When I was 18, I had the very good fortune to find a job in a theatre in Manchester. The job was basic, but at that time, the late eighties, Manchester was the most glamourous and exciting city in the world.
Far away, on another continent, I had spent hours reading about the exploits of my favourite bands, like The Smiths or New Order, whose stories mentioned the streets and places that I now passed every day. It was electrifying. Madchester, with Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses, was at it’s height.
The greatest Manchester band of them all, however, was Joy Division. The tragic early death of the lead singer, just at the point when they seemed destined for mainstream success, had frozen them into a never changing amber of coolness. All young men of my age imagined themselves in an urban setting, gazing – trenchcoated – into the middle distance, while Atmosphere played in the background.
The Haçienda club – owned by the former members of the band, now New Order – was a short walk from my home, and the legend of older clubs, The Electric Ballroom, and The Factory itself loomed large in the folk memories of the local youth.
I worked with a woman who was – perhaps – five years older then me, but I had no idea how close she was to the epicentre of this legendary time, until I overheard a stray remark concerning the closure of The Electric Ballroom.
‘Did you ever see Joy Division play?’ I asked excitedly.
She said she had, but without pride, or with any affected ease. Did she not know how cool this was?
What was Ian Curtis like, I asked, breathlessly.
‘Him,’ she said, her lip curling with contempt, ‘He was a compete twat.’
I was crushed. She had been there when all this had been going on, and that was her assessment?
I asked for more details, but never got them. Heaven alone knows what sins the rock god committed to earn her eternal contempt. But I learned something. The Manchester residents who had the most respect for the legends were the ones – like me – who had missed the formative years. The people who had seen it all happen had no great illusions. A prophet has no honour in his own country, even now.