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Touching from a distance book review

Magazine: New Musical Express (UK)

Publication date: Saturday 6 May 1995

Reviewer: Ted Kessler


 

KITCHEN INK TRAUMA

IN THE early hours of May 18, 1980, Ian Curtis put Iggy Pop's The Idiot on his record player, took his daughter's photograph down from the wall, retrieved his wedding photo from a drawer and sat down to write his wife a suicide note. Later that day, at around midday, Deborah Curtis, with her young daughter, Natalie, returned to her home in Macclesfield after visiting her parents. She found Ian hanging dead from a rope in their kitchen. He was 24
Deborah Curtis was the last person to see Ian alive, as well as the first to discover his body. Until Touching from a distance, she has remained silent about the life she shared with him, so it represents some kind of exorcism of the guilt and confusion that followed his suicide in their home 15 years ago. For the rest of us it allows a glimpse into the emotional life of a troubled and private young man – as well as charting the rise of a group whose influence has proportionally been as great as that of Curtis' beloved Velvet Underground
Much of the information printed here is revealed for the first time. We learn that Joy Division had mapped out what would happen if
Curtis left the group more than a year before his suicide, so alarmed were they by his manic personality and increasingly violent epileptic fits
The book also discloses that
Curtis had unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide on April 7, 1980, because he was depressed about the state of his marriage. It had become complicated by an affair he was having with Annik Honoré. The situation remained unresolved when Curtis killed himself a month later and is widely assumed to be the lyrical backbone of Joy Division's hit Love will tear us apart – released a month after Curtis' death and the words Deborah chose for her husband's crematorium stone
But above all we learn about a man who, as a young teenager, viewed life beyond the age of 25 as worthless. We learn about a possessive, jealous husband tormented by his own dalliance. We learn about
Deborah and Ian Curtis' claustrophobic courtship (which began in 1972 when they were both 16) and strained marriage, and the shoddy manner in which the wives and girlfriends of the group were treated (in one instance, Deborah is frozen out of backstage revelry because she is six months pregnant). And we learn of a young man who could find peace initially only in his writing and eventually only in death
This is a courageous, affecting biography of a man about which even his most devoted fans know little. At times the pain and resentment
Deborah feels towards her husband make for awkward reading, although Tony Wilson's comment to Deborah during an interview for the book is perhaps the most perceptive summary of her and Ian's relationship: "He wanted to be a romantic hero and he succeeded. If Ian had lived you would have had a tough ten years. Natalie has been deprived of a father - your life would've been hell either way. Ian got what he wanted"