Touching From a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division by Deborah Curtis

touching-from-a-distanceI was a little shocked by Touching from a Distance.  The biopic Control, which sticks to the mythical post-punk  ideal of Ian Curtis as a tortured epileptic poet / musician who was torn between his love for two women, is based on Deborah Curtis’ memoir.  She even had a hand in producing the biopic.  What’s shocking is Deborah does not champion that myth in her memoir.

Deborah makes it clear very early in the memoir when discussing the budding stages of her and Ian’s relationship that Ian had some issues that went beyond the typical late-teenager brooding.  He told her from the beginning that he had no intention to live past his twenties.  He loved the melodramatic.  He had wild mood swings and was often unpredictable and awkward socially.  One day he was kind and generous, the next he was controlling and cruel. As Ian and the band become more successful, Ian shut Deborah out of that part of his life, going so far as to tell the band and friends invented stories about Deborah and their home life so there would be no communication between the two parties.  He became a master manipulator, juggling two lives.

It would be easy to chalk up Deborah’s recollections as that of the scorned woman, but I felt she was genuinely trying to figure out the big question everyone has when a loved one commits suicide- why?  And I don’t think she felt obligated to safeguarding his mythical rock status if it kept her from getting closer to answering the question.  It was a liberating read in the sense that the fans rarely get to see how petty, selfish, and cruel our heroes are.  We hold them above such base human characteristics.  The media sells the myth.  We focus on the talent, the art, as if that is all that makes them who they are.

Deborah never doubts or demeans Ian’s talent.  She often applauds his work ethic and drive.  He was a great performer.  The music is what it is- beautiful and original.

But in the end, Ian had little connection to the realities of life.   He went from living with his parents who took care of him, to living with Deborah who took care of him, to being in a band where the manager took care of him.  His mental disorder, whatever it would have been diagnosed as, was compounded by the fact that he never had to focus on anything outside of  himself, and everyone wanted him to give more.  Ultimately, he did the most selfish thing he could think of.