Ian Curtis: 35 años después, una leyenda eterna

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Si hay algo que caracterizaba a Ian Curtis era su indecisión, su paso hacia atrás en lo personal, su pasos (en plural) hacia adelante en lo profesional. Murió como él quiso, a los 23 años, en su casa situada en Barton Street, el número 77. Maldita o no, esta cifra quedó grabada en la memoria de todos los que encontraron en Joy Division una nueva forma de entender el mundo de posguerra más allá del amor de propaganda de los hippies.

Su suicidio, como en muchos otros casos más, supuso el inicio de una nueva leyenda… Una leyenda que, de por sí, ya existía por el giro revolucionario que impuso en la música punk de los 70. Más bien post-punk, rozando lo que a raíz de su muerte se convertiría en rock gótico, en Joy Division era todo peculiar, comenzando con su nombre que deriva del grupo de prostitutas y esclavas sexuales que tenían los nazis en los campos de concentración. Desde luego el nombre que adoptaron podía dar lugar a equivocaciones y en ocasiones fueron acusados de neonazis pero está claro que tenía más gancho que el primer nombre que utilizaron como grupo: Warsaw, que procede de el título de una canción de David Bowie ‘Warszawa’ (Low, 1977) a quien el pequeño Ian (y es que saber que con 23 años ya tenía la vida hecha parece casi imposible) adoraba e idealizaba como el Duque Blanco se merece.

Warsaw eran Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner y Terry Mason (más tarde le sustituye Stephen Morris a la batería). Ian vino después, justo cuando se encontraron en un concierto de los Sex Pistols en Manchester en 1976. Éstos eran amigos de la infancia pero necesitaban un vocalista que hiciera más amigable su sonido estrecho, así que cogieron a un tipo de las mismas características que medía 1,83, tenía 19 años y usaba siempre una parka color caqui con la palabra ‘HATE’ escrita en la espalda. De nuevo las apariencias engañan, y ese chico amante de la música de Iggy Pop que le llevó a la muerte un 18 de mayo de 1980 mientras escuchaba ‘The Idiot’ se había enamorado y trabajaba en una agencia que buscaba trabajo en los alrededores de Manchester. También le encantaba pasar las horas leyendo poesía, sumergirse en La Metamorfosis de Kafka y encontrar el sentido de los escritos de Hermann Hesse y William Burroughs… todo ello con un porro en la mano. Se dice que el consumo de sustancias tóxicas y drogas durante su etapa adolescente y más tarde en las giras con Joy Division fueron las causantes de los ataques epilépticos que padeció y que al principio eran confundidos con su puesta en escena… Y es que tener el placer de ver a Ian Curtis disfrutando de la música como no lo ha hecho otro artista no tiene precio. Los médicos nunca supieron la causa de estos ataques pero él encontró su solución de una forma que todos sabemos.

Tenía depresión y su única vía de escape era trasladar todas sus preocupaciones a sus letras, de las que el significado de Love Will Tear Us Apart no se tuvo en cuenta hasta que no se grabó a relieve en la lápida del vocalista. Oscuras, siniestras y solemnes son algunos de los calificativos que acogen las pistas que componen ‘Unknown Pleasures’, que con el tiempo ha ganado confianza por los interesados en entender a Curtis y su sonido. Quería expresar su mundo interior, la incomprensión por los demás, la incapacidad de expresarse y, sobre todo, la personalidad autodestructiva que lo tenía todo y no quería nada. No está claro quién fue el amor de su vida pero desde luego a su esposa, Deborah (que ha llevado su vida a páginas impresas en Touching from a Distance, adaptada más tarde por el director belga Anton Corbijn en Control (2007) no le demostraba todo el amor que en un principio le había prometido.

