S: You must have been witness to the gamut of devotion over the years from fans basically pledging themselves to you. Through all the albums, all the sort of changes in style, the creative evolution, what is the constant that holds people to your music?
R: I think it's that people believe I'm not going to say yes to something I really think I should say no to. It's as simple as that.
S: So it's a matter of personal integrity?
R: That's why I agonized about the Hewlett-Packard ad that used "Pictures of You." I was backed into a corner with that and I still feel really bad about it.
S: I heard the [Cult Hero song] "I Dig You" song in an ad.
R: That's not my song.
S: But the old fans know that you played on it. Somebody licensed it to somebody to sell something.
R: I agreed to that, fuck yeah, because I still know Frank The Postman, and he's running a garage, so it's like pay day money. But it's different. There's no real emotional investment in Cult Hero. That was me at like nineteen, but it's not the Cure. "Pictures of You" is a huge song in the Cure cannon. It means a lot.
S: That whole record?
R: Yeah, and it means a lot to a lot of people. I mean I despair at the use of Hendrix, in particular, to sell cars in the UK.
S: To sell everything.
R: It's fucking awful. [When I licensed the song] I was out of contract I had nothing left as leverage, except to basically give Universal an advert in exchange for remastering the albums. Otherwise they wouldn't do it.
I like the Cure, but Robert Smith is not advanced. I don't think that there's any shame in licensing a song for a commercial, but you have to admit you did it for the money (if that's the reason). Saying "I was backed into a corner" is pretty lame. If he was worried about his integrity or his fans, he would have turned down the licensing deal, no matter what. After all, anyone can refuse an offer if they don't need the money. Timbuk 3 has refused to license "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" (a very advanced title, now that I think of it) even though Pat MacDonald has fallen on hard times, according to this bob seger website:
Pat MacDonald, a singer/songwriter best known as the leader of the band Timbuk 3, which had a hit in 1986 with the single "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades." Since that release, MacDonald has fallen on hard times: He divorced his wife (the other member of Timbuk 3), began a critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful solo career and now lives in Spain.
When he's in the United States, MacDonald lives above his parents' bar in Fish Creek, Wis., and conducts his business from a Pizza Hut pay phone in nearby Sturgeon Bay. "I think Pat's the world's greatest lyricist - I really do," says Miles Copeland, the CEO of Ark 21 records, which released one of MacDonald's solo albums. "But he doesn't have two nickels to rub together." It doesn't have to be that way. MacDonald has been offered millions of dollars for the rights to several of his songs. He's received overtures from McDonald's for "Future's So Bright ..." and Clairol for "Hairstyles and Attitudes," among others. He has refused every proposal.
"I just vowed a long time ago that I'd never do that," MacDonald says from his parents' bar, the Bayside Tavern. "You give up a piece of yourself. It's hard to explain to people the feelings involved. It would make me feel dirty." MacDonald traces his disdain for advertising money back to a mid-1980s Honda scooter ad featuring Lou Reed. "I never had the same respect for him after that," MacDonald says. "To me, rock music was always about being contrary to the system. It didn't fit in - that's what I liked about it."
Copeland respects MacDonald for his firm convictions, but says that devotion to integrity has a price. "I'm now the receiving end of this integrity," explains Copeland, who says he's lent MacDonald more than $200,000 over the last several years. "I love Pat, but he calls me and he's literally, literally begging for money - to save his integrity. "Now I'm thinking, what kind of integrity is that?" Copeland continues. "When you see a beggar on the street with a sign saying 'Give me five cents,' do you look at this guy and say, 'Now there's a man of integrity'? No, you say, 'There's a beggar.' "
Obviously MacDonald has the kind of integrity that Robert Smith wishes he had, but look how silly it is that he won't license his music. He lives above his parents' bar and begs Miles Copeland for money. Meanwhile, Lou Reed made the scooter commercial and sips tea in the West Village with Laurie Anderson, happy and advanced.
Robert Smith could learn a lot from Lou Reed. Of course, we all could.