In Realistic Memory of Ian Curtis!

Ian Curtis may have disrupted a great many lives when he made his hasty exit from this world, but, as far as the members of New Order are concerned, there is something to be said for their accomplishments in the wake of that tragedy.

Curtis made some acceptable music during his brief time on this earth, but I dare say that the band's true genius lied elsewhere. Sure, he was anguished and poetic and moved onstage in a manner so unguarded, but those three other blokes behind him were doing the heavy lifting. After all, they would go on to form New Order and define their own genre just as Joy Division did posthumously.

Anyone who has ever worked in a record store and seen the droves of latecomers that flock to any artist who happens to perish, it can be en eye-opening glimpse into the human psyche. What about death makes us care so much about someone we didn't know? For me, I had grown tired of dusting those Keith Whitley CD's, but the day after he passed away, you'd have thought he'd performed on the Ed Sullivan Show.

My point, of course, is that Ian's death tends to dominate any conversation about the band, thereby heightening their perceived greatness.

People love a tragedy. We romanticize that pain, hypothesizing and mythologizing the inner dialogue that led them to murder themselves, wife and family be damned. "Oh, such a gallant fight they waged against their demons. Thank the lord above we still have their music."


I admit that the band's aura is captivating. They always struck me as the voice of the generation before them; the people who trudged back and forth to the boat yards, who drank themselves into oblivion and for whom happiness was a foreign concept. For that reason alone, every time I see a color photo of Curtis or the band, that aura is shattered, for theirs was a black and white world.

On the other hand, when I closed my eyes and lost myself to a New Order song on some dancefloor in town (probably Smart Bar), I saw colors...some that weren't even in my large, disorganized box of Crayola crayons with the built-in crayon sharpener.

'Tis true, this writer favors New Order to Joy Division because, at the end of the day, I'm just "a melody guy". I need some sugar with my stiff punch of angular UK post-punk. And don't try telling me that New Order was a synth-pop band. All that tells me is that you're only familiar with their hits: "Blue Monday", "Bizarre Love Triangle", "True Faith", etc.

Dig a little deeper and what you'll find is a band that probably had more in common with America's R.E.M. than any UK bands emerging from the remains of the punk explosion. On "Ceremony", for example - a song that had been written and performed in Joy Division's final days - its Bernard Sumner who his finding his voice, creating the angular yet melodic guitar style that remains - for me, at least - the band's most obvious trademark, even more than Peter Hook's fluid upper-register bass lines.

"Age Of Consent" and "We All Stand", from the riveting Power, Corruption and Lies, show in the span of two songs just how varied the band's musical language had become since Curtis's passing. You can almost hear him singing the latter tune, but, then again, Sumner's vocal performance stands on its own.

There is a subtlety of nuance to Sumner's vocals that I wonder if Curtis would have acquired as the band gained more studio experience. It's a safe bet that he would have, but, alas, we will never know.

So, while the world celebrates Ian Curtis on the date of his death, I would only ask that we give a respectful nod in the direction of Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris for recovering admirably from an otherwise horrific event. Their ability to create a sound and catalog of such diversity and artistry without having to fight their way out of Curtis's shadow is quite the accomplishment considering so many others have failed.

The Doors anyone?

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

1 comment:

  1. Nice piece on Joy Division, New Order, Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook. TEMPTATION was, for me, the track that lifted New Order out of the Joy Division orbit and set the band on its own trajectory, which I saw at the time (and forever after) as a great rock song that brought to mind the Loaded-era Velvets more than any other group or sound.