference?
" None. You get about the same amount of salvation from both ... I met
the Pope - not the present one, about three Popes ago. I was quite young,
and I was in St. Peter's and there was a mass and he was carried in on
a chair and I grabbed hold of his hand . . . Severin went to a place
in Rome called Club Vatican where he was served by nuns. He reckoned
they were real ones but I didn't believe him. All nuns are thieves anyway."
He just doesn't care, does he? He's really quite reckless, this Smith
" Look. I know five nuns. One of them is related to Mary. They're really
bitter about life in general. One of them is a good nun; the other four
are pretty dodgy. The best place to meet them, since you ask. is Heathrow
Airport. They're always coming and going. If you sit in the gallery there,
you'll see hundreds of nuns each hour and they always run about together
and they're always carrying records in bags."
Did you know. Robert, that Madonna thinks nuns are sexy?
" What docs Madonna know? I hate her. She looks like she stinks."
left Sheffield in 1980. I left a lot of things behind to die. I burned
my green mac
along with memories of pub and smalltown disco
gigs by The League. The Cabs, The Comsat Angels. The Fall and The Cure.
I never really took to The Cure — Magazine and A Certain Ratio
appealed more — even though I can remember being with the green
mac and Penguin Nietsche mob down at the Limit Club on West Street when
The Cure played on the tiny, ten feet square stage. Of course it was
mandatory to have "Killing An Arab" and "A Forest" in
your record collection, even if it was just for appearances' sake, but
who would have thought that six years later they'd be playing Wembley?
To illuminate this inconspicuous progress I read The Cure's clipping
file, collected the six Cure albums that any self-respecting 'black'
person would have already, and had a long conversation with The Cure's
affable manager, Chris Parry. He saw the Sex Pistols at Barbarella's
in Birmingham in '76 and got "pretty pissed off" at Polydor
where he worked as an A&R man, when the company ignored his suggestion
of signing them. In fact, Chris Parry can be seen as one of those pissed-off
A&R men in The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle. He saw The Jam at the Marquee
in February '77 and signed them to Polydor immediately. Other people
he signed include Sham 69.
When a cassette from Robert Smith landed on his desk in July '78 and,
once again, Parry's advice to sign The Cure — then called Easy
Cure — fell on deaf ears, he decided to leave Polydor and set up
his own company, Fiction Records. Parry paid for and produced "Killing
An Arab" and "10-15" and soon negotiated a deal for Fiction
product to be dislributed through Polydor. How does he feel about the
Well, no-one takes things too seriously," he says. "They have
a certain type of fatalism and sharp humour associated with all this
nonsense. There's been very little hype, to use an old-fashioned word.
It's all been very laid back." he adds, using another old-fashioned
Robert's involvement with the Banshees and his two-month project with
Steve Severin which went under the title of The Glove and resulted in
the "Blue Sunshine" LP - named after a film about homicidal
mania triggered by LSD taken ten years earlier - was made possible deliberately
" During the time of 'Faith' and 'Pornography' Robert was going through
a personal crisis in his life and he went through a period where he was
very caustic and cynical about what The Cure were doing. After the 'Pornography'
tour, the group, in effect, disbanded. I told Robert to take a year off,
things were getting stale. The band weren't getting on very well and
Robert wasn't getting on with Simon."
Bass player Simon Gallup left in 1981 and joined again in spring this
year for the new album "The Head On The Door". Robert readily
enlarges on his break-up with Simon, who had been an integral part of
" We fell out because I thought he'd changed too much. He started pretending
to be someone else who I didn't really like. Also, he didn't like me
anymore; he thought I was being very selfish and ignoring everyone which
I probably was. But that's up to me. I didn't feel comfortable with him
anymore. He was my best friend for so long and then I realised that I
didn't enjoy his company and given the choice. I wouldn't spend any time
with him but he was in the group so I had to.
