Every year, millions of fans shuffle up the Boulevard de Belleville in Paris and chart a course through the crumbling headstones and gothic mausoleums of the Pere Lachaise cemetery to pay homage at (and maybe pour a fifth of bourbon on to) the grave of Jim Morrison. Similarly, in New York, 72nd street and Central Park West is probably one of the city’s most loitered-on corners, jammed with tourists who stand in solemn contemplation at the spot outside the Dakota building where John Lennon was gunned down by Mark Chapman. And in Memphis, Tennessee, the Presley estate continues to turn a dime well over 30 years after Elvis’ death by traipsing busload after busload of Japanese tourists through the gates of Graceland.
On the face of it, there’s not a lot to differentiate Ian Curtis from any of those other dead rock stars, right down to the humble headstone in Macclesfield cemetery that attracts its own steady stream of disciples. The Joy Division frontman may not be a fully paid-up member of what Kurt Cobain’s mother once called “that stupid club”, his application having been expedited by his own hand at the age of just 23 rather than 27 – but he certainly deserves a certificate or something. Like many members of the club, he found far more success in death than he ever did in life – though admittedly he never gave himself much of a chance – and like all of them, he was a complex, tortured soul, who made some suspect choices, upon whose head deification does not rest easily.
All those aforementioned names are keenly missed of course, but thirty six years after his death, Ian Curtis remains possibly the most tragic figure of them all, a monumental waste of a once-in-a-generation talent.
Even by the standards of potted rock biographies, Curtis’ makes for depressingly brief reading. Born in Stretford in July 1956, he was a bookish youth who showed an aptitude for poetry, but ended up married at the age of just 19, with a job in the civil service. In 1976, he met Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner at a Sex Pistols gig and formed Joy Division. Two years later, the band signed to Tony Wilson’s Factory Records; a year after that, they released their seminal debut album ‘Unknown Pleasures’. After being diagnosed with epilepsy that same year, Curtis’ condition worsened with the pressures and anxieties of touring, and in April 1980, he attempted to kill himself with an overdose of barbiturates. The next month, on the eve of Joy Division’s first American tour and six weeks before the release of the band’s second album, ‘Closer’, he succeeded by hanging himself in his kitchen.
There’s an obvious answer as to why, three and a half decades later, Ian Curtis is still so mourned by so many. It’s because, unlike Lennon, Morrison, Hendrix, Jones or even Cobain, his flame was snuffed out before he’d really started. Joy Division’s final album and their first EP were separated by a gap of less than two years; that’s two years in which they managed to define British post-punk and change Manchester music forever. Had he lived even just a little bit longer, who knows what he may have gone on to accomplish. In any case, it seems a safe bet that we’d be writing these words in a very different musical climate.
But what-ifs aren’t enough to sustain the kind of legacy that Curtis has left behind. What endures about him isn’t some misplaced romantic notion of dying young enough to have never made a shit album, either. His suicide arguably amounts to nothing more than a default on an unlimited promise and – far more seriously – giving up on his young wife and child. Only ghouls and morons will find glory in that act; for the rest of us, it was merely the most selfish decision he ever made.
As far as ‘Realness’ – that most misunderstood of rock commodities – goes, Curtis meant it, alright. The pain and alienation he sang about, his explicit disgust and confusion with the world that drips from the lyrics of ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ and ‘Disorder’ like blood down a grey granite wall, is as authentic as rock and roll gets.
Lyrically, he held nothing back; his themes were wrapped in elegant, poetic phrasings, but even the most casual listener can discern the deep unhappiness and loneliness within them. Curtis placed no emotional distance between himself and the listener; listen to the lyrics of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and he paints you a picture of something as intimate and painful as the collapse of his own marriage, blowing the fourth wall to smithereens. The blunt honesty and brutal frankness of that song still sounds shocking no matter how many times you hear it – Curtis doesn’t even try to deflect blame; the only side he takes is against himself.
Yet few artists do open themselves up so willingly on record, and it’s a sad fact that many of those people – like Kurt, Richey or Elliot Smith – end up taking their own lives, after making ours that bit richer. But instead of making a martyr out of Curtis and celebrating him as some sort of self-sacrificial lamb, it’s his honesty and fearlessness that he should be lauded for, not his devastating denouement.
