books reviews

Lol Tolhurst

Reading this book, my first impression was, gritty. This is not to mislead you into thinking this is another story of a musician dragging themselves up from grinding poverty, discovering the gift they had for music (and how they could best use it to their personal and financial advantage).

Rather, this is a book that gives off the impression that Crawley and, by extension, the whole of the English society which Tolhurst and his childhood friend Robert Smith grew up in, was repressed. Tolhurst speaks often and movingly of how remote he was from his father when growing up, never shying away from the fact that both he and his father were both responsible for this.

You get, slowly but surely, a sense the mid 70s as a poor, frustrating time, in which both music and alcohol were viewed as attractive means of escaping a slow death through dead-end jobs and unwanted marriage. Just see Tolhurst’s description of Smith senior’s lethal home brew.

This is very visual writing. You are right there in the moment with Tolhurst, when he first meets Robert Smith. You’re staggering and swaying along with them when they first get pissed on that home brew. You’re dodging the bottles and the other missiles alongside them at their first gigs in European and UK toilet circuit venues.

If you are a true Cure fan, dig out your original vinyl copies of Three Imaginary Boys and Disintegration. They will make the perfect soundtrack to Tolhurst’s text, blasting out in the background whilst his tales of friendship, betrayal, highs and lows, personal triumphs and tragedies unfold before your eyes.

These albums will also help you understand and absorb the text, as each album is talked about. There is also the obligatory display of photographic plates. They complement Tolhurst’s writing by ably pinpointing specific times and places, which were (and are) important to Tolhurst personally.

You also get rare nuggets about why certain songs and certain albums look and sound the way they do, what outside factors shaped them, how Tolhurst and the band felt about them then and about them now. The sad lament of Robert Smith’s guitar and icy wail of Tolhurst’s keyboards are never far from your ears as the story unfolds, the tension rises, and the climax comes. You can hear the twang and the excitement as they first serve up Killing An Arab and A Forest, to audiences who just plainly are not sure what the hell to make of them.

For a book with a title and a cover as stark as this one has, there are some truly surprising moments of joy and laughter. While things get darker towards the end, with Tolhurst’s descent into (and eventual recovery from) alcoholism, there are some highly amusing interludes as his bladder gets him into trouble and cuts concerts short, or else, the reasons American customs officers have for letting them into the country (or not, as the case may be!).

Lastly, what is best about this book is that you get a fully rounded flesh-and-bones picture of Lol Tolhurst as a man and an artist, both then and now. He bears no ill will towards Robert Smith, of whom you also get a fully rounded picture, as both artist and human being, that hasn’t happened before. It leaves you to wonder what Smith’s own memoirs might look like?