Lol Tolhurst talks to Anthony Strutt about his memoir ‘Cured’ and his long-standing friendship with Robert Smith


Laurence ‘Lol’ Tolhurst’ has written his memoir’ Cured’, which published by Quercus both in the UK and in the States, tells of his years as the drummer and then keyboardist in the Cure and his long-standing friendship with Robert Smith.

In the early 1970s Lol and Robert formed their first band Malice which evolved into Easy Cure, who recorded at least an album’s worth of decent material, which to this day remains officially unreleased but showed that there was immense talent there.

In 1978 they shortened their name to just the Cure, and for the next eleven years, they fought through the tough times of being outsiders and drunk far too much, which left Lol, who developed alcoholism, with blackouts. After they signed a record deal with Polydor offshoot Fiction Records and left their home town of Crawley behind, they slowly crawled their way up until the Cure became one of the biggest bands in the world.

Each chapter of ‘Cured’ goes through every stage in the band’s career as well as describing the history and making of their albums, beginning with their punky debut ‘Three Imaginary Boys’ (1979), and continuing with their more progressive follow-ups, ‘Seventeen Seconds’ (1980) and ‘Faith’ (1981). Lol then goes on to write about ‘Pornography’ (1982), the bleak masterpiece that is his favourite album, followed by the psychedelic-edged ‘The Top’ (1984), its more poppy follow-up ‘The Head on the Door’ (1985). He concludes by describing the band’s first double vinyl album 1987’s ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’ and then ‘Disintegration’ from 1989, which saw Lol and the Cure’s relationship break down and his leaving of the band which lead to a long court case, which saw no winners and the destruction of one of Rock’s longest partnerships in the alternative music scene.

Lol and the Cure have now resolved their problems, and the end of the book finds him, having recovered from his alcoholic issues, reuniting with his former bandmates in 2011 to play some dates.

Pennyblackmusic caught up with Lol Tolhurst for a brief chat after an official Q and A at Rough Trade East in London to talk to him about ‘Cured’.


Pennyblackmusic: I have just finished reading ‘Cured’. It isn’t just about the friendship of two of rock’s greatest outsiders, whose vision united the lost and lonely of the world, but it is about one man’s journey into the world and what happened to him. Would you agree?

Laurence Tolhurst: Yes, it’s ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’, my version of it. I don’t want to be all pompous but that’s what it is absolutely.

PBM: For me the part of ‘Cured’ that hit home the most comes near the end when you are in the desert and you meet this old man from San Francisco who says to you, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine, son.” And from then on that is when your life improved and you got better and the next day you met your future wife, Cindy.

LT: Yeah, I don’t know if you believe in the subtle world, outside of the regular world, but I certainly have had examples of that, and that is an example of that to me.

PBM: Because you really don’t know what’s around the corner?

LT: Right.

PBM: Are you glad you met Cindy when you did and not as a member of the Cure?

LT: Yeah, she’s more glad still that I met her then (Laughs). No, definitely things happen for a reason. I don’t think that I would have met her earlier on. I had been to Los Angeles many, many times before, and I had never met her, so it was the right time. Everything was in season.

PBM: As well, as meeting Cindy, falling in love and getting married, you formed a new band Levinhurst in which Cindy sang and you played drums and keyboards. Did you not fancy giving singing a go yourself?

LT: My singing is kind of like my hand writing. It is best left to other people.

PBM: Did you ever keep diaries while you were growing up?

LT: No, the only thing I ever had like that when I was about ten. It just said, “Went to school, came home, went to school, came home,” and that was about it.

PBM: How long did it take to write the book and research it?

LT: I spent all of 2015 writing it. I decided to do it though in 2013, and started to do the research and get the ideas and to take some of the photographs back then. It took a couple of years basically.

PBM: You met Robert Smith when you were five years old.

LT: Right.

PBM: And you lived in Horley. Is that in Surrey or Sussex?

LT: It is in Surrey. There is Gatwick Airport in the middle with Horley on one side and Crawley. Crawley is in Sussex. Simon Gallup and I came from Horley but Robert lived in Crawley.

PBM: When the punk scene came along, did you find that you wasn’t really exposed to it as much as you would have been in London because you were based there?

LT: We had to go and find it a bit. Some bands did, however, come to Crawley. I remember the Clash came to play, and it was just a huge riot. Suicide were opening for them. I always remember this skinhead getting up and trying to do something to Suicide, and Joe Strummer came out and said, “Stop doing this. You are being really stupid. Let them play!” That’s when I noticed you had the power to do something good, rather then something stupid with music.

PBM: After a brief deal with Hansa, you signed to Fiction. How did you first meet Chris Parry then?

LT: We met him because we sent him a tape and he worked for Polydor, so he called us up and said that he liked what we were doing. We met him at The Lamb and Flag at St Christopher Place which is at the back of Oxford Street.

PBM: I believe that you never liked the artwork for ‘Three Imaginary Boys’.

LT: Right. It was something that we set up, but then we didn’t like it and it wasn’t really us.

PB: So after that you took back control?

LT: We had a couple of people involved in the artwork initially but we got one person to take over which was much better because it was then all in house really.

