It was love at first listen
It was seven years ago. I was in my little home office in Nelson, and on the other end of the phone was so-called "Godfather of Goth" Robert Smith, lead singer of British band The Cure. The notorious night-owl was in his kitchen on England's south coast at 3am, and we spoke for over an hour as his childhood sweetheart, Mary, slept in the next room.
Listening to him talk about music, myopia and makeup, I pictured his famous face: the paper-white skin; the gravity-defying rat's nest hair; lipstick smudged like the world's sloppiest kisser; panda eyes ringed with kohl. Some regarded this man as gloom incarnate, the patron saint of ledge jumpers and wrist slitters, but I found him to be animated, thoughtful, funny and charming.
"I am as happy as I could possibly be" he said between sips of tea.
"I love making music, and I love living here, just down the road from where I was born. I'm not a morose person; it's just that my best songs reflect on the sadder aspects of life. Really, I have a fantastic life, but I don't feel the need to document my every happy thought, and I don't think I write happy songs convincingly."
Smith was refreshingly unpretentious. He told me he was extremely short-sighted, but shunned glasses because the fact that everything beyond the end of his arm was out of focus afforded him a welcome sense of privacy. What about the pale foundation, the gratuitous lippy, the gorse-bush hair?
"A lot of journalists give me a hard time about how I look, but I've never met a journalist I'd rather look like. And it's not just a performance thing. I don't drive around the countryside in full makeup because it would scare the animals, but I've been wearing makeup since I was a teenager, after I saw Bowie wearing it on Top of the Pops. I immediately borrowed someone's older sister's makeup and put it on. I loved how odd it made me look, and the fact that it upset people. You put on eyeliner and people start screaming at you. How strange, and how marvellous."
How strange and marvellous, too, are this band's best records, which is why I hitchhiked to Hamilton to attend a gig during The Cure's first New Zealand tour. Drunk as a pickled onion, I staggered along to the Founders Theatre on the 31st of July, 1980. Their second album, Seventeen Seconds, had just come out, and I loved it to death.
"That was a great tour," recalled Smith.
"New Zealand was the first place we had a No 1, but that wasn't why we came down there. Chris Parry, who ran our record company, was from Wellington, and he'd always say ‘New Zealand is a very important market' so he'd get a free trip home to see his family. But we had a fantastic time. We ended up playing in loads of basements and garages. People would come up to us after shows and we'd go drinking, then we'd end up back at some local band's house, playing in their shed or whatever. It was very convivial."
The Cure have toured here four times since. On the last occasion, in 2007, an Auckland show was belatedly tacked on to the Australian tour after Taranaki fans Gordon Pitcairn and Alastair Ross organised a petition.
Now, Alastair Ross is at it again. "I read that they were about to release an album, followed by a world tour," he says from his New Plymouth home. "My wife heard me scream from the bathroom! I thought - Oh, my God - we've got to get them to come here again, so we're urging people to go online and sign the new petition and tell all their friends to do the same."
Now 42, Ross first heard The Cure when he was 13. It was love at first listen.
"There was this girl on the bus playing Boys Don't Cry, and I just flipped! I went crazy for them, and it's stayed that way ever since. During the sixth form, I even had huge, towering hair for a while.
"There were a few of us fans, and we'd go to the local graveyard for picnics. We got harassed by the local skinheads, but that's what you get being a so-called goth in a small town, eh? But yes, I love them to this day, and so does my wife.
"Just the other day we were out somewhere and I noticed she had a Cure T-shirt on. I thought, ah, yes - that's another reason why I married you."
Sunday Star Times