Rock and roll suicide

TOUCHING FROM A DISTANCE Deborah Curtis Faber pounds 9.99

Told by his wife, Deborah, this is the story of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, who hanged himself above his washing machine on 18 May 1988, while Iggy Pop's "The Idiot" played on a turntable in the next door room.

He was the Macclesfield Keats, half-in-love with diseaseful death, who sang of his end in his sepulchral, muffled songs: "Hangman looks around as he waits/ Cord stretches tight then it breaks/ Someday we will die in your dreams". She was the Cynthia Lennon of the story, the teenaged girl-next-door married early to a man who grew up to be a pop star and left her behind in every sense.

What's unusual about this rock and roll suicide is that it had nothing to do with rock and roll; it's about an untreated schizoid depressive being unable to decide whether to stay with his wife and baby or run off with his mistress, and killing his way out of the dilemma.

It turns out that Curtis's frenetic, limb-twisting dances on stage were copies of real epileptic fits. These usually happened at home with only Deborah to deal with the frightening contortions of his body; understandably, it sickened his wife to see him plunder their domestic traumas for balletic effect, but music journalists were fascinated to see mock fits develop into real ones that sent him crashing into the drums.

It's clear from Deborah Curtis's book that Ian had spent most of his life preparing for death. He was suicidal from early adolescence, when he first attempted to overdose. Deborah describes him wearing black nail varnish and crying over Oscar Wilde fairy stories as a moody teenager. He deliberately cut and burnt himself. He stole pills out of the bathrooms of elderly people (once, dazed with Largactil, a schizophrenia drug, he was sent home "drunk" from school). He was also fixated with Nazi imagery. Deborah never clears up the mystery of Curtis' politics, other than to reveal he "always voted Conservative". With bizarre naivety, she ascribes his morbid interest in fascism to a childhood pleasure in drawing soldiers.

Deborah felt jealous of Ian's close-knit, boysy relationship with the other members of Joy Division. She may have understood "the Ian I married" (dread phrase), but appears to have been completely suffocating to the artist he became. "He appeared to resent my cheerfulness", she says unselfconsciously, complaining how the band began to "erode" the man (despite admitting his career was the only source of self-confidence and strength in his life).

After 15 years, she still appears to think that she was rejected by Ian for not being glamorous enough, and because he was disturbed, rather than because she offered a lifestyle (the old "pram in the hall" syndrome) antithetical in every way to the kind of artist he wanted to be. Was his skinless life with Joy Division really free-wheeling self-destruction, as she thinks? Perhaps, in dedicating himself to the poetry of self-immolation, he was making a valid creative decision.

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