Rolling Stone
(Sept. 2004)

Robert Smith

Scorned. Mocked. Hated. Worshipped. At the age of 45 he hasn’t stopped to be talked about. Most of all, he still hasn’t found the his way. He tells us in the Cure last record, where there’s just one certainty: there’s no way out.

By Valeria Rusconi

The idiot laughs, showing his yellow teeth. “Have you seen him? He’s become so fat that it’s disgusting. He seems a pig with make-up. Isn’t he grotesque?” Others, around him, agree. They’re laughing too. Their heads nod back and forth. “He’s repugnant”, says one man disfigured by acne that neither the past youth managed to win. “I’d say he’s simply pathetic”, another one adds. He, the ridiculous fat guy, is Robert Smith.
In the press room of the Imola’s Heineken Jammin’ Festival tv screens show repeatedly images from the stage. Nobody seems to care. The air is still. Only in the narrow hallways of the backstage, enlighted by neon, the employees move frantically like wild animals. After 20 the sun is a dimmed stain in the sky. The interview is set to happen in half an hour, but time schedules, in this cases, are never kept. I wait: there’s no other choice, obviously. The message arrives earlier than expected: “You’ve got 10 minutes to talk with Robert Smith”. The news is not so good as it may seem: what do you ask a someone like him in 10 minutes? It’s enough for already built stars that give obvious and silly answers: not for Robert Smith. Not for the man that gave music the literary dignity of existentialism, moving the central theme of the Camus book “The stranger” in a song called “Killing an Arab”. I quickly pass through my notes, seeking for a bunch of useful questions among the many I had prepared. I am about to get in Robert Smith’s room, when another voice calls me: “Simon and Perry are waiting for you”. It’s the Cure manager. “It’s Robert’s wish to make you meet the rest of the group before”, he goes on, with a serious face. I understand I have no choice. And there’s nothing worse than being unprepared and, probably, in the eye of the hurricane. It doesn’t take long to understand that this sudden switch in the schedule is the fruit of tensions between Smith and the rest of the group.

Simon Gallup, the historical Cure bassist, is curled on himself, on a couch of an undefining color. He holds a white bass filled with skulls, the same that made unique more than a song. “Ross Robinson? He’s a big cunt. I think he’s simply a coward, a thief and a worthless man. One who gives orders, but can’t do his own job. I’m sorry, but I’m not the person you can ask about him” he whispers, without even raising his head. Simon mumbles some other incomprehensible sound, before staying quiet for good. It was an error asking him if he liked working with Ross Robinson, the producer of the new record called “The cure”. Beside him, guitarist Perry Bamonte tries to explain the situazion, hinting a little smile: “Working with Ross was different than the usual. In the studio he tried to intentionally create tension between the band members to let then new affinities and reactions raise up. What Simon was referring to before is that this kind of behaviour, with time, becomes fictitious. I think the work of a producer is not so crucial to make a good record anyway. If you have good songs, you play them and you sing them well, so what you’ll make will be good. The producer’s choice was made by Robert, I think after reading in an interview where Ross said the Cure were the group he wanted to work with the most.” From the answers they’ll give me later, it’s obvious they have no will to talk about the new record. So we start to talk about totally different topics, from how Simon isn’t able to do absolutely anything if he doesn’t play to the beauty of Marc Bolan’s voice.

The little trickle of saliva suddenly breaks, falling in tiny silver drops. The tongue caresses the lips, slowly. The lipstick is untouched. As red and lucid as blood. It’s him. The pig with make-up. The ridiculous fat guy. It’s Robert Smith. He’s handsome. “I never realize how can time slip away. Time is so strange, so fast. Don’t you think?” He stays silent, like he’s uneasy for having said loud a thought meant to stay secret. “If I have to tell you the truth”, he goes on after a long pause”, I don’t like talking with journalists. If I could I would never make interviews. But when I begin to talk is like something prevents me from stopping.” Indeed, the kind manners seem to reflect an insane curiosity towards the other persons. A few moments before he cared to make me enter the dressing room. It was then, in that anonymous space, that I couldn’t help but noticing the elegance in his movements, as he closed the shutters to darken the room. Outside, the sky had become purple. “They taught me not to care about the others’ judgement. How could I laugh at someone if I hate being laughed at? Who yields to behaviours like these is just a fucking idiot” he answers quick when asked if he cares about the others’ approval.”In the past”, he goes on, “I’ve been mocked. Mockery is the natural human defense agains what is different. I’ve never felt myself part of this world, except when I was in a football team. There was a time indeed when I really felt unease, before we got famous. I already wore make-up then. People, in the streets, enjoyed laughing at me. But I don’t care if someone is unkind towards me or if the press attacks me. I know it’s just a game, a very stupid game.”

Since when he was a child, Robert had clear ideas. Maybe too much clear, up to being accused, during the years, of being egoist, or even dispotic. Like the others’ ideas wouldn’t count, or wouldn’t exist. “Deep in my heart I have to tell you that I don’t respect much the others’ opinions. It’s an incredibly egoistic approach to life. But the process that leads a man to be an artist is constantly guided by ego. To trust oneself is part of the essence of an artist. This safety is determined by the idea that no opinion from anyone is important. Shy? I’m just calm. I hate people who say I’m not. It’s a lie: I couldn’t do what I do, if I were”.

