Lol shot by Scott Witter
Laurence ‘Lol’ Tolhurst met Robert Smith at the age of five. Years later, he’d become a founding member (and the original drummer) of The Cure. Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys, his first book, is an incredibly candid and personal memoir that looks back at his childhood friendship with Robert Smith, as well as his time in The Cure until, in 1989, he left during the recording of eighth album, Disintegration, due to his struggle with drugs and alchohol. Below is a world-exclusive first extract from the book—detailing the band’s first ever time in the USA—as well as a conversation with Tolhurst about the art and intention of writing it, the nature of memory, and the enduring power of his friendship with Smith and the rest of the band in the face of trying times and acrimonious lawsuits.
Noisey: We’ll talk about the specific excerpt published here in a bit, but first of all, why did you decide to write this book?
Laurence ‘Lol’ Tolhurst: I’ve read my whole life and I’ve always wanted to write something. I always thought to myself ‘One day, I should write a book.’ About three years ago, a friend of mine called me up from New York and asked if I was still thinking of doing that, and I went ‘Yeah, some time.’ And he said a friend of his who worked for a publishing company was coming to Los Angeles and would I like to meet him? That was Ben Schafer from Da Capo, and I met him and we got on from the first meeting and it all sort of rolled on from there.
What was your biggest challenge sitting down to write this? Was it remembering things or the actual act of writing it and writing it well?
All of that. The thing about it was, the best decision I made was to rent myself a little office. It’s only about a mile from where I live, but I went there every day—well, five days a week—for a year and sat down for four to five hours and just got the laptop out and wrote. At first, it was kind of difficult because you feel rusty about it all, but memories are funny things. At first, I was thinking ‘How the hell do I remember 40 years ago when I can’t remember what happened last week sometimes?’ but it’s like dominoes—you have one memory and you write that down and very soon something else will trigger off from that. And what would happen is I’d wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning and suddenly remember something and think ‘Oh my God, that’s why that happened!’ or ‘That’s what happened next!’ I couldn’t focus at that time in the morning so I’d grab my iPhone and just mumble into it and tell my wife, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going mad, but if I don’t get it down now I won’t remember in the morning.’ And that’s really how I did it. But the good thing about it was is that the more you do it, the better you get at it, and so I just kept going and kept going and kept going and I talked to a lot of people. And in the end, it was the most creative thing I’ve done since I left The Cure. It was an absolutely wonderful experience.
It must have been strange, though, to write about your time in the band years after you left. And cathartic too, presumably.
Absolutely. Some of these things happened such a long time ago that I’ve gone through all of the emotions that you could possibly go through with them and I have a much clearer understanding of what things meant, what they were and what my part in things was and what it did for me. My son is 24, and he’s at school in San Francisco studying writing, and he was like my first editor. I said ‘Do something for the old man and read through this and tell me if I’ve made any big mistakes,’ and he did, and he said to me ‘A lot of these stories I know, because growing up with you I’ve heard a lot of this stuff, but to have it written down helped him put everything into perspective.’ And that was the whole point about it for me, I think. It was cathartic because you go through everything, but also because it gives you the perspective of who you really are.
You address your drinking and your alcoholism, too. Was that difficult to relive and reimagine?Yeah. But one of the things that helped me with the book was that I did a lot of research and I read a lot of memoirs, and one of the ones I read that I really liked was Duff McKagan from Guns N’ Roses, because when I read that I realised he wrote the truth completely. Because you have to be honest when you’re writing, and if you’re not, you’re cheating yourself more than anything else. It doesn’t do any good to spill your guts completely and show everybody all your war wounds, because that doesn’t work either, but you have to be honest. And the part about the drinking… I read Pete Townshend’s book, and I thought, ‘Well, Pete was a heroin addict and he never once cops to it in the book. But why not? Because it’s part of your life. So I had to be completely honest about all the drinking and the partying and how it came to be—but you know what? It’s become my greatest asset. The thing that could have destroyed me completely has become my greatest asset because out of that I have a different view of life than I might have otherwise.
In the author’s note at the start, you talk about the difference between a memoir and an autobiography, which is a really important distinction to make. It felt like rather than remembering it, you were reliving it.
