Next month, Da Capo Press will release Cured: The Tale Of Two Imaginary Boys, a new memoir by Laurence “Lol” Tolhurst, co-founder and former drummer of the Cure. As Da Capo describes it, the book “traces the Cure’s journey to global success, weaving it into a story that recalls the highs and lows of the lifelong friendship between Lol and Cure lead vocalist Robert Smith, who met at age five on their first day of school together in Crawley, England, 1964.” Its cover art was designed by longtime on-and-off Cure member Pearl (formerly Porl) Thompson, who also created many of the band’s album covers. Says Tolhurst of the book: “This is a record of the things that have kept me awake at 4 a.m., the precious flowers of the past blooming in the dark corners of memory. 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.”
Today we’ve got an excerpt from Cured for you to read. It appears in the book in Chapter 8: “The Holy Trinity.” Here Tolhurst shares his memories of how the now-classic single “Killing An Arab” was misperceived upon its initial release, which led to a particularly uncomfortable live performance of another now-classic single “Boys Don’t Cry.” Check it out.
Every band has its share of ups and downs, moments in time when it feels as if either the stars are aligned in your favor or you’ve been cursed forever by fate. Good or bad, it always comes down to a handful of events that make or break a band. For the Cure that time was the winter of 1979.
To support the release of our single “Killing An Arab” backed with “10:15 Saturday Night,” [Fiction Records label head Chris] Parry had booked us for a solid month of gigs, including dates at the Nashville Room, the Hope And Anchor, and the Marquee. This was the holy trinity of London’s constellation of clubs, of which the Marquee was its brightest star.
The Nashville Room was a grim little place that reeked of stale beer and cigarettes. Despite its respectable neo-Gothic red brick Victorian façade, the Nashville Room was punk-rock central. At any time during the day you could find lads with spiked-up hair decked out in drab-looking raincoats drinking at the long, chipped-up mahogany bar, tracing anarchy symbols with their boots on the sawdust-covered floor.
It’s a good thing it was just three of us, because the stage was unbelievably small. At the back of the stage, a small door led to a dressing room that looked like a holding cell in a police station. A single bare bulb illuminated a small stained sink and not much else. This is where we hid until it was time for us to go on. Lined up along the bar was a crowd of surly-looking skinheads, stamping their feet and pawing the floor with their boots. They looked more like a herd of bulls than boys.
This was exactly what we were afraid of.
“Killing An Arab” was inspired by the novel The Stranger (L’Étranger), written by the French existentialist writer Albert Camus. In the novel, the protagonist, for reasons he doesn’t understand and cannot explain, shoots an Arab on the beach. Although the song is a treatise on existential angst and has nothing to do with racism, or indeed killing, it can attract the wrong type of “seeker.”
That’s what happened at our gig at the Nashville Room. A bunch of National Front skinheads had turned up, hell-bent on making trouble. Underneath their tough veneer they were disaffected young punks like us, but instead of making a go of it they blamed others for their troubles: namely, foreigners. They were anti-anything that wasn’t a hundred percent white Protestant British. With a song like “Killing An Arab” these blokes were probably expecting to see a kind of Nazi skinhead band. They were as disappointed to see us as we were to see them. These were exactly the kind of small-minded yobs we’d fled Crawley to get away from.
We piled onto the stage and eyed one another suspiciously. Our punk outfits had evolved somewhat since the early days. Robert still wore a full-length gray raincoat and big blue brothel creepers, and his hair was cut in a kind of floppy Tom Verlaine fringe. I’d traded my wannabe Afro for a sort of scruffy shag, and I wore a white shirt with black drainpipes and a skinny tie. Michael wore a striped T-shirt and jeans with Converse trainers. The overall effect was somewhere between old rock and new wave, and decidedly un-punk. We were changing both the look and the music at the same time.
This didn’t sit well with the skins, and their fears were realized when we started up our set with “Boys Don’t Cry.”
We braced ourselves for the worst as the expressions on the skinheads’ faces turned from confusion to anger to hate. Here comes the ultra-violence, I thought. This was nothing new, after all. Looking like we did, we never backed down from a fight, and Robert took the brunt of it. We were always coming to his rescue. I don’t mean to suggest that he wasn’t capable of defending himself, because he was. There was a part of Robert that was almost dreamlike in the way he seemed to have his head in the clouds. But Robert wasn’t from cloudland: he was from Crawley, and if you messed with him he wasn’t going to back down. If you messed with me or Michael he always, always had our backs.
As the skinheads prepared their assault on the stage they were held back by a bare-chested skinhead with an enormous tattoo of a gleaming eagle on his sweat-covered chest. He moved toward the stage, clapping his calloused hands together and smiling from ear to ear. Bloody hell! He liked us!
His companions were a little dumbfounded by this development. Did their leader, the biggest and most intimidating member of their tribe, really like this poofy-looking band from bloody Crawley?
He did, and his enthusiasm proved to be infectious. Soon all the skinheads were dancing to “Boys Don’t Cry.” Robert looked around at me and grinned broadly. Breathing a sigh of relief, I let the elation I felt at this moment take me higher. We’d won the first battle and no bones had been broken, but the war was far from over.
The above text was excerpted from Cured: The Tale Of Two Imaginary Boys by Lol Tolhurst. Copyright © 2016. Available from Da Capo Press, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc. Pre-order it here.