Book Notes from Touching from a Distance by Deborah Curtis


  1. … choosing to like the Who and the Rolling Stones because it was considered more manly than liking the Beatles.

  2. Ian seemed to take growing up more seriously than the others, as if kicking against it could prolong his youth.

  3. Ian’s was diverse and exciting, and quite different to the poppy Motown-type music that my friends were listening to.

  4. ‘Taking Valium was meant to be fun. There was never anything sinister about it, but it got out of hand. That had a lot to do with this romantic image. Taking drugs seemed a good image. When I was told he had killed himself, my first thought was: “What an indulgent bastard he is.” There was no need to do it. What he really wanted to do was play rock and roll. I think he was doing what he wanted to do. The theatrical way he did it suggests … He did enjoy the theatre and he did enjoy his theatrics affecting other people. I think that was important to him. It wasn’t enough to dress up and go out; he had to get drunk and wind people up. We all thought it was fun and it was fun to an extent. But it was an indulgence – you could only get away with it between certain years.’ Tony Nuttall

  1. Sometimes Ian would say he suffered ‘flashbacks’. He described situations where he would have a sensation of floating, as if he had taken drugs when in fact he had not. This was always assumed to be a side effect of whatever he had taken the previous week. No one thought they might have been early epileptic fits. Either way, he would not have told his parents about it.

  2. The idea of someone learning to speak, read, gain their memory and walk, let alone get back on the horse and ride again, made Helen all the more attractive to Ian.

  3. Ian never hid his interest for stars who had died young. Through him I began to learn about James Dean, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.

  4. When he told me that he had no intention of living beyond his early twenties, I took it with a pinch of salt, assumed it was a phase and that he would grow out of it. He seemed terribly young to have already made the decision that life was not worth living. I thought that, as he matured, surely life would be so good that he would not want to leave it all behind.

  5. ‘Dear little Swallow‚’ said the Prince, ‘you tell me of marvellous things, but more marvellous than anything is the suffering of men and of women. There is no Mystery so great as Misery. Fly over my city, little Swallow, and tell me what you see there.’

  6. On 14 February 1974, Ian gave me another valentine card with a rhyme inside. It described a dream he’d had about me, walking alone and lonely on a deserted beach – definitely not a love poem. I threw the card away as I felt that he was trying to frighten me. Nevertheless, the dream was to come true in June 1980 in Carnoustie, Scotland, where I holidayed with my parents and Natalie after Ian’s death.

  7. My grandmother went home convinced that Ian was ‘on drugs’. I only wish he had been; at least it would have provided me with an excuse for his behavior.

  8. I convinced myself that the feeling that things ‘weren’t right’ was just wedding nerves, but I still had an understandable desire to take more than a few steps backwards in time. Since then I have discovered that Ian had doubts of his own. He told Lindsay Reade (Tony Wilson’s first wife) that he had thought about cancelling the wedding because he knew in his heart that he would eventually be unfaithful.

  9. Books, extreme concepts and philosophies all came under Ian’s intense scrutiny. Institutions where people are locked away and forgotten about were one of his particular interests.

  10. ‘I think there was something a bit special about Ian. I know people say that, but I really do mean it. I can’t stop saying this … I really do think it was the tablets that killed him. I really do. I know it.’ Bernard Sumner

  11. Ian told me of the band’s decision to change its name if one member ‘left’. I thought this was a strange thing to have discussed and wondered if they were expecting something to happen to him, or whether they were planning to throw him out.

  12. The lyrics Ian chose to match the band’s already haunting music were increasingly depressive and if you wanted to believe that he was writing about someone else’s experience, then you also had to believe that he was capable of enormous empathy. Journalists and fans alike tried to decipher his words and now, of course, many feel that Ian’s melancholy was staring them in the face.

  13. In fact Pete didn’t take any notice of Ian’s lyrics until after his death; only then did he recognize that Ian was (in Pete’s words) ‘a real beautiful wordsmith’.

  14. In an interview in the fanzine Printed Noises, Ian said, ‘We haven’t got a message really; the lyrics are open to interpretation. They’re multidimensional. You can read into them whatever you like. Obviously they’re important to the band.’ Ian himself had always enjoyed reading into other people’s lyrics. We used to argue about the last line of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’. I thought the words were ‘You’re going to reap just what you sow’, but Ian’s interpretation was ‘You’re going to read just what you saw’. One of his ambitions was to witness events as they happened, before reading about them in the press.

  15. ‘He was a catalyst for the rest of us. He would … cement our ideas together. We would write all the music, but Ian would direct us. He’d say, “I like that bit of guitar, I like that bass line, I like that drum riff.” And then I would arrange it – mostly I would arrange it, with additional suggestions from the other members of the band. He’d put the lyrics in later, but he always had some ready. He had a big box with lyrics in. He brought our ideas together in his own way, really. That was the first thing we missed … He came up with all the vocal melodies … He did some guitar on one or two, but it was pretty straightforward. He hated playing anyway. We made him play. He played in quite a bizarre way and that to us was interesting, because no one else would play like Ian. He played in a very manic way. We thought it was good; we liked the way he did it.’ Bernard Sumner

  16. his opinion was that if one was contemplating suicide, Joy Division was guaranteed to push you over the edge.

  17. As I became familiar with the lyrics, I worried that Ian was retreating to the depression of his teenage years.

  18. It was a one-sided conversation. He refused to confirm or deny any of the points raised and he walked out of the house. I was left questioning myself instead, but did not feel close enough to anyone else to voice my fears. Would he really have married me knowing that he still intended to kill himself in his early twenties? Why father a child when you have no intention of being there to see her grow up? Had I been so oblivious to his unhappiness that he had been forced to write about it?

  19. Had the act become reality, or reality become the act? I endeavoured to treat him as a ‘normal’ person, as one should an epileptic, but he had difficulty in switching from his stage life to his home life.

  20. My father found the GP to be evasive, rude and unhelpful. He came away from the surgery insisting that the doctor himself was mad. This was not too far from the truth – within weeks the uncooperative man shot himself. Ian reacted very squeamishly to the news, despite the fact that he barely knew him.

  21. ‘That night I finally came to the realization that Ian was made of a different material, was just passing among us and did not belong to us. Neither did he belong to himself.’ Franck Essner