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10/3/2000  The Drum Media
ROBERT SMITH: "I DID IT MY WAY"

"Wanna be a rock star?" It's the sort of lead in to a classified ad that tends to invite, at the least, suspicion. It conjures images of seedy, self-interested 'managers' of record companies keen on the idea of a quick buck. About 23 years ago, 18 year old Robert Smith saw this very wording in the classified section of Melody Maker, placed by the German record company Hansa. Smith gathered together the other members of his band, The Easy Cure, and recorded a tape in response to the ad.

Twenty-three years later, 41 year-old Robert Smith is one of the most recognisable icons of popular music, an ageless symbol and heartthrob for the discontented. He's been in total control of The Cure since its inception and has overseen countless line up changes which, he says, have corresponded directly to his own personal changes.

To put The Cure's longevity into some kind of perspective, their first Australian tour took place in 1980 - 20 years ago - which they followed up with a repeat tour, the Faith tour, in '81, and another in '84. We didn't see them again until 1992, a tour reportedly prompted by a petition bearing hundreds of thousands of Cure fans' signatures. It's hard to believe it's been as long as eight years since we saw the band down here.

"In part", begins Robert Smith from his home in Brighton, "it was another petition that influenced our decision to come back to Australia. We were also a bit frustrated that we missed out on Australia during the 1996 world tour that we did."

Smith has placed his band in the hearts and minds of a vast cross-section of fans, which has bred a very rare loyalty. They've weathered the eight-year layoff stoically. On one hand The Cure has released commercially successful singles like Friday I'm In love in 1992 yet they've also maintained their credibility by releasing albums which, as Smith notes, appeal to a whole different audience and one which is less fickle than an FM radio pop audience.

"We've always managed to juggle those two different audiences. I think there's integrity in the group that is perceived in how we go about doing things. I think a lot of people are interested in what we're going to do next."

If his audience does wonder what will come next it is perhaps because Smith himself struggles to maintain a firm path. When the latest album, Bloodflowers, was released, Smith noted that it would represent the band's last studio album. Now he's not so sure.

"When we were making Bloodflowers I certainly intended it to be the last studio album, but I think the enjoyment I've derived from the shows we've played so far this year has changed my mind a bit in that regard. I've never enjoyed the band as much as I have this year in all the years I've been doing it. I've never had as much contentment I suppose, on stage as well as off. We're playing really well and the shows and audiences have been fantastic. I thought it would be pretty dumb to say 'let's stop now'. I'll probably be tempted to record something after this tour of Australia just to see what happens and I won't mind if it doesn't work. I don't have any long-term plans. If Bloodflowers ends up the last studio album The Cure makes then I will be happy with that. I will be content. It was supposed to be."

Where does this contentment come from?

"I don't know. Everyone gets on at the moment. Everyone has a common purpose and there's a real sense of excitment when we're on stage and to be honest that's been missing for the last few years. We've been playing festivals in Europe and America for those couple of years and I've felt absolutely nothing when I've come off stage. The shows haven't really moved me. But every show we've played this year I've come off stage feeling like I used to to feel, you know, years and years ago. That for me is a great source of contentment. I'll settle for that. When I'm discontented with the band I just don't want to do it anymore."

He is happy. He jokes, laughs and even asks the operator to allow this interview to continue beyond its prescribed time when she attempts to wrap it up. Years and years ago, as he would say, Smith was the brooding, Albert Camus-quoting, intellectual representative on England's post-punk swampland. There were few giggles then. He was too busy justifying songs like Killing An Arab to journalists unfamiliar with the works of certain existential writers from North Africa. And then, in 1994, former Cure member Lol Tolhurst attempted to sue Smith for unpaid royalties for the Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me album, which didn't please him in the slightest. Smith fired Tolhurst from the band in 1989, essentially for not making a contribution. Tolhurst always looked slightly odd in makeup anyway.

"And believe me," Robert Smith says between chortles, "that wasn't the only bad thing about Lol."

"It was a silly thing for him to do," he continues regarding Tolhurst's legal claim, "beacuse he knew he was going to lose it before he started out. He put a lot of people through a lot of grief unnecessarily."

What about your own sartorial periods. Are there any period that send sudders of embarrassment through your soul when you look back on them?

"Not really, apart from that period of the very first album. It was perhaps unwise of me to wear corduroy trousers but they were comfortable, hardwearing, they got through a lot of travelling. But seriously, I think we've come out of it relatively unscathed. There's an 80's nostalgia thing happening the the UK at the moment and it's fucking embarrassing. I mean, I thought it was ludicrous at the time and I've never appreciated this post-irony thing that goes on. But there are very few photos of me from the time that make me cringe. I mean, there are a couple that may cause me to raise an eyebrow but there's mothing that can't be explained away by an excess of drink."

Your made-up face is still a common image on t-shirts around the world. That must be a source of delight for you.

"I guess we're lucky that we're still held in that sort of esteem, being worn on people's chests. But, you know, I feel a step removed from it. Even when I see someone wearing a Cure t-shirt I don't think of it as me. It's more like a comic thing, an image that's twice removed."

Do you see it more as the trademark for a company you own?

"I do. It's a logo, my face in full make-up. All the hair and so on is like a brand mark rather then it being me."

You're a happier man these days compared to say around 15 years ago?

"Oh, yes. Completely. It's be impossible otherwise. Fifteen years ago what I wanted was exactly this, what I'm doing now."

Which is what?

"Well, to not have to work," he laughs. "I've achieved my life's ambition. I've reached 40 and I've never done a day's work. I've worked hard but I guess if you enjoy what you're doing it's not really work, as such. The things that bothered me fifteen years ago were based on the uncertainty of what I was going to end up doing. I knew what I wanted but I didn't know if I'd ever get close to achieving it."

What do you do if you're not being The Cure's creative force?

'Well, I visit friends, spend time with my nieces and nephews (which range in age from newborn to 21), I've just come back from a walking holiday, recently I read the Oxford Companion to Philosphy to re-educate myself. Basically I do things that people would do if they didn't have to work. I'm very lucky, I know. Nobody really tells me what I should do or what I shoudn't do, except my mum. She still has a good go at me every now and then. I get a good ticking off now and then."

Does she still urge you to get a real job?

"She doesn't anymore. She's given up on that. She came to see us play in Paris this year and she was mightily impressed. She's come to terms with what I do now."

 

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