La rapidez con la que formaron una familia tras casarse a los 19 años es la misma que la que emprendió el cantante para abandonarla por completo, para mentir y enamorarse de Annik Honoré. “Mi matrimonio fue un error”, llega a decir en la película que hemos nombrado. No parece haber tenido mucho interés por su única hija Natalie, que veía a su madre constantemente llorando y a su padre en contadas ocasiones. Ian no expresaba lo que sentía excepto si tenía un lápiz y un papel. En estos momentos escribió memorables temas como She’s lost control o Atmosphere que más tarde llevaría a las tablas de los escenarios con bruscos movimientos y una voz que le echaba años encima. La soberbia la llevaba de serie. Uno de los grandes poetas barítonos del siglo XX, al igual que Jim Morrison, con el que también comparte desgraciado final aunque este unos años más tarde, concretamente cuatro, entrando en el famoso grupo de los 27 del que destacan Janis Joplin o Amy Winehouse (tirando de féminas ya que el documental de Amy se acaba de estrenar en Cannes).

Al igual que estas dos grandes figuras, Curtis teñía sus letras de fuertes matices suicidas y obsesivos con la muerte. Parece curioso que hace un tiempo me comentaba un amigo músico que el buen rollo en el grupo no solo se queda en las risas sino también en los llantos. En Joy Division no fue así. La personalidad de sus integrantes no dejaba espacio, paradójicamente, al aspecto personal de los mismos. Nunca se preguntaron qué se les pasaba por la cabeza y quizá esa incomprensión incluso en su círculo más cercano se trasladó a un final de esas características. Es, quizá, lo más interesante de Control, que recordamos al “celebrar” el 35 aniversario de su desaparición. Su lado más personal, más íntimo. Sus momentos de tristeza y reflexión, sus momentos de euforia y depresión. De pocas palabras, Ian Curtis nos deja el sabor agridulce de un personaje enigmático envuelto en el blanco y negro que nos presenta Corbijn en todo su metraje, fiel reflejo del ambiente del Manchester de finales de los 70, un territorio apoderado como muchos otros de la gran influencia pesimista de postguerra.

Prácticamente todos los países que conforman el mundo habían perdido de alguna manera gran parte de su identidad, no solo física sino también personal. Los movimientos contraculturales surgidos en la década de los sesenta marcada por diferentes acontecimientos como el nacimiento de la banda más grande de todos los tiempos The Beatles, la dichosa Guerra de Vietnam que desembocó en el famoso Summer Of Love donde las gafas redondas y el pelo largo eran la mejor seña de identidad, terminaron en el festival más recordado de esta época y del mundo, Woodstock (1969). Este optimismo hippie surgido en EEUU como respuesta a la intervención norteamericana en la Guerra que finalizó en 1975, un conflicto psicológico que Stanley Kubrick y Francis Ford Coppola nos han mostrado en La chaqueta metálica y Apocalypse Now, respectivamente; no era fácil de extender en un país frío y gris como es Inglaterra. Allí se pretendía terminar con la violencia con la violencia. Los Sex Pistols gritaban a los cuatro vientos una nueva versión de God Save The Queen con imperdibles hasta en las orejas y el pelo de punta. El descontento general de los jóvenes nacidos en la post-guerra se presentóde forma abrupta y visible, se encaró al optimismo hippie y decidió terminar una época en la que cantar a la libertad se hacía en agudos. Pasamos a los incontenibles gritos de Johnny Rotten y los futuros Joy Division estaban ahí para beber de sus satánicas y más que expresivas letras que han llegado impecables a la actualidad. Una utopía que por aquel entonces no se veía como tal, ya que no cambió la situación de las cosas en su totalidad pero supuso un paso que dejó huella en la historia de la música y la cultura mundial.

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Ian Curtis, al igual que Sid Vicious, perdió el control. Así es como como la protagonista de su canción, que se enteró de su muerte por un ataque epiléptico, produjo en él una mayor desconfianza que quebró por completo su figura. Le asustó y le marcó tanto que temía que su propia muerte fuera provocada por la epilepsia y no por el descontrol de su vida amorosa que le influenció más que su ídolo Bowie.

Por todas estas razones, el bicolor de la película de Corbijn inmortaliza de alguna manera ese ambiente que todos quisimos vivir y pocos pudieron salir sin consecuencias catastróficas, acompañado con la canción perfecta en el momento perfecto. Joy Division pasó a llamarse New Order. Podría decirse que de esta manera se cae el mito de que las grandes bandas terminan con la desaparición de sus fundadores. Ian Curtis no inauguró una nueva formación musical, fue más allá, convirtiendo en arte la desesperación y en leyenda la insatisfacción emocional cuando lo tenía todo menos el ingrediente esencial: la felicidad.

