For fans of the alternative rock of the 80s, the last few years have been a golden era for biographies, autobiographies, and musical memoirs. Some of the greats of the heyday of college rock have been added to music collectors’ bookshelves, including The Smiths, Morrissey, Bob Mould, Elvis Costello, Peter Hook (of Joy Division/New Order), the Replacements, and Love and Rockets’ David J, with others forthcoming by Johnny Marr, Bernard Sumner, and (again) Peter Hook.
Significantly absent from this list of ’80s A-List alt-rock biographies has been The Cure, one of the few groups from that era that still maintain their popularity and mystique, almost 40 years after being the trailblazing post-punk, indie rock, and goth wellspring from which many, lesser, groups were derived. In his new memoir Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys, Laurence “Lol” Tolhurst, who spent over a decade as drummer and keyboardist in The Cure, begins to fill in the gaps on the story of this fabled group.
As the title implies, and as the cover art (designed by Cure bandmate Porl/Pearl Thompson) clearly indicates, this is the story of Lol Tolhurst and his childhood friend, lead singer Robert Smith, although Smith’s face only appears partially in the frame. The friendship of these two musicians, dating back to their primary school bus rides, extends throughout the first two-thirds of the book before ending abruptly in Tolhurt’s alcohol-fueled breakdown after the completion of the 1989 masterpiece Disintegration. A failed lawsuit followed, which left Tolhurst broken, personally and financially, and the two childhood friends were estranged for over a decade.
The three parts of the book follow a rough thematic arc: Part I (“What it was like”) is Tolhurst’s künstlerroman, detailing the early days of his life and the nascent version of The Cure, formed by Smith, Tolhurst, and original bassist Michael Dempsey at Notre Dame Middle School in Crawley. The camaraderie of these three teenagers serves as a counterpoint to the coldness of Tolhurst’s own family life, including an alcoholic father who came home from the war to “a young wife that he really didn’t know with a four-year son to take care of, a four-year-old that he doubted was his in the first place” (Chapter 12) and a home that never really felt like home for young Lol.
This lack of emotional connection to his father, and his inability to connect with other people in general, comes out in Tolhurst’s reflections throughout the book. The band’s first initial fracture, resulting in the departure of Dempsey, is regarded with backwards-looking wisdom: “If we had all been less emotionally stunted, perhaps we might have worked out our differences”(Chapter 9). He also notes that, whenever the band struggled with internal conflicts, “we opted for that very English solution and just ignored everything, while keeping our feelings at bay with drinks and drugs” (Chapter 13) and that “we were still those same English boys who found it hard to really communicate our feelings directly” (Chapter 15).
This emotional stuntedness carries itself through the second part of the book (“What Happened”), which details the meteoric rise of the band from the pubs of Sussex through massive headlining gigs in France, South America, London’s Wembley Arena and New York’s Madison Square Garden. During this period, the group toured relentlessly, which provides for the kinds of funny anecdotes that only rock musicians can share. Lol’s drunken bladder, for instance, gets the group kicked off a successful tour opening for Generation X because Billy Idol did not like having someone urinating on his leg while he was trying to get it on with a young lady in the backstage bathroom.
But all of the craziness of being a young rock band on tour doesn’t distract from the task at hand, and it’s during this middle section of the book that the band create classic album after classic album, including the legendary trilogy of Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography. Tolhurst’s own observations on how this dark trilogy came to be, including the influence of legendary punk tourmates Wire on their development, provide a nice contrast to the buffoonery of their tours. As the band begins to expand and contract through the mid-’80s, however, and members begin to come and go, Tolhurst’s position and security in the band change. As Smith begins to stake out the band, more and more, as his own project, Tolhurst moves from drums to keyboards and is, at times, left out of the recording process, although he defends his keyboard contributions to 1984’s The Top, considered by many to be more of a Robert Smith solo album. But this seems to be the point at which the wheels begin to come off for the old friends and this leads directly into the final act.
Part III (“What It’s Like Now”) is Tolhurst’s alcohol addiction memoir and is the most emotionally wrenching part of the book. The drunken antics that served as comic relief in Parts I and II become less funny as the band becomes more popular. Tolhurst’s inebriated reaction to the playback of Disintegration, “Some songs sound like the Cure but some don’t!” seals his fate with the band. A letter from Smith soon follows, informing Tolhurst that the rest of the band refuses to work with him on the upcoming tour, essentially ending his tenure with the band that he co-founded.
The true climax of the memoir, however, takes place in Chapter 20, “The Royal Courts”, where the two former bandmates face off in an oddly Dickensian courthouse, represented by barristers. This ill-advised lawsuit, which Tolhurst acknowledges was more as a product of hurt feelings than actual financial need, leads to a major personal and financial losses. After a tragic loss of a daughter during childbirth, a move to California, the birth of his son, the collapse of his career, and a sudden divorce, Tolhurst is reeling. He ends up in Death Valley, in a dump of a motel in a place called Stovepipe Wells, where he finds clarity and a new sense of optimism. The tearful reunion with his old friend Robert, backstage at the Palace in Hollywood, ends with amends made and friendships renewed, and the Tale of Two Imaginary Boys winds itself to a close with Lol back behind the drum kit for the Cure’s 2011 “Reflections” tour, playing the albums that built the legend.
Fans of The Cure will find much to love in this book. The insights about the often intentionally mysterious members of the group, notably Smith, are welcome to those who have often wondered what was beneath all of that pancake makeup and hairspray. The band’s formative years in the immediate wake of punk rock and glam are fascinating, as is the influence of fashion on The Cure’s overall aesthetic. There’s a brutal honesty to Tolhurst’s own self-assessment and he never tries to sugarcoat his own failings as a son, friend, bandmate, or partner, but he’s also able to cement his place as a crucial member of the band, despite the iconic, tousle-haired, shadow of his primary school friend and fellow Imaginary Boy, Robert Smith.