PBM: ‘Three Imaginary Boys’ is punky but it was quite different from most bands associated with punk. Do you think it sounded different because having been in Malice and Easy Cure first you had the time to grow?

LT: Yeah, absolutely, and we didn’t live in London. We were outside, and -I write about it in the book – the things that influenced us were the asylums and the countryside, and all that’s there.

PBM: ‘Seventeen Seconds’ is my favourite album., You road tested it on the road in America before recording it. Did it change much between touring it and recording it.

LT: Yeah, Some of it. You have to remember that in 1977 ‘Low’, the Bowie album, came out, and Robert and I loved that. That is where we pulled some of that stuff from that such as Dennis Davidson’s drum sound. It has a more open sound, with lots of highs and space in the middle.

PBM: We lost Bowie this year. Did it affect you?

LT: It affected my life a lot. It was like guess what? We are next (Laughs).

PBM: On ‘Seventeen Seconds’ there is also my favourite Cure song of all time, ‘A Forest’. How did that song come about?

LT: I had a bigger title for that and Robert pulled the words out for that. We had this metronomic thing that came from that, and what I like about that song is we are like running but everything is standing still. It’s like we are running on the spot basically. It was one of those things in which music sometimes just evolves very quickly out of thin air.

PBM: ‘Pornography’ is your favourite album. Why is it your favourite?

LT: Just because it’s the ultimate three-piece Cure album. We had defined our whole sound, and the way to play it. It stood the test of time, and doesn’t sound old, doesn’t sound fashionable. It just sounds like us.

PBM: I believe the original producer of ‘Pornography’ was going to be Conny Plank, Kraftwerk’s producer.

LT: Well, we talked about it but in the end we got Phil Thornalley in. Later on Conny passed away, and that put an end to that.

PBM: Thank you.

© Pennyblackmusic


The Night We Created The Cure

“So the first bit of lyric we pull out of the hat will be our new band name, right?”


Editor’s Note: LaurenceLol” Tolhurst is a co-founder of The Cure—as its drummer, he helped write and record the band’s first four albums. In this excerpt from his new book, Mr. Tolhurst provides an insider’s account of the early days of the band and a revealing look at the artistic evolution of his childhood friend, the enigmatic Robert Smith.

We finally got a gig at the Rocket in May 1977. We were now all eighteen, so Fred, the Rocket’s landlord, wouldn’t fall afoul of the child work laws or something. Clever old Fred.

He actually didn’t ask us outright anyway. Rather, our friend’s band Amulet, fronted by ex-Malice guitarist Marc Ceccagno, couldn’t do the gig they had been booked for at the Rocket, so, sens­ing an opportunity to actually get us out there in front of real people, I called Fred.

“Er, yes… the Rocket public house?”

The phone was answered by Fred himself in the voice I pre­sumed he usually reserved for outstanding creditors.

“Yes, hello, Fred? I heard that Amulet can’t play the pub this week. They all have bad colds, they asked us to fill in for them?”

Fred sounded a little suspicious, “And what are you lot called, then?”

“Easy Cure.”

We had literally pulled the new name for the band out of a hat. After our disastrous gig at St. Wilfrid’s it seemed like a wise idea to change the name, but we couldn’t agree on one. Robert [Smith] hit on a solu­tion. He had seen something about Bowie or William Burroughs cutting up phrases from their writings into strips and reassembling them into new prose or song lyrics. So we cut all our own lyrics up and put them into a hat. The first fragment we pulled out would be the name of the band. It seemed both democratic and punky all at the same time.

We sat in the small hallway of the Smith’s house, by the harmo­nium we sometimes utilized for the triptych songs we were currently making.

“So the first bit of lyric we pull out of the hat will be our new band name, right?” Robert asked.

“Sounds good to me,” I said.

Robert reached in and pulled out a small, white, screwed-up scrap.

“What’s it say?” Michael and I asked.

“Easy Cure,” said Robert, who looked a little crestfallen that one of his word fragments wasn’t the plum pulled from the pudding. “Easy Cure” was from a lyric that I had partially written.

“Anyway, fair’s fair, so Easy Cure it is!” I thought out loud.

However, Robert got his way later on, because we changed it to The Cure, which he thought sounded much more punky and now than Easy Cure, which sounded more hippie-fied.

I couldn’t really argue with that. I wanted us to be more punk anyway.

“So what kind of music does Easy Cure play?” asked Fred.

I panicked slightly. I hadn’t really thought about that one. We just wrote songs from our own experiences and thoughts. I don’t think we thought about labels, although we were certainly influenced by the current rash of punk bands we were now seeing whenever we could. In addition to The Stranglers at the Red Deer and Crawley College we saw Buzzcocks at the Lyceum.

“Um, well, we do some of our own stuff and a few popular cov­ers,” I offered hopefully.

“Yeah, well, they like to hear something they know, so play some­thing they know,” said Fred, hammering his point home. “Be here at 6 p.m., start playing at 6:30–7 p.m. You play two sets and you have to finish before last orders at 10:30 p.m.”

To this day I’ve no idea what they paid us. I probably didn’t take it in, as I was just so happy to get our first proper paying gig! And so it started. Paying our dues in the Rocket at first to the reg­ulars, and gradually, over the next year or so, to increasingly varied audiences from the area as word spread.

