on 14 November 2002
A superb, insightful and chillingly honest portrayal of Ian Curtis and his life with Joy Division. Its all too easy to reflect on dead musicians as icons especially when they made such heart-stopping music as Joy Division. Truly no-one ever wrote lyrics like Curtis and the depth and soul of his delivery will ensure that his legend will live on.
However, what this book tells us is the other side: the young northern man prone to jealousy, emotional manipulation and adultery. Walking a fine line between genius and homewrecker, confusion and cruelty, Curtis comes across more human than ever as is unable to deal with his domesticity and the dark soul of Joy Division.
As his illness increases, so does the band's success and his split (on the one hand a poetic, intense man with depth and vision and on the other a brutal, immature boy with attention-seeking qualities) becomes more and more polar until his inevitable inability to hold the two disparate sides of his life together.
A wonderful book, well-written and very close to the bone. Deborah Curtis has succeeded in showing the lesser-known side of Ian Curtis without resorting to the type of bitching so frequent of biographys. Complete with lyrics (of their entire catalogue and unreleased stuff) and discography etc. this is an essential book for any music fan.
on 14 September 2009
Next year will see the 30th anniversary of the death of Joy Division's lead singer, Ian Curtis (1956-1980). Such were the forces of heroisation after his suicide in May 1980 that NME took to exclaiming "Ian Curtis died for you!". In this book by his widow, Deborah Curtis - who had initiated divorce proceedings prior to his death - doesn't go quite as far as that, but she does claim that his suicide at 23 was motivated by a desire for lasting cultural relevance: "All he needed was the excuse to follow his idols into immortality and being part of Joy Division gave him the tools to build the heart-rending reasons."
Thankfully that kind of mythologisation - which obscures his achievement, reducing it to a symptom of his illnesses, and suppresses other factors that played a role in his early demise - is tempered by a generally down-to-earth narrative of their married life. After they met as teenagers, Deborah became besotted and devotional, willing to give up everything to cater to Curtis's every whim: "Without me realising it, he began to take control of my life very early on in our relationship." When she heard Ian's lyrics and occasionally saw him perform on stage, she - along with his bandmates and management - downplayed the darkness and fatalism that emanated from him: "I felt self-satisfied and happy in my ignorance. I believed the depressive image and emotive lyrics merely to be part of the act." With the benefit of hindsight, his bandmates have since admitted that they were young and immature and didn't recognise the signs of Curtis's distress and the toll that mounting responsibilities - a wife, a baby daughter, the sudden rise to fame and notoriety, a UK and European tour, the stress of interviews - were taking. His epilepsy and fear of fits only increased the strain with Deborah apparently viewing it as an "abnormality" and doctors prescribing excessive medication and poorly monitoring his treatment.
Deborah seems almost blithe about the ascent of the black dog in Curtis's life - "Perhaps I wasn't giving Ian the attention he required at home. Who knows?" - and indeed much of her commentary on him tends towards the superficial. But it is precisely that which gives us insight into Curtis's environment: Surrounded by diverse sources of pressure without anyone truly understanding the precariousness of his mental state and not being able to communicate it more clearly to those around him, Curtis's decision to kill himself seems more of an extremely desperate attempt to escape a situation that had become intolerable and is likely to have been more spontaneous than the romantic mythology of the doomed artist allows.
In his obituary in Melody Maker Jon Savage lamented that "Now no one will remember what his work with Joy Division was like when he was alive; it will be perceived as tragic rather than courageous." Fans of Curtis will no doubt hope that through the semi-fog of biopics, biographies and memoirs, his achievement can be remembered and celebrated.
on 10 September 2010
I thought this was a surprisingly well-written and emotionally honest memoir which gives the reader a clear sense of the kind of guy Ian Curtis was. But it's strictly a personal account and doesn't give the reader much information about how the music was made.
