27 February 2014

Mick Middles & Lindsay Reade: Torn Apart: The Life of Ian Curtis (2006)

I was aware of Deborah Curtis's Touching from a Distance (1995), but wasn't aware of this book until I stumbled on it last weekend. Co-authored by the journalist Mick Middles (who says he 'hovered around Joy Division for a while') and Lindsay Reade (Tony Wilson's first wife), this gives a much fuller picture of the life of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of the post-punk band Joy Division, who was born into a working-class family in Old Trafford, Manchester in 1956, and who killed himself in Macclesfield, Cheshire in 1980 at the age of twenty-three.

Torn Apart is an appropriate title not only because it alludes to the Curtis-penned Joy Division song 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', but also because the song's autobiographical lyric refers to Curtis himself being torn apart – not only by the triangle he was in with his wife Debbie and his soulmate Annik Honoré, but also by his worsening epilepsy and his ambivalence toward the fame monster.

This book is revisionary in that it finally reveals the truth behind Curtis's relationship with Honoré, often via his (always capitalised) letters to her, or by her correspondance with the authors. Formerly, it had been assumed that Honoré was 'the other woman', which to a large extent she was, but not in the usually accepted sense of that term, hence my use of the expression 'soulmate'. What impresses the reader here is a young woman very far removed from being a groupie or hanger-on, but who was in fact an extremely sensitive person whose relationship with Curtis was, as she says, 'very platonic and very pure and romantic'.

Perhaps Ian Curtis was in part attracted to Annik Honoré initially because she was foreign (therefore exotic), but it was important that they could talk about the music, literature and cinema that thrilled them. However, although this was an intellectual, very intense and very loving relationship, it was never sexual: Curtis's illness and the prescribed drugs he was taking meant a considerable reduction of sex drive, but then the sexually innocent Honoré was too shy to allow anything to develop in that respect.

There is a wealth of information here, much of it culled from people who were directly involved with Ian Curtis and/or Joy Division in general – parents, other relatives, old friends, band members, neighbors, etc. I could have lived without knowing about the accidental drinks from cans of piss, or the shit in hand game, but then this is a kind of warts-and-all book.

And there are a number of minor errors:

The book I have is the 2009 edition, in which Appendix 1 notes the death of Tony Wilson in 2007. However, the first paragraph of Chapter 19 still ends with the sentence '[Wilson] was and remains a very busy man.'

The (Fac 51) Haçienda club deliberately had an aberrant cedilla for a specific reason, but I didn't notice it receiving any cedilla in this book: surely the authors could have managed a few more ALT + codes?

I also noticed a few spelling errors, as opposed to typos. The singer in Echo & the Bunnymen is affectionately called 'enigmatic', although Ian McCulloch is referred to as 'McCullouch' on several occasions, including in the Index. Also, although the reader is overhelpfully (and slightly inaccurately) informed in a footnote that 'Honoré' is pronounced 'Honourey', such attention to detail is not repeated by writing Sartre's trilogy Les Chemins de la liberté as 'Les Chemims de la Liberte': even if a writer doesn't know a foreign language, that is no excuse to make two mistakes in a few words – such sloppiness seems almost wilful. (Yes, here too the errors are reproduced in the Index: errors which could easily have been corrected for this later edition.)

OK, I do pedantic well. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed Torn Apart, which is a genuine contribution to Joy Division knowledge: a very worthy effort.

My other Curtis-related posts:

Anton Corbijn's Control
Ian Curtis in Macclesfield, Cheshire


David Bingham said...

I remember being in the Student Union when an ashen faced friend walked in just before last orders to tell me that he had just heard on John Peel that Ian Curtis had killed himself. We were huge fans and the unexpected news left us in deep shock. I suppose his vulnerability was always obvious in his lyrics. It seemed terribly tragic in a sort of doomed youth way at the time. Now it's the sheer waste of a life for what probably seemed like insurmountable problems to him but which with hindsight were not so great at all. Sadly too sensitive for his own good.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Yes, certainly he was way too sensitive. But divorce can be pretty traumatic for anyone, and then if you add the epilepsy problems, plus it was all making him exremely depressed... Of course, he attempted suicide a short time before, and said he really meant it, that it wasn't just a cry for help. The odd thing is that no one saw it coming again, although in retrospect it should have been perfectly plain.