Lol Tolhurst, Goth

Gothic Tribes: The Cure’s Lol Tolhurst Explores Pop Music’s Dark Artists

Tolhurst’s goth music history intimately details the mercurial movement, interweaving personal memories and descriptions of the “architects of darkness”.

Goth: A History
Lol Tolhurst
September 2023

In the past few decades since leaving the band he helped start, the Cure co-founder, drummer, and keyboardist Lol Tolhurst has been steadily “reclaiming” and “repossessing” his art, as he puts it in his latest tome, Goth: A History. His recent musical venture with Siouxsie and the Banshees’  former drummer, Budgie, entitled Los Angeles, has met with wide acclaim, and he’s been immersed in other musical projects as well, most notably Levinhurst, with his wife, Cindy.

In 2016, Tolhurst added writer to his palette of talents with the release of Cured, a book that details his beatific highs and bottomless lows with the Cure and his attendant struggles with alcoholism. 

Tolhurst’s new book – in parts, anyway – can almost be considered a sequel to Cured, as his tales involving the making of the storied proto-gothic trilogy Seventeen Seconds (1980), Faith (1981), and Pornography (1982) are like comfort food for the ravenous Cure fan. Goth: A History details in intimate fashion an encapsulation of the mercurial music movement, interweaving anecdotes and personal memories with descriptions of how the “architects of darkness” such as the Banshees, Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, and, yes, the Cure, helped generate a style that indeed is more pervasive today than ever, with sartorial nods on display in malls across the world, movies, and television shows implicitly or explicitly infusing gothic themes, and endless streams of post-punk and goth revival bands (a few of which are discussed in the book – Drab Majesty and Molchat Doma, for example). 

Of course, Tolhurst also touches on the seeds planted by “prototypes” such as the Doors, horror rockers like Alice Cooper, and glam rockers like Bowie, not to mention the literature and art that informed the music (Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Albert Camus, TS Eliot, Francis Bacon). Naturally, Tolhurst briefly examines bands that were more goth-adjacent, like Cocteau Twins, or bands that were part-time goths, such as the Damned. He furthermore delves into how unlikely bands such as Wire inspired the Cure’s incursions into darkness and how others like Depeche Mode – not technically goth though tinged with gothic overtones – helped usher the expansion of the music into the mainstream. Finally, the author treats readers to an insider look at the clubs that buoyed the ’80s goth movement (such as the Batcave) and the visual aspects of goth, fashion-wise, and decor-wise.

At times, Tolhurst may go off on seemingly marginally related tangents, but he always brings it back around to the topic at hand, showcasing just how intricate a movement goth ultimately is, with nuanced influences and less obvious sources of inspiration.

If there is one critique of Goth: A History that I could offer, I would say that it would be nice to have a more in-depth discussion about the OGs – not the 1980s goths, but the actual Original Goths, the Germanic tribe – and how we got from there to here. A deeper dive into the architecture of the time, the evolution of goth fashion and literature, and so on would have provided fuller context and further grounding. It seems that the concept of goth has traveled a long way over time and that its modern mutation, in many ways, bears little resemblance to the past, and a delineation of that might have proved fruitful and elucidating.

In fact, critic and musician John Robb offers such a purview in his book about goth, The Art of Darkness, which was also published in 2023. But Robb’s book is also an unwieldy 600 pages, while Tolhurst’s Goth: A History is a more manageable and streamlined 228-page history. That said, a thorough comparison of the two books would not be fair since I have not made a huge dent in Robb’s book just yet. Let’s just say that Robb’s book is hefty, and a bit messy, though not without heaps of intrigue as well.

Crucially, Tolhurst does address the mildly controversial claim about whether the Cure is a true goth band. Indeed, I often roll my eyes at such a pedestrian pronouncement whenever the “accusation” is leveled that the Cure is a goth band. Just because they look goth doesn’t mean they are, musically speaking. The Cure is too varied in sound to fit into such provincial pigeonholing. If there is any Cure “signature sound,” it’s in the emotional evocations: the euphorias, the melancholy, and really just the overall spectrum of sentiments from the vehement to the delicate and every subtle shade in between. Cure music is about feeling; style is secondary and always metamorphosing.

But Tolhurst makes a strong case that the Cure (obliviously) played a formative part in the original goth movement. The Cure may not be a true goth band, in the end, given their post-trilogy forays into sundry sonic territories, but they certainly helped shape the sound and, yes, even the goth look. (And heck, the Cure did actually come back around to inhabit their early gothic skin, first with 1989’s art-goth masterpiece Disintegration, then with 2000’s psych-goth masterpiece Bloodflowers, and finally with the yet-to-be-released goth-opera Songs of a Lost World – proving that their impact is so strong, they even influenced themselves!)

Tolhurst makes an equally strong case for the fact that contrary to popular perception, gothic music doesn’t exacerbate melancholy but rather relieves sadness through validating its listeners’ emotions, making tangible their anguished yearnings, and enabling a sublimation of such longings into something more bearable and, dare we say, beautiful. 

In other words, goth might just be our salvation.

RATING 8 / 10