So we fell out and we had this fight, one fight too many, in a bar in
Brussels, because I thought he was being too stroppy to a young barman
and he thought I was defending someone just for the sake of it and it
escalated from there. I left the club at about five in the morning and
got a cab to the airport and waited for the next flight home. I left
all my clothes there. lt was very dramatic. After about 18 months of
not seeing him, I thought 'this is silly, I can't not like him anymore",
one night I went to this pub where we all used to drink and I knew he'd
he there. It was quite funny "cos when I walked in, it all went
quiet, just like a Wild West film, hut I just walked up to him and started
talking to him. Now he's in the group again."
Thus Simon was welcomed hack to the fold, which seems to he ;almost family-orientated:
Porl Thompson, who plays assorted instruments and does the group's artwork
under the pseudonymous Parched Art cup-of-tea logo, lives with Robert's
younger sister who's a programme controller at Radio Three.
IRONICALLY. The Cure LP I like the most is "The Top", recorded
during the period when group relations were most strained. Smith reveals
that he played all the instruments, as well as writing and singing all
the songs. It was - in effect - a solo album, which closes with the title
song, the Iast lines of which are:
" Please come back/All of you."
The Top" seems to be very drug-related;
The song titles ("Piggy in the Mirror". "Bananafishbones". •"The
Caterpillar". "Birdmad Girl") all reek of one-tab acid
jottings. I was convinced that I would be meeting n major acid casualty
and I knew I'd be on safe ground with this topic.
" The last time I did acid was at Christmas. The first time I tried it
was with Severin a few years ago and I was fucking devastated for a week!
I think they were God pills! It was clear light-blue square gelatine
tablets from America Jobson was there as well. I think he's the funniest
person I've ever met. Anyway, it was snowing and all the world was white.
I suffered quite a lot.
no. I don't take lot of drugs, although "The Top'
was pretty drug-orientated, but only 'cos it was fun.’The thing
is. I never change at all after taking LSD, no matter how many times
I take it. It hasn't changed 0r altered my perception of the world at
all. which is what it does to some people. In that sense. I've always
had a very distorted view of reality, my sense of values has always been
the same. When I tripped for the first lime. I realised that it was just
like I was anyway. I slopped taking it in the end because I just fell
sick and got a headache. It's like drinking.
Ah yes.. . drinking. I was about to move on to that subject. Judging
by past interviews. drinking is Robert's favourite pastime. Indeed, he
lo equate alcoholism with genius and speaks of it as a virtue. Names
of the great who drank themselves into the grave drip oil his tongue:
Dylan Thomas. James Joyce, Tennessee Williams. F. Scott Fitzgerald
and Brendan Behan
" You get drunk for different reasons. You can get socially drunk or you
can get drunk on your own and get very morbid and tedious . . . No. I
don't think it's to numb the pain of living The worst thing is when you
want to do something and you can't - that leads to bad drinking. Rut
people like Dylan Thomas just drank for the pleasure of drinking. Drinking's
recreational. I think. I used to get drunk on my own a lot but I don't
anymore. To use Dylan Thomas as an example, who ended up killing himself
through drink; he did it just because it's good fun. I'm not sure if
it's the same in the latter stages of addiction. I imagine he drank for
three reasons. One. because it's good fun; two, because you become almost
mythical, it's like you become a legendary drinker which is an idea you
can become addicted to; and the third reason is probably because in the
latter singes of addiction, you don't have much choice at all! I'm almost
an alcoholic now. I haven't had one night this year when I haven't been
drunk - a sad admission I suppose."
But if it is true that the 26 year-old Smith is as well-known in France
as Bowie and Jagger according to Chris Parry, whom I'm inclined to believe
(The Cure's dark romanticism appeals readily to the teenage French mentality)
- then Smith the Gallic superstar should surely keep a tighter rein on
this habit, set a better example for the thirsty French
Mmmm. I'm always terribly aware of it. It all goes on my face. If I look
in a shop-window or see a photo. I always think 'God, I'm so fat and
awful", so then I stop eating but I compensate by drinking more.
But I really like lager, which is the worst, so now I try to drink vodka
instead. At least I'm not a professional drunk in the way that Tom Waits
Yes, but Tom Waits has weathered better and writes better songs with
beautifully warm, human lyrics. Don't you agree Robert?
