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'Get Lost': Burroughs on CurtisAuthor: Simon Sellars • Jun 12th, 2008 •
Every now and then I get sent links to articles about Ian Curtis that mention Ballard. While I find Curtis interesting I try to refrain from posting about him as I don’t really think there’s much to be said about the Ballard connection that hasn’t been said before. Curtis nicked the title to the Joy Division song ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ from Ballard but wrote the lyrics before he’d read the book. An early New Order song called ‘The Him’ takes its title from a passage in The Atrocity Exhibition (the book, not the Curtis lyric) but is supposedly a tribute to Curtis, not Ballard. Crash is on Curtis’s bookshelf in Anton Corbijn’s recent biopic. I accept that for Curtis, Ballard was more of a portal than a direct influence so really what else is there left to say?
But Curtis and Burroughs seems a different story, perhaps more substantial, certainly less well worn. Over at Reality Studio a fat dossier has been compiled to flesh this out, drawing on previously published documents as well as new research and email questionnaires with the likes of David Britton of Savoy Books and Richard Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire.
The dossier pays special attention to the infamous moment when Joy Division and Burroughs found themselves on the same bill at a gig in Belgium. Curtis approached Burroughs, who, so the story goes, told him to ‘get lost’. As RealityStudio notes (and subsequently interrogates):
To anyone familiar with Burroughs, the thought of him telling a fan to get lost is perplexing. Burroughs tended to be unfailingly courteous, even a touch “old world” in his manners. Typically he was generous with fans and admirers, particularly with young men as handsome as Ian Curtis. What could have prompted such an exchange? Was Curtis insulting? Burroughs in a bad mood? Were there mitigating circumstances?
Take note, too, of Britton’s snarky dismissal of the Curtis legend:
I’m afraid Joy Division never meant anything to me… My cronies and I thought it was “crying shit in your underpants” music. Student angst. A glib dismissal, I knew at the time, but it was a comfort to think like that. Despite what [Jon] Savage says I’m pretty sure that Ian wasn’t much of a reader. A skimmer at best, but with the ability to read the right stuff and quote from it. For a Macclesfield lad, quite an achievement, I suppose… [But] JD have stood the test of time and have proved to be something far more substantial than I at first perceived. But can one be wrong, and also be right? Is it “Transmission” or “Papa Oom Mow Mow“? But at least it’s better to have JD representing Manchester music than Freddie and the Dreamers.
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