I grew up in a small town—small town USA, Mercer, Pennsylvania to be precise, where there was nothing to look at but cornfields. It was a primitive time, long before the miracle of the internet arrived to devalue our wonderful art form. Even pre-MTV, with nothing to listen to on the radio and nothing to do but dream and escape.
When I left home, it was time for the big city—in my case the big city of Cleveland. And everything changed. It was the mid-’80s, and just being able to tune into college radio made my head explode with limitless possibilities. This was my baptism into the world of alternative and underground music—the sounds that informed what Nine Inch Nails would eventually become.
One of the most important aspects of being swept away by this tidal wave of music was getting to hear the Cure for the first time. Immediately, this band struck a deep chord in me. The first album I heard was Head on the Door, and I hadn’t heard anything like it before. And a lot of darkness I felt in my head was coming back at me through the speakers and it blew my mind. It was like this music was written just for me. Now I’ve struggled my whole life feeling like I don’t fit or belong anywhere, kind of like right now. Hearing this, I suddenly felt connected and no longer quite so alone in the world. That’s one of the things I find so unique and special about the power of music.
It wasn’t just the sound or the words or the presentation—all of it was anchored by the most exquisite of instruments—Robert Smith’s voice. That voice, capable of such a range of emotion from an expression for rage, sorrow, and despair to beauty, frailty, and joy. It might sound naive but until I heard The Head on the Door, I just didn’t realize it was possible to write about such difficult and profound ideas, but do it in the context of successful songs that might even get played on the radio, challenging norms from the inside.
Quite understandably, most musicians tend to differ from their carefully cultivated personas to one degree or another. As far as I can tell, Robert Smith is that rarest of things—a 100 percent authentically Robert Smith kind of person who lives a 100 percent authentically Robert Smith kind of life. He used that to create a completely self-contained world. It’s a sound, it’s a look, it’s a vibe, it’s an aesthetic that the fans get to visit and immerse themselves in whenever they like. It’s a custom world for anyone who has ever dreamed of escape.