The Cure for Success? Quit At The Height of His Band's Success,Robert
Smith Decides to Pack It All In
by Richard Cromelin (Los Angeles Times-9/3/89)
Robert Smith,the leader of the dark-hued English pop band the Cure,started
keeping a list about eight years ago of things to watch out for in his
"It gets longer," Smith said recently. "It's things to be wary of,really.
If things have meant something to me at a certain point,I just make a note
of them,and if they lose their value to me then I have to figure out why.
It's like a kind of anchor."
"I have people around me who I've known for years,and it's worrying me that
they're saying that my attitudes toward certain things are beginning to
"I don't think it's very healthy.A natural change in reaction to
circumstances is one thing.To change abnormally to a set of abnormal
circumstances is another thing entirely,and that's what's happening to me.
I just don't like it."
What has the 30-year-old English rock anti-hero so agitated is the very
thing most pop acts aspire to:hit records,big bucks and big crowds--big
enough to make the Cure the headliner at 49,000-capacity Dodger Stadium,
where the band plays Friday with Love and Rockets,the Pixies and Shelleyan
Orphan.It's a bill whose cumulative Angst level could make the ball park an
even gloomier place than it is during a Dodger game.
For most bands,a booking like this would be the ultimate validation.For a
hyper-sensitive maverick like Smith,it's a signal to call it quits.
"It's reached a stage where I personally can't cope with it,so I've decided
this is the last time we're gonna tour," he said,speaking by phone from his
parents' home in the London suburb of Crawley one day before boarding the
Queen Elizabeth II for the voyage to New York.
"It's no big deal.I just don't feel comfortable anymore with the kind of
attention that I'm getting.It's purely the numbers of people that want a
bit of the Cure or want a bit of me."
"It reached the stage in Europe where I was unable to go out for a walk.We
were in some of the most beautiful cities in Europe,and I couldn't go out
without having an entourage....I tried a disguise and it didn't work.I had
no makeup and my hair flat and a hat on,but people recognized me,and when
I asked them how they knew it was me they said it was my shoes,so the
second time I did it I changed my shoes,and I was still recognized."
"I think it's a combination of the size of the shoes and the way that I
shuffle.I'd even have to change my walk.It's very absurd,isn't it,to think
to go out you have to actually act,you have to adopt a whole different
"The constant attention is completely unnatural.It's really nice meeting
people after a concert.Still,it's very weird to be at the center of a group
of 30 people all listening to what you're saying.When that group turns into
300 people it goes on from weird.Some people revel in it,and I don't."
Smith's decision to dismantle the Cure at the peak of its popularity is
typical of the against-the-grain mentality that's governed the band since
its inception in 1976.
Despite the impulsive stylistic shifts and perverse career decisions
(Smith broke up the band for a while and joined Siouxsie & the Banshees),
the Cure steadily built its following.
Or perhaps it's because of that impulsiveness.
"Even if people don't like the popularity we've achieved or some of the
more poppy stuff we've done," Smith noted, "they've still stuck with us
because they appreciate the attitude that's involved,and the idea that we
just do what we want. People respect that."
"We tried to have our music accepted without becoming personalities,and we
carried it off for many more years than I ever imagined we'd be able to."
Eventually,though,Smith was enshrined as one of the defining personalities
of '80s British rock:a bird's nest-haired harlequin with black-ringed eyes
and red lips,delivering erotic reveries and contemplations on mortality in
a piping,little-boy voice.
"Kiss Me,Kiss Me,Kiss Me," released in 1987,was the Cure's big American
breakthrough,selling a million-plus.In contrast to that sprawling double
album's wild diversity,the new "Disintegration" is pure,concentrated
Gothic grandeur,70-plus minutes of lush,Cinerama-scale soundscapes.
"We embarked on a piece of work that has basically one atmosphere,one mood
through the entire record," Smith explained.
"I wanted the Cure to be involved in a project that had a certain amount of
intensity,because I felt that we were lacking that on the last few records.
We weeded out a lot of the stuff that would have given it more variety
because I wanted it to be quite a difficult record."
"As it turned out I don't think it is actually that difficult to listen to."
Apparently not.The album has sold a million since its release in May,
setting the stage for the Cure's swan-song tour and its three stadium
Although the Cure is usually filed in the gloom-drenched wing of rock,it's
brand of bleakness is a rather benign one,buoyed by a rhythmic playfulness,
a melodic brightness and the vulnerability of Smith's vocals.
Still,there's no denying the allure of the dark realms Smith explores,and
the Cure has spawned a cult of true believers who clearly take it as
something more than passing entertainment.Accordingly,the band has drawn
fire for transforming wholesome youngsters into brooding neurotics.
"I don't really think we have that effect on anyone," Smith said. "I would
tend to think that it was the other way around,that people are attracted
to some of the stuff that we do because they feel a certain way."
"If you feel alienated from people around you it's because no one tries to
understand you.And people seek solace in the company of other people who
are of a like mind,whether that's through the medium of music or something
else.I lose myself in music because I can't be bothered explaining what I
feel to anyone else around me."
Smith can recall wearing a striped T-shirt as a youth to show his allegiance
to English rock elder Alex Harvey,so he understands the motivation of
today's Cure clones.
"There is like an archetypal Cure fan,almost like a caricature of a Cure
fan,dressed in a certain way.We've asked them.We say, 'Why do you look this
way?' And in fact they do it because it's like being in a gang,and if you
see someone else dressed a certain way on a street corner you know that you
can go up and start talking to that person."
"So it's a kind of identity.It's not actually trying to look like me or
look like the Cure.It's almost like a badge.That's always going on.That's
why there's different subcultures.We're just a focal point for the way
people feel.We don't actually make people feel a certain way."
"So Cure fans look a certain way.I think people grow out of that need for
a common identity....To me,the notion of dressing a certain way to go to
work is more pitiable than dressing a certain way because you want to go
and talk with someone."