A final beckoning
November 30, 2012 § 5 Comments
‘I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand…’ (Disorder).
The first line of the first song on Joy Division’s first album. Ian Curtis is looking for someone to escort him on his existential journey to the dark heart of the human soul (any volunteers?). It is a theme that is echoed throughout Unknown Pleasures.
That album is characterised by the stark minimalism of Martin Hannett’s production, occasionally fractured, as at the end of Disorder, by Curtis’s screams. In contrast, the whole of Closer, remarkably recorded less than a year later, is permeated by a suffocating, ice-cold resignation. All traces of defiance have disappeared, vanishing like vapours into the desolate urban night.
On the first track here, it is apparent that Curtis himself is now the guide: ‘Take my hand and I’ll show you what was and will be’ – his exhibition of atrocities.
Intriguingly, the opening line – ‘This is the way, step inside’ – is etched into the vinyl grooves, not of Closer, but of Unknown Pleasures. On the inside sleeve of that record is a black-and-white photograph of a ghost-like hand disappearing behind a half-opened door.
The picture (above), taken in 1970, was part of the Somnambulist series by American photographer Ralph Gibson. It is uncredited on the album.
The same motif appears at the beginning and end of the video for Love Will Tear Us Apart, filmed in a Manchester warehouse in April 1980. A wooden door with ‘Ian C’ scratched into it is swung open from the inside by a hand that then vanishes. At the end of the video, the hand swings the door open again but the band have gone. It is an eerie portent for what was to follow just a month later and it is difficult to separate the symbolism of ‘the beckoning hand’ from the funereal artwork for the subsequent single and album releases, chosen before Curtis’s death on May 18.
On a rainy Saturday in January 1998, I found myself in the town of Macclesfield with an afternoon to kill. Without anything better to do, rather than out of any sense of morbid curiosity, I visited Ian Curtis’s memorial stone at the local cemetery. It has a simple epitaph poignantly bearing the title of the band’s final single.
A few feet away there was another stone for someone called ‘Cornelia F’. The inscription read: ‘Take my hand and I’ll show you’.
My head was alive with questions – why would someone with a Joy Division lyric as their epitaph be commemorated so close to the band’s singer? And who chooses to be remembered without a surname? (The link to Christiane F seemed more than a coincidence given Curtis’s fascination with David Bowie).
The mystery remained unsolved for a further 12 years until I pointed the inscription out to some people visiting the town for a Joy Division anniversary event. One of them later discovered that Cornelia had been a German fan of the band who had requested that in the event of her death her memorial be placed as close as possible to Ian’s. She had never even visited Macclesfield.
I thought about her family respecting her wishes and coming to this odd little town in northern England for the funeral. I thought about the respective tragedies, one short life celebrated, the other only of interest because of the most tenuous of connections to the first. I thought that perhaps one had somehow precipitated the other. Like Curtis, Cornelia had died – on May 18, 1993 – by her own hand.