Monday, September 25, 2017

Lol Tolhurst - Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys (2016)

Title: Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys
Author: Lol Tolhurst
Publisher: De Capo Press (US), Quercus (UK)
Year: 2016

[US cover.]

Rock star memoirs appear to be in vogue these days. It seems like any musician that wants to get taken seriously has to write one, and getting contracts must not be very difficult. In the world of musicians I follow, this trend started to pick up steam with Neil Young's Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream (2012) and Peter Hook's The Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club (2009). Then there was the inevitable stir caused by Morrissey's Autobiography (2013). Tellingly, each of those artists has written subsequent books. We've come far enough now that it isn't just the frontpeople of famous bands writing these memoirs. We've got David J's Who Killed Mister Moonlight? (2014), Johnny Marr's Set the Boy Free (2016), and now a book from Lol Tolhurst of The Cure.

Tolhurst has some notoriety in The Cure's history. He was a cofounder that lasted right up to the release of their (arguably) most famed album, Disintegration (1989). He was known to have contributed next to nothing to said album due to being an alcoholic mess. He was originally a drummer but moved to keyboards. He was briefly the only member of the band besides Robert Smith. He was credited as cowriter on almost every song published during his tenure. He sued the band after his dismissal for co-ownership of the name and lost. He eventually made amends with Robert Smith and briefly appeared on stage with the band in 2011 for some nostalgia concerts.

It's not hard to make a case that Tolhurst has a unique story to tell. Considering that Smith has not yet written a memoir, the opportunity was perfect for another Cure insider to do so. Lol is well-suited for the job: he knew Smith since they were both five, he was there through it all for the band's rise to fame, and he's currently on good terms with Smith. Even I was curious what the most notoriously estranged member of The Cure would have to say.

While the book certainly suffices as a narrative of the friendship between two bandmates, the burden of that perspective actually serves to detract from the book. Tolhurst never once speaks ill of Smith and goes out of his way to contextualize any questionable decisions he made. The same largely goes for the other members of The Cure, although they are mentioned to a considerably lesser degree. Tolhurst details his role as a moderator and go-between for the various members of the band in the early years, but he rarely explains what the disputes and misunderstandings actually revolved around. He hardly provides any explanation for the departure of the other founding member, bassist Michael Dempsey. He glosses over the details of the (temporary) split between Smith and the band's longest-serving bassist, Simon Gallup. Any rifts between himself and Smith are described with even less detail.

Tolhurst doesn't even seem to be upset that Smith kicked him out of the band. By that point in the narrative, it has become clear that Tolhurst was an unhealthy person, and that he has since recognized it. In fact, it slowly dawns on the reader that much of the book is oriented around Tolhurst acknowledging his own failures, owning up to them, and trying to make amends. While stories of drunken revelry and dangerous behavior rarely interest me in literary form, personal redemption of this variety is at least somewhat more interesting.

About a third of the text is devoted to Tolhurst's youth and the earliest days of The Cure leading up to their debut album, Three Imaginary Boys (1979). The descriptions of Tolhurst, Smith, and Dempsey (and on-again, off-again member Porl Thompson, who designed the cover) as childhood friends is actually rather endearing. Tolhurst presents them as outsiders in a bland, boring town that they all longed to escape. Imagining Smith throwing bottles at skinheads and fending off ruffians is hard to believe but yet quite amusing.

Initially, I was anxious to get to the more exciting periods of The Cure's creative and popular peaks, but in retrospect, Tolhurst doesn't have much to offer on those eras that hasn't been said before, and the stories of the early days are imbued with a deeper personal insight. Tolhurst views the beginnings, when they still had to prove themselves, as something special and magical. Perhaps it felt more like a tight group of friends trying to do something different rather than a commercial enterprise. It may also be that Tolhurst's addiction hadn't yet consumed him and he had more to contribute to the band in those days.

Anyone reading the book with an expectation of learning something about The Head on the Door that they didn't already know will be let down. Anyone who isn't already a fan probably wouldn't become one by reading it. But if you are looking for the story of a rock star that fell from grace and perhaps has learned from his mistakes, this might be it. Tolhurst's story is rather sad and occasionally frustrating, but at least you could read this and learn something about recovery from alcoholism and where to go from there.

[UK cover.]

Score: B-

P.S.: This book is a prime example of why I don't read the back jackets of books. The text on my US edition is literally the last paragraph of the book.

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