Books

The Cure's Lol Tolhurst Shares His View Behind the Drum Kit

Founding drummer of The Cure Lol Tolhurst explores the creation of the classic band, their meteoric rise, his alcohol-fueled crash, and his personal rebirth.


Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys

Publisher: Da Capo
Length: 312 pages
Author: Lol Tolhurst
Price: $27.50
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2016-10
Amazon

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.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.

Film

A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.

Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'The Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.