Ian Curtis comes across as an increasingly divided personality - selfish, manipulative and controlling on the one hand; but generous, fundamentally kind-hearted and dedicated on the other. It's frankly a little draining to read about some of the petty ways in which he ill-treated and neglected his wife, and the way in which she gradually found herself pushed aside as Joy Division became more successful is a dispiriting reflection of the way the music business worked.
At the same time, there's plenty of evidence in the book of his better side (kind to animals, dedicated in his job, and a man prepared to give away a freshly-purchased pie to a hungry tramp...). There are also a few clues as to why he killed himself - an unhealthy fixation on heroes who died young; a romantic self-image as one not destined to live beyond his twenties; worsening epilepsy; medication for the epilepsy that - according to bandmate Bernard Sumner - made him more depressed than the condition itself; caught between two very different women (his wife and Belgian would-be journalist Annik Honore) and unable to deal with the situation. It all adds up - but it's such a shame.
There is a sense in the way the book is written that the passing of time between Ian Curtis's death and the writing of the book gave Deborah Curtis a little bit of distance and perspective. It's obvious that this isn't and can't be an 'objective' account of Ian Curtis's life, but it does contain a great deal of insight about things that were probably not clear at all when he was alive.
The one thing the book - I think rightly - takes from granted throughout is that Ian Curtis was a uniquely talented guy - a brilliant lyricist and a compelling, powerful performer. To this day, Joy Division stand apart. After listening to Closer or Unknown Pleasures, pretty much everything else sounds like piffle.
However, a detailed account of this aspect of Ian Curtis's life is what's missing here. Deborah Curtis isn't in any doubt about his talent but the book doesn't contain any detailed account of how the music was made, how the songs were written, how the band worked together. This isn't surprising - she makes it clear that she wasn't privy to all of that & was instead pushed away. But if you're looking for a music-based approach to Ian Curtis, look elsewhere.
on 18 October 2005
Ian Curtis, a mesmeric frontman and renowned lyricist is every bit deserved of his mythical-iconic status. So, do you want to hear 'the story' recounted from the perspective of the cheated wife? Well, I did. And admittedly, it WAS an interesting read, revealing a man not without fault, but ultimately a dedicated, hard-working person who painstakingly forged a promising musical career. Sadly, however, it was his escalating personal problems that ironically became his groups' 'selling point'.
Before the suicide that boosted record sales and confirmed Curtis' status among legends, the music press were already drawing attention to his burgeoning problem with epilepsy. Spurred on by his frantic, spasmodic dancing, live audiences must have seemed like eager spectators in a freak-show, baying for the crescendo of an on-stage fit. While this focal point may have generated the hype the band needed in a highly competitive industry, to Ian - whose depression was compounding his illness - the press reviews struck some disturbing paralells close to the bone ("In his opinion they were like psychiatric reports, even using the appropriate terminology and references"). Deborah reveals a man deeply embarrassed of his illness, yet obviously aware of its play in his desperate bid for success. She portrays a man of contradictions, a Jekyll-and-Hyde figure: one-of-the-lads to his bandmates and friends, while concealing a darker personality that sought refuge in thoughful literature (Hesse, Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Ballard), held an interest in Nazism, and was fascinated by "extreme concepts and philosophies". Not to mention a death wish.
The book briefly dips into Ian's trouble-free childhood and drug-experimenting adolescence, but concentrates mainly on the period of their relationship/marraige that coincided with the origins and eventual rise of Joy Division - and hit the rocks when Ian began his affair with the Belgian woman Annik Honore. Deborah interestingly sheds light on Ian's strongly held (and very serious) romantic notions of rock'n'roll death and suicide, and expresses her shocking opinion that "he engineered his own hell and planned his own downfall". He is described as an habitual depressive whose problem took a marked dive for the worse as his epileptic condition became debilitating, exacerbated by the barbiturates he was issued. Little was known about effective ways to treat epilepsy. Doctors showed Ian little sympathy or care. Remember, this was back in the 'pull-yourself-together' age of 1970s Britain which, particularly in this book, seems like the Dark Ages. Mental illness and 'mysterious' conditions such as eplepsy were airbrushed from public consciousness, and dubiously treated.
