Few bands can claim the type of unique artistic influence that Joy Division continues to inspire even past frontman Ian Curtis’ death in 1980. Blending elements of punk and melancholic sounds, Joy Division helped create the genre of new wave. The remaining members of Joy Division – Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, and Bernard Sumner – went on to form New Order and added more electronic elements to the new wave scene. Now, artists like Radiohead, U2, Bloc Party, the Cure, The Killers, The Drums, and many others cite Joy Division and New Order as influences on their work. And, whether Interpol enjoys the comparison or not, some of us like to believe that Paul Banks’ voice is the closest we will ever come to hearing Ian Curtis again, and we love that.
Over a decade after Joy Division’s career, Deborah Curtis wrote Touching From a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division. As the wife of the late Ian Curtis, Deborah Curtis provides a highly personal, at times painful, view of Ian and his band.
Originally published in 1995, the biography/memoir is written in first person-narrative as Deborah recounts Ian’s early life, her own troubled relationship with Ian, and Ian’s last days. Deborah writes of a young Ian who was already thinking towards death:
Ian never hid his interest for stars who had died young . . . When he told me that he had no intention of living beyond his early twenties, I took it with a pinch of salt, assumed it was a phase and that he would grow out of it. He seemed terribly young to have already made the decision that life was not worth living.
Like Deborah, others who knew Ian do not remember him as someone who was ready to die. In fact, Deborah explains how Ian’s suicide shocked both her and the other members of Joy Division. At the same time, Deborah does not gloss over the trials she and Ian went through leading up to his death. Nor does Deborah immortalize Ian as a mythical artist. Rather, Touching From a Distance reveals Ian’s jealous, controlling nature in regards to Deborah; a modern reader might call several of Ian’s outbursts at his wife abusive. Deborah also admits to often being unaware of Joy Division’s decisions and was oblivious for some time to Ian’s affair with Annik Honore. Ian’s personal tortures – his battle with epilepsy and substance abuse – are discussed with concern, but the title of the book (taken from a line in the Joy Divison song “Transmission“) rings true: all attempts at connection are complicated by emotional distance.
Still, Deborah does pay tribute to Ian by including all of his lyrics in a section at the back of the book. Ian’s greatest legacy lies in his writing, his musical ability, and his voice. Although many of Ian’s personal decisions may have hurt others and himself, what Ian will always be remembered for is his brilliant work with Joy Division. Touching From a Distance does not glorify Ian Curtis, but it does show all of the obstacles that he and Joy Division overcame to make an enduring legacy.
*Excerpt taken from Touching From a Distance by Deborah Curtis, 2001, page 15.