grey. He has the severe haircut of a Roman emperor.
At the beginning, Ian Curtis is still, singing as if with
infinite patience. Then, as the group hit the instrumental
break. itís as though a switch has been flipped: the still-
ness suddenly cracks into violent movement. The running
joke is that he does the Ďdead flyí dance Ė the leg and arm
spasms of a dying insect Ė but he is more controlled than
that. As the limbs start flying in that semicircular, hypnotic
curve you canít take your eyes off him for a moment.
Then you realise: he's trying to get our of his skin. out
of all this, forever, and heís trying harder than anyone
youíve ever seen. This is extraordinary: most performers
keep a reserve while theyíre onstage: only giving a part
of themselves away. Ian Curtis is holding nothing back:
with the musicians behind him every inch of the way,
heís jumping off the cliff.
("Ah, the mud of Leigh", remembers Tony Wilson. "That
was the night of the turd, wasnít it? A very big moment.
Bernard told me years later that he and Ian had gone to
the bogs and Ian had come out terribly excited, because
there was a piece of shit as long as half an arm, and they
all went down to have a look at it. It made their day").
Near the end of the set comes a new song, Dead souls,
which begins as a rollercoaster of soaring guitar and lurch-
ing basslines. After a couple of minutes Curtis starts to
sing: "Someone take these dreams away". Heís seeing
visions, of figures from the past, of mocking voices Ė a
terrible beauty. By the time that the song reaches its coda,
he's shrieking "they keep
calling me, keep on calling me,
they keep calling me", and the hairs on our necks stand
up. This is it, no way round it: Ian Curtis is raising the dead.
"I was into, I suppose nowadays you'd call it slacking,
but in those days I called it being a lazy twat", says
Bernard Sumner today. "I couldn't believe that I was now a
professional musician: my whole ambition was to do some-
thing that I enjoyed, but not actually work hard at it. Just
let the ether flow through me Ė ha! Ė and I'd be this
medium for this music from the spirits that came through
me. Iíd just lie there and the music would come through
my fingers, because I imagined thatís what art was.
"Itís difficult to speak for everyone, but one of the funny
things was that we never talked about the music: we had
an understanding which we never felt the need to vocalise.
I felt that there was an otherworldliness to the music, that
we were plucking out of the air. We felt that talking about
the music would stop that inspiration, In the same way, we
never talked about Ianís lyrics or Ianís performance. I felt
that if I thought about what he did, then it would stop.
I thought, If something great is happening, donít look
at the sun, donít look at the sun".
Just over 14 years ago, in the early hours of May 18,
1980. Ian Curtis died by his own hand, It came as a total
shock: the group were due to go to America a day later.
With a single, 'Love will tear us apart', and the album 'Closer'
ready for release, Joy Division were poised for a break-
through: as Chris Bohn wrote later, "The suicide didn't
so much bring (their) journey to the heart of darkness,
to an abrupt halt as ... freeze it for all eternity at the brink
Manchester is a closed city, Cancerian like Ian Curtis.
The main participants didn't openly mourn, but carried
on under a different name, New Order, into the group we
have known and loved during the 1980s. The label that
Joy Division had helped to build, Factory Records, became
the model of non-metropolitan success. Everything culmi-
nated in the summer of 1990, the last summer of love,
when Happy Mondays broke through and New Order
finally went to Number 1 with the World Cup theme,
World in motion. Grey and black had turned into dayglo,
darkness into light.
Yet Joy Division have remained a powerful presence, or
indeed, absence. They have been recently cited by writers
as diverse as Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Donna Tartt and
Dennis Cooper, who entitled his second novel Closer. They
also inspired the comic artist James O'Barr, who saturated
the three parts of his novel, The Crow, with Joy Division
lyrics, character names and an open dedication to Ian
Curtis, "who showed me the indescribable beauty in
absolute ugliness". It was during the filming of this dark
story that Bruce Lee's son, Brandon, was killed by an
I began regularly visiting Manchester again after 1990,
and experienced Curtis's absence as a powerful event that