The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: Robert Smith Shows and Tells
An amusing and insightful interview with the Cure mainman by Susan Compo, as featured in the November 1993 issue of SPIN——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
Robert Smith looks remarkably well for a man who's spent the morning in a graveyard: eyes the colour of retouched travel-brochure sky, healthy pallor and bearing, and brandishing a bottle of Evian.
The cemetery is, it should be mentioned, a TV-sitcom graveyard, making it quintessential Robert Smith, as the sad-on-the-outside, happy-on-the-inside picture of him has come to replace the Gloomy Gus persona he's usually attributed with.
"You know Newman and Baddiel?" he asks, referring to a young, cool alternative comedy team who've proved especially popular with British students. The duo feature a character "so depressed" he's obsessed with, you guessed it, the Cure. The twosome are in the midst of filming their new series, and Smith has, once again, made a cameo appearance.
"One of them dies, so I've been in the graveyard all morning as a mourner," he explains. In the afternoon sun, Smith looks and sometimes acts like the rock star he is, someone who embraces the status but still struggles to keep the adulation in some kind of fish-lens perspective.
"I had my first day at home this week for a long time," he enthuses. "I went into the garden and I pulled out two years' worth of weeds. I really enjoyed it!"
In a lot of ways, Smith isn't that different from the alarmingly self-possessed, determined 20-year-old I met after a Cure show in London, in the early spring of 1979. A score of records, stacks of stadium tours, and loads of money later, he's still at once disarming and justifiably guarded, prone to ramble, quick off the mark yet tactful and protective toward those who matter to him, including his fans, who are devoted to say the least. Look up the word "melancholic" in any dictionary and you'd find their images sketched darkly beside the fine print. If Tanya Donelly thinks Belly has "a nerd fan base," she should try these: Malcontents tend to give nerds a good name. When Smith admits to me that he's thinking about getting cats and rabbits "when they're little, so they'll grow up loving each other," I half-envision a group of fans descending on his seaside home, looking like the cast of Carnival of Souls and carrying the creatures by the basketloads.
"I'm sort of worried about the fact that we've become quite popular in America," Smith confesses (he considers U.S. fans the most, um, vehement), "but this is it — we've hit our level. We won't get any bigger, which is a relief in a way!' The satisfaction is something that doesn't really extend to Show, the Cure's latest film and live album, which was intended to upstage the lethargic Cure in Orange, but in effect is almost indistinguishable from it. You've heard of The Last Action Hero? Here's The No-Action Hero. The film was edited by Smith and done without the Midas touch of Tim Pope (marking a temporary split of the longest marriage on record of director to pop group). Regardless of the size of Smith's sneakers, it seems filmmaking was just too big a pair of shoes to fit.
"We were kind of cajoled into sacrificing Tim's imagination for someone else's workmanlike abilities, and I really wished that we'd used him. It would have been a much better film."