The rock ‘n’ roll memoir is not a genre typically known for its subtlety. The most popular memoirs tend to revel in the sex and the drugs and the ridiculousness of a given time in a band’s life, anecdote after anecdote forcing the reader to wonder at the marvel of the human body’s ability to survive horrendous and constant abuse. Despite the presence of these elements in Lol Tolhurst’s memoir of the first ten years or so of The Cure, they are not the focus. Tolhurst is not interested in reveling in the excesses of the past; rather, he is shamed by them. By shifting the focus from what happened to who it happened to, Tolhurst crafts a memoir that is actually refreshing in its honesty and satisfying in its resolution.
The book is called Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys. The “imaginary boys” of the title are, of course, Tolhurst himself and Robert Smith, force of nature and frontman for The Cure. The book hinges on Tolhurst and Smith’s relationship with one another, and how
For about the first half, his focus is on humanity. His aim is to tell us what made The Cure tick, what made The Cure so appealing to its audience and so fulfilling for its members. Tolhurst details where he grew up, where he met Smith (referred to as “Robert” throughout, as Tolhurst is on a first-name basis with everyone in the book), how others got involved with the band, and how their relationship with their hometown Crawley drove them to be bigger than their origins. Despite a clear disdain for his alcoholic father, which he comes to attribute to an unshakable, undiagnosed fight with PTSD, there’s very little drama in these origins. They are presented as a collection of things that happened, along with the most basic and pure of emotions to go with events.
Describing the end of an idyllic night in a local park sipping on the Smith family home-brewed alcohol and playing bongos and guitars, Tolhurst tells us:
After a while we stopped, and both of us just lay back on the soft earth looking up at the starry night sky glimpsed over the dark treetops. I don’t recall anything being said by either of us. There was no need. We knew what we wanted.
Those short, almost clipped sentences are Tolhurst’s way of getting a point across. His style is very English — that is, dry and direct, especially in his humor — even as he is describing the most poetic and emotional of moments. There’s also a sense of foreboding that pervades all the youthful innocence and the heady early days of the band. Writing with the benefit of hindsight, Tolhurst has a sense of how temporary it all is, and how quickly and violently it comes crashing down.
This is the story told through the second half of
Cured. The details presented in the book get fuzzy around the time Pornography is released, an apparent combination of an unwillingness to wallow in destructive torpor and an actual, legitimate inability to remember large chunks of time. While Tolhurst doesn’t necessarily cast a shining light on other members of the band, he takes an admirable amount of ownership over his exit from the band. Eventually he is exiled from the tour; his telling is that during the recording of Disintegration, he was a drunk who ambled about the house occasionally badly playing some keyboards and mostly being an ass. Other accounts exist that place some of the blame on the rest of the band for bullying Tolhurst, but Tolhurst avoids any blame outside himself. His portrait of his boyhood friend Smith, in particular, remains loving and almost reverential throughout.
Happily, the book is a redemption story. As Tolhurst finds his way to sobriety, finds his way toward family, and finds his way toward reconciliation with the members of the band he had once blown up all bridges to get away from, there is a sense that Tolhurst has found a path to follow for the remainder of his life. He has finally found something to be proud of, something he can enjoy.
The dry tone and inability/unwillingness to indulge in extended tales of rock ‘n’ roll excess could make
Cured come off as something of a disappointment. There’s no tabloid fodder, no salacious details apart from some unappealing asides. By making himself the hero and the villain of his own story, Tolhurst maintains an evenness throughout, especially in his treatment of the other characters in his life. Robert Smith maintains an almost angelic presence throughout, an understanding and patient friend who only severs their friendship (however temporarily) after a series of severe and unforgivable occurrences forces his hand.
For the same reasons, however,
Cured is a triumph, a document of rock stars as human beings, glorious and flawed and mostly triumphant. While Tolhurst doesn’t come off necessarily as a writer by trade, his ability as a storyteller shines throughout Cured, as his story develops evenly and methodically. He gives us just enough hints at the future to keep us reading, as we wonder just how it all falls apart, not to mention how he puts it all back together. That he does — that he somehow lived to tell about his sky high, his rock bottom, and his eventual perfect equilibrium — makes for a beautiful, satisfying read that taken as a whole leaves more of an impact than the average memoir. This book is not just for fans of the Cure, but for anyone ready to read a good old fashioned story of redemption.