" No, I think he romanticises everything. He doesn't give a true representation
of American life - or being drunk, for that matter."
I think that someone who lived out of the
bottle whilst living in a trailer somewhere in America is more qualified
to comment on America, if not drinking, than a boy from the suburban
Newtown of Crawley with dyed black, backcombed hair who lives in a plush
parcel of prime real-estate with every mod con stashed inside to distract
him I mean, would Tom Waits dance with Bananarama?' T ell me that story,
Bob "How do you know about that? ' "Well, we did this Dutch
T V show and
Bananarama pretended to mime playing the
instruments because the boys were too pissed and they just danced I mimed
the song because otherwise we would have to do the song over and over
again. I fell over when we finished... I fell over when we'd finished.
"Bananarama are the first people I've met who've managed to keep up with
roots are buried deep in the early days of Punk, he's neither forgotten
nor has he turned
his back on them. "All punks were dedicated artists." he
declares. The rebel spirit has remained inside him and even escapes
brushes with the Continental forces of law and order have not
been infrequent; Robert has been arrested in Germany for pissing against
side of a Mexican bar, apprehended for vagrancy in Paris, and clapped
behind bars for a few hours after being picked up on a beach in Rotterdam
for indecently exposing himself at six in the morning.
The Cure tour almost constantly and have a large following in some
rather obscure places. They see themselves as an international band
international music". Robert seems to be rather embarrassed about
that slightly pompous statement but insists strongly: "I'd hate
to be considered as a British band, it's the worst thing in the world.
I hate the idea of being nationalistic, it's just garbage. Same as
if I was American, I wouldn't lie proud of that either, and if I was
I'd hang myself. I hate religion and I hate nationalism. They're both
so redundant. I can't see any reason why there should be such things
In most interviews. Smith does tend to ramble. His favourite subjects
are: 'What I dreamt last night'; "It's horrible being a popstar
and having a lot of money and lots of yukky girls following me around'.
'What I did on holiday/on tour'.
I can tell you that last night he had a rather mundane dream about having
someone else's name tattooed on his forehead but normally he has violent
war dreams. His current tour stories centre round a bit of farmyard nonsense.
" I took a lamb on tour but it was a stuffed one; it was full of strawberry
scented soap and I used it as a pillow. I used to rest my head on it
in the van. It wasn't a real dead one. it was like a pyjama case. Ah.
the goat story was a lie. It is true I've got a brother who's got a
farm in Wales but I lied about the pet pig. I've never owned a pig in my life
although I did give my brother some money once to go and buy some pigs
but he spent it on fencing instead 'cos he thought it was unethical
be a pig farmer."
There are some things that invoke more than his habitual inventions
of world-weary cynicism and sardonic banter from Robert. He has been
on-and-off writing music for a ballet that has yet to be choreographed.
In fact, the music has been finished but little will come of it now. "Mainly
it's the fault of the boy I was doing it with. He suddenly decided
he wanted a change of cultures and got on a plane and went to Japan.
since become quite famous. He was one of the young choreographers for
the Royal Ballet. It was all based on Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles.
I fall madly in love with people in books. Honestly. When I read Mervyn
Peake I fell in love with Fuschia and when she died, I really regretted
reading the page where she died because I could have kept her alive.
It's the same with Elise in Les Enfants Terribles. I thought it was
so perfect and so naive."
From Dylan 'Thomas to Peake to Coctcau. I wonder if Robert is one of
those Penguin Modern auto-didacts (look it up) or. Heaven forbid, a closet
" No, I'm not. There's so many different ways of interpreting existentialism
that I find it very difficult to decide. In one sense. I always agreed
with the idea of being the centre of your own existence and manufacturing
your environment and God and everything comes from you. but now I'm
not so sure. I don't care to be honest. I have no philosophy or interest
in anything like that -this week. I've got to the stage where I'd rather
play football than be an existentialist."
