"I feel it closing in / Day in, day out ..." Ian Curtis (pictured) sang on "Digital" - a curiously futuristic title in the late 70s. Now he is one of the true digital icons. The band he led, Joy Division, blooded the new post-punk era in May 1980, when Curtis - most famously - killed himself before embarking for America - indeed, the 27th anniversary was yesterday.
One wants to write Amerika. For Curtis is the Kafka of popular independent music - or its Van Gogh, maybe - a European figure of strange tormented, imaginative frequencies, whose antennae were tuned to isolated, icy cold black transmissions. His radio played the depths of German feeling, angst, and history.
The enduring fascination with Curtis - a new film debuted to acclaim at Cannes yesterday, with the three remaining members of the band (New Order) present - is entirely morbid and entirely justified. Like Sylvia Plath before him, and Ms. Kane after, his is an English Suicide underwritten by extraordinary artistic talent. The word genius fits this epileptic man.
Why? Three reasons. One, his lyrics were uniquely potent in their objective correlation of the post-industrial wasteland he inhabited with his own dying soul. Two, his strange, estranged, robotic delivery (in terms of deadpan voice and spasmodic physical performance) fully brought across the message of his words, embodying true existential anxiety as no one in music had before. Three, his songs are, time and again, barren yet perfect melodies poised on an exhilarating knife edge between total human austerity, and passionate, neo-romantic utterance - they are beautifully spare, like a slagheap in sunlight, or perhaps sunlight photographed in black and white. Joy Division was an uncanny package, whose timing, indeed, control (and ultimate complete giving away of that, in death) are emblematic. In an age when artists, celebrities, and rock stars dream of being great, few incarnate an idea, or a vision, unto death. Kurt is one. But first, was Curtis.