Touching from a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division by Deborah Curtis
It was small and wrapped from head to toe in dirty rags, swaddled like a new-born baby. It was suspended from the telegraph pole and fluttered in the breeze before sailing gently down. Like an autumn leaf, it landed softly in the brook and its streamlined shape was taken quickly on the surface of the water, disappearing into the distance. I squeeze my own whole body to scream but on waking all I could hear were my own muffled sobs.
My small daughter cuddled closer and tried to comfort me: Dont cry Mummy. Dont cry.
My own mother opened the door and in the bar of light she was able to see which one of us was crying.
I remembered for years an article from the daughter of Ian and Deborah Curtis, Natalie. She wrote about Samantha Morton instinctively taking her hand as her mother would when they crossed the street. Morton was playing the part of her Deborah Curtis in the film version of this book (Control). Ian Curtis killed himself when Natalie was already a year old. I wouldnt ever have to ask her how she felt about her father killing himself, the no blood tie instinct, sisters in voided family trees. Trying to understand, easier with living without. It was something she always knew. Natalie has said that she feels strongly that it was the fault of the shitty state of health care services in the UK. I agree, although Id take it farther into the shitty support system of human beings. Ian wouldnt have been able to live on his medication and he really couldnt live on it. Deborah was left in the dark from everyone about his sinking life. It did not have to be this epileptic mysterious nightmare. She had to constrain her husband in bed so he would not hurt himself. Made into his nurse, or keeper, nothing to do. When Tony Wilson is quoted that their lives would have been harder with Ian in it, that Natalie was better off without her father, well, that was also me. When people talk to me I drift into my head to see what they are telling. I didnt want this then. Bernard Sumner says that Ian designed his own hell to confine and doom him and I believe it. Ritual of drugs, self mutilation to not live through this numb testing, stasis. He had a kind of wanting it because it was his conviction to die. Smoke and mirrors glamour, nothing to do. Cries for help had another point and it was the cutting kind that bleeds even when you start to believe its finally going to scab over. To save is out of all reach. Never live with it. Save. Hell, this memoir thing. Deborah Curtis is interesting here. Why would you want to write a memoir about this unless it is to save someone (and I know who is already dead). Oftentimes she is honest with brutal edges. To herself maybe most of all. I finished Touching from a Distance last night and then I listened to a lot of Joy Division (more than the usual a lot) and I wanted to take in Deborah, that I could hold what was hers as she did, as an instinct like bear necessities. The movie isnt bad. Samantha Morton certainly isnt bad. Its not right. I felt they wanted to tell about loosening out of grasps, a pain with only one end, and this was about more than one kind of dead. The someone killed themselves and no one could save them kind of story. I had this feeling that this book felt written out of a place of those who couldnt save. Cries for help, not of judgement. I wont forget soon reading about Ian first exhibiting his drained body with a hose wrapped around him like a snake. Could you do anything to stop that snake from squeezing?
Deborah Curtis was depressed too. This is so huge that I am afraid to read anything about this book because I remember those who believed Ian that having a wife and a baby was what killed him (he wouldnt hold his own daughter. He left his wife in shamed poverty). I want to know why she stayed with Ian Curtis. The film shows Deborah beg Ian, that she loves him. Deborah in the book wont allow herself to lie that she took it for granted that he would want her forgiveness when she discovers a major affair (there were others). She does not talk about him as if they were ever in love. His love letters to her, if they could be called that, were frightening. If she were an insect and he a small boy he would have burned her with a magnifying glass. She fell into dating him when her relationship to his friend Tony Nutall fell through. She doesnt know why. I can guess. She admits that when they first began dating she saw him as the whole group of his friends that she liked to be apart of, to do something different. Her musical interests reminded me of how my mother would like whatever the man she happened to be with liked (I was bemused by her favoritism towards A Certain Ratio. I swear the vocals on Ocean sound like Ians no matter what anyone says no one else ever sang like he did). Where they did they begin, when they were with them? She is the most bitter that he didnt know poverty until the end when he was holed up with his mistress Annik. She expresses all of this with clarity. This is what I cannot get over, she would say. She feels the hole she was shoved in more than anything else, I think. Everything Deborah writes about her relationship with Ian is textbook battered woman. If she stayed with him like this then I am trapped in her purgatory of loneliness. The man wouldnt let her have any friends. Shit. No man can ever have you but me, he says. No one likes you, no one wants you. I have my suspicions based on nothing (and I wanted to chase something more tangible than my out of body forcing into their lives. No one is saving time travel style) but my own feeling is that Ian had wanted Deborah because of Tony.
