Sprung from the head of punk as much as glam, The Cure has never sounded exactly like either of those genres and few acts, if any, have ever been able to sound much like The Cure. The band’s origins trace to 1976 and the town of Crawley, a place that was close enough to London to be interesting but too far away to matter. If geography cast the early Cure as outsiders, then the attitude of its core, including Lol Tolhurst and Robert Smith, sealed the deal.
Tolhurst, now effectively retired from the band, tells the tale of those years, his dysfunctional home life and his early and ongoing ties with Smith in this fast-paced memoir. Borrowing a rhetorical flourish found in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous which states that members share stories which disclose in a general way “what it was like, what happened and what it’s like now”, Tolhurst tells of his early years in Crawley, the middle years when The Cure was finding its greatest commercial fortunes, and the time he spent outside the band learning to be Lol.
Those looking for a day-by-day guide to The Cure will have to look elsewhere. There are insights about the band’s formation and early road years here, but Tolhurst keeps things whirring along in such a way that we never feel the leaden doldrums of traveling through the back roads of Belgium with all the authenticity of the original experience. What is revealed about Tolhurst’s childhood friend Smith is perhaps unsurprising: he’s a complicated figure who can be intensely loyal and forgiving and, at heart, a man whose Catholic school years gave him a strong rooting in social justice and kindness even if the religious stuff didn’t stick.
Much the same can be said for Tolhurst, though his journey is complicated by a father whose emotional remoteness ran deeper than typical British stoicism and a personal and familial battle with the bottle that ultimately planted the seeds of his undoing in the band he’d helped form. Those two not-so-imaginary boys set out on an odyssey that included run-ins with Billy Idol during his Generation X days, a stubbornness with soundmen, club owners and, at times, with each other that perhaps account for some of the comings and goings in the band’s ranks over the decades.
But just as The Cure creates music for outsiders it also creates a home for them. It’s hard to imagine Tolhurst in any other group and it’s hard to imagine that players such as Simon Gallup or Porl Thompson would find the same kind of satisfaction in other bands. It also creates a home for fans, giving them a place for emotional release and expression through and with the music. Tolhurst seems deeply aware of this and is careful not to betray the bond that the group has formed with its fans.
He also doesn’t dwell too long on those parts, saying little about Gallup’s role as an architect in the overall Cure sound or discussing the intricacies of guitar lines created by Smith and others. The economy of those observations do nothing to undermine the impact of the sounds and events which they describe. Like the family patriarch who holds his tongue until exactly the right moment, Tolhurst doesn’t waste words. Thus, when he suggests that one band member or another made significant contributions or that this event or another was a sign that the internal mechanisms of the band were evolving this way or that, we believe him.
If other members of the group engaged in excesses of drink, drunk or the flesh, their indiscretions are largely left in the past. Tolhurst, admirably, speaks for himself and himself alone when describing the depths of his excess, though he spares us from melodrama in a particularly English way. Even a prolonged court case with Smith is presented with decency, though Tolhurst acknowledges it was a misguided endeavor fueled by anger after he’d been dismissed from the band after a particularly bad showing of his drunken side.
He moves to California, reconciles with Smith and even takes to the stage with his band once more but one senses, by the end of the book, that Tolhurst doesn’t need the band to make himself complete. Instead, his sense of wholeness comes from being a man first, musician second. His friendship with Smith, too, is based on a shared past that no longer exists but which can best be appreciated for the way it provides them both with a means of escape. The book ends with the author accounting for other lives lost to drink but thankful that he’s found his way out.
The Cure remains a band that thrives on mystery and dedication and so the light that Tolhurst shines on that entity here is welcome. More than that, it’s wonderful to read the story of a rock musician who’s found forgiveness and, as a result, peace. Let’s hope that it’s a lasting one.