You’re absolutely right. That was the important part—to relive it. I know Cure fans that could write a better biography than me, because they’re so obsessed with the facts and figures that they have them all in their head and they could write it perfectly. But that wasn’t what I wanted to write. I wanted to explain how things started, because nobody knows that. They don’t know how we started and how it was to grow up where we grew up and why that made us do what we did. And so I wanted to explain that to myself first and just move on from there.
In fact, the hardest part of the book to write was the middle part about The Cure’s history when I was there, because that’s the part a lot of people will know and some people have some very fixed viewpoints about how that was. And so I had to be careful and talk to people about it—that was the part that required the most research, if you like. The beginning part, which is really just about me and Robert growing up—and Simon and Paul and Michael and stuff—that was the most enjoyable part, because I recalled the reason why it was that we started doing it in the first place and why it was so important and strong with us, and that made me very happy.
The Cure live in 1981, shot by Andy Linden
It was wonderful to read about your friendship with Robert in those very early days—how you were two misfit peas in a pod wandering the streets of Crawley and sticking out like a sore thumb, and how your friendship, and then your music, got you through that.
It was entirely our defense against the place and the situation we found ourselves in. We were like a kind of cult, where people knew about us but they couldn’t get inside it, and that grew out of the idea that we identified as outsiders. And the music came from that as well. It’s funny, because people always ask ‘Did you know that’s what you were going to do?’ but no-one ever knows what they’re going to do. We could have been furniture movers. We just knew we wanted to do something that wasn’t what we saw around us, and that was really the motivating force. Luckily, we landed on the right side of history and the right side of luck, but also we persevered, and it was all of those factors—which is something I realized doing the book—not just one thing that made The Cure start and become the thing that it became.
The extract takes place when The Cure were in the process of becoming that, at your first ever gig in the USA in 1980. How vivid is your memory of that gig?
Actually, my memory of things like that, like the first time we ever did something, is crystal clear. Because it was the first time we’d done a lot of things. I can remember, with accuracy, the layout of the first hotel we stayed in in New York and what it looked like in the coffee shop in the basement and the lady who sold cigarettes and candy in the coffee shop had a very bad facelift, and I’d never seen a facelift before and I couldn’t understand why she was permanently smiling every time I saw her, even when she was upset about something. And things like that have stuck in my mind with great clarity. Where it got difficult was later on, when we were on tour, because that all blurs into one big mess.
What I found striking is how little things seem to have changed in terms of racial tension and prejudice, as well as that divide between rich and poor, or, as you call it, the “haves and have nots.” Is that why you wanted to highlight this extract, to point that out and make a statement about America today, or is that just coincidence?
Oh yeah. I think it’s very similar. If you go back to the beginning of my book, it was pre-Common Market [the original organization that would later become the EU] when we started off, and I can remember at that time there were things like the three day week in England, and they would turn the electricity off for four days a week because there weren’t people to run the power stations. It wasn’t as wonderful as all the people who wanted to leave the Common Market remember. In fact, it was pretty dire. And it was the same thing in New York.
We arrived in the early part of the 80s in New York and it was pretty gritty. Even out here in LA, there are a lot of places that have been cleaned up immensely compared to when I first came here. And yeah, it has a resonance with now, absolutely, because it seems to be a cyclical thing, always. It’ll be interesting to see what comes from all the stuff that’s going on right now. Most of Western society are forms of empires—there was the British Empire, and before that was the Roman Empire, and since the end of the last world war, it’s really been the American Empire, and now we’re in the last stages of that. That’s why all this crazy stuff with the new Nero rising, with Trump coming up, is happening now. So for me, the thing is that human experience and human reaction to what’s going on doesn’t change that much. Unfortunately, we don’t tend to remember the past, but think that it’s new every time, but it’s the same stupid stuff. Michael was saying it was a good passage to pull from the book because it does have a lot of similarities with what’s going on now, and how we react as humans to that. Yes, it’s a book about the band, and in the end that’s going to be the same story, but ultimately I wanted it to dig further than that, because it’s the story of the time that I grew up in and what happened to the people of that time and where they are now and how life is now and how it affects everybody.
