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Sounds 31/5/80

Sounds 31/5/80 Article by Dave McCullough The short goodbye... The last JOY DIVISION feature By DAVE McCULLOUGH Last Tuesday I was filling in an expenses form when somebody told me a joke. They said they'd had a phone call from Scotland saying The Teardrop Explodes had dedicated a song on stage the previous evening to Joy Division's Ian Curtis who was dead. I laughed, and half self-consciously compensating for bleak and industrial jibes, I said I wouldn't be surprised if he had. But I was half worried as well, so I phoned Factory's Alan Erasmus to erase the joke from my mind and let me return to my difficult expenses sheet. In a frightening calm, most probably still shell-shocked voice, Alan Erasmus told me it was true; Ian Curtis was dead. I forgot all about my expenses sheet. A few days later and the fragments of 'facts' that can be gathered are: it was not a joke (nearly everybody I know thought it was at first, but we'll come back to that later); Ian Curtis was dead, he'd hanged himself by the throat on Saturday night until the life was out of him; it's said he was found in the street, though this is unconfirmed. It's also said, though again this isn't yet verified, that his wife had left him on Saturday afternoon and he'd commited the deed later that evening. The band were preparing to fly to America the following morning. These are the shadows of facts, the information I've dared to glean from people around Joy Division. Gathering those eerie scraps of reality was almost certainly the hardest thing I've ever had to do; I felt like a cub- reporter. Ian Curtis was twenty-three. He leaves behind a wife and a baby. that's the bloody thing I can't get over, the baby. Still sticking to the facts, the most frightening and awesome aspect of Ian Curtis's suicide was the sheer fact that it was a colossal surprise, nobody seems to have suspected it. Factory's Tony Wilson, who provided me with what comes closest to an 'official statement', said: "It came as one bloody shock..." Joy Division had finished their new album, 'Closer'. It's still coming out in a few weeks time, while the single 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' is due any day. A freebie single had also been completed and it too will be released in the coming months. On Sunday the band were going to America for three weeks of touring, so there is every reason to conclude that it was a hectic time for the band and that all was going well, even that they were full of hope for the forthcoming projects. For the last three weeks I've been trying to arrange an interview with the band, but nothing had come of it. After my last, unusually turbulent feature, the group were apparently split in deciding whether they should speak to me again; I understand, and can now believe, that Ian Curtis wanted to do that interview. I accepted the rebuff. I wasn't destroyed, just slightly disappointed, and after all I was aware of the strange people that are Joy Division, perhaps the only band I've spoken to and come away feeling none the wiser and somewhat lost. For that's how I feel; I want to look into Joy Division because what Ian Curtis did makes me want to now more than ever. I'm not searching for reasons, I'm just looking for ideas and above all I don't want to come over ghoulish. But it's there, the feelings won't go away, the aura surrounding Joy Division is such that you're irrepressibly sucked into thought concerning them. And that notion at the beginning, that the brutal stroke of reality that was Ian Curtis's suicide should strike people as a kind of topical joke at the beginning, that in a way they jokily or uneasily half-expected it, that in other words, it should fit what Joy Division are about, that reaction is a telling one. Looking back (and it's almost impossible to talk as though the band are still a living unit, even though the other three members are naturally undecided and unthinking of whether they should go on as a trio), Joy Division meant a kind of romanticism to me more than anything else. I couldn't cope or cater for it for the most part, hence I suppose my frequent opposition. Joy Division records are records I alternately hate and adore; I'm either swept away in them or I don't play them. Even for me, who changes his mind more than most about music, the very distinct and unwavering split- reaction is something remarkable. But Joy Division music contains so many pieces of the remarkable for so many people: Hilary of The Flowers won't play it in the house by herself because it frightens her; Richard Jobson sang 'Transmission' all through East Berlin with me; The Fall don't like them at all; whole gamuts of young British groups are at the moment so obviously and openly inspired by Joy Division it's almost indecent hearing a teenage Scots or N. Irish kid emulating that unworldly American groan of Ian Curtis's with such child-like and innocent precision. For Joy Division's music was always full of spirits and ghosts. They had a mystique that was born of romanticism. Their music often trembled with fear and it couldn't be explained away, that was the great thing. They had mystery, the eternal life-spring of any vital and special r'n'r music. The degree to which that mystique was a calculated thing, that too now fittingly becomes part of the mystery. Ian Curtis has taken it with him. In fact, he's probably answered those questions and doubts: Joy Division, at least for him, were total and real and they meant it to death. Literally. Joy Division were a manic romance. Their music was of another world of symbols, abstracts, coincidence and hellish fear. They lived that world totally and Ian Curtis took the romance dance one step too far until it chills you to think of that final, that overwhelmingly final symbol of submission or weakness or a terrible kind of communicated pride. Joy Division aren't quite in my world. They didn't stamp or shout or openly despair. They didn't tear at the music biz walls. They didn't rage or rant. But they too dealt in the lonely, in the unassuming, in the world of dreams and the imagination. Ian Curtis dealt in rock music's 'X ingredient'; in it's mystery, in it's communication of the inexplicable, in it's delivering of something new always, something that the pseudo-worlds of culture and art can't even hint at in the way a song as powerful as 'Transmission' or 'Shadowplay' or 'Disorder' does. Still the thought comes: they took it too far, they took the magic of r'n'r too much, they evoked it's dark spirits too much. I wonder. You hear rumours, and you tell the rumour-mongers to fuck off. I've heard: Ian Curtis was attending a clinic, that he was part insane, that he put so much into live performance that he was gradually shrivelling up in real life, that he took on the spirit of Jim Morrison on stage, that he was dying outwardly. Alan Erasmus did say that he was often ill, that he fell down a lot. I'll keep on wondering, absolutely exhilarated by the fact, the one clear fact, that Ian Curtis was the stuff of enchanted, immutable mystery. When I met him he talked in a whisper and he talked hypnotically and enchantedly about toy-shops. He spun words magically, that I do remember, that was his gift, he poured pure silver across totally memorable phrases and related scenarios, and he managed it in songs too. His death was poetically beautiful. It was no cheap r'n'r death; he was no worthless casualty, and it shouldn't be treated as such. So you can stuff your music business sympathy, your chic 1980s pseudo-passions. Ian Curtis belonged to the real world: the bleak and industrial pyre you made for him is now your own pyre, your own guilt, your own stupidity, your own way of evading the simple truths. So next time you flick through your merchandised half-truths of a record- collection, the next time you blunt your spirit on a clapped-out rock star story, the next time you've a minute of silent contemplation away from the plastic world, think of Ian Curtis, let his soul fill you. That man cared for you, that man died for you, that man saw the madness in your area.

Last updated on 2005-03-07 10:20:00 PM - 10:20:00 PM
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