Nevertheless, Ian Curtis continues to fascinate us because we inevitably want to know more about him than we’ll ever be able to. His is a well-preserved but enigmatic ghost; his pale, haunted eyes stare out at us from a finite number of starkly beautiful black-and-white Anton Corbijn shots, a handful of television appearances, one music video, and very little else. He never lived long enough to be overexposed.
Or to explain himself. Curtis was a man of deep, deep contradictions; a sensitive artist with a taste for bohemian writers like Burghs and Ballard, he was also a loyal Tory voter, who vehemently opposed immigration and flirted with fascistic imagery. In her 1995 biography Touching From A Distance, Deborah Curtis characterized her husband as a man who veered between good-natured generosity and selfish control-freakery, and who she once suspected of having homosexual affairs.
He was certainly adept at living a double life, and not just from Deborah, who he was unfaithful to for long periods of time with Belgian journalist Annik Honore. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see Ian’s inner turmoil exert itself through his lyrics and manic performances, but away from the stage, his welling melancholy was well-hidden from the bandmates he didn’t want to alarm or disappoint. Even as he was planning to kill himself, he convincingly feigned enthusiasm for Joy Division’s upcoming American tour, so much so that drummer Stephen Morris has admitted that, “Looking back, I wish I’d helped him more. I think that all the time… But we were having such a good time, and you’re very selfish when you’re young. Epilepsy wasn’t understood then. People would just say, ‘He’s a bit of a loony – he has fits.’”
Peter Hook, meanwhile, was more characteristically blunt.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “He must have been a pretty good actor. We didn’t have a bleedin’ clue what was going on.”
Only Curtis himself can offer clarification of what went on in his head and well… Because when it comes to the past, the truth is often subjective, dictated by those with axes to grind or agendas to protect. We’ll never really know who Ian Curtis was. But that, of course, won’t stop us from wondering.
Even Anton Corbjin’s acclaimed 2007 biopic Control raised more questions than it did answers. The film was praised in many quarters for portraying Curtis in a distinctly human light and not as a tragedy waiting to happen. But for his daughter Natalie, the film didn’t go far enough. “Control’ doesn’t go far enough to convey my father’s mental health problems,” she says. “His depression and mood swings are simply not addressed. Given the fervor to discover why he killed himself, this is something of an oversight.”
Yet, for all the unanswered questions, for all the failings he may or may not have been guilty of, Ian’s legacy is one of rock n’ roll’s most fiercely guarded and respected, and rightly so. You certainly won’t see an Ian Curtis avatar spasming awkwardly around a pixilated stage to the strains of ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ in the next edition of Guitar Hero. Even something as well intentioned as Peter Hook’s decision to mark the 30th anniversary of his friend’s death by playing ‘Unknown Pleasures’ in its entirety with his new band at FAC251 in Manchester was met with tuts of disapproval – though having been there and lost something in the process, who are we do judge how Hooky choose to celebrate his friends life?
Ultimately however, we should be bothered about how Ian is remembered. If we didn’t the absolute worst-case scenario would be a wave of tasteless, commercialized nostalgia that cheapened his achievements.
Musically, Joy Division aren’t quite as in vogue as they were a few years back, when the likes of Interpol, Editors and Bloc Party mined their brand of kinetic new-wave guitars and baritone melancholy for ideas; paradoxically, it’s New Order who are the big thing right now. But such is Joy Division’s importance, they never stay out of fashion for very long. And with the gloom that’s currently enveloping this country (if you believe the daily papers at least), it surely won’t be long before another generation of pale, undernourished and disenfranchised youths in three quarter-length overcoats prick up their ears to the cataclysmic rumble of ‘Transmission’ or ‘She’s Lost Control’. They may well already have done so.
It seems ironic that it’s the date of Ian Curtis’ death – May 18th – that has been chosen to celebrate his life. As Peter Hook once said of his suicide, “It was a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” and an unfortunate decision that brought him the worst kind of immortality. You can speculate endlessly on how different things might have been had he lived, what kind of person he really was, or what his final thoughts were in his still-unpublished suicide note. But in the end, the man himself remains rock n’ roll’s greatest unknown pleasure. The music is all that’s left of him, and what a body of work he left behind.