Of course, we had to play some covers, as Fred had predicted. “Locomotive Breath” by Jethro Tull, made completely punky by leaving out the long piano intro and flute(!), was one I recall that was particularly liked by the Rocket’s older patrons.

Gradually we honed our set to include more of our own material, crammed together on that tiny stage in the corner of the pub, and learned what every band must learn if they hope to establish them­selves as a real band.

We perfected the subtle signals between us all to enable the songs to come out sounding right and keep the show rolling along with intensity and power. We learned our stagecraft on that small stage all through the year, in between seeing some of the best bands of the punk revolution.

We played about thirteen gigs at the Rocket. It felt like we were there so often we were practically the house band. At every gig there were more people, and we grew in confidence as we honed our sound. In the autumn of 1977, Peter left the band. We had played a gig at the Rocket on September 11, and after the gig he told us it was his last.

“Hey, chaps, I think I have a different calling. I’m, um, off to a kibbutz in Israel.”

“Really?” I asked him somewhat incredulously. “That’s what you want to do?”

“Yeah Lol, that’s the plan.”

I was a little stunned. After all, we were just getting properly started. In retrospect it had been obvious the last few months that his heart wasn’t in it anymore. We wished him luck and looked around for another singer to replace him. It was frustrating, to say the least. We were starting to express our own ideas, finding our own raison d’être, and now we were in desperate need of a good front man to convey that to audiences who didn’t know us at all.

Then Robert did something that really changed the whole course of The Cure. Up until then I don’t think Robert had thought about being the guitarist and the singer, but I think he realized right then, when Peter left, that if he was going to make a difference in this world, if he was going to be able to get across what he wanted to say, he would have to be the front man, he would have to take that on.

I have a theory. There comes a day when every single one of us is confronted with the abyss. Sometimes it’s a heart-wrenching breakup. Sometimes it’s the loss of a loved one. Some have it early and some people get it late, but we all have that moment when we look down and there’s nothing fucking there. People want their rock stars to go further out on the edge and hang out there for a bit, take a good long look at that abyss, and then transmit what they find there through their art.

Ian Curtis did it. Kurt Cobain did it. So did Robert Smith, ex­cept he didn’t just look at the abyss, he was on intimate terms with it. He had things he had to say about the darkest parts of the human experience, and people were either attracted to that or repulsed by it. He’s been like that for as long as I’ve known him. Even at the very start, he had stuff he needed to say. He tried to fight it. I think that’s why he picked up the guitar, so he’d have something to put between himself and the abyss. In the beginning, he tried to hide behind it. He was just the guitar player. When Peter left and the band wasn’t working right and the music we were playing didn’t match the vision he had for it, he assumed the duties of the vocalist. We were still teenagers, but even then he knew what it meant, what he was getting into. It’s one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen anyone do.

The Rocket was where Robert taught himself how to front a band, how to be in the center of the storm and love being there.

In that dismal little room in deepest Sussex, a whole new future was started.

Excerpted from Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys by Lol Tolhurst. Copyright © 2016.

Lol Tolhurst: ‘The Cure really connected with people in small towns’

The former drummer for the goth stalwarts on his new memoir, the band’s early punk inspirations, and why he’s glad he didn’t win his lawsuit against them


Lol (Laurence) Tolhurst and Robert Smith met aged five at primary school in Crawley, West Sussex, in 1964. Later, while at St Wilfrid’s Catholic secondary school, they formed a band – Easy Cure – with fellow pupil Michael Dempsey (with Smith on lead guitar and vocals, Tolhurst on drums and Dempsey on bass). In 1978 they changed their name to the Cure, signed to Fiction Records and released their first single, Killing an Arab, a two-and-a-half minute slice of post-punk pop inspired by Albert Camus’ novel L’Etranger. The Cure’s early, doomy phase brought them a devoted UK fanbase, with the band going on to huge international success with more pop-leaning albums including The Head on the Door (1985, by which time Tolhurst had moved onto keyboards) and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987). The band’s lineup changed often, with Smith and Tolhurst the only constants, until 1989 when Tolhurst, by then an alcoholic, was asked to leave the band. In 1994, he sued Smith for royalties and joint ownership of the band’s name and lost. The two have since reconciled and played a Cure gig together in Sydney in 2011. Tolhurst currently lives in LA where he records with his band, Levinhurst. His new memoir, Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys, is published by Quercus.

The suburbs of the 1970s are a vivid presence in the opening chapters of your book. Was forming a band a reaction to the bleakness of it all?
People forget that in 1970s England there was still a hangover from the second world war, postwar austerity was still around and that didn’t change till the 80s. The only thing for us to do – our only defence – was to make our society. In that way it was a good thing, because it stimulated people to do stuff. If you’re too comfortable, you probably don’t want to change things too much.

You and Robert found an escape in punk – what was it that appealed?
I can remember the first Clash album, and it was something completely different for us. We’d been used to either disco or overblown prog. But the energy of punk completely resonated, and that idea that something had to change. But then, of course, we put it through a slightly different lens because we were more isolated than somebody who was living in the capital; we took longer to register how things changed.

