photo & text by nacrowe
TOUCHING FROM A DISTANCE: IAN CURTIS & JOY DIVISION (FABER & FABER, 1995) by DEBORAH CURTIS is a unique memoir in that it tackles an uncommon subject in the world of music biographies: wives and family. maybe it is because the ethos of ROCK N ROLL is prone to promote a juvenile escapist fantasy that by design does not include more adult themes like responsibility, maturity and accountability. but whats interest is that partners like DEBORAH CURTIS, widow of IAN CURTIS (frontman of MANCUNIAN POST-PUNKS legends JOY DIVISION), provide the support and sacrifice, both emotional and financial, to make such artistic fantasies a reality.
IAN CURTIS and the music of JOY DIVISION have resonated in the generations since their demise. IAN's suicide and his battles with epilepsy have colored his legacy with an aura of mystique and intrigue similar to that of KURT COBAIN, AMY WINEHOUSE, JIM MORRISON, JANIS JOPLIN, JIMI HENDRIX and the list goes on. it is a testament to her own sense of inner strength and personal conviction that DEBORAH does not placate to such vulgar myth-making when describing her relationship with her late husband.
instead what we get is a portrait of an uneven, volatile artist who to some extent was a coward, as he cruelly inflicted pain on those who loved him most as he was impotent to affect change on the real source of his problems outside the family circle. it should be said first that IAN and DEBORAH married very young, as they were both teenagers. as such they both entered a world of domesticity neither was ready for, especially IAN. this was apparent in his exceedingly controlling and manipulative behavior towards his wife. this included controlling with whom she could speak to (including male coworkers or former school friends), what she could wear, and denying her the ability to finish school. in essence he controlled her ability to be independent. IAN is also revealed to be a political conservative who made proclamations to friends that it was her duty as a wife to vote the same. apparently also he held racist views towards ASIANS and in particular recent immigrants from INDIAN subcontinent.
as for IAN himself, he was more of a social opportunist and his behavior in keeping with typical chauvinism of the period, as DEBORAH describes he "lived his life by a conflicting code that changed depending on who was there at the time and what he could gain from it." there is a particularly heartbreaking detail provided of when DEBORAH was visibly pregnant thusly shunned and dismissed by IAN and the crew at a show. apparently she wasn't worth their time despite the fact that it as her efforts that originally helped financially sustain the band early on. how quickly they forget. another telling but equally sad detail was the fact that IAN would keep a picture of his dog CANDY in his wallet, yet kept no such mementos of his wife or infant daughter. he was proud of the dog despite the fact that he did nothing to maintain its upkeep to the point that DEBORAH had to give it away due to lack of money for food.
i want to make clear that the tone of this biography is even and unemotional. this is not a tell-all book attempting to settle old scores, even with regards to IAN's BELGIAN mistress. where this memoir excels is in its ability to provide a more well-rounded portrait of a gifted yet supremely trouble artist. she gives credit and deep thanks to the band and crew who provided support and protection on the road to IAN during his epileptic episodes.
ultimately IAN's reasons for his self-destruction were entirely his own. he was a control freak who had no choice but to cede control of his body to seizures. he was conflicted about fame and was the least capable member to guard against those that sought to exploit him. he fantasized and fetishized death from a young age. it was his choice alone.
i found this book to be quite courageous, especially given the cult around IAN CURTIS that has perpetuated after his death to this day. this is her truth.
i should also mention that this book served as the basis for the excellent ANTON CORBIJN biopic CONTROL (BECKER FILMS, 2007) filmed and released a decade after this memoir's publication.
photo by nacrowe
recently i started reading SUBSTANCE: INSIDE NEW ORDER (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2017) by legendary bassist PETER HOOK and it got me thinking all over again about what he wrote years earlier in his previous book UNKNOWN PLEASURES: INSIDE JOY DIVISION (IT BOOKS, 2013).
JOY DIVISION are one of those bands for me that are seemingly impenetrable, like they are aware of some other higher reality of consciousness that can only be conveyed through music. don't even know if that makes sense, but their music is something i constantly revisit re-examine and re-experience.
the structure of this book is a show-by-show, song-by-song recounting of the band's experience throughout their brief (less than 5-year) career.
what i love about HOOK is how honest and cavalier he is with the mythology and cult that has followed his former band since their demise. i've seen far lesser bands try much harder to come across deep and obfuscate their identity in order to maintain a facade between them and their audience (cough, cough, MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN).
the picture HOOK paints of the band are a couple of unremarkable, under-sexed, working-class lads who squabbled constantly with each other and basically stumbled onto their sound by stealing equipment, trying to out-volume each other (HOOK's massive melodic bass tone was his attempt at controlling the song) and, of course, fighting their producer MARTIN HANNETT. HOOK openly admits he hated the mix of UNKNOWN PLEASURES, but was wrong. it is almost hilarious how pigheadedness he admits to being throughout the story, which only further affords him that much more credibility. self-mythologizing a la MOTLEY CRUE'S THE DIRT (review linked HERE) isn't the aim here, rather you get the sense he is attempting to atone for the loss of his friend and band-mate IAN CURTIS and answer questions regarding him in an honest and thoughtful way.
i loved this book. made me laugh even though the subject matter was anything but.