Headed to town for a series of events Wednesday and Thursday in promotion of his new memoirs Cured, I spoke with drummer, keyboard player and co-founding member of The Cure, Lol Tolhurst about growing up alongside Robert Smith, revisiting his thirteen years in that band and whether or not we're likely to see the ideas that sparked the inception of punk influence popular culture similarly again...
The Cure is a band that has often been surrounded by stereotypes and misconception since forming in 1976.
Though not necessarily it's primary goal, the new book Cured, by co-founding Cure member Lol Tolhurst, goes a long way in setting things straight.
A memoir that details Tolhurst's youngest days alongside Cure frontman, and friend, Robert Smith also details his thirteen years with the band, beginning with their suburban formation in what Tolhurst paints bleakly as post World War II Crawley, West Sussex in England.
The journey sees The Cure come of age alongside the mid-70s inception of the punk movement in nearby London and follows the band's journey to success in the music industry - one which would end for Tolhurst upon the release of the band's eighth studio album Disintegration. It remains The Cure's best selling record, one which ultimately propelled the group to not just their biggest American success but, ultimately, worldwide acclaim upon its 1989 release.
His alcoholism spiraling out of control, Tolhurst was fired by the band just prior to Disintegration's debut, for which he was credited only as a performer on "other instrument." He wouldn't return until 2011 for a series of Cure shows dubbed "Reflections" which saw the band perform its first three albums in their entirety.
But following nearly twenty years of sobriety, Cured is also a story of redemption for Tolhurst that describes the relationship between early Cure members more as family members than it does a band, despite their often evolving recent lineups.
There have been many accolades for The Cure - they've achieved a lot. But Tolhurst's understanding and embrace of the difference between a memoir and an autobiography is what has allowed him to learn from his journey, just as readers will, and it's the fundamental idea upon which Cured's success is based.
As he preps for events on Wednesday and Thursday at Soho House, SAE Chicago and Virgin Hotel (which will feature spoken word readings from Cured, audience Q&A and book signings), I chatted with Lol Tolhurst about the misconceptions that frequently surround The Cure, the importance of honesty in both accurately recounting past Cure events and creating for readers a portrait of Robert Smith and whether we're likely to see the ideas that came to define punk rock bubble back to the surface in America again. A lightly edited transcript of that phone conversation follows below...
Q. You’ve been out on the road promoting Cured in a much different way than you typically hit the road to promote a new product – and that’s via spoken word performances and book signings. How has that experience gone so far?
Lol Tolhurst: It’s been great.
And it’s funny because it’s actually not that much different, really, then a musical tour. People have told me that most authors, perhaps, do about five or ten events to promote their book and we’re doing fifty or sixty.
So it’s kind of like an old rock tour.
Q. You’re also utilizing new tools like PledgeMusic to promote the book. In your pre-internet Cure years, those tools were nonexistent. What was it like for you being able to utilize stuff like that to take your work directly to your fans?
LT: Being honest, without something like PledgeMusic – which enables me to get things directly to fans – it probably wouldn’t be possible to do a tour like this. Most book tours you’re really just doing it on your own. So without any support from a publisher, or an outside thing, you can’t really do all of this.
But with PledgeMusic and stuff, we’ve been able to finance it ourselves really. Which has been great.
Q. I’m curious about a timeline here… You did the "Reflections" shows with The Cure in 2011. I know you kicked around the book idea for a while but when did you actually first sit down and start writing it?
LT: In 2013, I really thought about it. Because I had a sort of epiphany after I went to see The Cure in Honolulu – because I was on vacation there. Then I think 2014 I kind of got everybody together: an agent, a publisher and everybody. And then 2015, I spent the whole year writing.
And I did it in a very structured way. I rented myself an office, a working space, and I went there five days a week for four or five hours a day and hashed out 1,000 – 2,000 words a day if I was lucky.
And at the end of 2015, I had the book.
People have told me that most authors, perhaps, do about five or ten events to promote their book and we’re doing fifty or sixty. So it’s kind of like an old rock tour
Q. Your friend and former bandmate Porl Thompson created the cover art for your book just as he did so much of the band’s album art work. What was it like working with him again in such a creative capacity?
LT: It was great. At the end of the book there’s a part with Porl in it and everything kind of comes full circle. It’s been really good.
He lives out here now as well, in California. I’ve lived here for twenty-two years. He’s out here now. It’s great. It’s like the old gang is back together.
Q. As much as Cured recounts your experiences, it also, in doing so, paints a picture of Robert Smith. He’s a pretty central character throughout a lot of this story. Cure fans obviously have very strong feelings toward him and expectations or assumptions about him. How difficult was it for you in the writing of the book to reconcile that while remaining true to your personal experiences?
LT: To be perfectly honest, the consideration had to be only my relationship and my personal feelings because otherwise…
I did a lot of research. I read a lot of memoirs. The ones that I really enjoyed – the ones that really spoke to me – were the ones that were truthful. So there’s both points – try to access other people’s expectations of what they think my relationship is with Robert or my relationship is with anybody really.
