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Touching from a Distance

Deborah Curtis <em>Faber and Faber, 212pp, £9.99</em>

ISBN 0571174450

It is difficult to think of any band that has more of an archival presence in British rock music than Joy Division. They could scarcely play their instruments when they started out; they completed only two albums, Unknown Pleasures (1979) and Closer (1980); and they disbanded more than 20 years ago. And yet Joy Division remain deeply remembered; many consider Closer to be one of the greatest albums ever made. Much of the originality of the music - and the continued fascination of the band - derives from the dysfunctional personality of the singer-songwriter Ian Curtis, who committed suicide in May 1980. He was 23. Many pop stars play at nihilism and anarchy; Curtis meant it. In this fine memoir, his widow, Deborah, discusses his "unhealthy obsession with mental and physical pain", his struggles with epilepsy, and the youthful experiments with drugs and alcohol that hardened his feelings of alienation.

At the time of his death, Curtis, it seemed, had everything he wanted: he was the frontman of the most critically acclaimed band in the country, and was on the edge of world fame. But it wasn't enough; he told Deborah, after Unknown Pleasures was released, that he had achieved his life's ambition. On his tombstone are the words "Love Will Tear Us Apart", after one of his most popular songs.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 13 August 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The diva of Downing Street