[CW: suicide and suicidal ideation]
“…and then he did an impressive swan-dive from the top of Tower 42 into the pavement” – me, drily tweeting about a fantasy that occasionally occupies the withered side of the part of my brain that occasionally writes jokes for me
Sometimes silence is better.
I haven’t listened in full to Closer, the second and last album by Joy Division – and best by far – in a long time. The last time I did – I remember exactly where I was, a friend let me stay in her flat rent-free while she was away – I was drinking neat whisky (Tesco’s own brand, the Sainsbury’s version tastes like sand) and cheerfully entertaining ideas about killing myself. My life was in the process of falling apart, I had been not particularly gently asked to leave a semi-boyfriend’s flat that I had been staying in (also) for free in exchange for the occasional shag, and my less than burgeoning career as a philosopher looked an awful lot like faking it to make it, and never making it.
But it’s an album that haunts you, and once it’s taken its hold you don’t need it in your headphones to hear it.
I have always hated Dulwich, a very posh cluster of neighbourhoods of mostly red brick big suburban houses in South London, where I went to school and have occasionally lived in. It is a venal, nasty, selfish place, and those parts owned by what is generally termed The Dulwich Estate – a hundreds of years old Empire of Condescension controlled by a cabal of social-climbers and Tories desperate to hold on to an imaginary but nonetheless terrifyingly real ascendancy (a bit like South Belfast) – are the very worst. I live in East Dulwich now, in my father’s house, during the Plague Era, which is a little more on the liberal and multicultural and historically working class side of things, and I am still in occasional contact with a few of my schoolteachers who worked under the Dulwich Estate system, but that does nothing to dampen my antipathy for “Dulwich” the place: burn the entire fucking thing down and soundtrack it to “Twenty Four Hours” by Joy Division.
Or maybe one of the more bitter tracks from Powerage by AC/DC.
So. It’s not possible for me to distinguish my impressions of Closer from my impressions of despising Dulwich. I don’t remember for what particular purpose I was going down East Dulwich Grove on that night, but I do remember going from trembling in awful recognition, to pacing faster down the street to jogging to running past the turn-off to Dulwich Village. It had something to do with my teenage love-life, but it also had a lot to do with suicidal ideation: Ian Curtis was younger than I am now when he killed himself, and where his last words hit hardest are where they express either (1) the savage and final antipathy towards any sort of human relationship – as in “Twenty Four Hours”, or (2) the science-fictional alienation from any sort of humanity, as in the track that immediately precedes the aforementioned, “Heart and Soul”.
The former members of Joy Division who made up and reformed as New Order like to talk up Curtis’s ordinariness and jocularity: but it remains a fact that he wrote those deeply bleak songs; “Heart and Soul // One will burn”.
Martin Hannett had a hand in the bleakness, to be fair- they started out as a punk band, after all. But he didn’t have a hand as such in the strange impulses that led the likes of me to be appalled, confused, and convinced by the bleak reality of the life and words of Ian Curtis. The “ideation” in “suicidal ideation” isn’t an excuse: it’s the point, it’s actually fairly ordinary to wish for death.
All of these things are connected: I hate Dulwich; Ian Curtis gives up on life; his band mates desperately pretend they didn’t see his suicide coming.
Closer is a suicide note, but it’s also just a record. Something you hear in the background when you take the bus down East Dulwich Grove because you had a bad year, or you got dumped by somebody you cared about. You hate your job, or you hate the fact you don’t have one, or you’re annoyed with yourself because you can’t sleep.
I got ahead of myself I suppose with this, but I’m trying to make myself write when I have the energy, and I’m not dead yet: I’m listening to Closer for the first time in a long time and while it makes me so terribly sad to remember all of the pain I associate with the album, it’s a reminder that you don’t have to die, at least not yet.
You can always spew shit on the internet like a mawkish cunt instead.