By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERUQE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – November 10, 2016) — The founding members of The Cure — the Crawley band formed between 1976 and 1978 by Robert Smith (b. 1959) and Andrew Lol Tholhurst (b. 1959) — helped provide the soundtrack to life for my group of friends in California in the 1980’s. As a matter of fact, many of my friends were Robert Smith wanna-bees, dressing and acting like the singer: teased hair, make-up, and black clothes donned their fragile frames.
I remember one fellow, Vladimir (his DJ name was “Bloody”), was so engaged with Robert Smith that he made it a point to copy Mr. Smith everywhere he went, imitating Smith’s dazed appearance and ambivalent demeanor — along with his Goth look. And in an early version of the rock band I was in — Mourning Becomes Electra — a couple of the band members took a page out of The Cure fashion book to ensure we we’re seen as happening and hip.
If my memory serves me correctly, the first time I heard a couple of The Cure songs — Love Cats and Lets Go To Bed — was in 1983. By that time The Cure had changed sounds from the early post-punk music of Three Imaginary Boys (1979), Seventeen Seconds (1980), Faith (1981), and Pornography (1982), integrating keyboards and pop motifs in their music. With the release of The Top in 1983 and the hit record, Head on the Door, in 1985 — the Cure were in the midst of a major breakthrough, becoming the premier band for the pop-Goth sound.
And to say that The Cure helped shape the Gothic music scene would be an understatement. Along with Joy Division, The Cure was the standard, at least in a popular form. By 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and 1989’s Disintegration (some would say their masterpiece), The Cure found themselves at the height of their artistic powers: they were mainstream, having hit songs such as “Just Like Heaven,” “Friday I’m in Love,” and “Pictures of You” on regular radio rotation (still heard on classic rock stations to this day).
So when I learned that founding member Lol Tholhurst was in Albuquerque, New Mexico to promote his new book, Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys, I had to go; not because I was attempting to relieve a part of my teenage years, but because Lol Tolhurst, presumably, had something to say: about life, drug abuse, and music. And after listening, I was right. And though Mr. Tolhurst officially left The Cure after recording the album Disintegration, his influence on the sound and history of modern rock is unmistakable.
I got to the independent bookstore, Bookworks, early. With an article in the Albuquerque Journal promoting the event released the day before the engagement, I thought I better get a seat before all the old Goth’s come out of the woods (what we call the Bosque here in New Mexico). And I was right. The event was packed with people carrying old records and The Cure memorabilia.
In the first half of his presentation, Tolhurst told story of the writing of the book. His story began in 2013, starting in Hawaii during a vacation. Robert Smith was with him, as were their wives. When members of The Cure meet, Lol said, “We don’t talk about music or business but about friends and family — most of the people we grew up with.” Robert wanted to learn to surf on this trip. The problems was when he asked to surf it was 2:00 AM. Lol said it wouldn’t be a great idea at this hour. So Robert went swimming instead. The day after the incident, Lol had an epiphany: he needed to write a book about the formation of The Cure.
He told Robert “People need to know how The Cure formed.” Robert didn’t object. So he commenced.
Though Tolhurst didn’t keep a journal during the formative years, his memory of the events was solid. Lol stated that the most difficult part of the book was putting everything in chronological order, requiring research. “And I’m not a researcher,” he said. He sat down to write the book in 2015. He rented an office and began the process. Tolhurst wrote five-days a week, four to five hours per day. His goal was to write 1,000 words a day, give or take.
Because he didn’t know much about the writing process, Lol asked his publisher for a good book to read about the craft of writing. His publisher recommended Stephen King’s, On Writing. “I did what King said to do, except for one caveat: I didn’t listen to Heavy Metal loudly when I wrote,” he stated humorously.
Tolhurst followed King’s advice to write a first draft and then come back to it 6-8 weeks later. This worked well for him. “Books have always been a sacred item to me — so I looked forward to the process; I took it seriously.”
Lol attributes Joe Strummer — during a show he attended by the punk rock group, The Clash — with helping him form The Cure. Tolhurst states, “Joe Strummer gave me permission; he showed us how to do it. And I thought if they can do it, we can do it. No Joe didn’t say it to me personally, he just led the way. I’m very grateful to him. God rest his soul.”
