It seemed to be getting a bit serious for Joy Division. The bit about meaning it was all well and good, but sometimes it felt like they meant it a little too much. Like Ian meant it a little too much. This impression was driven home the first few times Ian gave way onstage to his epilepsy.
Bands onstage. Our heroes rarely relate to each other, their postures, projection and eyelines being for you, the audience, alone. Bass players and drummers who incline heads and together wind the rhythm up are just a little bit bass-slappy embarrassing and hardly add to the spectacle.
But Joy Division presented a special esprit de corps on those nights it was required. Toward the end of a set, as “Transmission” would rev up and Ian hit the third verse at top intensity straight out of the second chorus, Bernard and Peter would angle in and watch their lead singer carefully. They could see that the insane spastic movements of Ian's arms were getting a bit turbo, they could see that he was meaning it too much.
How long then? Some nights, to the end of the set, some nights, to the end of just that song. And Ian would scatter the mike stand, move sideways and be rushed off the stage by Hooky or Barney, or Terry their roadie.
Holding him down was tough. Terry was best at it.
“How are you feeling?”
“You okay?” said [manager] Rob [Gretton]. The van was quiet. A little aftershocked.
“It's nothing, shut up,” replied Ian curtly.
“Looked like an . . .”
“I said shut it.”
“So you don't want me to talk?”
“No, I fucking don't.”
“Not even to tell you that we're going to tour America?”
“Fucking great” from the back seat.
“Great. Do we get to stay in five-star hotels?”
“No, you stay in whorehouses and I stay in five-star hotels.”
They all took the piss out of each other for a while. Full of it. Ian too . . .
God, Ian was shaky that night. A crowd of around 300 for the word-of-mouth wonders. Unknown Pleasures was continuing to sell. This radical development of punk was out there, on kids' record players, on late-night radio stations. It was out there busily creating an audience for Joy Division and there were 300 of the bastards there that night — for Joy Division.
And they got a pretty weird downbeat version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” plus a couple more strange and doomy iterations from the catalog before Ian walked back off to the left of the stage. He was passed on the stage stairs by ACR's Simon Topping.
As Simon arrived at the mike, a belligerent-looking Buryite halfway to the back of the hall turned to his mate: “Fucking hell, it's that fucking guy from A Certain Ratio. They were here last week and I didn't like the funk bastard then.”
He'd obviously been making good use of his thick glass pint pot, because it was empty, and he proceeded to make even better use of it. He flung it at the stage.
It sailed over Simon's right shoulder and smashed against the back wall. The musicians went still. Gretton went nuts. He was standing on a dais at the back where the mixing desk was. It took less than a second for Wythenshawe's finest to hurl himself into the throng, screaming some Wythenshawe war cry as he dived in.
Onstage, Terry the road manager was staring into the abyss, into the melee where his boss was laying about him and being laid about at. Terry was rigid with the ultimate dilemma. If he went in, he'd get the shit kicked out of him. If he didn't, Rob would kick the shit and the piss and most of the blood cells out of him.
Decision obvious, he seized the mike stand and went in flailing.
This small riot went on for around 30 minutes. The Manc boys generally defending side stage and making attacks from the bar, the Bury boys making mostly frontal attacks. As usual at a good gig riot, the carefully hurled bottle was the Cruise missile of choice . . .
In the dressing room, after the war was over and number-two roadie Twinny had been dispatched to the local hospital with [Wilson's wife,] Lindsey, Wilson noted Ian wasn't around.
“He's up in the coffee bar upstairs. He's pretty upset.”
When Wilson found the forlorn Curtis, he was sitting on an uncomfortable cane-backed chair and had his head in his hands.
“It was my fault, it was my fault.”
“What do you mean? It wasn't your fault.”
“Course it was my fucking fault.” . . .
IAN CURTIS, LEAD SINGER OF JOY DIVISION, DIED TODAY
Ian arrives after a long walk at Lindsey and Tony's stone cottage on the moors.
Lindsey opens the door.
Is Tony in?
No, he's at Granada, come in.
No, it's okay.
Come in. You've come miles.
And Ian heads back down the hill.
Everyone tried to help Ian. Tried to help Ian? To the band and the partners it meant giving him somewhere to stay and recover away from his troubled home life, where he seemed to be having more and more rows with Debbie, his wife and the mother of his just-born daughter, Natalie. But how the fuck was anyone going to really try and help Ian?
He stayed at [Joy Division's] Bernard [Sumner's] for a week. And then at Rob's, and then he moved to the Wilson cottage in Charlesworth for a week.
All very well of Wilson to invite him in, but he was out every morning to the day job at Granada, and Lindsey, who was already finding the TV-turned-revolutionary-art-entrepreneur a bit much, was doing the baby-sitting. The revenge-fuck carousel was still going round, but with a houseguest efforts were made to keep the marital shit from upsetting Ian, who was also in marital shit.
There was another woman — Anneek, a girl from Belgium, a big music fan. She booked a club called the Plan K in Brussels, which had been Joy Division's first date abroad.
Wilson's efforts to entertain his guest consisted of putting a dozen bookmarks in a copy of the collected poems of W.B. Yeats and hoping he would find them interesting; the main romantic ones, you know, the ones with historic sweep and also that one about Joseph liking the way his finger smelled. And then into the Peugeot and off to work.
Lindsey and Ian drove each other a little mad that week. And by Saturday, an on-cue marital explosion set Wilson off back down the mountain, Ian sitting quietly beside him in the Peugeot.
“Fucking bitch, I can't even look after my poorly friend.”