There are quite a few violent incidents in the book!
I look back on it now and I realise it was probably all quite dangerous, but it was something we were used to. We dressed in old mohair jumpers and jumble-sale trousers and walking down the streets in Crawley, people would always say things to us. And then sooner or later, someone would come out and try to take a pop. At one of our first proper gigs in Soho, we had a lot of skinheads there who had assumed something entirely wrong about us from the title of Killing an Arab. We were expecting them to lay into us but then the biggest guy, with a tattooed eagle on his chest, decided he loved us and after that, we were fine. Even at that age, Robert was able to make people feel somehow included.


You say Pornography (1982) was your favourite Cure album. Why?
The distillation of the sounds that we had built up by that time. I mean, any band that tells you they’ve invented this new sound is being a bit disingenuous – you learn it bit by bit – and for us we decided we would play the bits that we liked and disregard the rest. And gradually, by that time we got to Pornography, we’d got to the pinnacle, for us, of the sound we wanted as a three-piece band. And I think, in terms of emotional intensity, it’s really the most succinct and it works well in that way. I like other albums for different things. I mean, thank goodness, we have quite a vast catalogue, so there was a lot of room for that.

The Cure had huge success in the US, not always a given with British bands. Why?
The early shows, we played with this Boston band Mission of Burma, who were kindred spirits. We appealed to people who lived in small towns in America, the same kind of people as in England, and from very early on we played lots of small towns, for months and months at a time, in the kind of clubs where people would see their local bands. So we really connected with people. People still write to me from those towns that saw us back in those days; we’re like adopted sons. That’s what worked for the Cure.

You talk very honestly in the book about your descent into alcoholism caused by the stresses of touring…
It was a lot of pressure, although, let’s be honest, not the sort of pressure you face if you’re working in a factory. But you’re putting people together who every night have to be an extreme version of themselves and then you were doing long journeys and we’d just be bored. Also most English people drink in one way or another, and so that’s where we found ourselves. With that kind of intensity and sleep deprivation and everything else, in the end it’s going to turn things a little mad.

You describe your legal proceedings against Robert Smith as something you were regretting even as you pushed them forward.
I set it in motion because of my resentment [at being pushed out of the band] but once these things are started it becomes this unstoppable thing. I’m honestly glad I lost though. I would have had a little more money for a while and I would have had some kind of feeling of victory, but I would be back in a very bad situation, if I was alive at all.

You wrote to Robert years later to make amends. He wrote straight back. Did you expect that?
I didn’t not expect it, does that make sense? That’s what I wanted to explain in the book. I knew if I admitted completely to the part I played in the bad stuff, then anyone who is really a friend would say, “OK, I forgive you.” Sometimes people see a band in a different way and they forget it’s just people.

How did playing with the Cure again in 2011 feel?
I remember looking out into the audience and seeing somebody that I had perhaps seen before at a show maybe 30 years before. They were older, like me, but it felt like no time had passed at all, and that was a pretty wonderful feeling.

And do you think you will ever make music with Robert again?
The good thing about my life now is that anything is possible, whereas around 25 years ago, very little was possible for about a year or two, in any way shape or form.

© The Guardian

Da Camus ai Cure e Visconti, la maledizione de “Lo straniero”

“Il grilletto ha ceduto, ho toccato il ventre liscio dell’impugnatura ed è là, in quel rumore secco e insieme assordante, che tutto è cominciato”
Albert Camus, “Lo straniero”

Albert Camus

L’estate che Albert Camus descrive ne “Lo straniero” è quella calda, soffocante dell’Algeria tra la prima e la seconda guerra mondiale. Una stagione destinata a cambiare per sempre la vita, fino a quel momento ordinaria e quasi banale, dell’impiegato Mersault. Lui, uomo qualunque, talmente anonimo da passare inosservato, che improvvisamente fa qualcosa di orribile: uccide un arabo. Un personaggio tormentato, irrisolto, estraneo al mondo e a se stesso quello di Mersault. Sui motivi del suo folle gesto si sono interrogati in tanti. Generazioni e generazioni di studenti e semplici lettori che hanno amato il romanzo dello scrittore francese pubblicato nel 1942, pietra miliare dell’esistenzialismo. Quel comportamento inspiegabile ha stuzzicato la curiosità anche di un giovane ragazzo inglese, che “Lo straniero” l’aveva incontrato sui banchi di scuola. Al liceo di Crawley, microscopico villaggio tra il Surrey e il Sussex.