Musician claims in autobiography that the comedian, who died in July, attacked him with knives, bottles and chairs before split
The former New Order bassist Peter Hook has spoken out about his troubled marriage to Caroline Aherne, saying she attacked him with knives, bottles and chairs.
Hook, 60, said he was an abused husband in his marriage to the Bafta-winning actor and comedian, who died from cancer in July.
Writing in his new autobiography, Substance, Hook said the years of abuse meant he “couldn’t in all good conscience” join in the tributes to Aherne following her death.
He wrote: “Yes I loved her, yes she could be very funny, and there were times I felt privileged to have a private audience with such a great comic talent.
“But she was also a very troubled person and nowhere did that manifest itself more than in our relationship.”
Hook, who also co-founded the rock band Joy Division, married Aherne in Las Vegas in 1994 but the pair split three years later.
He said Aherne, the writer behind Mrs Merton and the Royle Family, tried to “brainwash” him with negative comments before becoming physically abusive.
Describing the start of the violence, he wrote: “She attacked me, using her nails to scratch at my neck, tearing off my necklace and ripping my top. It was proper shocking stuff.
“And although she was really contrite the next morning it marked the beginning of some serious screaming-banshee behaviour – putting cigarettes out on my arm, attacking me with bottles, knives, chairs and other assorted furniture.
“It would be set off by the slightest thing – talking or looking at another woman was a favourite.”
On one occasion, Hook wrote, Aherne slapped him in front of “30 assorted comedians” in the middle of a British Comedy awards afterparty. He described another incident when Aherne allegedly took scissors to his possessions, including photographs of his children.
Hook said he was left feeling embarrassed and ashamed by the episode, and believes it led to his clinical depression. He wrote: “I was an abused husband and it’s embarrassing, and you feel ashamed, and you can’t tell anyone. I needed help.”
Hook and Aherne split after “the worst argument ever”, in which Hook said he feared his wife was going to stab him. The following morning she left their home in Didsbury, south Manchester. Hook wrote that she said: “I’m leaving, I’m going to kill you if I don’t.”
Hook’s disclosures triggered a huge reaction online, with some questioning the timing of the revelations – published ahead of the release of his book on Thursday – barely three months after Aherne’s death.
But his words were welcomed by charities supporting male victims of domestic abuse.
Mark Brooks, the chairman of the ManKind Initiative, said: “It is very rare yet welcome when a well-known public figure like Peter Hook speaks about being a male victim of domestic violence. This whole area remains one of Britain’s great last taboo subjects.”
Brooks said one in three victims of domestic abuse in the UK were male, according to Home Office statistics. He added: “Many men do not recognise that they are a victim and when they do they fear that they won’t be taken seriously and feel a sense of shame.
“Somebody of Peter Hook’s stature coming forward will make a huge difference in not only giving men the confidence to come forward but will also open society’s eyes to the fact that men as well as women are the victims of domestic violence.”
Il 15 luglio 1956 a Macclesfield, vicino Manchester, nasce il cantante che inciderà profondamente nel rock degli ultimi decenni del secolo scorso. Morirà suicida a soli 23 anni. Lo ricordiamo con 5 brani storici della sua band, i Joy Division
Ian Curtis è una di quelle figure iconiche che attraversano la storia del rock per poco tempo, lasciando una traccia indelebile dietro di sé. Nel giro di poco più di tre anni e due album in studio, i Joy Division, la band di cui è cantante e paroliere, inventa letteralmente un nuovo suono, così personale e riconoscibile da assurgere a marchio di fabbrica. Dilatando la furia del punk e innestando squarci di desolazione in brani freddi e geometrici, la formazione di Manchester crea un lessico scarno ed emozionale, che verrà ripreso e rimaneggiato da schiere di epigoni. Una cifra stilistica che prende il nome di dark e che flirta da vicino con la morte, convitato di pietra nelle composizioni di Ian Curtis: il cantante, malato di epilessia, si toglierà la vita nel 1980, all’indomani dell’uscita del secondo disco della band, Closer. Ma l’arte di Curtis, per quanto oscura, riflette un’energia strabordante: la capacità di trasfigurare anche la prospettiva dell’esperienza più estrema, rendendo dolore, amore, solitudine e morte i poli d’emanazione di una poetica e di sonorità agghiaccianti e al tempo stesso palpitanti.
In occasione dei 60 anni dalla sua nascita vogliamo proporvi 5 tra i migliori brani del gruppo mancuniano: pietre miliari che resistono allo scorrere del tempo, conservando immutata la loro urgenza espressiva.
Primo singolo dei Joy Division, Trasmission è anche il brano che contiene molti degli elementi che caratterizzano il suono della band. Riff taglienti su un basso cupo e ostinato, il cantato di Ian Curtis marziale e incalzante; la band ricorda il brano come la loro “prima vera grande canzone”.
Pietra miliare del primo album dei Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures del 1979, She’s Lost Control affornta il tema dell’epilessia, in particolare della perdita del controllo dovuta alle convulsioni. “È impressionante come riesca a mettere in parole una sensazione che anche io ho provato”, recita un commento di un utente del web sotto al testo della canzone.
Un altro “anthem” del post punk: Disorder è la traccia di apertura dell’album Closer (1980). Bastano una manciata di secondi per distinguere la linea di basso, gli incastri con il pattern di batteria e il riff di chitarra che fanno da tappetto all’inconfondibile melodia di Ian Curtis.
Per molti una riflessione su cosa significhi vivere in una condizione di depressione, la canzone Atmosphere, a otto anni dalla sua uscita, viene accompagnata da un video, girato nel 1988 da Anton Corbijn. Famoso fotografo, videomaker e regista olandese, Corbijn viene profondamente toccato dalla vicenda di Ian Curtis, tanto che nel 2007 girerà Control, film biografico sulla vita del cantante.
Love Will Tear Us Apart è il brano più famoso dei Joy Division e forse quello dove la commistione di morte, dolore e pulsione vitale riescono a bilanciarsi meglio, restituendoci un affresco in cui gli opposti si conciliano, in una pienezza di sfumature e tonalità emotive capace di scuotere chiunque nel profondo
© Daniele Bova
To celebrate Ian Curtis’ 60th birthday, DJ and electronic producer Dave Clarke takes us back to his teenage bedroom, where the “secret cult” of Joy Division changed his life.
July 15, 2016 would have been the 60th birthday of Ian Curtis (1956-1980), the iconic poet, singer and Joy Division frontman who chose to leave the world when he was only 23. Although his recorded legacy barely exceeds a couple dozen songs, Curtis’ work with Joy Division has remained beloved by many throughout the years and still echoes in today’s music. We’ve asked DJ, electronic producer and Waves artist Dave Clarke for his personal perspective on Curtis and Joy Division.
Waves: What was Joy Division’s importance for you, and for your generation of music fans and musicians?
Dave Clarke: “It is hard for me to separate most underground music at that time from [BBC DJ] John Peel: I heard of this group because of him. There was also quite a big cultural north/south divide in England: for a kid from Brighton, the chance of hearing music from northern England was quite small without someone like Peel. So hearing this on crackly radio transmission was very special, like a secret cult, with a mono ear piece underneath the blankets. It shaped me immensely.”
What, in your opinion, made Curtis such an influential character?
“I always separate music from the cult of personality. I take music at face value, and also information was not so easily found in those days unless you actively sought it or read fanzines, so I just listened to the music. Only later in life did I find out about his life and why some of the songs were written. I think ‘She Lost Control’ was written from his perspective of working in situations that brought him close to a woman with epilepsy (I wonder if Grace Jones who covered the song ever knew). So for me, his life story only became apparent way after he passed away, through documentaries and films. But his lyrical ability was exceptional and fit the zeitgeist of post-WW2 England. Yet it still rings true today. I saw [Joy Division bassist] Peter Hook play Joy Division’s music live the other week, and the lyrics still touch nerves.”
Where do you hear the echoes of Joy Division in today’s music?
