Thirty one years ago yesterday Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, took his own life. He was twenty three years old at the time. As I was two years old, I can’t claim to have been aware of this event. Although, paradoxically, I’m sure I remember hearing about John Lennon’s death six months earlier whilst sitting in a Macro car park with my dad, waiting for my mum to finish work. Do I really remember that? Or do I remember being told about it? Memories, eh? On the subject of memories… actually, we’ll save it for later. It will be more relevant.
So, Curtis died, I was two. So? Well, as I believe I mentioned in the opening post of this blog, the first cd I ever bought was (the best of) New Order- mainly because I heard the ’94 version of True Faith on Top of the Tops and it just sounded… perfect. I loved the sadness in the song, the regret. So I was familiar with the later works of Sumner, Hook and Morris. I just didn’t know that they had a (hugely impressive) past. And then I saw Heat. Now, whilst most of the focus on Michael Mann’s 1995 cops and robbers epic will have been- rightly- on the bank heist scene, the cat and mouse ending and, in particular, the “cup of coffee” scene that was Pacino and De Niro’s first scene together- what really caught me was the scene before that. The helicopter, the lights of LA and a song called New Dawn Fades. It sounded amazing to me. This version was done by Moby and is on his I Like To Score compilation of soundtracks works, which my mate Wayne copied for me. Once I had bought that cd, I realised that the song wasn’t his, it was by those guys from New Order. Except that it wasn’t New Order, it was another band: Joy Division.
I had to find out more, but finding out more was a tall order back then, if you didn’t know much about your subject. Certainly, the backs of the cds contained in HMV’s racks were no help whatsoever. I mean, where were the tracklistings? Baffled and intimidated by the lack of information on offer, I wimped out of buying either Unknown Pleasures or Closer and settled for a cd that did have a tracklisting on the back, Substance. Ok, so it didn’t have New Dawn Fades on it, but it did have the timeless Love Will Tear Us Apart on it. This cd also allowed me to discover the gorgeous, if unbearably sombre, Atmosphere. Looking back, what was I thinking, not taking the plunge and just buying these albums? This was a stage in my life when I would happily buy a cd for the sake of buying one. When I look back at the money I’ve spent on music I haven’t listened to, will not listen to, for years, it frightens me. I’m much more discerning now.
As it happens, Substance was one of the cds that took a direct hit from a thrown glass of Ribena when a housemate overheard me and one of my closest friends Mike (also a housemate) drunkenly slagging her off. She moved out the next day and I set about picking the glass from between my toes, cleaning the Ribena off the wall and my affected cds.
A few years later, I met Jo and I’m not really sure what happened. I think we might have watched 24 Hour Party People and decided, as a result, that we needed to know more about the mysterious Joy Division. I think that’s what happened anyway. My memory is not always 100% (my first exposure to John Cooper-Clarke wasn’t the Sopranos, it was when he introduced the Arctic Monkeys at their Brixton Academy gig in 2005/6?). So Unknown Pleasures was belatedly purchased. And loved. Closer followed almost immediately and if I told you I used to spend entire evenings listening to these albums on repeat, you… well, if you’re reading this now, the chances are you wouldn’t be too surprised. Unknown Pleasures, in Day of the Lords, New Dawn Fades, She’s Lost Control, Interzone and I Remember Nothing sound so alien to me now. I can only imagine what it might have sounded like to all the young men of 1979. It must have seemed like music from another world.
At this point, I slyly nod to my friend Pete at http://iturnedoutapunk.com and venture to suggest that, though I love The Clash and London Calling, that album isn’t the best of all time; it isn’t even the best of 1979. How can it be when stood up against the likes of PiL’s Metal Box or indeed Unknown Pleasures? I know, I know, you had to be there and personal taste is, as an old girlfriend once commented, a strange thing. Just ,for me, Unknown Pleasures is an utterly compelling, beguiling listen. For that matter, so is Closer. We listened to it last night and every single track seems sprinkled with magic dust. If there is a run of six better tracks on any album than Colony, A Means to an End, Heart and Soul, Twenty Four Hours, The Eternal and, finally, Decades, then I would love to hear it.
So, Jo and I bought these albums, we bought the Heart and Soul box sets and then, in 2007 we went to see (Joy Division photographer) Anton Corbijn’s wonderful Curtis biopic, Control- featuring John Cooper-Clarke playing himself- and I thought it was a great piece of film making. I’m not going to get into a film review, but one thing struck me as the film drew to its close- that was that Curtis was born in the same year as my mum. It made me feel unbearably sad to think of a young man so talented, but tortured enough to have thrown thirty years of life away, he’d still be young(ish) now. It was only as I thought about writing this last night that I realised the crying baby at the end of the film would have been the roughly the same age as my sister and that crying baby, Natalie Curtis, has gone all her life without knowing her father. We don’t see too much of our dad now, by choice in my case, but to grow up not knowing your dad at all seems unimaginable to me.
She’s Lost Control