Saturday, May 7, 2016
Me and Robert Smith
Another Robert Smith once told me there were 25,000 people with that name in the United States, which means there must be about 50,000 in the world. I’m just one of them.
What’s in a name? Some weird anonymity, a strange sense of worthlessness and a direct connection to the world’s best goth band, for starters.
With a surname like Smith, the names in our family are inevitably largely good, solid and dull names like Alan and Graham. My big sister is a Dawne-with-an-e, which is about as out there as we get.
I’m named after my grandfather, who died long before I was born, and also an older cousin, who died as a baby. I’m somewhere in-between so far.
They named me in 1975, which was long before anybody had ever heard of goth, so they had no idea that I would be groaning about ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ jokes for the next few decades.
One thing about the name, right from a young age, is that you notice it everywhere, and I first saw it somewhere else in a letters page of a cheap weekly comic. It was some small thrill, but then I started seeing Robert Smiths everywhere.
They were comic book inkers and movie editors and novel writers and people I worked with and people I met online. One of them, who lived in the same tiny town of 3000 people that I grew up in, was even done for murder, and in a creepy twist, he even had the same middle name as my Dad’s.
It was a strange sensation at a young age. It didn’t create a feeling of inferiority or anything, but it did make me feel like much less of an individual. Just another Robert Smith, like all the thousands and thousands of others. This was arguably healthy for a young psyche, because we all have to face the fact that we’re all part of some endless meat machine, just one of an endless crowd that shuffles through a mortal life. Might as well get that out of the way early.
But there can also be a genuinely helpfully anonymity, an easy way to disappear into the crowd, and fade away. It’s an easy name to forget, and can make you hard to find, if you don’t particularly want to be found.
Even in this anonymity, there is one Robert Smith who still stands out, even if he had to wear a shit-load of make-up and some unlikely hairstyles to do it.
I do genuinely think The Cure is great, and a terrific soundtrack for mournful teens and slightly groovy grown-ups. Even without the dubious connection of a shared name with the band’s leader, I’d still love their music.
It’s those dark, sinister undercurrents that are offset by achingly lovely melodies, and Smith is a genuinely outstanding vocalist, with a long wail that descends all the way down into hissed hysteria.
When I was a teenager, there were always some dullards who thought it was fucking hilarious to point out that I had the same name as the lead singer as The Cure, but it never lasted long, because I didn't give a shit. The Cure weren't my favourite band in the world, but they were in the top 30.
The second band tee-shirt I ever bought was a Cure tee-shirt that didn't have Smith on it because that would be weird, (the first was an Iron Maiden shirt, obviously). The video for Lullaby gave me nightmares, (but the one for the 1990 version of Close To Me gave me much more), and Never Enough was the most rockin' song of 1990.
When I did well in one of the most important exams of my young life, my Mum bought me the Mixed Up album on cassette, and it still sounds remarkably fresh, 25 years later. Smith was head of his time in the remix game, even if everybody in the world has caught up now.
They're an utterly perfect soundtrack for the teenage years. Frankly, I wouldn't trust a teenager who wasn't a moody little git with awful hair and a terrible jumper.
After spending far too long as a young adult who was embarrassed by goth indiscretions, I've grown up a bit now and can enjoy their music totally unironically. When Robert Smith appeared on South Park and they told him Disintegration was the greatest album ever, I couldn't really argue.
I saw them perform one of their legendarily long sets a couple of years ago at the Reading Festival, and hearing Smith’s broken wail drift through the drizzly English air was genuinely moving.
I even found that Mixed Up tape last year, and cranked it on the car stereo – the only place I can still play tapes – for a while. It's still pretty groovy.
Still, the ego was taking a bit of a battering, because it really is hard to stand out when you've got one of the most common names in the world.
When I started this blog, seven years ago, I couldn't use my real name, because I couldn't bear the endless fucking jokes about The Cure. Yes, it's Friday. Yes, I'm in love. Move along. (I called myself Bob Temuka, because I always like the way Robin Hood introduced himself as Robin of Loxley, and I'm Bob from Temuka. There is only one Bob Temuka in the world.)
But time marches on, and even the good and great are forgotten in the rough tread of history. Great stars of the past are forgotten, and names disappear in the wind.
I now work with some people who were born in the 1990s, and some of them have no fucking idea who Robert Smith or The Cure are. There are still plenty of young people who know exactly who they are – nothing is eternal like teenage angst – but those names don't have the cultural penetration they once did.
Thanks to my day jobs at some high-faulting media organisations, I have even made it onto the first page of Google searches for my name in this country. Admittedly, it's not a large country, but it's just me, the singer and the LinkedIn page for the chief executive of Carpet Court. There's probably room for all of us Robert Smiths.