What a delight and a surprise to meet a 'popstar' who doesn't pander
to his public image! On the subject of existence, then, what were Robert's
views on the noble Live Aid effort?
asked but we wouldn't have done it anyway. We don't sell enough records
to be honest. You had to be really mega to make it
worthwhile. I thought it caused a lot of good, the only sour bit was
that the whole thing was quite unnecessary because if most of the people
involved had given a percentage of their personal wealth, like the people
who sent money in, then it would probably have doubled the overall total.
I thought it was one of the most fucking boring things that had ever
been on television. Freddy Mercury was alright but the best bit was Bob
Dylan, Keith Richards and Ron Wood 'cos it was so embarrassing. It was
humiliatingly bad in the extreme! 'They were brilliant, they were so
But can we go back to back to Bob The Outsider, Bob who's never worn
a watch in his life, calls everyone Bill ('Bill' Parry. 'Bill' Polydor,
'Bill' Fiction, 'Bill' FACE) "to put everyone on the same level" and
once kept his thumbnail on a piece of string. Bill Smith can be frightfully
serious sometimes. He's been sweating bricks over a "real book" that
he's been trying to write since ... he can't remember.
" I decided last year, that if I put together all my attempts at writing
a book I'd have a book of short stories with no endings. It'd be like
50 first pages in paperback. I've known the title for ages. Every story
is different but they all have the same title. Mary thought of the title
actually. It's called The Class Sandwich. I get very serious about it
when I feel myself slipping. It's a good mental exercise but most of
the stories aren't very entertaining."
An official Cure
fan book is also being prepared by Robert with the aid of Liddy Goubard
- a French journalist who writes for Liberation.
It is planned to read "like a set of scripts from a very odd comedy
show". Liddy has interviewed everyone who has been involved with
'The Cure since the year dot. and Hill Smith expresses horror when he
listened to the cassettes. "I must give over the idea of being far
more in control of my destiny then I really am!"
After the chart success of "In Between Days", The Cure are
one of the lucky few who have retained their cult-cred indie status whilst
appearing on national chart shows like Top Of The Pops. Bill confesses
that he "feels uncomfortable on TOTP."I can never shake it.
Mainly 'cos I can sec the audience and they always look so fed up. I
always feel really sorry for them, they probably go expecting a big party
and it's the most awful experience and you can see it on their faces.
Besides, I'm not much good at pretending I'm having fun. We usually get
really drunk but then I forget to mime. Our records always go down after
we've done TOTP, with one exception, and that only went up one place
before it dropped. We actually do the show as a career move to stop ourselves
from becoming too famous!"
A chuckle slips from the corner of two thin lines that serve for a mouth — you
know Robert Smith's mouth, the smudged, bleeding, bright-red-lipsticked
gob that has become his trademark. Why has he made a virtue of a facial
feature that's hardly there?
" Ah,the lipstick. I don't put it on properly because people would think
I was doing it for reasons of vanity whereas I do it for reasons of theatricality.
I used to wear it when we did 'Pornography'. I used to wear red lipstick
all round my eyes and all round my mouth, so that when we were on stage.
I'd sweat and it'd all run so it would look like someone had punched
mc in the mouth and my eyes were bleeding. I had to slop it though because
my eyesight started to suffer. I kept the lipstick because it's so out
of character for me to do something like that."
Out of which character? The one he's chosen to present to me today or
one of the many different characters he's played in the past? I doubt
if any music journalist has met the real Robert Smith or Bill Smith.
Maybe they've encountered Mary a couple of times. What I hear is not
a voice but an echo of too many interviews, too many gigs, too much bullshit
that isn't even entertaining to him anymore. Yes he's tired, but not
from lack of sleep as he professes but tired of being on the casting
couch which he has to be over and again to win the part - the lead role
of megastar - and the prize of the ear of the world plus solitude.
He sees this interview for THE FACE as one step nearer to the day when
he can fold himself into the lotus position and delicately wave two fingers
at people like me. But mortal Smith at least realises the painfulness
of human being (and capitalises on it). There are an awful lot of Cure
fans out there but then there are an awful lot of lonely people out there
too, wandering and wondering.