Aveva sedici anni Robert Smith quando ha scritto “Killing an Arab”, canzone in cui denunciava l’assurdità della vita quotidiana e la futilità dell’azione di uccidere, immedesimandosi in Mersault. Aveva sedici anni e non credeva certo che, per via di quel pezzo, di quel titolo, di quel testo, si sarebbe messo nei guai. Lui, Lol Tolhurst e Mike Dempsey non erano ancora i The Cure ma solo tre amici che si incontravano di nascosto per far musica dopo le lezioni, sognando di scappare da quell’ambiente così poco stimolante. Tre amici che si esibivano nei pub, suonando “Killing an Arab” senza che di quelle parole controverse si accorgesse nessuno. Ad ascoltarli solo compagni di scuola a cui l’incipit – “Standing on a beach/ With a gun in my hand/ Staring at the sea/ Staring at the sand/ Staring down the barrel/ At the Arab on the ground” ricordava solo noiosi pomeriggi passati in classe. La fama, il successo sembravano un miraggio lontano, vago e indistinto come i contorni delle cose nella calura algerina. Roba che succedeva ad altri, a chi viveva a Londra, non a loro. Ragazzini di provincia naif, ambiziosi e così ingenui da rispondere all’annuncio di una misteriosa etichetta tedesca, la Hansa Records, in cerca di nuovi talenti. Talmente intraprendenti da accettare di firmare un contratto discografico quasi a scatola chiusa. E da proporre “Killing an Arab” come primo singolo. Senza successo perché la Hansa, come ha ricordato un piccato Smith in un’intervista a Sounds nel 1979, “si è rifiutata di pubblicarlo: dicevano che anche se era una buona canzone non potevano farla uscire perché non dovevamo contrariare gli Arabi…”

Era solo il primo dei tanti grattacapi che “Killing” avrebbe procurato alla band. Uscita nel 1978 per la piccola etichetta Small Wonder ha generato subito molto interesse e infinite polemiche. Accuse d’irresponsabilità e razzismo che si sono protratte per anni, sempre categoricamente smentite da un Robert Smith battagliero, che dichiarava tra ironia e amarezza a Adrian Thrills dell’NME: “La canzone è dedicata a tutti gli arabi ricchi che vanno in discoteca al Crawley College a rimorchiare ragazze (…) ma non è veramente razzista (…). Non è un invito a ammazzare gli arabi. È solo capitato che il protagonista del libro avesse ucciso un arabo. Ma avrebbe potuto essere uno scandinavo o un inglese. Il fatto che avesse ucciso un arabo non c’entra niente, sul serio”. Quando “Killing an Arab” è stata ripubblicata dalla Fiction Records nel giugno del 1979 la situazione non era delle migliori, dunque. Tanto che, per chiarire una volta per tutte a cosa Smith si fosse ispirato, l’etichetta distribuiva copie gratuite de “Lo straniero” insieme al disco. In proposito Mike Dempsey, primo bassista della band, intervistato dal magazine francese Best ha commentato: “Il razzismo è troppo pericoloso e ovvio, quindi mettiamo a disposizione il libro correndo il rischio di passare per un gruppo di intellettuali. E non siamo intellettuali. Non apparteniamo a nessuna ondata particolare”. Pensare che era solo l’inizio e non la fine della travagliata vita di quei tre minuti di rabbia metafisica, di quella chitarra “piena di sinistre promesse [che] scivola sinuosa come il figlio di una danzatrice del ventre e di un serpente velenoso”, come l’aveva definita l’NME.

Killing an arab

I problemi, quelli grossi, sarebbero arrivati con il tentativo dei Cure di pubblicare la canzone in America. “Killing an Arab” è sbarcata oltreoceano prima come lato B di “Boys Don’t Cry” nel 1980, passando quasi inosservata. Poi però è stata inclusa nella raccolta di singoli “Staring at the Sea” pubblicata dalla Elektra nel 1986. A ottobre dello stesso anno un dj della WPRB (radio della Princeton University) l’ha introdotta allegramente dicendo: “Ecco una canzone sull’ammazzare gli arabi”. Un commento fuori luogo che ha creato una situazione esplosiva, calda e arroventata almeno quanto quella spiaggia sabbiosa dove Mersault camminava, andando incontro al suo destino. Non era certo questa la pubblicità che i Cure avrebbero voluto e neppure la loro etichetta, presto subissata da telefonate di ascoltatori indignati che accusavano il pezzo di razzismo e ne chiedevano il ritiro. Preoccupata dalle critiche ricevute, per cercare di evitare un danno d’immagine che avrebbe potuto costare milioni di dollari, la Elektra ha cercato disperatamente di fare marcia indietro togliendo il disco dal mercato o la canzone dal disco. Solo che (in base al contratto firmato dai Cure) la label non aveva il potere di fare alcunché senza il consenso della band, consenso che Smith e soci non avevano alcuna intenzione di concedere. Solo a dicembre, dopo mesi di rovente dibattito, è stato raggiunto un accordo: “Killing an Arab” rimaneva dov’era, i Cure potevano suonarla, ma le radio venivano caldamente invitate a non trasmetterla. Inoltre su ogni copia di “Staring at The Sea” doveva essere apposto un adesivo con la scritta: “La canzone ‘Killing an Arab’ non ha alcun contenuto razzista. È un pezzo che condanna l’esistenza di ogni pregiudizio e (…) violenza. I Cure deplorano il suo uso nell’incitare all’odio razziale”. Una vittoria a metà per la band inglese, filosoficamente riassunta dal manager Chris Parry con un ironico: “Se la canzone si fosse chiamata The Stranger non avremmo avuto questi problemi”. Molto meno rassegnato Robert Smith, mai così impegnato a ribadire che “il fatto che fosse stato un arabo ad essere ucciso a me sembrava totalmente irrilevante, come immagino fosse per Albert Camus (…) era solo per motivi di ambientazione, il fatto che fosse un arabo e non qualcun altro”. Il suo giudizio sul compromesso raggiunto grondava amarezza e disillusione: “Siamo stati costretti. C’erano altre soluzioni ma sarebbero state più dolorose per noi. (…) Non mi ha fatto piacere, sul serio, dovermi fare avanti e spiegare (…) non avevamo interesse a continuare a parlarne”.

