Book Review: The Story of The Cure — The Beatles of Goth
As confessions of rock decadence go, Lol Tolhust’s are fairly tame stuff.
Cured: A Tale of Two Imaginary Boys, by Lol Tolhurst. Da Capo Press 336 pages, $27.50.
By Brett Milano
There are only ever three topics in a rock biography, and the story of the Cure largely lacks them all. Sex? Leader Robert Smith found the love of his life before the band was even formed. Drugs? The Cure were more hang-out-at-the-pub type of guys. Rock and roll? You decide if that was ever really what they played. The shocking truth is about The Cure is that the Beatles of Goth were relatively normal, well-adjusted people. Indeed, the most squalid tour story that ex-bandmember Lol Tolhurst can dig up for his memoir, Cured: The Story of Two Imaginary Boys, is that they were once fined for swimming in a Dutch lake where it was off limits.
The exception is Tolhurst who was, in a nutshell, far too much of a hang-out-at-the-pub kind of guy. And his just-published book is really more a mea culpa than a memoir, dealing with the alcoholism that got him marginalized in, and ultimately dismissed from the Cure. Having grown up with an alcoholic father, Tolhurst came into the band with more emotional baggage than the others, and he admittedly wasn’t much of a musician: He had no prior knowledge of either drums or keyboards, which he played in the band at different times. But to cite one example, his tense and taut percussion on the Cure’s “A Forest” bears out the punk credo that sometimes it takes an untrained player to get it right.
As confessions of rock decadence go, Tolhust’s are fairly tame stuff—Nobody’s ever going to top Three Dog Night’s Chuck Negron who revealed (in 1999’s cult classic, Three Dog Nightmare) that he indulged in so much sex and cocaine that his penis exploded. Yet there is a definite poignancy in Tolhurst’s story that’s well suited to the band he was in. He looked up to Robert Smith from schoolboy days, and only became a bandmember when Smith took him under his wing. So the sad subtext of Cured is how plainly Tolhurst sabotages himself, and it wasn’t just with the drinking. After sobering up he goes into a lashing-out phase, during which he loses his marriage and sues the band over his dismissal—despite the fact that they were keeping him on the payroll (He lost that along with the suit). The story resolves happily with Tolhurst rejoining the Cure for a couple of retrospective shows in Australia during 2011—but since he only guested on part of those shows and wasn’t invited to rejoin permanently, one suspects there may be more loose ends than he admits.
What the book could use is a little more musical insight: Even to his longtime friend, Robert Smith comes off as something of a mysterious figure, and we don’t really hear how the Cure arrived at the remarkable sound they did—how they went within months from barely making it through cover songs to writing “Fire in Cairo” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” Tolhurst seems most engaged with the music during their darkest album Pornograhy—which he says was influenced by personal issues, including the death of Tolhurst’s mother—and with the lighter hits (“Let’s Go to Bed,” “Love Cats”) that came just afterward. The latter, he says, came about because the head of their label dared them to write a pop single and Smith loved the challenge. That’s the kind of detail that a Cure fan would be hoping to get.
There’s no real tragedy here either: Tolhurst’s life largely worked out (he’s remarried, has a new band and still gets Cure royalties), Smith and the band are alive and well, and Tolhurst comes off as a nice bloke who used to be in the Cure. If not a revelatory bio, it’s the perfect thing for late summer beach reading—while staring at the sea and staring at the sand, of course.
Brett Milano has been covering music in Boston for decades, and is the author of Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting (St. Martins, 2001) and The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll (Commonwealth Editions, 2007). He recently returned from New Orleans where he was editor of the music and culture magazine OffBeat. His latest book is Don’t All Thank Me At Once (125 Records), a biography of the unsung pop genius Scott Miller, who led the bands Game Theory and The Loud Family.