His look moves continuously from one object to the other, betraying his own childish impedement that denies possession. Then, he continues: “I’ve got a very strange childhood memory: at 10 I told my mother I would have never had children. My father asked me how could I know something like that, and I couldn’t answer. I just simply felt it. The most egoistic act for me was to become father; it would have been like bowing your head to something given for granted. My way to be egoist is more conventional: if I want to stay awake at night, I do; if I want to play music loud, Ido and I don’t have to care who I’m gonna disturb, because I live with just one person. I couldn’t stand the responsabilities that fatherhood would bring about: to grow up your children in this society, to teach them where to find good friends… This would destabilize everything I believe in”.
Maybe it’s not casual that the last self-titled Cure record opens with “Lost”, a song which deals with a recurring theme in Robert Smith’s songs, inadequacy, the difficulty to understand who we are and what hides inside ourselves: “It’s a song with three meanings. The most immediate one talks about how much it is difficult to recognize oneself inside a couple relationship. It’s the moment in which you have found someone, but you also “lost” yourself. Having a relationship means giving in to compromises and forgetting part of your own identity. The second issue regards me personally: sometimes I ask myself whether I lost myself because I can’t recognize what surrounds me and whether this is the right place for me and if it is, where I am. I often think that I have lost touch with what I do. And the last of the three meanings is what you said, the not feeling appropriate. It talks about asking yourself if this life made us wiser or if it just toyed with us.

Robert Smith answers without hurry, keeping his great white hands idle, laying on his legs. Also in an old song, “Primary”, he sang “The further we go and older we grow the more we know the less we show”, questioning the human condition that brings us to maturity, old age and death. “When you grow you are taught to know yourself and this becomes a sort of aspiration. But if you believe people changes with experience, and I believe I’ve changed with time, so I ask when will I become “myself” or if “myself” is what I’ve already become. Consequently, in the case I’m still becoming “myself”, I get the doubt if I’ll ever get to it. It’s an old philosophic dilemma. I am about to become a middle age man and I have no clear ideas on my being and on my perception of things. At this point of my life I should accept death, but it isn’t so. I remember when I was young I said: “45 is the ideal age to become wise”. Now that I am 45 I don’t think I am at all”.

I ask myself if there is something a man like him can firmly believe in, so enlightening to make everything look simpler. He smiles, and looks at the ceiling: “I don’t believe in anything so strong. Nothing outside myself. If my ability to tell good from evil should be determined by something or someone, this something or someone surely wouldn’t come from the outside. I am convinced I won’t suffer eternal damnation for the wrong I did in my life. I know I must not behave bad because doing it is wrong. My conscience tells me so. And the sense of respect for my own persona, that makes me distinguish what good and evil the society produces. I don’t believe in anything else. Unfortunately.”
It’s clear that Robert Smith is talking about God, that Christ the society almost made a caricature and that he himself has cited as the metaphor of death: “I am paralized by the blood of Christ”, he repeats in “The blood”. “The theme of faith was the only issue I have fully debated in studio with Ross Robinson. He believes there is something bigger than us. I don’t. Not everything we perceive as real really is. And I don’t think that exists something that is looking after me, that could have interest in me, as a living being. It wouldn’t stop now if I decided to throw myself out of this window. Someone, maybe, may cry. And he could even not be sincere. That’s very sad”.

There’s silence, in the room. Outside it’s dark. The ten minutes are long past. Robert Smith is still waiting for a question. “What makes me happy today”, he say thoughtfully, “is my life. I don’t have to go to job every day and I can go wherever I want; I get on the bus without problems; I live next to the sea and every single member of my family keeps talking to me” he luaghs, showing his perfect teeth. “I’ve got bunches of nephews that come by me and I can still run behind them up the stairs, in the upper floor What makes me sad are the same things that always made me sad and angry, that is the way the world moves. What makes me angry are the things I have no control on and that, for this reason, go against me.”
I understand I’ve met a unique person. Like a mirage, an “imaginay boy” I find myself watching in the very details his clothes, his big black shoes, the necklaces of purple little pearls softly laid on his pale neck. I ask what does a man like him do, a man by any means sad and so full of irony, in his little house next to the sea, together with his longtime wife, Mary.

I try constantly and with great determination to stay away from the sink and not to wash the dishes.” He laughs” “ and the same goes for gardening. Instead I like to walk on the beach in front of home, even if it’s not big and there only peebles.” Robert Smith stops. His big blue eyes look at something unclear, at the end of the room. The corner of his lips, perfectly drawn by the lipstick, tremble of a little shiver. As if far away he heard a girl calling his name. Like he’s entered again that “forest of symbols” that Baudelaire describes in the poem (“Living pillars / Sometimes let slip indistinct words; / There, man passes through forests of symbols / Which observe him with a familiar gaze. / Like longs echoes that, in the distance, blend. / Into a shadowy and profound whole, / Vast as the night, vast as light, / Fragrances, colors, and sounds respond to one another”, Translation by Cat Nilan) and that he sang in “A forest”, one of his most sinister and charming songs.

In that deep forest, perfect metaphor of life, Robert Smith lost himself, without finding the way out. It’s dark. And he is alone. So was a time in which drugs took a big part of his life. But maybe, this will always be for someone like him. Again and again and again and again. Just like he says in his most beautiful song.

(Thanks to Pietro for translating and typing it all up)