Povero Robert, pensava che fosse finita sul serio stavolta. Invece la lunga vita di “Killing an Arab” gli avrebbe riservato altre sorprese e non delle più piacevoli. Quasi venti anni dopo, nel 2001, quella canzone sarebbe tornata agli onori della cronaca finendo, suo malgrado, nella lunga lista di brani che le radio statunitensi non potevano trasmettere dopo l’undici settembre. Stavolta però il furbo signor Smith aveva giocato d’anticipo. Riflettendo su quei tre minuti, sulle parole scritte in gioventù che tornavano a tormentarlo, in quel periodo dichiarava pensoso: “Se c’è una cosa che cambierei è il titolo”. Ed è puntualmente ciò che ha fatto, non prima di concedere a “Killing” una lunga, meritata vacanza. Sparita dai concerti, dimenticata, missing per quattro lunghi anni. Fino al 2005, quando è tornata sotto le mentite spoglie di inno pacifista (“Kissing an Arab”). Titolo poi trasformato nell’improbabile ma certamente più cattivo “Killing Another” nel 2009, da uno Smith ben contento di liberarsi finalmente dal legame assassino con quel libro tanto affascinante ma anche così maledetto.


Un’opera che molti hanno provato a interpretare, a far propria, cadendo spesso preda della sfortuna che sembrava contagiare chiunque si interessasse alla triste sorte di Mersault. Una maledizione di cui è rimasto vittima anche Luchino Visconti, che “Lo straniero” l’ha portato al cinema nel 1967. Un film poco apprezzato, scarsamente amato anche dallo stesso regista, che non sopportava di non aver avuto a riguardo il pieno controllo creativo. Prigioniero di un contratto capestro siglato tra il produttore De Laurentiis e la vedova di Camus, Francine, che pretendeva il rispetto assoluto del testo scritto dal defunto Albert. Poche le libertà che Visconti si è potuto concedere, dovendo scendere a compromessi sia riguardo al cast (avrebbe voluto Alain Delon invece di Marcello Mastroianni) che al modo di narrare il dramma del cittadino modello divenuto killer. Se ne avesse avuto la possibilità infatti, il regista avrebbe preferito un approccio differente, più corale e meno incentrato sulla figura di Mersault. Tanti punti di vista diversi, flashback in stile “Rushomon”, magari anche rileggere la storia alla luce dell’evoluzione democratica dell’Algeria moderna, sottolineando il valore simbolico dell’arabo morto. Invece ha dovuto farsi bastare i dettagli, all’interno di uno schema che prevedeva la più totale fedeltà all’originale. Accontentarsi di quella dissolvenza in nero nel finale, in cui far precipitare il protagonista. Una piccola vendetta in calce a un sogno svanito. Un film amaro, “Lo straniero”, per Visconti. Lo definiva “più che un figlio nato male, un figlio nato con delle limitazioni”. Un figlio che non ha voluto rivedere, prima di morire. Dimenticandolo in un cassetto.

© Valentina Natale

“Crawley is grey and uninspiring with an undercurrent of violence. It’s like a pimple on the side of Croydon.”


It may be located halfway between London – 35 miles away to the north – and  Brighton on the south coast, but Crawley is hardly the kind of town where the  seeds of musical revolution are grown. According to one writer, Crawley was “the  doormat you wipe your feet on before leaving the countryside for London”. When  the Smith family relocated there from Blackpool in 1966, the clubs of London –  such as The Marquee, where in the mid-Sixties The Who promised (and delivered)  “Maximum R&B”, and The Bag O’Nails, where Jimi Hendrix began his supernova  rise – might as well have been located on another planet. It was not very likely that  you’d see Carnaby Street’s dedicated followers of fashion strolling like peacocks up and down the High Street. Mind you, in the late 20th century, Crawley would house  some unusual residents, including Robin Goodridge, the drummer for Nirvana  clones Bush, and Adam Carr, a man whose claim to fame was being voted Homo-  sexual Author of the Year by The Gay Times (twice, no less).

But in the main, middle-class Crawley in Sussex was sensible, solid and  unchanging. As Robert Smith once observed of his home, some 30-odd years and  30 million record sales since he and band co-founder Laurence “Lol” Tolhurst first  exchanged glances on a school bus on the way to primary school in 1964: “Crawley  is grey and uninspiring with an undercurrent of violence. It’s right on the edge of a  green belt, next to Gatwick Airport. It’s a dreadful place. There’s nothing there. My  dad work[ed] for Upjohns pharmaceutical company. He had to move down to Sus-  sex for his job. They’re based in Croydon. All my schooling took place around  Crawley. It’s like a pimple on the side of Croydon.”  Driving Smith’s point home just that little bit further, a recent examination of all  things Crawley noted: “There is loads to do in Crawley provided you only want to get drunk or fit, both at considerable expense.” Today, at least 14 pubs line the  High Street, which keep well-known tippler Robert Smith pleasantly occupied on  the occasions when he returns from his home in Bognor to check in on his parents, Alex and Rita, who still call Crawley home.