Nowadays, in hindsight, Curtis' lyrics may read as obvious cries-for-help or predictions of tragedy - even suicide notes. But at the time, nobody close to Ian was paying enough attention to acknowledge the danger in their increasingly extreme content. Deborah was shocked upon hearing the darkly-confessional lyrics of the 'Closer' LP (released just after his death). She says that had she heard it beforehand she "could have gained an insight into what was happening in his mind". And got some help. Couple this with the fact they had a one-year-old daughter, and it simply adds to the tragedy. However, she does suggest the tragedy as something probably inevitable.
Deborah's discovery of Ian's body in the kitchen of their terraced Macclesfield house - he'd polished off a bottle of whisky and hung himself, Iggy Pop's 'The Idiot' still spinning on the turntable - is sequenced in chilling dreamlike flashback. And, an example of the shameful heartlessness of the music industry is conveyed as bassist Peter Hook (generally good guy throughout) is shown as offering Deborah "one of the few expressions of sympathy shown to me by Ian's music business friends". Curtis died at just 23 years old.
The book is an emotional trawl through a dark, difficult past that raises many unanswered questions and much speculation. Being the only biography of Ian's life by somebody close to him, it cannot help but present a one-sided view that - for Ian's sake - could do with some counterbalance from elsewhere. While Deborah DOES glance over the kinder aspects of Ian's nature (he loved animals / took an "extremely personal interest in his job helping the disabled" etc.) she seems a little over-eager to emphasise his negative traits, frequently listing his selfish, cruel and sometimes bizzarre behaviour towards her. In places, her writing makes you wonder what she actually saw in him in the first place. There are also some petty moments, such as when she complains about Ian's "racism" while forgetting that she earlier mentioned his love for reggae and going to clubs "where white people didn't normally go".
Ultimately, the book is a riveting - if one-sided - read. However, with Deborah's recent solo-insistence upon pushing ahead for 'the movie'(always a bad idea) it quite naturally throws suspicion upon what the project was actually accomplished for. Nevertheless, to any Joy Division fan, or indeed anybody interested in Ian Curtis' writing, the inclusion of the full lyrics alone makes this book not only well worth the cover price but an essential possession.
on 23 June 2010
This is actually a very interesting book and gives the reader a good insight to the lives of Deborah and Ian Curtis. However, whilst Deborah Curtis writes from the heart she is no literary genius- do not expect to be thrilled by her sentence construction or vocabulary, but then you wouldn't be reading this book for that would you?
on 2 July 2001
This is a very impressive piece of work from Deborah Curtis, both moving and honest; almost too honest. It's a great document for New Order/Joy Division fans about the iconic frontsman. But if you're coming to worship Curtis, you may be disappointed.
The thing I most admired about Deborah's book was its objectivity, her intention to show that Ian Curtis, rock god maybe, was not always a very nice person. Like many other rock idols that have died young, Curtis has been deified in some corners but this book won't let you. Curtis is revealed as utterly human, sometimes inspired but sometimes horrible.
It's a tragic tale that doesn't try to cash in with an accompanying album, but rather includes the song lyrics as an enticing document of a troubled mind.
For anyone seeking the truth, this is an astonishing, vivid and exhilarating read from someone right at the vulnerable heart of a rock band trying to make its mark on the world.
on 1 September 2008
On the positive side - comprehensive discography and gig list as well as full lyrics and previously unseen lyrics and writings.
On the negative side, Deborah Curtis's story is only 139 pages long and that is not nearly enough to give the full picture of this tale.
This book is interesting only because it seems to be Deborah Curtis's attempt to portray herself as the long suffering housewife (which may or may not be true), frozen out by the band and CUrtis himself, struggling to raise their child while Curtis is having an affair with Annik Horore ('the other woman').
She touches on what seems to be bitterness towards her by Curtis in the lyrics, behaviour, coldness etc but does not go into much explanation.
