Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: Touching from a Distance

“I stared at him, he was so still. Then the rope - I hadn’t noticed the rope. The rope from the clothes rack was around his neck. I ran through to the sitting room and picked up the telephone. No, supposing I was wrong—another false alarm. I ran back to the kitchen and looked at his face –a long string of saliva hung from his mouth. Yes, he really had done it. What to do next? I looked around the room expecting to see Ian standing in a corner watching my reaction. My instinct that he was playing a cruel trick.”


The most common question people tend to have after a suicide is “why”. Even when he was alive, Ian Curtis, lead vocalist and lyricist of the post-punk band Joy Division, has always been an enigma. When he took his life on the 18th of May, 1980, he snatched with him the keys that may unlock the mysteries that had so long shrouded him—including the one about his eerie attraction to an early grave. This book, Touching from a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division, is Deborah Curtis’ attempt to rest her husband’s ghost to rest. While it didn’t hit the bull’s eye of the reasons of the suicide, it still gave devoted fans a glimpse of the rock icon when he was not on their minds’ highest pedestals. This book is a brave account regarding fame and its cost, and the honest ruminations of a woman in a disintegrating marriage.

Deborah Curtis is the only qualified person to pen this biography, but even with the credential of being his widow, Ian was still not that transparent to her. Ian proved to be a hard person to read and his personality was further complicated by his epilepsy and his medication. I understand how D.Curtis portrayed Annik Honore, Ian’s mistress, as an antagonistic character in their lives, but I commend how she wrote her husband: a not-so-good yet very confused human. D.Curtis didn’t feel the need to further develop the typical rock-star myths revolving around his husband, being a prominent icon emerging from the music scene of his decade. She’s all sincere in telling this story, although of course she did sound a tad bitter for the most part (not that I blame her).

You know that moment when you have this certain music icon that you call your “hero”, then you get the chance to talk to him in person and suddenly he’s this ordinary guy next to you instead of the god-like figure you had in your head? That’s what happened when I read this book, even if the whole tale’s from a secondhand source and not the “hero” himself. I must say, though, that it didn’t make me like Joy Division—or Ian Curtis—less. I loved them more even, feeling a little closer to them. I guess Ian was ultimately selfish, but he’s not alone in the title because there’s a lot of other people in the industry who checked themselves out for an egocentric kind of immortality: Kurt Cobain, Elliot Smith, Nick Drake, Sid Vicious, to name a few.
Aside from the biography, this little tome contains photographs of Ian from his childhood to the time when he’s on the peak of the music scene, some poems, a complete gig list, and discographies (unreleased songs, rough drafts and original lyrics of the released songs, etc). This is not meant to be a light read, but having those additional features made me enjoy the reading experience more. Icing on the cake maybe, but icing just the same.

This book inspired a biofilm called Closer, which is as chilling as the former. They are an epic treat for devoted fans. I recommend both. 
get the book here

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