Mind you, Crawley was a town with a plan. It was officially designated a “New  Town” on January 9, 1947, not long after the end of the Second World War, with a  design capacity built into the planned infrastructure for 50,000 residents. (Today,  around 85,000 live in Crawley.) During its post-war growth spurt, the small local  villages of Ifield to the west, Worth to the east, Pease Pottage to the south and Lowfield Heath to the north were gradually engulfed by this “New Town”. It was  expanding quickly.

As characterless as this town of offices and engineering firms appears, the  recorded history of this “New Town” – though hardly the stuff of famous battles or  daring discovery – does date back over 1,000 years. In fact, the first development  in the area is thought to have occurred as far back in time as 500 BC. Some 400 years later, the first simple furnaces began to be used in the area. The roots of a  long-held tradition in the Sussex area were thus sown, as documented by the name  of one of Crawley’s neighbourhoods, the rhapsodically titled Furnace Green. By AD  100, those utilitarian Romans had settled in the area and begun to extend and im-  prove the furnaces. By the ninth century, Worth Church was erected; it’s now situated in the west of the New Town area and is thought to be one of the oldest buildings of its kind in the UK. It’s believed that the fleeing armies of King Harold may  have taken refuge there, after being defeated at Hastings in 1066. But in keeping  with the area’s uninspiring history, they were just passing through on their way  elsewhere.

And so the relatively mundane development of the town (and this travelogue)  progressed through the ages. Twenty years after King Harold took that fateful arrow  in his eye at Hastings, the Doomsday Records failed to mention the hamlet (although nearby Ifield and Worth rated an entry, being valued by King William’s  recorders at a princely 20 shillings apiece). Then, in 1203, the Manor of Crawley  was awarded a licence to hold a weekly market in the High Street; one Michael de  Poyninges is recorded as having given King John a Norwegian goshawk there dur-  ing the very same year. Less than 50 years later, the Church of St Margaret was  established in Ifield; it still stands in the Ifield Village Conservation Area. It was on-  ly in 1316 that records first showed Crawley under its Saxon-derived current name.  It was formerly known as Crawleah and Crauleia. And the etymology? “Craw” meaning “crow” and “leah” meaning pasture. Not so glamorous.

By 1450, the George Hotel was established in the High Street, offering stables  and room for carriages to allow horsemen and their passengers an overnight stay  on the way to somewhere more exciting. (Several centuries later, the George would  be used by infamous Crawley local, John George Haigh, the so-called “Acid Bath  Murderer”, to pick up at least one of his victims.) Crawley was still very much a  transit point, little more than a village in a forest clearing. The horse-drawn carriages, when not stopping overnight at the George Hotel, were charged a toll to  travel along the road – the original Toll House once stood in the north of the town.

Some of the old timber-framed coaching houses from the period can still be found  in the High Street (albeit in a renovated state, occupied by thoroughly modern  businesses).

The importance of iron works in the area increased dramatically during the 17th  century, but it wasn’t until the extension of the railway line from London to  Brighton, in 1848, that some life was breathed into this town and the population  duly increased. But for many, Crawley was still a name seen on a sign from the win-  dow of a passing train, as you hurtled towards London or rattled down to the coast  at Brighton. The town’s population did continue to increase, though, especially  when nearby Gatwick Aerodrome was opened in 1938. During World War II, Craw-  ley suffered some damage, much like any town of its size, when 24 homes were destroyed by aerial bombing. Once the rubble had been cleared and England started  to regain its post-war bearings, MP Lewis Silkin announced that the area around  Crawley, Three Bridges and Ifield had been chosen as one of the aforementioned  New Towns.

Fifteen years later, Robert Smith and his family – his father James Alexander  Smith, mother Rita Mary (née Emmott) and siblings Richard, Margaret and baby  Janet – moved from Smith’s birthplace of Blackpool, Lancashire, to this green and  uninspiring town. They settled first in Horley in December 1962, at a house in  Vicarage Lane where their next-door neighbour was the grandmother of Robert’s  future Cure partner Lol Tolhurst (who at the time lived two streets away, in South-  lands Avenue). They then shifted to Crawley in March 1966, so that Alex Smith  could be closer to the base of his employer, Upjohns. By then, the population of  the area was around 50,000, a rapid increase from the 9,000 who had lived there  at the turn of the century. In the same year that the Smiths had come south, 1962,  the additional neighbourhood of Furnace Green had been added to this so-called  “New Town”. It was a rich irony that Alex Smith worked for pharmaceutical firm  Upjohns, given his son’s Olympian drug consumption in the Eighties. Earlier, he’d  served in the RAF, completing his training in Canada.