Except that he'd left her to look after his poorly friend for the entire week, so fuck him.
And Ian was taken to his mum and dad's in north Manchester for the final week before the big trip to America.
And when the end came it was as a result of a kindness. Which was nice.
The band were due to leave for New York on Monday morning. On the Saturday, Rob took Ian out for a haircut. Anticipation. Good vibes.
Now when it came to Ian's Germanness it was more Goethe than Goth; a hankering for the serious-hearted romanticism that gushes like the Rhine. Ian's favorite filmmaker, obsessively so, was Werner Herzog, and on that Saturday night BBC2 were showing Stroszek late. Subtitles are all very well for the young avant-garde, but Ian decided it would be unfair to put his mum and dad through art-house-movie endurance and thought he'd go back to the then-empty terraced house back in Macclesfield.
His wife Debbie turned up, and there was a row.
There was a sadness.
And there was a movie; the last line of Herzog's masterpiece endures in Joy Division's personal mythology: “There's a dead man in the cable car and the chicken's still dancing.”
And hadn't Jon Savage's review of Unknown Pleasures in Sounds set the tone with its Tarot reference to the house of the hanged man?
When Ian was discovered on the Sabbath, hanging from a 19th-century device used to dry washing, they say that there was a bottle of whiskey. They say that Iggy Pop's The Idiot was still spinning, aimlessly, pointlessly on the record deck. The stylus arm had fully retracted. Hadn't it just . . .
THE CHAPEL OF REST
“I know this is a bad moment but, you know, life goes on and they're going to need a lead singer. I know all their songs off by heart already.”
The real ghoul time. Jury not out on this geezer with a Cure sticky-up haircut who accosted Wilson and Lindsey on the way into the chapel.
“Don't lose any time, do you?”
“It's me singing. I sing all their stuff on there. Just get time to listen to it, Tony, I want to help, you know.”
“Yeah, okay I'll listen to it, okay.”
The brush-off comes easier with repugnance. Inside the small building, they run into Razzer coming out of the door to the lying-in-state room.
“Yeah, his mum and dad are in. Just got there in time.”
“What do you mean?” asked Wilson.
“Well, his mum and dad were outside, and I checked him and he's got this fancy white shirt on but they'd left it down on his neck and you could see these great big bloody rope marks all round it.”
“Jesus, what did you do?”
“Just pulled the collar up and covered them over, easy.”
Inside was nothing. The bit that's left. But maybe there was a bit of something else because quite openly and loudly, Wilson said, “You stupid bugger.” . . .
“IT'S JUST ALL TOO REAL”
Some weeks before Ian's departure, Wilson had to take the early-morning train to London for the day job. He'd had a temporary promotion to Britain's top current-affairs program, World in Action, and had been summoned to a London meeting. Driving to Piccadilly Station for the 7:30 a.m. he came up Ducie Street to get to the station car park when he saw, walking slowly along, the lovers, Ian and Anneek.
They walked like they'd been walking all night.
They walked like they were in hell.
They walked like they were in heaven.
Wilson pulled over. “Hello, you two; what are you doing?”
“Just walking. Anneek's got to get the train back to London.”
The answer was delivered slowly, resignedly, emptily. They had been walking the streets all night. Love with no place to go.
“Er, okay, see you on the train.”
Walking the streets at night and death are excellent bedfellows . . . You walk the streets when you have nowhere to go, no home, no bed; you're lost. Death is close. That was how that early morning felt before the normalcy of the Pullman jerking out of Manchester Piccadilly for London Euston . . .
Wilson knew that the 15 minutes to Macc would be Ian and Anneek's final moments for a while and left them to it.
He saw Ian on the platform at Macc, waving goodbye to Anneek. The gray raincoat, all-night exhaustion written on his face; or maybe the exhaustion at the emotions he was bombarded with, the ones he could or couldn't filter into his words, into his group.
After a polite 10-minute interregnum, Wilson made his way back to where Anneek was sitting in second class.
Idle chitchat with a sad-eyed lady. Until mention of the new album brought it out.
“What do you think of the album then, Anneek?”
“I think it's terrible.”
“No, no, not the music, but what it is, don't you understand? He means these things, they're not just lyrics, they're not just songs, he means it.”
“When he says, 'I take the blame,' don't you understand? He does exactly that, he thinks everything is his fault, it's just all too real.”
Wilson nodded. And thought nothing. She was in love, she took the music too seriously. She was Belgian, she took everything too seriously. It was just an LP. A great LP but not real, not life.
Totally fucking wrong.
Just wish in your soul to see
just whatever happens
With your decorum and then just fade away
I see you fade away, don't ever fade away
THE LIGHTS LOOK BRIGHT WHEN YOU REACH OUTSIDE TIME FOR ONE LAST RIDE BEFORE THE END OF IT ALL
AND SHE SCREAMED OUT KICKING ON HER SIDE AND SAID “I'VE LOST CONTROL” AND SEIZED UP ON THE FLOOR, I THOUGHT SHE'D DIE, SHE SAID “I'VE LOST CONTROL.”
I TRAVELLED FAR AND WIDE THROUGH PRISONS OF THE CROSS WHAT DID YOU SEE THERE? THE POWER AND GLORY OF SIN WHAT DID YOU SEE THERE? THE BLOOD OF CHRIST ON THEIR SKINS I TRAVELLED FAR AND WIDE THROUGH MANY DIFFERENT TIMES
GOTTA FIND MY DESTINY, BEFORE IT GETS TOO LATE