Genius: exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability. This definition comes from the Oxford English Dictionary. Now, the misuse of terms in media and the like is nothing new. We see the term ‘genius’ used on a daily basis to describe everything from Lurpak butter to Keith Lemon. In reality, how many geniuses (musically speaking) have ever lived and breathed?
Take the realm of pop music. It’s a broad term, and I’m using it to comprise everything from 1960s-psychedelia to 2012 dubstep. Who, in those fifty odd years, has changed the world around them through music? The Beatles did it, for sure. After that, The Sex Pistols did it. The Smiths, Oasis, and Nirvana – they all came close. However, there’s one man who shines out as probably music’s single greatest wordsmith, a man who was plagued by his own crippling insecurities and fragility, and a man whose brief life was marred by a series of personal tragedies. That man is Ian Curtis, and he came from Macclesfield.
You see many music websites searching to define such things as ‘The Ultimate Frontman’ and, without fail, the same old names appear: Jackson, Bowie, Gallagher, Mercury, Jagger. It’s a testament to Curtis that he doesn’t appear. He wasn’t a showman. He was barely even comfortable onstage, yet he produced some of the most dark, harrowing and boundary-pushing music I’ve ever head. He is celebrated as if a cult hero, and that’s because misfits everywhere can resonate with him. He was Kurt Cobain before Nirvana even walked. He was Morrissey before The Smiths had even met.
His ability to entwine words together to create beautiful turns of phrase is unchallenged. He is, simply, the most intellectual man to ever write music. As a songwriter, he cannot and will not ever be beaten. His dangerous anxieties all feed into the cult of Ian Curtis. He suffered deeply from epilepsy, and footage of Ian Curtis dancing is as humorous as it is disturbing. The ghostly vacant eyes, the awkward on-stage demeanour… He was, and always will be, the king of the uncomfortable.
Curtis married his childhood sweetheart Deborah when he was just nineteen. His band Joy Division were going places with Tony Wilson and Factory Records. Then a series of events so tragic and dark began and were unable to be stopped, resulting in the loss of a life so talented and artistic that it was perhaps the most unfortunate of all premature musical deaths ever. Curtis’ health was flailing, and his marriage was in crisis following an affair with Annik Honore (closely depicted in Anton Corbijn’s 2007 film Control).
It was all too much for a young, burdened Northern boy. Thirty-two years ago to this day, in his Macclesfield house, he hanged himself in the kitchen. To this day, there is no plaque. There is no observation towards a beautiful and memorable life. If you walked around his town, you’d see no mention of the tall, dark and shy lad who used to live at 77 Barton Street.
Despite this, his grave still attracts mourners. The stone memorial, with the haunting and tragic ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ emblazoned on it, stands firm. There are thousands of gifts given yearly, from cigarettes and flowers to records and pictures. Ian Curtis still inspires a new generation. His ability to focus on alienation, death and loneliness remains unparalleled by any lyricist. He remains one of the most brave and tragic figures ever in music.
To celebrate his life and to commemorate the thirty-two-year anniversary of his death, I have compiled a selection of my favourite lyrics from a boy who shows us, even thirty-two years on, the dangerous effects of anxious loneliness and isolation and the inability to cope with the pressures of a world that expects something from you. Ian Curtis: touching from a distance, further all the time.
“You cry out in your sleep, all my failings exposed. There’s a taste in my mouth, as desperation takes hold. Something so good, just can’t function no more” – Joy Division – ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.
“Confusion in her eyes that says it all. She’s lost control. She’s clinging to the nearest passer-by. She’s lost control” – Joy Division – ‘She’s Lost Control’.
“To the centre of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you. To the depths of the ocean where all hopes sank, searching for you” – Joy Division – ‘Shadowplay’.
“I’m ashamed of all the things I’ve been put through. I’m ashamed of the person I am” – Joy Division – ‘Isolation’.
“We all need the security that belonging brings” – Joy Division – ‘Novelty’.
“Don’t walk away in silence” – Joy Division – ‘Atmosphere’.
“We knocked on the door of Hell’s darker chamber, pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in” – Joy Division – ‘Decades’.