Born on April 21, 1959, Robert James Smith was the third Smith offspring. preceded by his sister Margaret, who was born on February 27, 1950, and his  brother Richard, who was born on July 12, 1946. Smith’s second sister, Janet, was  born some 18 months after Robert, establishing a hefty gap in ages between the  two elder and two younger Smith children. Smith insists that he was an unplanned  child and that Janet was conceived primarily for his company. “My mum wasn’t  supposed to have me,” he said in 1989. “That’s why there’s such a big age gap between us. And once they got me, they didn’t like the idea of having an only child, so  they had my sister. Which is great, because I would have hated not having a  younger sister.” Smith took full advantage of his new-found role as older brother,  even discouraging Janet from speaking so he could act as interpreter. “I would say,  ‘Oh, she wants ice cream,’ when in fact she was desperate to go to the toilet.”

Speaking in 2000, Smith admits that while he only lived in the north for three  years, it took him some time to shake off his Blackpool brogue, which led to the  usual winding-up in the playground – sometimes worse. “I was born in Blackpool,”  he recalled, “and the first few years of my life were spent up there. When I came down south, I actually had a broad northern accent and the piss was taken out of  me mercilessly at school. That probably didn’t help me integrate.”

In another, even earlier discussion of his childhood, Smith recalled that both his  parents had held onto their northern intonation. “I used to have a northern accent  because my mum and dad used to talk like that at home,” he said. “It always stuck  out at school, which I never realised at the time. I thought everyone was saying  ‘grass’ incorrectly. But I toned it down on purpose when I got into my teens. By  then I think it might have been a bit pretentious to have affected a northern accent.”

Smith clung to some strong memories of his time in Blackpool, which he felt explained his lifelong attraction for the seaside. “I’m sure that spending the first few  years of your life by the sea means that you harbour a great love for the sea,” he  once said. “Every time I have a holiday I always go to the sea.”

Smith and his wife  Mary, the first and only true love of his life, now reside in Bognor, which fulfils his  long-held dream of living by the water. Smith figures his seaside life is simply an  extension of his very early childhood in coastal Blackpool. “I wanted to wake up  and hear the sea,” he admitted. “It’s bound to my childhood, to pure happiness, to  innocence. I love the music and the perfume of the sea.”

Smith’s recollections of Blackpool are so powerfully connected to the innocence  of his childhood that he’s since found it almost impossible to return. He just  doesn’t want the illusion shattered. “I have such strong memories of it: the promenade, the beach, the smell, it’s a magical memory, that evocative time of innocence and wonder. My earliest memories are sitting on the beach at Blackpool and  I know if I went back, it would be horrible. I know what Blackpool’s like – it’s nothing like I imagined it as a child.”  Smith’s father Alex owned a Super-8 camera and even before the Smiths went  south, he would film his family, especially baby Robert, fooling about on the beach.  In a 2001 interview, Smith would reveal to Placebo singer (and major Cure fan) Brian Molko another of his earliest memories. “There are a lot of films where I can be  seen running like a crazy man, with some donkeys in the background. I remember seeing my sister eat worms – and to be honest, I dug them up and she ate them. I  was about three and she was two. And my mother punished me. It must be one of  the few times I was hit. I also remember the smell of the donkeys.”

© Jeff Apter

Letters Home

November 27, 1950

Dear Mum,

Well, I didn’t know just when the wave of homesickness would hit [on return to Smith after Thanksgiving holidays], but I guess it was when I walked into my room – empty and bare. Only three or four girls were in the house… Gosh, I felt lonely! I had so much work I should have done, and my schedule for the week looked so bleak and unsurmountable; but I have now snapped out of my great depression – the first real sad mood I’ve had since I’ve been here. I am now writing this in the cosy living room with a girl beside me and music coming out of the radio. What one human presence can mean!

I realize that for all my brave, bold talk of being self-sufficient, I realize now how much you mean me- you and Warren and my dear Grampy and Grammy! … I am glad the rain is coming down hard. It’s the way I feel inside. I love you so.


(Sylvia Plath)


Party Piece

He said:

‘Let’s stay here
Now this place has emptied
And make gentle pornography with one another,
While the partygoers go out
And the dawn creeps in,
Like a stranger.

Let us not hesitate
Over what we know
Or over how cold this place has become,
But let’s unclip our minds
And let tumble free
The mad, mangled crocodile of love.’

So they did,
There among the woodbines and guinness stains,
And later he caught a bus and she a train
And all there was between them then
was rain.

(Brian Patten)


“All I want to stress is that my discovery of her was a fatal consequence of that ‘princedom by the sea’ in my tortured past. Everything between the two events was but a series of gropings and blunders, and false rudiments of joy.”

(Vladimir Nabokov)

The Crow Road

“God, what did any of it matter, in the end? You lived; you died. You were as indistinguishable from a distance as one of these blades of grass, and who was to say more important? Growing, surrounded by your kin, you out-living some, some out-living you. You didn’t have to adjust the scale much, either, to reduce us to the sort of distant irrelevance of this bedraggled field. The grass was lucky if it grew, was shone upon and rained upon, and was not burned, and was not pulled up by the roots, or poisoned, or buried when the ground was turned over, and some bits just happened to be on a line that humans wanted to walk on, and so got trampled, broken, pressed flat, with no malice; just effect.”

(Iain Banks)