We’ll share a drink and step outside
An angry voice and one who cried
“We’ll give you everything and more
The strain’s too much, can’t take much more”
Oh, I’ve walked on water, run through fire
Can’t seem to feel it anymore
It was me, waiting for me
Hoping for something more
Me, seeing me this time
Hoping for something else
Joy Division- New Dawn Fades

© Noelia Murillo Carrascosa

Annunci

Joy Division: ‘Everyone calls us Nazis’ – a classic interview from the vaults

To mark the recent 35th anniversary of the death of Ian Curtis, here’s a classic interview with Joy Division, first published in Sounds in November 1978, and taken from Rock’s Backpages, the online home of music writing

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THROB, THROB, THROB, THROB. “Hey Miss, a bottle of Newcastle please. What? Oh, a bottle of Pils, then.” THROB, THROB, THROB, THROB.

The small, underage boy is becoming frustrated. All around him drinks and money are changing hands. Louder, deeper voices continually overwhelm his feeble pleadings. Even when he finds a chance to speak out on his own, the throbbing of the music succeeds in drowning his words.

Forty feet behind him a group are on stage. The bass player has his back to the audience; he is swaying from side to side with the doomy rhythm. The lead guitarist stands dead still at the back; next to him two drumsticks hammer into the shivering drum-kit. At the front of the stage the lead vocalist stands with his right hand waving about in epileptic fashion. He is screaming infectious vocals: “Seen the real atrocities buried in the sand, stockpiled safety for a few, while we stand holding hands…”

The name of the band is Joy Division. A doomy, Mancunian four-piece who emerged in early 77 under the name of Warsaw. It is Friday night/Saturday morning inside Manchester’s energetic Russell Club, and the crowd are politely non-committal. They seem mainly concerned with the traditional Friday night pastime of becoming outrageously drunk and are not taking much interest in the band. The band themselves are well below par and cannot reach the high standard that is their usual boast. Three weeks ago they achieved the impossible when they received a standing ovation from the normally ultra-passive Band on the Wall audience. Tonight, the finish is anticlimactic. They began in fine form but the set slowly tapers off to a mediocre finish. I stagger out of the club greedily clutching my free copy of the band’s 12-inch single and, in true Springsteen style, I speed off into the night, maaan.

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The next morning arrives too soon. I crawl out of bed with a dull throbbing at the back of my head and intent on self-mutilation, I reach for the record deck. Joy Division’s EP is cruelly slapped on. I flinch as the static clicks in the speakers and await my fate. The music begins, dark and loud, almost early Black Sabbath. The lyrics cut through my head.
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“I was there in the backstage, when the first light came around, / I grew up like a changeling to win the first time around, / I can see all the weakness, I can pick all the faults. / But I concede all the faith tests just stick in your throats…”

I’ve never, in all my record-collecting life, known a record that is produced as loud as this. The second track is loud but experimental. Hard to compare it to anybody but perhaps Wire. It is magnificent in every way and I couldn’t be more sincere. The EP is called An Ideal For Living and is available now on Anonymous Records in 12in form. It was out earlier in the year as a 7in but the record’s power was missing. This is, as they say, the real thing.

Thirty hours later I walk nervously into the room marked Rehearsal Room Number Six and mentally study the lads who are huddled in the far corner. They are Joy Division plus manager Rob Gretton. I am trying to assemble a decent set of questions in my head. The room is freezing and the atmosphere is equally icy. I sit on the filthy floor and gather the band’s names. They are: Ian Curtis – vocals, Bernard Albrecht – guitar, Pete Hook (Hookey) – bass, and Steve Morris (who looks like John Maher) – drums.

After some five minutes of non-communication we decide to move to the pub, where the ice is broken. Only Pete Hook seems unconcerned to the point of total indifference. He curls up in the chair next to mine and verges on the unconscious. I try to ignore him and begin the strange interview.

