Ian Curtis has got a lot of press over recent years, movies and documentaries and books and the whole box and dice of art school martyr poses. It still seems a little strange that all that wallowing is now celebrated as being the kind of oeuvre you’d want to leave behind. More than a little strange actually, it is mind boggling.
Curtis and Joy Division did produce quality music, two astonishing albums of grace and depth. But they’re not your regular party tunes. They are worthy and due our attention, their complexity is not to be sneezed at and they have a quality, an atmospheric, that makes those two albums not like anything else in pop music. There is a beautiful congruence between what he sings and what he sounds like.
At a certain point in a young life the confused abhorrence Ian Curtis has toward the world is one of the most comforting set of sounds available. His Orwellian, techno-fetishist, drone strips bare the pretences of consumption and social organization to nothing more than the sound waves and emotional radiation of his self eroding. And when that is a perspective that a listener needs, Curtis and Joy Division meet that need better than anything else out there.
Another point is reached though, in the course of a life (one less burdened than Curtis’), when that perspective is simply too limited, too narrow to really be useful. If you’re thirty or forty something who is jumping on the treadmill in the predawn hours, ensconced in work and family, trying valiantly to make all the spinning plates keep spinning then the utility of lines like “routine bites hard” or “desperation takes hold” and “all my failings exposed” is none.
These are, unavoidably, the bare bones of how we live: everyday suburban bourgeois existence. If you’re not noticing the routine or the desperation or your own fuck ups then you’re not paying attention. That we’ll be torn apart again is really the routine we face, we’re torn everyday and then torn again.
And by that point it isn’t love that does the tearing: we do it to ourselves.