In terms of your own life, there seems to be a really wonderful sense of personal redemption. You seem at peace, hence the title of the book, I presume. But you’ve been through the wringer both living it and then writing it, and now you’re complete again.
That is the absolute truth about it. Because lots of people and fans will come to me and, if they know a little bit of my story, ask ‘Do you have any regrets?’ I went to see the band play in Los Angeles a few weeks ago. I wanted to give Robert a copy of the book and I wanted to see my friends, and sometimes people will ask ‘Aren’t you sad that you’re not playing?’ But it’s not about that. It’s about what we did and what is still going on and what is still happening, and I feel very much a part of that. I’ve come to terms with all the crazy stuff. Because you have to realize most of this stuff in the book happened before I was 30. And it freaks me out to think about that, to think that my son is 24 and by the time I was 24, a whole bunch of shit had happened to me. But I don’t regret any of it. You can’t regret any of it. It is what it is, and whatever was going to happen was going to happen.
The book helped me realign and confirm to myself the reasons why a lot of things happened, and what I can take from it as personal growth. It’s really about that, because the 30-year-old me wouldn’t have looked at things in the way that the 57-year-old me looks at them. For instance, if I hadn’t left the band and hadn’t done the big court case and lost millions of dollars, then I’d perhaps have a nicer house to live in or whatever, but I might not have my son because I wouldn’t have been sane enough to be a father. And those are things that are totally intangible when you’re younger. And it’s funny, because I saw a thing Robert said recently, which was something like ‘I’m having a great time—despite myself.’
And that’s the thing about having all these experiences. I could look at the cup as half-empty and say ‘Woe is me, I should be doing this, this or this’ but that’s not me at all. I feel completely reinvigorated by writing the book and it’s opened up a whole other vista. And to a certain extent, that was one of the reasons why we started as The Cure, because we refused to be browbeaten into whatever was going to be our particular position in English society. We refused to be left there and told that you can’t rise above your station. Some of it was fueled by the punk thing, obviously, because that gave us a voice, but—and this is going to sound strange—I think we were also quite optimistic people, really. So ultimately, I feel optimistic. Things have knocked me down a few times in my life, but that’s not the point. The point is what you do with that experience, because we’re only here for a certain amount of time whatever happens and I’m determined not to make the best of this in terms of material gain or whatever, but I’m determined to be as successful as a spiritual being or whatever, to be able to be whole, and writing this book has definitely helped me be whole.
Book cover designed by Pearl Thompson (formerly Porl), who played guitar for The Cure and created the majority of the band’s album art.
An exclusive first extract from Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys
New York in the early 1980s, the New York of Mayor Ed Koch, was not beautiful. Run-down, covered in graffiti, and plagued by violence and crime, it was a gritty place, to say the least. We had arrived a few months before John Lennon was gunned down outside the Dakota by Mark Chapman. The era of Peace and Love was definitely over and, as in the UK, the punk scene had emerged from the maelstrom. You can see the tension in Allan Tannenbaum’s beautiful photo of The Cure standing on Columbus Avenue, being eyed uncomprehendingly by some of New York’s finest out on their beat.
The first gig we ever played in the United States was not in Manhattan but at Emerald City in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on the edge of Philadelphia, on April 10, 1980. To us it could have been Mars. It was that different from our own experience. A former disco club, its patrons spent most of the gig with their plaid-shirted backs to us while nursing their drinks. Robert bravely tried to rally the troops.
“We’re The Cure and this is our first time playing in America!”
Although it could have been a disaster, we won them over eventually. Polite applause turned into whoops and hollers by the end of the set. It was a very small, almost minuscule beginning to what was to become The Cure’s huge success in America.
In Washington, DC, we experienced the sharper side of American life. We were shocked when we pulled into town and realized it was divided into the haves and have-nots, ghettoized in a way we had not experienced before. It was an eye-opening experience. In London it appeared to us that all the races mixed together, but here it felt distinctly different to us in a way that was immediately apparent.
Excerpted from Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys by Lol Tolhurst. Copyright © 2016. Available in October 2016 from Da Capo Press, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc