Deborah Orr: Only after 27 years can we understand what Ian Curtis's death was really about

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The Independent Online

Growing older gets a bit of a bad press, but it's actually really interesting, in lots of ways. One of them is watching the gradual recession of some of the passions of your youth into anachronism, and another is watching others among them slowly advancing into grand significance. You'd imagine, I think, as a young person today, that Ian Curtis had been really famous at the time of his suicide in 1980, even though his group Joy Division were barely in the mainstream. Anton Corbijn's critically acclaimed film about his life doesn't even mention his name, billing Control as "the story of an icon".

But most of the iconography came later, building up over the years along with the people in his group, who went on to become New Order, and in his record company, Factory, founded by the recently deceased Tony Wilson. Their cultural impact became all the greater as time went on, and their early colleague's significance grew with them. What followed Curtis's death, over many years, has bolstered his significance in a way that could not have been predicted at the time.

Michael Winterbottom's film 24 Hour Party People has already identified the death of Curtis as central to the development of Manchester's pop-cultural ascendancy, and that is correct. But I can't even remember the moment at which I learned that Curtis had died, let alone how I found out, except that it was by word of mouth rather than by through media frenzy. I can remember, though, going to an early New Order gig, not long after, and it being only about a quarter full. People, early on, were not that interested in the hole Curtis's death had made, or how it might be filled. In 1980, it was the death of John Lennon that jolted the nation.

By all accounts Corbijn's film does justice to Curtis's memory, more than the partial account written by his widow, Deborah Curtis, in the mid-1990s and more than the other former members of New Order – who sometimes seemed straightforwardly cheesed off with being asked about him – have so far got across. What Corbijn has managed to emphasise is that the death of this young man had not got so very much to do with his milieu or with his status as an artist, but with inadequate responses to the illnesses he suffered from, epilepsy and depression.

This is, of course, a positive thing, even if it has taken 27 years for it to happen. Yet while the belief may be that in the intervening time our understanding of mental health problems has massively increased, I can't help feeling that for young people facing similar pressures to Curtis now, the situation is worse rather than better. Kurt Cobain, for example, committed suicide much more recently, again without much emphasis in a much larger media response being given to the contribution made by his ongoing mental health difficulties. Had Curtis been starting out now, the media pressure on him would have been no doubt much greater than it was in the late 1970s, just as it was on Pete Doherty before his fledgling career went down the swanee.

Any success, however fleeting, is nowadays viewed as some sort of act of collusion with the papers, who believe that if they have reviewed your concert, then an indefinite seat outside your home is the least that can be offered in return. It is now, seemingly, seen as perfectly acceptable for the media actually to target people who are clearly suffering from mental illnesses, cataloguing and dissecting their every move. Self-harm, anorexia, drug use, alcoholism, depression, whatever. We'll have your dad on the radio. Hair shaved off? Kids taken away? Weeping in the street? It all makes a good story.

The noise around Curtis has grown tumultuous over decades, and the noise has been in the main respectful and truly engaged. The noise around many young stars today is tumultuous too, and enough to drive them mad, even if they start out as sound as bells. Watching it all unfold, over the years, in its prurience and its destructiveness, is sobering and sad.

Bill for president – again

The two-for-one offer has really taken off now, roaming far from supermarkets and into the corridors of power. I very much like Hillary Clinton's suggestion that if she gets to run America, she'll throw in her old man to run the rest of the world just like he used to (both pictured).

It gives special resonance to the American practice of calling ex-presidents "President", as if they were still in the job. Quite right too, since the world's most celebrated house-husband is at pains to emphasise that Hillary never even wanted to go into politics that much anyway, so he's clearly going to have to help her out quite a lot.

The great news is that, all going well, Bill will soon become the US's first female president, which is a double whammy as he is already regarded by some people, not the least of them Toni Morrison, as having been America's first black president.

It all goes to show that your gender and your colour don't matter at all when it comes to running planets, as long as you have charisma. Wouldn't it be great if all black women were like Bill, especially those useless ones running single families in British inner cities?

Devotion to duty, deference and the art of resignation

Whatever else you might want to say about BBC executives, they at least know how to resign (unlike, say, the Metropolitan Police). The controller of BBC1, Peter Fincham, has gone now, along with his head of press, Jane Fletcher, following in the footsteps of Greg Dyke, that guy from Blue Peter, and sundry others. The two admit that they had known for a number of hours that a trailer for a documentary about the monarch was misleading, yet allowed its contents to be picked up by the rest of the media. The Queen, it turned out, had stormed into her photo-shoot with Annie Leibovitz, not out of it, before she'd been asked to place her crown at a more rakish angle, or give Annie a billowy twirl. So, the Queen was stomping about in huff even before she'd been treated without due deference first by a celebrity snapper, then by an independent production company, and finally by the national broadcaster. Devoted to duty and psychic. Long may she reign.

Perhaps Lizzie can peer into the future on behalf of Gordon Brown, who is surely far busier poring over opinion polls than he ought to be, considering that he's got an entire pre-Budget report to rewrite by Tuesday. He really should relax and call an election like the conviction politician he claims to be, before we all go mad with boredom and frustration, and decide to punish him just for keeping us waiting. It's increasingly plain that we're all going to vote for the last person we saw on television anyway, so Simon Cowell's bound to win. Well, now the biased BBC has been neutered like a kitten, it can't be relied on to pump out Gordon propaganda 24/7 any longer. I'd blame the Hutton report, if I were Gordon. Weird how everything comes full circle.

Except in children's stories, which are becoming disturbing to those lucky few young people who can read, because some now fail to deliver happy endings that display natural justice. How unlike real life, at least for the children whose parents have signed up to the Happy Ending Foundation. In this pressure group, the happy ending comes when Mum snatches the unsuitable novel out of your hands, rushes to the town square, thrusts it on to the pyre, then supplies you with something from a gentler period, like The Red Shoes, Daedalus and Icarus or Ring of Bright Water. Feet cut off, exhilarating plummet into the sea, or beloved baby otter sliced in half? Or pyromaniac parents sent to mental hospital, so that children can be brought up in cruel orphanage, escape, and find that real mummy was Enid Blyton all along. Except that thanks to evil inheritance tax ... Oh, let's just stop there, before this gets nasty.

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