From safety to where? Melody Maker 14/6/80
Article by Jon Savage

From safety to where?

  About midday on Sunday, May 18, Ian Curtis was found dead by his wife in the
kitchen of his house in Macclesfield. Although the exact cause and 
circumstances are unclear - the inquest is to be held this Friday - the manner 
was peculiarly final - hanging.
  His death occurred at about 5am on Sunday morning, at a time when he was 
under a great deal of emotional stress from outside sources.
  His funeral was held on Friday, May 23. Since then fantastic stories have 
flown on the wings of rumour, as the rock'n'roll vampires have begun to erect
the steel wall of myth: a Viciousburger that died for his art.
  Rock'n'roll culture is dead necrophiliac, it's the death wish that lies in 
youth and in the original dream amplified. Death is romantic, exquisitely sad;
it provides an easy package, an easy full-stop. So it is with Ian Curtis; Joy
Division had built up a reputation based on the communication of a particular
mood; rooted in place (Manchester), yet wider; alienated, nostalgia, 
displacement of belief, yet searching for an answer at a time when common 
systems have disappeared and little is left. This reputation was enhanced by 
stinging, monolithic live performances and more muted, fragile recordings.
  Death provides a crystallization: Ian Curtis' artistic life can now be
interpreted as a struggle that failed, for reasons that are as personal and
obscure as his death. Now, no one will remember what his work with Joy 
Division was like when he was alive; it will be perceived as tragic rather 
than courageous. Now you can file under all-purpose romantic myth, ripe for
packaging and consumption.
  To write much further would give unnecessary place to an act that was 
private, public though it's effects may be. Ian Curtis and his myth have now 
become public property in that what he expressed affected many people who knew
him little (like myself) or those who knew him not at all.
  To mythologise and canonise him as a romantic pessimist who died for his art
is to have a corpse in your mouth. It's also to miss the point and give 
credence to a myth that is out of date (Chatterton in the early 18th century)
and damaging in these bad times.
  I was very affected by Ian Curtis' death; I'm not now. Life must go on, as 
the morbidity of speculation and myth-making is unhealthy. By all means 
consume the myth if it fulfils a need, but reflect on it: people do die for 
all sorts of things and rock'n'roll is no significantly sillier than anything 
else. But Curtis didn't ultimately, die for either art or rock'n'roll, nor 
it's romantic pessimism, ultimately enough. Our cancerous culture atrophies
through the very real lack of a will to live: to idolise death is to reinforce 
  As for Ian Curtis, he's passed through to the next stage.
- JON SAVAGE       

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