Joy Division - Control: Better to burn out or fade away?

Stephen Greenwood 19/03/2008

Found hanging in the kitchen of a house in Macclesfield the world had been robbed of another young star. Before he departed he had managed to contribute to a set of songs that have forged part of a staple diet for many a music fan. That man was Ian Curtis of Joy Division. Part of his story can be seen in the film Control directed by Anton Corbijn. It is a monochrome adaptation of the book Touching from a Distance, written by Curtis' young wife Deborah. The tale gloomily ends with the untimely death of the lead singer, just prior to the band commencing on a tour of the States.

However tragic his death was it helped preserve his body of work without any recognisable blemishes. It also elevated his status perhaps further than he could have done had he stayed alive. His passing paved the way for another era-defining band to merge in the form of New Order. Some might say that it was a small price to pay. He was a troubled man with a messed-up mind and could only foresee his life spiralling out of control. He would have undoubtedly become a shadow of his former self.

His story is not unique. Throughout the history of modern music there have been many cases of artists dying well before their time should be up. Keith Moon, Jimi Hendrix, Sid Vicious and Kurt Cobain to name but a few. Each and every one of these has become an icon. Propelled onto an untouchable platform that allows their spirit to live on. In recent times this has not been the case. A short stint in rehab seems to be the equivalent to sacrificing yourself in order to try and gain some artistic integrity.

It now seems the most likely candidate to prematurely hang up their mic is Britney Spears. Hardly rock n roll. Today's musical world is littered with personalities that would be at home having a good old chinwag with Alan Titchmarsh; rambling on about their paint by numbers hobby on daytime TV. Take Ricky Wilson of Kaiser Chiefs fame. He is more likely to pop a handful of Pringles in his gob, than a bunch of pills he has pilfered from a neighbouring granny. He would much rather fade away than burn out.

Then there are the likes of Pete Doherty. He has studied the handbook of the live fast die young star, and then dedicated his life to collecting all the badges. He succeeded with most of them but failed the test on the most elusive and important one. If only he had died before he had reached his peak. Then we wouldn't have had to suffer reading about his latest shenanigans in an excerpt of his daily diary covered by the red tops. He became as predictable and annoying as the rain at Glastonbury.

The problem with this is that if everyone keeps surviving we will have no-one to harp on about to our grandkids. All of our idols careers will become tarnished by their latter years, after they have regurgitated multiple albums of irrelevant drivel. We will despise the mere mention of their name and dispose of any evidence linking us with them.

So it is time for someone to stand-up and be counted, and then become an icon. Make a couple of top albums. Live an eventful life. Then do the noble thing and die. That way you will be able to join the great gig in the sky and live forever. Even if you are not revered while you are alive, then you will be able to rest in peace safe in the knowledge that you will be celebrated for many decades to come.

Is it better to burn out or fade away? Is it a wise career move to live fast and die young? Or is it merely the case that the pressures of fame that are too much for some to handle?