Deborah Curtis points the reader in the direction of constant touring, eplilepsy medication, drugs etc as the cause for Ian Curtis's suicide. It seems to me the way that Curtis killed himself, in the kitchen, knowing she would find him, showed some really deep desire to hurt her personally.
The band and Tony Wilson are not exactly covered with glory and Rob Gretton especially comes in for some stick. Apart from understandable resentment towards her, there is little mentioned explaining why Curtis was so enamored with Annik Horore.
For me though, you read those lyrics, and you look at some of his strange behaviour and obsessions, and this book goes nowhere near explaining what was really going on in his mind, and for me, that was a big let down with this book.
on 3 March 2009
Touching from a Distance
I feel terrible having to say this, but I found this book to be a very black and white portrayal of what Ian Curtis was like as a person. This being that Deborah was the white side and Ian the black.There are few fond memories recalled by his widow, only many that tarnish his legacy.One could argue that no one wants to believe that Ian could have been such a bad person, Deborah cites incidents of violence , extremely possesive and controlling behaviour , and a cold personality, to the point where she says he wouldn't pick Natalie his baby daughter up and hold her.I can understand that Deborah Curtis would be bitter , after all Ian was torn between two women, herself and Annik Honore. It is natural for any person in these kind of circumstances to feel terrible, guilty and torn. In addition to this Ian was having to deal with numerous fits within a day and at the time epilepsy was not properly recognised and treated. So Ian was on a depressing concoction of drugs which altered his moods and of course the condition itself was extremely disturbing and upsetting for him. But what I was very surprised and disappointed with in this book is the lack of portrayal of Ian's lighter side. Apparently he was quite an entertainer, doing impersonations and was often quite flamboyant and jokey with his mates. There's also famous stories of Ian doing things like running round with a bucket on his head during band rehearsals.It is little wonder then that whilst brilliantly filmed, great cinematography and performances in Control,that the whole film painted a bleak picture. This is because it was based on Deborah's book.
For a more true and thorough insight into Ian Curtis , I would recommend, the book 'Ian Curtis~Torn Apart' which shows a more complex in depth view intgo Ian's character.
Torn Apart: The Life of Ian Curtis
'Touching From A Distance' is still worth a read but I would strongly point out again , that it is totally subjective from the widowed wife of a man who was having an affair before his death at such a tragically young age. I don't mean to disrespect Deborah Curtis , I just feel that Ian should be written about layer by layer of his personality and not just depicted as a 'bad man'.
on 14 March 2010
With a lot of mainstream musician biographies I've read, the artist in question is usually portrayed on the whole as a nice guy but according to this biography, Ian Curtis certainly wasn't a nice guy most of the time.
Though I've only really been familiar with the Ian Curtis as portrayed in 24 hour party people and the Joy Division Biopic, I didn't get a sense form those films how controlling and cruel Ian was to his wife. It seems Ian's life away from the band at least really was at times as dark as the music and lyrics he wrote.
Anyway a clear, short biography that's recommended.
on 10 June 2011
To paraphrase the widow of a famous writer: "The world needs sensitive artists but nobody should have to be married to one." Deborah and Ian Curtis must have had little in common to begin with and then grown apart so fast that their marriage became a small hell to both of them. The fact that Deborah Curtis seems bitter and accusatory towards her husband makes the book a painful read, but it does not in itself detract from the value of her memoir. On the contrary, it adds to the picture of Ian Curtis as someone who had to deal with his problems alone. The real revelation comes at the appendix where all the Joy Division lyrics are printed shoulder to shoulder. They almost uniformly express anxiety, disgust, alienation, confusion, or guilt. Yet everybody seems to have been oblivious that they were dealing with a dangerously ill man. Parents, band mates, manager, even his wife did not (still doesn't) know what kind of illness depression is. Luckily, society isn't as ignorant today, and there are better treatments. If I'm not mistaken I recall a British psychiatrist saying that the suicide rate in Britain has declined to a fifth since the emergence of Prozac and similar drugs.