Like buses, after quite a long gap, three books on Goth have all come along at once this year. First out of the gate was John Robb’s impressively detailed and hefty tome ‘The Art of Darkness’, which came out at the start of the year. Next came Cathi Unsworth’s masterfully written and critically acclaimed ‘Season of The Witch’; a skilful dissection of exactly what it really meant to be a Goth and why, by one who was a Goth herself. Now we have founder member of The Cure, Lol Tolhurst’s book ‘Goth: A History’, which - at 230 pages - is the shortest of the three. Coming along last was always going to be difficult, of course. By definition, we will have already read more than we will ever need about all the usual suspects. Joy Division, The Damned, Killing Joke, Bauhaus, Siouxsie, The Sisters of Mercy/The Mission and so on, have all already been covered, along with a slew of the main influencers and icons; Velvet Underground/Nico, Suicide, The Doors etc. Literary, religious, and historical references also appear in all three books, along with treatises on the relevance of Goth today and its ongoing influence on popular culture.
So far, so familiar then. This begs the question: what is different about this book on Goth that sets it apart from the others? The answer is obvious. It’s Lol himself. As a member and co-founder of one of the defining and most enduring acts of the genre, famous the world over, he has a unique inside track on the scene that neither of his rivals can boast. That simple fact runs through the book, which in many ways serves as a sequel to his previous book ‘Cured: A Tale of Two Imaginary Boys’, and is full of anecdotes and asides gathered during The Cure’s career. This results in a rather fragmented style of writing as it skips around a bit, dropping in an anecdote here, a reference there. It follows a logical enough structure though; with a bit of personal background by way of introduction, followed by a short section on his personal literary influences, brief descriptions of both influencer bands and the main protagonists, from early Goth (Siouxsie, Damned) through to the present day (Nine Inch Nails, Cold Cave), even taking in Deathrock (Christian Death, 45 Grave) for good measure on the way. All are accompanied by personal stories and recollections, including the moment when Robert Smith stepped in to cover live guitar for The Banshees when their drummer and guitarist left mid-tour. Iconic Goth club The Batcave is also featured, again largely by anecdote. Goth fashions get a look-in too and there is, thankfully, a decent smattering of photos scattered throughout the pages to illustrate some of the points made - something sorely missing from the other two books.
Everything is filtered through the lens of Lol’s personal experiences though, right down to a lengthy aside describing his time in The Priory recovering from addiction and bumping into fellow patient, Andy Fletcher of Depeche Mode. This means Depeche Mode are referenced in the book for no other reason than to allow the inclusion of this story. There are also descriptions included of the inspiration behind certain songs on the Faith and Seventeen Seconds albums. Again, not that relevant to the history of Goth particularly, but these are all just a part of Lol’s story, and that’s a big part of the charm of this book.
What we end up with, then, is a personal, Cure-centric take on events rather than an especially detailed or forensic history of Goth, despite the book’s title (though to be fair, it does say ‘a’ history). To his credit, though, Lol acknowledges that fact unapologetically in the afterword to the book. It’s subjective. It’s personal. Get over it! To summarise; if you want a well-crafted book that really gets under the skin of Goth, buy Cathi Unsworth’s book. If you want detailed chapter and verse on the musical history, buy John Robb’s. However, if you are a Cure fan or want an insider view of Goth from backstage in that band, then definitely buy this one. It may not teach you anything you didn’t already know about the genre, but it’s an easy and very entertaining read by a genuinely nice bloke and that can’t be half bad.
Main image: Lol Toluhurst by Louis Rodiger
Goth: A History is published by Quercus books on 21st September, order your copy here⇒