On the record label it says “songs by Joy Division”. Do you write collectively? Who comes up with the ideas?

Ian Curtis: “It varies a lot, musically anyway.”

Bernard: “We usually start with a drum riff and then add bass and guitar on top of that. Ian supplies the lyrics.”

Ian: “Yeah, I’ve got a little book full of lyrics and I just fit something in. I have a lot of lyrics in reserve so I’ll use them when the right tune comes along. The lines are usually made up of all sorts of odd bits. Leaders of Men, for example – some of the lines are two or three years old.”

What are the lyrics about?

Ian: “I don’t write about anything in particular, I write very subconsciously.”

Steve Morris: “If they were about anything specific they would become dated.”

Ian: “Yeah, I leave it open to interpretation.”

Are they trying to hide something, I think to myself as I drop the all-time clanger.

When everyone thinks of Joy Division they automatically think of this Nazi thing. Perhaps it’s because of your previous name (Warsaw). What have you to say about that?

Bernard: “We picked Warsaw simply because it is a very nothing sort of name. We didn’t wish to be called ‘the’ somebody.”

Rob Gretton: “Back to this Nazi thing. It’s good if people can jump to conclusions. I think that people can be very naive sometimes.”

Bernard: “People tend to take a radical viewpoint on everything, whereas if they would just think for a change they would see that it was absolutely nothing.”

Rob: “You wrote in your review that ‘Joy Division still persist in this Nazi-history chic’. What does that mean?”

It’s a feeling that circulates around your audience, plus the way you look on stage. (Incidentally, does Ian Curtis shout “Have you all forgotten Rudolph Hess?” at the start of the Joy Division track on the Electric Circus album?)

Rob: “They may look dark and mysterious on stage, but why do people connect that with the Nazis?”

Ian: “Everyone calls us Nazis.”

No, I didn’t say that you were Nazis. I said that you seemed to be interested in Nazi history.

They Walked In Line (Ian Curtis, 1978): All dressed up in uniforms so fine, / they drank and killed to pass the time. / Wearing the shame of all their crime, / With measured steps they walked in line…”

Bernard: “Everyone says that, but compared to Jimmy Pursey, who was an out-and-out racist…”

Why?

Bernard: “Well, you don’t think so, that proves my point. Nobody can remember the beginning of Sham 69 and the things he said then. Now he tries to disconnect himself from his past. Still, his lyrics are great.” (General laughter).

Have you played in London at all?

Rob: “No, never. It’s been a conscious thing, really, we want to wait for a while until we have more things on record. Actually, there could well be something in the near future, but I can’t go into that.”

Would it be fair to suggest that you are as near to heavy metal as you are to new wave?

Rob: “I really couldn’t say, but we are the only band in Manchester who have not turned towards pop. Would you agree?”

What about the Fall?

Rob: “Oh, yeah I forgot them.”

Ian: “Do you like the Fall?”

Yeah, my favourite band, in fact.

Rob: “Really, I dunno about them. They are like us in one respect because they don’t pamper the audience. I don’t see why you should pamper the audience.”

The interview ends. I exchange “see yous” with them and leave the pub. I am happy, I even stop to pat the dog that is guarding the pub’s entrance before I cross the road. I am happy because Joy Division are one of the leading bands in the current renaissance of Mancunian activity. Manchester may have died during the last summer but right at this moment it is preparing for the second assault.

© Mick Middles & Sounds

Getting to know Dad

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The daughter of Ian Curtis, the Joy Division singer who committed suicide 35 years ago, has revealed how images and record sleeves of her father inspired her to become a photographer.

Natalie Curtis was just a one-year-old baby when her father hanged himself at home in Macclesfield. Being so young, she has no direct memories of him.

But she became fascinated with photographs of her dad as she grew older. Images published in 1980s’ weekly music papers, Joy Division record sleeves and other items from the era fired her interest in music, art and design.

Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis took his own life in 1980. He grew up in Macclesfield, attended King’s School and was married in the town, before joining Joy Division.

He was hugely admired by Tony Wilson, the Factory Records boss and Granada TV presenter, who became Joy Division’s number-one champion. The band released two critically acclaimed LPs and four singles, and were on the cusp of major success.

