Ian Curtis, rock mythology’s tragic figure (but in reality merely the troubled soul fronting the incredible Manchester rock band Joy Division) took his life 36 years ago today.
This has been a strange few months that has seen the passing of some very high-visibility creative people. A great many of us have taken their deaths very hard. Yet every year this day sticks out to me.
Make no mistake, I do not hold Ian Curtis on a pedestal as a person. He made a lot of very human errors and in his final act of living left a wound that I’m sure his friends and family still wince from. I did not know him, so why does his death haunt me? What does it represent?
I think Ian Curtis represents the unfinished and the unknown. Sure, we know and love the music of New Order – all its indulgences and perfect musical moments – but what else was there? Had Ian passed through his crucible and emerged alive on the other side, what would he have said? Would his words have transcended space and time and trend as they do now? Would Martin Hannett have spiraled out of control anyway?
The fact that we can never know any of this gives Joy Division’s music a depth and gravity that few other musical acts possess. As if it wasn’t deep and heavy enough.
If David Bowie was a musical father to me – and it certainly feels that way a lot of the time – Ian Curtis was the musical older brother who had the cool jacket, let you try his beer, and occasionally let you listen to his records. His words and perspectives left a very unique creative path to follow, coupled perfectly with the powerful music and Hannett’s otherworldly production. You didn’t want to be him, but you wanted to do what he did because he made it seem like it was the only thing to do.
Those who leave such indelible marks upon us … well, they die, and we’re left to figure shit out for ourselves. Isn’t that the point of life? Dealing with death?