For inspiration on writing a personal memoir he looked to other written memoirs. Lol mentioned comedian, Steve Martin, and Duff McKagan of Gun’s and Roses as examples he liked. Lol reached out to McKagan for insight on the writing process. “Duff was very helpful,” Tolhurst stated. They’ve since become pen pals.
After Lol finished writing, he gave a copy of the finished book to Robert Smith. He’s yet to hear anything back from Robert due to his busy touring schedule. “But if there’s one thing I know about Robert,” Tolhurst said, “He’d let me know if he didn’t like it. He would have got back to me very quickly.”
“These guys [Cure member] are still my closest friends. And like Iggy Pop said, ‘If you get to age fifty and can count your good friends on the fingers of one hand you’re a lucky man.’ I consider myself a lucky man. And doing this book has been a complete blessing.”
After reading a section of the book — about the early days of practicing in Robert Smith’s family home, Tolhurst answered questions from the audience.
I asked Lol about his favorite album he worked on. “They’re like my babies. I like them all. During our three-piece band period, I liked Pornography because we distilled the band down to the basics. And during our five-to six person band, I like Kiss Me.”
Another person asked about his hometown, Crawley. Lol pointed out that he still has family in the area, but doesn’t get back much. Tolhurst now lives in California. “It helped make us who we were, but I wasn’t going to stay very long.”
When asked if he’d re-join The Cure, Tolhurst stated, “It’s not on my agenda now — nor do I think it’s on Robert’s. But one thing I do know is that anything is possible. During the last tour we did together — Reflections in 2011 — the moment I stepped on stage in Sydney it was like nothing had changed, it was exactly like riding a bicycle.”
When asked about his recovery from alcoholism, Tolhurst stated it began “Six-months after leaving the band; I started to think about it seriously. And then about another five years before I started to get what was really wrong with me — my reaction with the world, how I think. And when I moved to California I got really serious about the program [maybe a reference to AA] that helps us all — and I’ve never looked back.”
During the Q and A, Tolhurst discussed his son’s MFA work in poetry as well possible future writing projects, including film. Lol was quick to distinguish between lyrics and poetry. “There is a big difference between poetry and lyrics. Poetry is much harder in lots of ways.” If there were ever a movie made of The Cure’s formation, Tolhurst stated humorously, that he’d want Robert Downey, Jr. to play his character.
One person asked about the creative process. Tolhurst replied, “That’s something I talk about in the book. I understand that people want to dissect a song minutely, wanting to understand how it’s made. But you know what? We don’t know. There’s a creative process. It’s like the book I was writing. When the words came out I wasn’t fully aware what was going on; I’m just a conduit. It’s the same with music. Lots of songs began as jams. Some through a title — like the song, A Forest. Other songs began as base lines and such. They start with different things—anything, really. I don’t dissect songs that way. When they really work they’re innocent, just coming from you.”
The biggest surprise came when asked about the melancholy side of The Cure. As many people know, The Cure is associated with the Goth sound — a gloomy approach to life, finding solace in despair. Here, Tolhurst burst the bubble. “I find that very strange. My experience is that people who feel connected to The Cure find solace in the music. It’s not a negative thing. We wrote the music to exercise a lot of those feelings, emotions in ourselves. And that’s exactly what people are getting from it. I’ve heard from people where they’ve told me that the ‘band saved my life.’ That’s a much more reasonable process; it’s positive. What’s the purpose of art? To express the inexpressible. That’s what we tried to do. All I see at our concerts are love, camaraderie, and acceptance.”
Tolhurst continued, “People always had the misconception that we were back stage in a dark room surrounded by candles crying. But the first time my wife Cindy met Robert she said, ‘Wow, he’s really funny, very witty.” Lol reminded Cindy that they grew up together, and look at me (insinuating that he’s not gloomy) — we’re of similar mindset. But this is not to say that we don’t take what we do seriously — we do. But we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Photo captions: 1) An early picture of The Cure. 2) Lol Tolhurst signing books at Bookworks. 3) Robert Smith. 4) The Cure in the early 1980’s. 5) Disintegration. 6) Lol Tolhurst. 7) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: BrianNixonis a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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