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Posted on 14 Feb 2024 in Non-Fiction |

LOL TOLHURST Goth: A history. Reviewed by Michael Jongen

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Lol Tolhurst reflects on Goth as a post-punk cultural movement, its resonance with the Romantic era, and its enduring appeal.

Lol Tolhurst’s first memoir, Cured: The tale of two imaginary boys, was his account of The Cure’s early days. Tolhurst was one of the band’s founders, however he was sacked in 1989 due to his alcoholism. The memoir was well received, the Irish Times critic labelling it ‘One of the best accounts of alcoholism you will ever come across.’ The book features an abrupt change of pace after Tolhurst is sacked and moves to California, where, as the Irish Times notes, he ‘seems to spend a lot of time staring at desert sunsets trying to make sense of it all’.

Goth: A history is Tolhurst’s look at Goth music and Romanticism and the politics and culture of post-punk England. The brief author’s note suggests Tolhurst is interested in examining whether Goth was just part of the nihilism of punk, or whether it is part of a continuum inserting itself from the past and ‘ever onwards to outsider infinity’.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Goth was a multifaceted and diverse subculture that emerged from the post-punk music scene. Its elements included music, fashion, art and literature. It was characterised by themes of darkness, individualism and the macabre. These themes resonated with the Romantic movement that had emerged in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Melancholy and introspection were key features of both.

In the first section of the book, ‘Origins’, Tolhurst looks at the literary and artistic forerunners of the Goth movement. From The Castle of Otranto (1764), which is credited with being the first gothic novel, through to TS Elliot, Camus, Sartre and Sylvia Plath, he explores the influence of the gothic on the burgeoning 1970s music scene and the influence these writers had on him and others as England moved on from punk. Influential musicians such as Suicide, Scott Walker, Nico, Alice Cooper, Marc Bolan and David Bowie helped shape the aesthetic and attitude of the genre. Their work had elements of the ethos of darkness, rebellion and artistic expression of the Goth scene. It is fascinating to read Tolhurst’s views on these bands and how they influenced his own musical journey, and to see how deftly he places them within musical culture and history.

As a teen, I felt as though I was looking for meaning in a meaningless world. Being brought up Catholic, I chafed against religious reasoning – the promise of heaven, the threat of hell – but needed something that had at least a sense of morality. Ultimately I found it not in the Bible but in Camus’s belief as laid out in The Myth of Sisyphus that the absurd results from the ‘confrontation between human need and the unreasonable silence of the world’.

Part Two, ‘Eternals’, looks at The Cure and their contemporaries. Bands such as Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Damned and Bauhaus. I really enjoyed the stories of the early days on the road, the interaction, connections and movements between the bands, exemplified by Robert Smith, who played guitar in both The Cure and the Banshees for a while.

We were amazed at Sioux’s command of the misogynistic Neanderthals taunting her and at the same time completely in awe of her, and it must be said a little scared of her too. She was something they hadn’t seen before: a woman in complete command of her environment and they were a little perplexed to say the least. Of course it was more primal than that. The skinheads crowded the front of the stage and tried to provoke the singer by grabbing her and staring up her skirt. She responded by stomping on their fingers and whipping the mic cord in their faces.

I really enjoyed the third section, which takes a look at the many bands that came after The Cure and their contemporaries (If one can say that about a band that continues to tour – they appeared at Primavera Sound Sao Paulo in December last year).

In the final chapter, Tolhurst looks at older Goths and fashion, and why Goth matters. Is it just a movement of the 1970s and 80s that has managed to linger into the twenty-first century? Tolhurst argues that it is much more than that, and as a subculture it has inveigled its way into the fabric of society.

The dark and exciting lines of Goth accoutrement abound. Check out Suzie Cave’s The Vampire’s Wife or Adolfo Sanchez’s beautiful haute couture Goth wedding dresses. It’s mainstream but underground. It’s everywhere and nowhere, baby. In every small city across America there are hundreds of Goths. I know they are there for I’ve seen them on my journeys around the world.

I found this a fascinating and engrossing look at an era of music and fashion that I lived through and thoroughly embraced. I like the way Tolhurst has sought to make meaning of his life within a broader context. This is more than a biography or a history of a movement. As Tolhurst himself says, it is a memoir of a subculture.

Lol Tolhurst Goth: A history Headline 2023 PB 256pp $34.99

Michael Jongen is a librarian and you can find him as @larrydlibrarian on Instagram and Threads.

You can buy Goth: A history from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW.

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