Monday, 18 May 2015

So This Is Permanence

Saw an article today which told me it was 35 years since the death of Ian Curtis.

I was 22 back then. Just leaving university with an English degree and preparing for a set of false starts in respectable graduate jobs that would reject me...and I them. Civil servant. Teacher. The usual. 

I'd never been to Manchester.  Never seen anything much, really. I had no idea what sort of life Joy Division lived or how they had come by the marvellous sound that they made.  I'd spent my student years in the late 70s rejecting punk for what I saw as its ugliness, its refusal to embrace complexity and nuance and subtlety - all the things I'd learned to love about art.

Joy Division taught me that music could be stark, and still be beautiful. That cruel darkness and despair could be uplifting, that nuance could float in and out of the most brutal of noise. When Curtis performed, he looked like someone struggling to contain an unsustainable power too huge, too lethal for him to stand. It wasn't just the wild dancing - half seizure, half ritual - it was the look of terror that sometimes passed across his face, as though he were in awe of what he was expected to contain.

After he died, I almost wore out their two albums. That sublime death-poetry rang in my head for years. I could never hear very much in New Order, no matter how hard they tried or how popular they got.  Something had Curtis by the throat, and it never again troubled the rump of a band he left behind.

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