The following is a guest post by Jennifer Otter Bickerdike, author of Joy Devotion: The Importance of Ian Curtis and Fan Culture (2016) which is a collection of essays exploring the continuation of Ian Curtis as a significant cultural figure, and the various ways in which fandom can manifest itself. I’m pleased to have an essay in this collection called ‘The Unquiet Graves of Ian Curtis and Sylvia Plath’.
This Night Has Opened My Eyes
Jennifer Otter Bickerdike
I love my hometown of Santa Cruz, California more than anywhere else in the world. I am not saying this as a country bumpkin who has never left California, or the United States- there is some silly statistic of how many Americans do not even have a passport. I have traveled all around the world, to cities huge and villages tiny. I appreciate a lot of places, but there is only the singular best place on earth of Santa Cruz. It is the perfect mix for me of artists, beach culture, nature, pot smokers, tech start up want-to-bes, crystal healers and corporate culture. It is the perfect ying and yang of opposing forces, yet it works so beautifully. I left the Cruz when I was 18 to go to University, and I was homesick within a week of being away from it. I have yearned my entire life to go back there to live full time- or maybe, I have always hoped, to find another place that encapsulates those same Santa Cruz qualities. I thought I would never find it, or get that feeling again. Until I set foot in Manchester.
It is safe to say that I had ‘been’ to Manchester many, many times. I have been obsessed with all the bands from the city for three decades- since early pre-teen-hood, listening to New Order and the Smiths on repeat, usually on shitty taped over cassettes of my mother’s Juice Newton or Alice Cooper albums. You could sometimes hear the former recording between songs, a screech from Cooper or a croon from Newton. But these were my bands, and it did not matter what material had been on there before- these artists were the soundtrack to long summer nights cruising around the Cruz with a newly minted drivers license, to midnight clove cigarettes in college, to make out sessions with the cute guy from the apartment next door when I first moved to San Francisco after uni.
When I finally had the opportunity at the ripe old age of 33 to go to England- my first ever vacation as an adult!- the most important place for me to go was to Manchester. I remember stepping off the train that first night- I was HERE. I was overwhelmed at literally being able to walk the same streets once traipsed down by Joy Division, the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses. I had a sweaty grip on Phil Gatenby’s Morrissey’s Manchester, a pre-Google tome which had a map and literal step by step directions to every place of relevance in the universe of the Smiths. Having also been equally enamored with Factory Records, I had my own even further DIY list of must see locations, such as the Hacienda, once the mythical epicenter of all Manchester nightlife, now outrageously overpriced footballer apartments. Top of the list, though, besides the legendary Salford Lad’s Club, was to go to Macclesfield and pay my respects at the grave of Ian Curtis. I remember looking it up- Macclesfield? Where the hell was that? Even my English friend who I was staying with had never heard of it.
Besides being too excited to sleep- so pumped up about actually being IN the ground zero for all of the music and artists I had loved for my entire life- I remember having that feeling. That Santa Cruz feeling. Of being totally at home, of the air, the architecture, the vibe, the intangible yet crucial thing that makes a place familiar and feel right. Santa Cruz is right on the Pacific Ocean, alternatively foggy and sunny, with a huge surf scene. Manchester has a ‘river the color of lead,’ red brick buildings and unrelenting gray, misty rain. Two places could barely be more diametrically opposed, even though they were on literal opposite sides of the globe. Yet they shared that magical, mystical feeling of possibility. I realize now how the two places had made me: Santa Cruz, the stomping grounds of my adolescence; and Manchester, the soundscape for my musical awakening.
Now as the wife of an Englishman, the accent, the music, the exoticness of Manchester has lost some of its mystique compared to my first visit to the City Centre. But like my hometown of Santa Cruz, I will always love it, it will always be home, and I will always feel that zing of excitement when I am within her city limits.
Dr. Jennifer Otter Bickerdike is a media and music academic, specializing in fan culture, the cult of dead celebrity, pop culture and music. She has written and presented extensively on fandom and media, including The Guardian and has recently been featured on BBC Radio 4. Formerly a music excutive where she worked with acts including Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Dr. Dre and Gwen Stafani, she now lives in London and writes and lectures full-time. Her newly edited book, Joy Devotion: The Importance of Ian Curtis and Fan Culture is out July 15th on Headdress. For more information, go to jenniferotterbickerdike.com