But Ian Curtis suffered from depression and epilepsy, and killed himself just before his 24th birthday and Joy Division’s American tour. His funeral was at Macclesfield Crematorium, where a memorial stone was laid.

Joy Division later reformed as New Order and had massive success. But Ian Curtis remains a key figure in rock music history.

Natalie Curtis grew up with her mother, Deborah, and started taking photographs aged four with her grandma’s camera. But she gradually became intrigued with widely-publicised photographs of her dad.

Now 36, she recalls: “Photographs of Joy Division probably had more effect on me than anything else, especially those by Kevin Cummins and Anton Corbijn.

“Kevin’s pictures were really beautiful. He took some early shots of Joy Division rehearsing. And Anton Corbijn photographed them in a tube station around the same time. Quite a few people photographed Joy Division, but these photographs really stick in my memory.”

Kevin Cummins’ work regularly appeared in NME during the 1970s and Eighties, while Anton Corbijn’s other work included early record sleeves for U2.

Natalie added: “Joy Division sleeves were really cool. One of the best things about Factory Records was its aesthetic design.”

After Henbury High School, she studied at Macclesfield College and in Manchester, and is now developing her photographic career.

A private, modest person, she does not exploit her connection to Ian Curtis. She says she is simply known as ‘Nat the photographer’ to many people.

But she added: “Macclesfield people are more aware that I’m Ian Curtis’s daughter. I was born in Macclesfield and lived there all my life. I grew up with all the publicity surrounding my dad and didn’t really know anything different. That had its ups-and-downs, but I suppose I’ve become used to it.”

“I’m really proud of Joy Division’s music. I think it’s great stuff. And it’s lovely that people are still listening to it. I like lots of Joy Division records myself, especially Closer.”

“I also like dance stuff and country music, like Johnny Cash. But I’m not musical. I tried playing piano as a kid but didn’t make grade-one. I’m really bad,” she quipped.

Natalie currently lives in Manchester but retains strong Macclesfield links, through close friends and photographic projects.

“I love Macclesfield buildings and streets, and the green hills above it.

“I also love places like the 108 steps between the town hall and the railway station.

© Macclesfield Express

Peter Hook & the Light – tenderness and venom in a three-hour homage to Joy Division

This shouldn’t work, but it does; people hug during Disorder and applaud in the middle of Shadowplay as the bassist plays the band’s entire catalogue on the 35th anniversary of Ian Curtis’s death

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When Ian Curtis fronted Joy Division, the band agreed that should any of them ever leave, the remaining members would change the name and do something different. They probably didn’t expect that the singer would kill himself aged 23 or that the band would regroup with a new electronic direction as New Order, never mind that subsequently estranged bassist Peter Hook would perform the entire Joy Division back catalogue in a church in Curtis’s hometown on the 35th anniversary of his death.

This shouldn’t work, but Hook has dusted off the legendary canon with the care of a museum curator. His lower vocal register suits the songs perfectly, and he delivers them with tenderness or venom. Delivered in chronological order, the 47 songs – almost three-and-a-half hours of music – trace Joy Division’s hurtling trajectory from a ramshackle but spirited punk band into something powerful and astonishing. Somewhere around Exercise One, Hook channels their youthful realisation that the future offered anxiety and fear, and the gig audibly levitates.

With the light coming in through a stained glass window bearing the image of an arms-outstretched Christ, the atmosphere – and, well, Atmosphere – is spookily emotional. People hug during Disorder and spontaneously applaud right in the middle of Shadowplay. Happy Mondays singer Rowetta takes four songs; again, it shouldn’t work, but her exquisitely passionate New Dawn Fades underlines what fantastic songs these are.

Darkness descends, appropriately, for Closer, Joy Division’s majestic final album, and you can’t help wonder how the middle-aged Hook feels, singing his friend’s poignant words, which he was too young to understand at the time. The funereal The Eternal, under electric candlelight, is ethereally beautiful, before Love Will Tear Us Apart forms part of a more celebratory finale.

One also wonders how Curtis would have felt about it all. But he wanted to leave a legacy, and this was his life.

© The Guardian