“All over the place, sometimes in bands like Interpol, Soft Moon, She Wants Revenge… When you have such a great reference, it’s hard not to ingest it and pay homage.”
And how important do you think was producer Martin Hannett’s contribution to Joy Division’s work?
“He made their sound in my opinion. A true catalytic convertor in the artistic sense. I think he may have had a deeper understanding of their sound than perhaps they did. Joy Division under Hannett’s guidance was a complete entity, a whole package – how rare is that?!”
Bafta award-winning writer of The Royle Family died at home in Manchester after suffering from cancer, says publicist
Caroline Aherne, the award-winning actor and comedian, has died at the age of 52 after suffering from cancer, her publicist has said.
Aherne, who co-wrote, directed and starred in The Royle Family, revealed two years ago she had been undergoing treatment for lung cancer in her home city of Manchester. She was born with a rare form of retina cancer and later received treatment for bladder cancer.
“Caroline Aherne has sadly passed away after a brave battle with cancer,” her publicist Neil Reading said. “The Bafta award-winning writer and comedy actor died earlier today at her home in Timperley, Greater Manchester. She was 52. The family ask for privacy at this very sad time.”
Aherne created some of British comedy’s best-loved characters: lazy daughter Denise in The Royle Family, acerbic chat show host Mrs Merton – which first aired on BBC2 in 1995 – and memorable Fast Show characters such as the Checkout Girl and Poula Fisch, a TV weather girl in an unnamed country where the sun was always “scorchio!”
The Royle Family was created after she and friend Craig Cash, who played gormless Dave Best in the show, threw themselves into their work after a suicide attempt by Aherne, which she described as her lowest ebb. The show won four gongs at the 1999 British Comedy Awards including best actress for Aherne.
The Mrs Merton Christmas Show won the best talk show Bafta in 1997, while The Royle Family collected best sitcom award in 2000 and 2007. Aherne was nominated for Baftas for her performance in both shows, as well as her directing of The Royle Family in 2001.
Tributes from those Aherne worked with have been flooding in.
Sue Johnston, who played Aherne’s character’s mother, Barbara, in The Royle Family, said: “I am devastated at her passing and I am numb with grief.”
Debbie McGee, the widow of magician Paul Daniels, said that Aherne’s death was “very sad news”. McGee was on the receiving end of one of Mrs Merton’s most famous lines, when she was asked in a 1995 episode: “What first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”
McGee tweeted: “Just heard the very sad news about Caroline Aherne, she was wonderful especially as Mrs Merton. My interview will be a treasured memory RIP.”
BBC director general Tony Hall said: “She was a brilliant, award winning comedy writer and performer, much loved by audiences – especially for The Royle Family and Mrs Merton and for her wonderful voicing of many shows. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.”
Noel Gallagher of Oasis, whose song Half the World Away was used as The Royle Family’s theme tune, posted his tribute on Instagram.
The daughter of Irish immigrants Bert and Maureen, Aherne grew up on a council estate in Wythenshawe, Manchester, and her first job was answering phones at BBC offices in the city.
Both Aherne and her older brother Patrick were born with the rare form of retina cancer which she was treated for into her 20s. She then underwent treatment for bladder cancer, the same disease that later took the life of her boyfriend Matt Bower in 1997.
The actor’s illness first came to light in 2014 when she agreed to take part in an appeal in Manchester that was asking patients and carers to help improve standards of care. In pledging her support she said: “I’ve had cancer and my brother’s had cancer and we know how it affects people.”
Aherne, who had been a smoker, also spoke of her battles with depression and alcohol, following the breakdown of her marriage to former New Order member Peter Hook, the death of her father, and struggles with fame. She spent time at the Priory clinic before moving to Australia to escape the public eye.
She made her return to TV in 2014 as the narrator of popular Channel 4 show Gogglebox. She was forced to take time off from narrating the show earlier this year while she received treatment for the disease.
