Following on the success of his 2017 memoir, Cured, Lol Tolhurst returns with what he calls a “memoir of a subculture.” Goth: A History is Tolhurst’s compendious exploration of the music, art, literature and fashion that made up the dark side of post-punk. The Cure—which he co-founded as drummer with Robert Smith and Michael Dempsey—is often seen as one of the instigators of the movement, alongside bands like Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Joy Division. Richly illustrated with flyers and photos from Tolhurst’s private collection, Goth is a coffee table book for the discriminating vampire.
Goth was always more than black eyeliner and black clothes; in Tolhurst’s reading, it reflects the bleak social and political context of Margaret Thatcher’s England. As a philosophy, it suggests a melancholic point of view and a willingness to contemplate obsessive love, madness and death. In Goth, Tolhurst catalogs the poets and artists whose work appeals to those who also love goth music. Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar was a massive influence on Tolhurst, as were the poets T.S. Eliot and Anne Sexton. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is obviously goth, as are the death- and madness-drenched poems of Charles Baudelaire. David Bowie, Alice Cooper and Marc Bolan of T. Rex each have goth elements and were also early influences on Tolhurst.
Inevitably, a good part of this book focuses on Tolhurst’s time with The Cure as the drummer and later keyboardist. (He left the band in 1989). He dwells on The Cure’s three early albums, culminating in the magisterial fourth, “Pornography,” as exemplary goth music. But he is also generous in his assessment of other bands, tracing the continuation of goth music from the post-punk era in England to the Los Angeles goth scene and beyond. Structured as mini essays, Goth can feel disjointed, and Tolhurst at times is repetitive. But fans will find themselves immersed. It’s a beautiful book, full of concert photos, portraits and band flyers. Tolhurst is a passionate storyteller and an elder goth statesman worth listening to.