Reading In The Shadows

Normally I would hesitate to read a biography about a rock musician or band because you often find that the people that make music you enjoy are flawed people at best or terrible assholes. Then I decided to read Touching From A Distance (1995) by Deborah Curtis about Ian Curtis the late lead singer of Joy Division and my expectations were confirmed that he was a deeply unstable person and he was a terrible asshole too. Just once I would like to read about a musician that was a normal person.

One might argue or suggest that being famous transforms a person into a bad person and damages them in ways that make them unlikable but in the case of Ian Curtis he was an anti-social prick even as a teenager.

The book is written by his wife (who was in the process of divorcing him at the time of his suicide) and she writes that Ian always seemed to have had a death wish to die young. He succeeded in dying young at the age of twenty-three and thus like other rock stars that died young he's been hoisted onto a pedestal like Cobain or Hendrix or Joplin for the simple fact they died young and made some good music. Over time their legend overshadows what music they made in their short lives.

I try not to make heroes out of musicians or worship them because no matter how great their music might be, the people behind its creation will always let you down. It is better to live in the unaware bliss of just enjoying the music for the sake of loving music than learning too deeply about who made it. Disappointment will taint the music you enjoy if you dig too deeply into its creator.

The book relates one story after another of Ian behaving poorly and though his wife repeatedly talks of how overwhelmingly generous he was she only tells one story to support that claim of when he gave a homeless man some food. Otherwise most of the stories are about how selfish a person he was that only seemed to be concerned about himself. He seemed to love and miss the dog named Candy more than he did his own daughter or his wife. He was a man that relied heavily on his wife to do everything in the household and he barely even contributed any money to it though he was becoming a famous rock star. He was off running around with his mistress and holing up in various places with her instead of ever spending time with his family. He was pretty damn shameless in how he acted and when your husband tells you that he no longer loves you standing in the middle of the damn street I think I would be filing for divorce straight away instead of doing his laundry so he can go back out on tour with his mistress.

Ian had mental problems, he had epilepsy too but often it seems like he used those conditions to manipulate the people around him and I wouldn't doubt if he sometimes faked fits to get out of situations. That possibility of faking fits was raised in the book too. Much of his mental problems could have been attributed to self-induced guilt, lying, affairs and maybe even hiding his own sexuality. The man brought many of the problems he had in life upon himself and responsibility was something he seemed to be allergic to.

After reading this book I cannot say that I learned anything good about Ian Curtis. I found it interesting that he would often visit gay bars in his teen years even with his wife, would go to gay parties and he and his wife would joke about him being gay. Ian was also a huge fan of David Bowie and Lou Reed in their glam rock days and would model his dress like them during his teenage years which was a very gender bending look. I have long harbored suspicions about Ian's sexuality so these interesting pieces of information of his time spent in the gay community raised those suspicions further. Even his mistress (this isn't from the book but a separate interview) Annik Honore' in an interview just before her death claimed that the relationship she had with Ian was strictly platonic and never once did they have sex - was she telling the truth?

Despite all of the negative details this book contains I still enjoyed reading it and read the entire book in one day. It isn't heavy reading and you can tell that Deborah Curtis isn't a professional writer but I give her credit for putting out this book if it helped her exorcise any burdens she may have carried since Ian's death in 1980.

I don't see Ian Curtis as some tragic hero/rock god/troubled soul after reading this book but as a young man that helped make some great music but ultimately had more problems than he was willing to face. I love the dark, post-punk music of Joy Division and for that I am thankful that it exists but I wish I knew less about Ian than I do now.

My favorite Joy Division songs are: Shadowplay, Disorder, Atrocity Exhibition and The Eternal.