Nightmares Of The Cure's Robert Smith

Video director Tim Pope discusses the ghoulish inspiration behind the Cure's "Lullaby" in this week's edition of Forgotten Videos
  • Robert Smith in the Cure's "Lullaby"
April 25, 2012 -- 12:10 pm PDT
By Bill Forman / GRAMMY.com

Welcome to Forgotten Videos. For some, these videos are forgotten, for others just filed away, and for others still, a totally brand-new discovery. Whichever category you fall into, each week we'll feature a video that's possibly been collecting dust when what it really deserves is a fresh look. Or vice-versa. … We're not here to judge, we just want to take you on a little trip down memory lane. Yep, you'll remember when hair was really that big, when drums were that up front in the mix, when video was young(er) and so were you.

The Cure 
"Lullaby"
1989

As memorable as the Cure's "Lullaby" becomes after repeated listens, it only takes one viewing of the accompanying video to lodge it in your brain forever. Awarded Best British Video honors at the 1990 Brit Awards, "Lullaby" is an artfully nightmarish ode to arachnophobia, with the Cure frontman Robert Smith drawing a close comparison to Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands as he's serenaded by ghoulish bandmates, tormented by predatory versions of himself, and transformed in ways that would do author Franz Kafka and director David Cronenberg proud.

Director Tim Pope, who also directed videos for the Cure such as "High," "Friday I'm In Love" and "Just Like Heaven," among others, says the "Lullaby" video grew naturally (if you can call it that) from its source material.

"That song was particularly lurid and vivid," says Pope, "and it's got one of my favorite lines: 'And I feel like I'm being eaten/By a thousand million shivering furry holes.' My god, where can you go wrong with a line like that?"

Pope says his work with Smith and the Cure fit nicely with his own early interest in filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski. "I had grown up with the films of Roman Polanski — you know, films like Repulsion and The Tenant [and they] were a great influence on me," he says. "They all tend to be kind of dark and obsessive. And that was something that went very well with the Cure's music and Robert's lyrics."

Meanwhile, devotees of the Cure continue to debate the source of the song's subject matter, which feels like a hallucinogenic take on Mary Howitt's early 19th century poem, "The Spider And The Fly" (an inspiration Smith makes explicit when he whispers something reminiscent of the poem's opening line near the end of the song). 

While Smith most often attributes "Lullaby" to childhood nightmares, fans have speculated that it's actually a metaphor for everything from depression to addiction and abuse. The latter interpretation was further fueled by a portion of an MTV interview where Smith talks about the song. "One particular night, my uncle burst through the window, and he did unspeakable things," said Smith, before adding with a laugh, "He didn't really."

Pope is quick to point out that his friend and collaborator's knack for imaginative storytelling often spills over into real life. "He's one of the hugest liars, but in a lovely cuddly sort of way," he says. "He frames his story however he wants to. So maybe that's one of his, shall we say, slightly made-up stories."

While Pope also spent decades making videos for artists such as David Bowie, the Cars, KT Tunstall, and Neil Young, he eventually moved into film and advertising work after MTV pulled the plug on its "music television revolution." More recently, he's worked with artists ranging from the Kaiser Chiefs to Fatboy Slim.

When asked about the age-old criticism that music videos somehow take away from the purity of the listening experience, the director points out that we have eyes as well as ears. 

"I don't think they ruined the songs," says Pope. "With all my videos, I tried to add to the song, but still allow the song to breathe — if the song was brilliant enough to be allowed to breathe."

(Bill Forman is a writer and music editor for the Colorado Springs Independent and the former publications director for The Recording Academy.)

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