Its a memoir style she has of self removal to talk about Ian that I recognize, to know what he went through... and why did she stay with him when she didnt love him. Its not making herself look good ever it is a going back into her hole. I feel for Ian in his depression but fuck no was he the only one who was suffering here. Aint no way no how. Have you ever known a person who could be all charm and politeness smiles if they had some family at home to take out all of their dark side on? Forget the living for art thing. Deborah writes that she wondered if he didnt keep his affair drama going to fuel the song fires), the soul poured into art and murdering life like Voldemorts horcruxes in Harry Potter. Thats what Ive got.
The childhood photo of a gleeful Tony standing next to a fattened flat faced Ian (looking identical to another young photo of him on the top of the same page) is chilling. Yeah, there are photos of Ian smiling with the other guys. I felt it run down my spine the Joy Division lyric But I remember when we were young. This was his youth, huffing household chemicals and dreams of dying young. Never young because old is his shadow. Convictions of bullheads and her in the horns. Deborahs book is great (I should probably say that by now). The depiction of Ian as so young and cleaving to his days as a dying man from the start. It may very well be true what everyone closed to him said about him living in fantasy pop land dreams. That he was only happy when he would be compared to David Bowie or Lou Reed. The loss felt in place of anything ever living there. I see broken pieces not from ever the same whole. But shit, Deborah could not have saved Ian. She keeps pointing out that she never got to hear those songs from Closer. That his songs that could have told them all what he was going to do were never in her hands. Yeah. And what the hell about Deborah? Her shame to ask for help, asking for help in spite of the shame and getting sent back to her hole again. I am so lost about something about Deborah. I dont think she was ever in love with Ian. She writes about him as a human being, if sometimes like something she needs to do for herself (and no doubt for her daughter). What I see is Ian is dead and everyone he knew thinks about the songs he was writing and they should have seen it all along...
Okay, Samantha Morton is going to have to help me here. She did an interview for UK radio station XFM years ago (I want to say 2002) and played her favorite tracks. Joy Divisions Shes Lost Control was her song. I remember something about it being the song of her life that said all about her. I can dance to that song and believe every word of it too. She had to have been filming Jesus Son because of the stuff about dancing around in the her USA apartment at the time. If you have seen Jesuss Son you know that Morton has this incredible dance scene to Tommy Roes Sweet Pea that is just mesmerizing let loose and letting loose if you were in the chair unable to tear eyes away. Not freedom loose. Helpless to something. I think you can know a lot if you get to see someone dance and lose that control. If someone lets you see it. If it is free or if it has to say something. He doesnt remember his epileptic attacks when they are over.
And she turned around and took me by the hand and said,
Ive lost control again.
And how Ill never know just why or understand,
She said Ive lost control again.
And she screamed out kicking on her side and said,
Ive lost control again.
And seized up on the floor, I thought shed die.
She said Ive lost control.
Shes lost control again.
Shes lost control.
Shes lost control again.
Shes lost control.