Without putting too fine of points on it, I couldn’t really take that into consideration much at all. It just had to be what I feel – how I feel about it. Because otherwise the book wouldn’t be true, you know?
Q. You write in the book about the influence of the punk movement on The Cure in its early days. To me, more than a particular sound, punk, upon its inception, was a mindset – often one that was socially conscious, provoked the status quo and begat change. You live in America now and grew up around the then burgeoning UK punk scene that really embodied a lot of that. No matter how you lean politically, it seems like we're at a bit of a crossroads today in the United States. Do you see anything resembling the ideas that sparked “punk” in post World War II Britain, in the mid to late 70s, bubbling up anywhere in American pop culture today?
LT: Well, I think you hit the nail on the head there: culturally, I think it’s going to be very, very like that now.
Despite all the misgivings I have about our new President and everything, I think what might happen in a good, positive sense is that some good art, good music, stuff like that, will come from the friction. Because that’s what came from the 70s and all the destruction in England in the late 70s. That’s what came from it: punk came from it.
You’re absolutely right: it’s more of a societal movement than anything else. I’m hoping that something good will come out of the chaos that we have right now here.
Q. Whether it's film or literature or music, where do you think we'll see that start to manifest itself?
LT: My son is 24, going to be 25. I listen to what him and his friends talk about and how they view the world as millennials. And I think they’re coming to some of the same conclusions as we came to in the late 70s – that if anything is going to change for the better, they’re going to have to do it themselves. Because there’s no way that the status quo is going to support their aims or ambitions.
They feel a little adrift and caught adrift. So I think it won’t be long before we hear it from them in that way. Which is going to be good.
Q. When you look back on that initial wave of punk bands that influenced you, whether it’s New York, L.A. or London, is there a particular group or artist that you feel best embodies that mentality or those ideals?
LT: When we were starting, The Cure, to us, it seemed like a pipe dream – impossible that we would become successful in our own right. Right until The Clash came along. Joe Strummer basically gave us the permission. He didn’t come down and say, “You have the permission to make your band.” But the idea is that, for us, punk was the invitation to come and do something.
That spoke to me, especially, very clearly.
I think they’re coming to some of the same conclusions as we came to in the late 70s – that if anything is going to change for the better, they’re going to have to do it themselves. Because there’s no way that the status quo is going to support their aims or ambitions
Q. In a statement released to promote your book you said, “I have tried my best to capture whatever that light shone on. I hope it illuminates events for you as much as it has for me.” Looking back on the process of reliving your Cure experience throughout the process of writing Cured, and talking about the book on tour over the last few months, what would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned?
LT: I think when I started writing it, I hoped more than anything to try and explain my own life to myself.
I was very aware that you get to a point in your existence where we’re all just hurtling forward to the next problem, the next situation, the next solution or whatever we need to do and we don’t spend time to sit there and go, “Ok, well what’s happened? How have I been in the world? How has something happened in the world between me and everybody else?”
And what I learned from doing the book was… it’s just been a really good exercise in understanding who I am and what I am and where I’m going.
That sounds a little pretentious… But it’s also something that’s had a very good, calming influence on my life, I think, in lots of ways. And I feel it’s the most creative thing I’ve done since I’ve left The Cure.
So it’s been something that’s drawn everything and everybody and all the threads of my life together by doing it.
Q. In addition to your experiences coming of age as a member of The Cure and the story of your friendship with Robert, Cured is also a story of redemption. You’ve been sober now for over twenty years so how important was that theme of redemption, specifically in regards to your standing with The Cure, for you personally? Was there kind of an element of unfinished business or the needing of some closure there even after your brief return to the band in 2011?
LT: Well, it’s never going to be closed – I’ll be honest with you. The whole thing with The Cure is The Cure’s not a band, it’s really like my family. I hope that I made that obvious in the book that that’s the kind of relationship we have. It’s always been.
The main people in the band – myself, Robert [Smith], Michael Dempsey, Simon Gallup, Porl Thompson – these are all people that I grew up with. These are my friends from my teenage years. These are people that I know intimately. And I’ve known them for a very long time.
So, to answer the question of unfinished business, it’s more like you get to see my family and their family, really, in release and what happens to every family. Because something always goes on in a family and sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s not so great.
And I really just wanted, more than anything else, to show people that that’s what the situation is here and that’s how it has played out in my life. Out of that, hopefully, it can help somebody else who’s stuck in a similar situation.
- Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )
(Details on Wednesday and Thursday's Lol Tolhurst Cured events below)
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
113 N. Green St.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
820 N. Orleans #125
Spoken word performance, audience Q&A, book signing
Free (Register online via Eventbrite HERE)
Thursday, December 1, 2016
The Commons Club
203 N. Wabash
Spoken word performance, audience Q&A, book signing