Little has changed since the death of the Joy Division frontman. In fact, cuts to frontline mental health services are making a chaotic situation even worse
In the 1970s in Hulme, an inner-city district of Manchester, poverty and catastrophic housing conditions contributed to poor mental health. Records show that the six doctors serving Hulme prescribed 3m tranquillisers and antidepressants during 1977. The following year, in the shadow of Hulme’s tower blocks, Tony Wilson and several others took over a local venue to run weekly live music nights, which they named the Factory. Within a few months, the responsibility for booking acts was taken on by the promoter Alan Wise.
Wise was a loyal supporter of many local bands, especially Joy Division, whom he booked to perform. After the closure of the Factory, Wilson went on to concentrate on his record label. Wise also continued in the music industry, later managing Nico, who’d had cult status with the Velvet Underground. Then, in May 1980, the Factory family (for that’s what it was) suffered the loss of Joy Division’s frontman, Ian Curtis, who took his own life.
We dream that as we move on things will improve. The other members of Joy Division regrouped and became New Order; Hulme’s tower blocks have gone. Manchester calls itself “a world city”, but it seems cursed with second-class services to deal with ever-multiplying mental health problems, as recent high-profile cases have suggested.
In December 2015 Craig Creedon was talked away from the edge of a 14-storey block of flats in Higher Broughton, and detained under the Mental Health Act. Later the same day, against the wishes of his family, he was discharged from Meadowbrook mental health unit at Salford Royal hospital. Less than an hour later, he was hit by a train.
In March 2016, Wise’s daughter Natasha fell to her death after a history of depression and 18 months spent trying to get help. She had gone to her GP and been referred to counsellors, but after moving house she had ended up at the back of the queue again. Manchester mental health and social care trust has launched an inquiry into the care Natasha received, and claims its initial findings suggest psychological services responded appropriately. Her father, who knew she had been desperate for treatment, described the system as “a disgrace”.
Last Wednesday night Wise died in his sleep (the exact cause is yet unknown). New Order, deeply saddened at the news, issued a statement. “He died of a broken heart and we will miss him,” they said.
The trust in question, which is wrestling with a £7m deficit [see footnote], recently announced cuts to frontline services of £1.5m. The cuts were condemned by local politicians: Graham Stringer MP called them “the definition of irresponsible”. The trust’s failure has led to the NHS regulator proposing a transfer of mental health services from Manchester mental health and social care trust to a new provider, which could take another 18 months, adding uncertainty to an already chaotic situation.
Many people suffering even milder forms of depression feel numb and powerless, and simply booking an appointment to see a GP can seem like a huge hurdle (once or twice I have needed help, and on the last occasion, in my deadened state, it took me six weeks to make a call to my GP).
In Manchester there is typically a waiting time of three months to see a counsellor. You might feel it’s impossible to get through the night, or the afternoon, without a collapse, and then you’re told you have 100 more days and nights until you can talk to a mental health professional. To be assigned a care coordinator – a mental health worker to steer your individual case – you could wait a further six months.
Without support, it’s unsurprising that at moments of crisis, mental health patients are turning up at A&E. Those requiring inpatient care are faced with staff shortages at units like the one that took in Creedon.
There’s undoubtedly a pressure to discharge patients. In cases such as Creedon’s, you wonder this: would a hospital discharge someone with a cracked skull or a punctured lung and expect them to somehow heal themselves? Creedon’s family say he was “failed by the system”. An inquest this week heard that the trust responsible, Greater Manchester West, had acknowledged failings in communication on their part.
Too often, if explanations for mistakes come, they are full of obfuscation. Who is accountable? Politicians and MPs are critical of local trusts but appear powerless. Can you imagine how the service users feel?
There are dozens of reasons why mental illness can develop or intensify, including bereavement, family breakdown and a predisposition to depression. But the fallout from austerity, which includes homelessness, the threat of benefit sanctions and cuts in drug and alcohol services, have all increased demand for mental health services in Manchester at a time of chaos, demoralised frontline staff, broken systems and a chronic lack of funding.
Bernard Sumner from New Order once told me that just before Curtis died the singer said: “I feel like there’s a big whirlpool and I’m being sucked down into it and there’s nothing I can do.” If someone feels that way but somehow reaches out a hand and asks for help, our health professionals should have a system and the resources to respond.
• In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
© David Haslam & The Guardian