Ian Curtis dancing I am not sure about freedom and control. His dancing he is famous for and people would go to see him. I was upset that more people came to see him the sicker he got. He drank alcohol and had fits through the medication meant to stop them. I wonder if this was on purpose, because maybe he had another life on stage. I dont know about the letting everyone watch him loose part as by all accounts their success would cease to mean anything to him once the dream came true. It had a name, this dance. It was his epileptic attacks. Was he helpless to it as to those fits? Deborah writes that her husband danced those measured beats at their wedding too so it wasnt a stage thing, exactly. He had exhibited signs of it in their early teens before the disorder owns him. Ian Curtis would fly off stage and lose control in the audience. The dancing became more mesmerizing to those watching the more he lost control. So they say. I keep thinking about this dancing for him more than the song lyrics that he denied had any meaning other than art to anyone who asked him. The people he leaves behind think about his lyrics after he is gone as a cry for help. Before he died it was inconceivable that they ever could be. I keep thinking about what Tony Wilson (I kind of think he was a douche bag, personally. This review is too long to get into that) said about how Ian got what he wanted. Deborah was miserable either way. Thats what I really keep thinking about and not if anyone could have saved Ian. I dont know why he wanted what he did except to know that Ian Curtis didnt try to do anything other than his songs and his dancing. He had his love affair with the Belgian reporter, Annik. Annik rejected him when he had his fits. She wouldnt or couldnt deal with it. Deborah describes Ian as coming home with his tail between his legs. What was the saving? No one could stop him from having his attacks. Bernard thinks that it was the medication that killed him. I think it was the attacks and there was nothing they could have done. I think it was because he was born the old dying. And I remember when we were young line haunts me a little. I wonder if he didnt drink to bring on the attacks, on stage, despite the ill affects combined with his pills.
Okay, a point I thought was pretty damned important was that Ian asked Bernard Sumner to pick which woman for him. Bernard refused (well yeah). All of his before death shit of watching Werner Herzog films about a man who kills himself rather than choosing between two women. Is it like when he (okay, this I learned from Chris Otts Unknown Pleasures book) says David Bowie sold out because he didnt kill himself after twenty-five like in his All the Young Dudes lyrics.
There has to be more to it than this. Was he this attached to bullshit childhood ideals? His soul outgrowing small mind and too large for it only in his lyrics? His life was not lived beautifully.
I also thought it was interesting that the people in his life didnt think he had the great empathy required to write the songs he did and they had to be about himself. The songs dont feel like lies. There seemed to be a lot of past second guessing and replaying about what to be done. No one could be with him at all times. What Ive got is no cries for help. I dont feel that way about these songs. Theres the songs and I will write about them later. I have feelings about Ian Curtis music that are not about sticking fingers through a chest and stopping a heart(less) life. Why didnt he have one for Deborah and Natalie? Deborah did divorce him. I wish I had more than she fell in with him and it was easier when he made her quit school and get married and then he kept a photo of their dog in his wallet and not his wife and child (I felt so bad for her when she had to give up her beloved dog because they couldnt afford to feed Candy any longer. Ian blamed her and did nothing to help the situation). I dont wonder how she didnt hate him just why did she stay and kill her own life by him. I get the feeling he wasnt living at all and that was the way he was going. What about her? She writes this book about him and their lives. Okay, when one of the guys in the band, Morris, has a girlfriend that Ian doesnt like her gets her to come over to their house. Deborah finds her comfy as an invitee. Ian tells Deborah that Stephenie is threatening suicide because her boyfriend dumped her. She has razor blades in their bathroom and go get her father to come fetch her. Deborah is confused because it doesnt look that way at all. Stephenie gives her a betrayed look when her father shows up or maybe Im just remembering it that way now because Deborah feels she betrayed Stephenie. Mostly because shes the girl shoved out of their lives. Deborah wasnt allowed in Ians life. But she did it and she knows she did it and shes disturbed that she did it. I get this and I want to know why. I wish I could be there and watch her face. Maybe if I knew that it wouldnt feel so sick to balance remembering people in your life and not remembering them when they were old and young too soon. On purpose, like a suicide, before they could ever get there. The songs from the other side, maybe. It feels that way sometimes, when you think about dying and theres no future and the past is something you cant think about happening and the present disowned you. Or some ghosts of some kind.
Staying in the same place, just staying out the time/Touching from a distance/Further all the time.
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