Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 184
Fri. July 13, 2012
One of the most haunting songs Ian Curtis ever composed was released after his unfortunate passing in 1980. Jon Savage suggested that Curtis’ ferocious appetite for reading influences his songwriting. Savage expanded on this when he wrote in The Guardian UK— “It seems clear that Curtis used his books as mood generators. At the same time, his wife thought “the whole thing was culminating in an unhealthy obsession with mental and physical pain”. As she recently wrote: “I think that reading those books must have really nurtured his ‘sad’ side.””
It was actually Curtis’ specific love of Science Fiction literature that focused his final years of writing as Savage explained—“As 1979 turned into 1980, Curtis’s mood grew darker. “Dead Souls” was a slice of HP Lovecraft horror, old and cold, that made the hairs stand up on your neck.” There’s a lesson here for all promising writers of any craft: songsmiths, essayists, poets, novelists, short story scribes—any and all in between no matter what genre, you have to read and explore the styled techniques of different writers to perfect the voice in your craft.
“[It] was an indication to me that he considered them part of his work. They were important to him. It wasn’t something he did as relaxation or for pleasure. He was studying and working. It wasn’t something he did as relaxation or for pleasure. His books would be on the floor next to his drafts.” From her book, Touching From A Distance, Curtis widow Deborah talks about the influence literature had on Ian’s own writing.
I scoff at the idea that some people have songs, stories and poems which take minutes to complete. There’s a process to creativity that’s frustratingly tortuous and liberating and illuminating on the same page. Curtis didn’t treat songwriting as a curious hobby, it was his creative obsession as Deborah shared in Touching From A Distance—“most nights Ian would go into the blue room and shut the door behind him to write, interrupted only by cups of coffee handed through the swirls of Marlboro smoke. I didn’t mind the situation: we regarded it as a project, something that had to be done.” Good thing he was such a committed writer, because all of that hard work gave Ian Curtis the ultimate reward. Chris Ott said it best when he writing about “Dead Souls” in his 33 1/3 tome for Unknown Pleasures, he said—“Ian Curtis had tapped into something—there’s no other word for it—eternal.” That’s the goal for any artist—Ian Curtis and Joy Division reached creative immortality.
“In Joy Division, the songs came quickly— a song a fortnight, or even a week. We wrote the songs without ever recording them as we went along, because we had nothing to record them on. We couldn’t afford anything. All the songs were in our heads, we just imagined them,” Curtis’ band mate and bassist Peter Hook said explaining the magic behind the Joy Division song creation method. Speaking as a dedicated songwriter, Hook shared some of the most important advice all aging writers must hear, when he said, “The most important song you’re ever going to write is your next one.” You know, that’s the drive that you have. You do get a lot of detractors that are saying, “Oh god, why does he bother writing new material? Why doesn’t he just play the old stuff?” But as a creative musician, that’s what you live for…writing new stuff. It’s always great playing old material, but you still need the drive, and luckily the ability, to pull off the new stuff, as well.”
I had a mentor who would annoy me by preaching to me, “do not rest on your laurels.” Looking back he and Hookey were right. It’s always the next poem, song, article, story, essay or novel that’s most important. If you’re a true writer, it never ends; the goal is to craft the most perfect piece that expresses your innermost voice.
“Turning that corner and the process of writing this last record has been eye-opening, not only in the mechanics of how I did it and the ease of fighting myself a lot less, but also the potential of where the writing could go. … I felt like I’d changed course. And it opened up a whole new realm of things I can get into and express in that department. I haven’t abandoned the first-person world, but it feels less closed-in and narrowed-down than it did a few years ago.” Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails said sharing his own thoughts on his own songwriting process.
Will we ever get there? To find your true voice you’re going to have to dig deep, and then go deeper and deeper and most people are afraid of even looking in the reflective mirror. You think it’s easy sharing your most personal fears to the world? Just look at Ian Curtis and Trent Reznor, they have demons (we all do), but what makes them true artists is they uncover their own darkness and share it through their gift of song. If you want to be a successful writer, you have to express what most people try to hide. You’re going to have to face it straight on with your words but that reflection is so illuminating that if you dive in, your writing might just turn from haunting to creative resurrection.
Trent Reznor, who recorded his own cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls,” talked about his recent writing renaissance when he said, “So what I have learned post getting sober and being more of an adult is, that process of writing is not as torturous and laborious as it used to be. I used to fear an empty piece of paper. “Fuck, this better be the best song ever, man.” There’s no recipe for failure like that. But I found that if you just go into it and open up the color palette beyond one emotion, it’s actually kind of fun.”
I used to think that the voices Ian Curtis wrote and sung about on “Dead Souls” were old spirits haunting me from my mistakes of the past. Now I realize, those “Souls” calling me are my voices of inspiration that keep me thriving as a writer, uncovering new words in my prose. Who knew a song called “Dead Souls” written by Ian Curtis, performed by Joy Division in 1980, covered by Nine Inch Nails in 1994 would inspire such a lively and inspirational post? It’s all about perspective and focus, folks. It’s easy to get distracted, but if you open your creative thought process to the “Souls” singing around you, all these signs will eventually lead you to the reflective page that many have longed to flee. Turn up the inner darkness volume you once feared, and give your voice some written light.