Torn Apart by Mick Middles & Lindsay Reade - Reviews - Books - The Independent

OMNIBUS £19.95 £17.95 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

Torn Apart by Mick Middles & Lindsay Reade

Blame the eager Belgian birds

In 1979, Joy Division made their first appearance on national television, playing live on Something Else, an early, excruciating attempt at "youth" programming (and possibly the template for Nosin' Around, the show-within-a-show on The Young Ones). A friend of mine swears that as he watched their singer Ian Curtis launch into his patented "dervish having a seizure" dance (he had recently been diagnosed with late onset epilepsy) his father, a social worker experienced in recognising mental illness, wandered into the room and offhandedly asked: "Who's that schizophrenic?"

Within a year, Curtis was dead at 23. About to tour the USA for the first time, instead he hanged himself after a Saturday night in pondering his possible divorce and watching a Werner Herzog movie about an immigrant who does not live the American dream. He left behind a widow, a baby daughter, a bemused girlfriend and a hit single and album on the release schedule.

The music industry has seen hundreds of early deaths, but a suicide of a musician about to touch stardom remains unique. Nothing quite compares. Bored junkie Kurt Cobain shot himself because he didn't like his fans, never realising how much more interesting it would have been to shoot them instead, but it was success that jaded him, not the struggle.

Curtis certainly hurried past life's markers. Married in his teens, he had already settled down when punk's cultural explosion gave him the confidence to make his own music. Joy Division consisted of four lads who had learnt very little at grammar school. Their own limitations led them to create a genuinely original sound, enhanced by the wildly imaginative production techniques of local crazy man Martin Hannett. Despite being the first band described as "gothic rock", it referred to the bleak grandeur of their sound rather than their appearance - to a man they dressed like bank clerks.

Burgeoning success offered new opportunities, from behaving badly on the road (recounted in astonishingly tedious detail by the band's tour manager) to consorting with eager Belgian birds. His unremarkable-looking girlfriend Annik Honoré talks about their relationship for the first time here. The diagnosis of epilepsy, probably related to stress and a tiring lifestyle, added to the strain. Tormented by an uncontrollable medical condition, stuck between a cold wife and an arty girlfriend who wouldn't put out, and with an infant to provide for - it's no wonder he was depressed. Manager Rob Gretton slipped him a few extra quid though, for ironing his bandmates' togs. That must have boosted his self-esteem.

Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but Curtis's death now appears inevitable. He had attempted an overdose a month before he successfully hanged himself. Tony Wilson, boss of Factory records, kindly but perhaps ill-advisedly invited his label's leading asset to recuperate in the country cottage he shared with his partner Lindsay Reade (co-author of this book). While sequestered, Curtis told his musician friend Vinnie Reilly, "I actually meant it, you know." (Reilly was understandably unsettled.) Tony Connolly, the partner of Wilson's gay dad, read him straight away, telling Reade that Curtis would "commit suicide for sure".

Yet this tale is often bleakly comic, at least until the ship sinks. How could it be otherwise when Curtis recorded for the man who directly inspired Alan Partridge? His bandmates were as oafish as Oasis, their antics as mundanely laddish as their music was unique. (They bring to mind the similarly atmospheric Black Sabbath and their admission that "the nearest we got to Black Magic was a box of chocolates".) The hapless Gretton saw his most talented client top himself, then when the remaining members regrouped as New Order they, and he, lost a fortune in an ill-advised nightclub investment. Gretton even sat in on press interviews, to the amusement of the London media. Several Joy Division shows took place at youth clubs. Tellingly, the next big Mancunian act moved to the Smoke faster than you could say Steven Patrick Morrissey.

Manchester in 1980 was a different world. Some of Curtis's attitudes were straight out of time-travel cop show Life on Mars, or maybe the office of the deputy Prime Minister. In her own solemn memoir, Touching From a Distance, his widow Deborah revealed a character who expected his spouse to follow his orders, even if they meant voting Tory. He was, after all, the son of a copper. No wonder he was so fascinated with Nazism.

That, though hardly a secret, is the elephant in the corner. Every voice here is so desperate to paint a picture of a polite, considerate young man they might be talking about an unsuspected serial killer next door. But, in Cold War Britain, nothing was more exotic than battered Berlin, home of David Bowie and the ghosts of Adolf Hitler and Sally Bowles. Hilariously, the authors, too incompetent to joke, suggest the choice of a wedding hymn to the tune of the Deutsches Lied "reflected a fondness for Germanic culture and history that was shared by Ian and Debbie". Ja, recht.

These days, those wobbly pasts are brushed under the carpet. The appearance of a stylised Hitler Youth on a single sleeve is explained away as inspired by the movie of The Tin Drum (which actually appeared a year later). Lemmy's insistence that he isn't a Nazi, but he does like the uniforms, looks refreshingly honest in comparison. Still, pseudo-intellectualism is a rock tradition, and next to a wired Bowie sieg-heiling a crowd of sober hacks it's small beer.

Curtis wasn't around to live down his youthful indiscretions, but he deserved better than this clumsy tome. It's appallingly written, even for a rock biography: long, incoherent sentences are held together with needless qualifiers. Rambling interviews with family and friends turn up unedited while tedious digressions about the local music scene pad it out. Interesting new material from Reade and Honoré is given no context while the structure is so lacking its subject disappears for chapters at a time. He remains forever out of reach, even as plans move ahead for a biopic of his short life.

Those Joy Division records are still bloody great though; genuinely original and still ominous, Curtis sounding like God telling a noisy believer to shut up. But the mystery of how a bunch of provincial clods devised something so emphatic remains unexplained here.

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week