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From safety to where?

About midday on Sunday, May 18, Ian Curtis was found dead by his wife in the kitchen of his house in Macclesfield. Although the exact cause and circumstances are unclear - the inquest is to be held this Friday - the manner was peculiarly final - hanging.

His death occurred at about 5am on Sunday morning, at a time when he was under a great deal of emotional stress from outside sources.

His funeral was held on Friday, May 23. Since then fantastic stories have flown on the wings of rumour, as the rock'n'roll vampires have begun to erect the steel wall of myth: a Viciousburger that died for his art.

Rock'n'roll culture is dead necrophiliac, it's the death wish that lies in youth and in the original dream amplified. Death is romantic, exquisitely sad; it provides an easy package, an easy full-stop. So it is with Ian Curtis; Joy Division had built up a reputation based on the communication of a particular mood; rooted in place (Manchester), yet wider; alienated, nostalgia, displacement of belief, yet searching for an answer at a time when common systems have disappeared and little is left. This reputation was enhanced by stinging, monolithic live performances and more muted, fragile recordings.

Death provides a crystallization: Ian Curtis' artistic life can now be interpreted as a struggle that failed, for reasons that are as personal and obscure as his death. Now, no one will remember what his work with Joy Division was like when he was alive; it will be perceived as tragic rather than courageous. Now you can file under all-purpose romantic myth, ripe for packaging and consumption.

To write much further would give unnecessary place to an act that was private, public though it's effects may be. Ian Curtis and his myth have now become public property in that what he expressed affected many people who knew him little (like myself) or those who knew him not at all.

To mythologise and canonise him as a romantic pessimist who died for his art is to have a corpse in your mouth. It's also to miss the point and give credence to a myth that is out of date (Chatterton in the early 18th century) and damaging in these bad times.

I was very affected by Ian Curtis' death; I'm not now. Life must go on, as the morbidity of speculation and myth-making is unhealthy. By all means consume the myth if it fulfils a need, but reflect on it: people do die for all sorts of things and rock'n'roll is no significantly sillier than anything else. But Curtis didn't ultimately, die for either art or rock'n'roll, nor it's romantic pessimism, ultimately enough. Our cancerous culture atrophies through the very real lack of a will to live: to idolise death is to reinforce that.

As for Ian Curtis, he's passed through to the next stage.

Written by John Savage.

Last updated on 2005-03-07 9:19:00 PM - 9:19:00 PM
All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.