Today, would of been Ian Curtis’s 62nd birthday.
Back to 1980, when I was merely twinkle in my fathers eye, on the eve of Joy Division’s US tour, Ian Curtis committed suicide. Suffering with epilepsy, severe depression and torn between two women within an extramarital affair, he left behind a wife, a baby daughter and a music career that had barely begun. He was found by his wife Deborah in their kitchen at their home in Macclesfield. Deborah later spoke about how she and Ian had argued the night before and how Ian had later got drunk and she’d left. When Deborah arrived home the next day ‘Stroszek’ by Werner Herzog was on the TV and ‘The Idiot’ by Iggy Pop was on the radio – Ian was sadly hanging in the kitchen.
Joy Division, are a band I always return to, not only because surprisingly, they helped me through years of depression but because of how fresh it sounds in comparison to nearly everything else out there now in the music industry.
A tortured soul, it seems almost insane to me that publicly Ian successfully hid his inner turmoil from those around him, with only his lover Annik Honoré, picking up on it throughout his lyrics. When I interviewed Kevin Cummins, the legendary photographer who took some of the most iconic Joy Division shots, two years ago (Read more: http://northern-exposure.co/kevin-cummins/) I was interested to know how Ian was as a person, he told me:
”Everyone likes to think Ian was sat on the back of the bus reading about French philosophers and he didn’t he liked talking about football, music, enjoyed a pint and looking at girls like most lads his age did. I talked to Ian about Man City, Iggy, The Doors of whom he was a fan of. The other three would join in the music talk with enthusiasm – they had no interest or knowledge of football though.
Any troubles Ian did have he hid well. Northern men don’t want to show their vulnerable at all” Kevin Cummins
A complex soul carrying many burdens, Ian’s despair, isolation and self-loathing became more apparent to those around him after his death when deciphering his dark and harrowing, yet still very poetic, lyrics.
It is very rare that anyone will open themselves up on record like Ian did, its even sadder that the few who do (like Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison. Read more: http://northern-exposure.co/mental-health-music/) end up taking their own lives.
Whilst the majority of meaning behind a lot of the cryptic lyrics are related to Ian’s love of history and the bands mutual compassion for the victims of Holocaust (the band plunged into great depths with sympathy for its victims) they also touch upon Ian’s inner turmoil. He holds nothing back throughout their catalogue of songs. Although, when asked about the bands lyrics Ian said:
‘We haven’t got a message really; the lyrics are open to interpretation. They’re multidimensional. You can read into them what you like.’ Ian Curtis
Sadly, Ian found far more success after his death than he ever did in life, achieving cult status in the years after his passing. Ian’s story is most tragic as unlike John Lennon or say Kurt Cobain, Ian was a rising star who died before he’d even really started. Joy Division only recorded two studio albums (‘Unknown Pleasures’ and ‘Closer’). ‘An Ideal for Living’, an EP recorded in June 1978, showcases the group’s early punk roots which if you haven’t heard, I strongly suggest you check out.
Joy Division are one of the most influential post-punk groups with the band’s distinct sound and Ian’s haunting vocals they opened the way for the alternative scene not only in Manchester, but across the world.
I have chosen my top five favourite Joy Division tracks in a celebration of Ian Curtis’s life and music below.
NEW DAWN FADES
”Different colours, different shades. Over each mistakes were made. I took the blame.”
One of the standout tracks on Unknown Pleasures, but the darkest, the song is widely thought to be about suicide. Chilling yet beautiful, the song tells of the desperate turmoil in Ian’s life with the song title not appearring even once in the lyrics of the song. The song has been covered by a number of artists over the years, including Moby, who recorded the song with New Order – the band formed by the surviving members of Joy Division.
NO LOVE LOST
“In the hand of one of the assistants, she saw the same instrument which they had that morning inserted deep into her body, She shuddered instinctively. No life at all in the house of dolls. No love lost. No love lost.”
One of Joy Divisions most effective earlier offerings, the spoken part from ‘No Love Lost’ is taken directly from the book “The House Of Dolls” where Joy Division took their name from. Written by a Jewish author who wrote about the horrors committed by the nazis, the song is said to explore a sex slave’s forced sterilization or abortion.
HEART AND SOUL
“Existence, well what does it matter? I exist on the best terms I can. The past is now part of my future, the present is well out of hand.”
With its beautiful and dark atmosphere, Heart and Soul almost feels like commitment to the final defeat. A truly haunting and emotional track.
MEANS TO AN END
”A house somewhere on foreign soil. Where aging lovers call. Is this your goal, your final needs. Where dogs and vultures eat? Committed still I turn to go, I put my trust in you”
Sounding fresh even over 35 years on, the first two verses are quite possibly the most uplifting out of the whole Joy Division catalogue but they soon make a dark turn. The song has references, as in Heart And Soul, to Jesus Christ. The song to me is about betrayal and the breakdown of a relationship but hey what do I know.
”Guess the dreams always end – they don’t rise up just descend. But I don’t care anymore – I’ve lost the will to want more. I’m not afraid, not at all – I watch them all as they fall. ”
I love the futuristic sounds of Insight, it saddens and surprises me that way back in the 1970’s bands were experimenting like this, yet in this day and age we get the same regurgitated bullshit. Lyrically, I feel this song is about giving up on life. Just completely losing interest and hope and not been afraid of what he knew was to come. It also makes me question that everything we do on this spinning ball of gas could very well be of no consequence or significance at all. Of course, throughly depressing but indeed food for thought.
Its always hard talking about Joy Division or any musician or person for that matter who has chosen to end their own life. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, take that from someone who has been there.
If you are feeling out of sorts, there’s absolutely no shame in reaching out for help and its confidential.
Unless it says otherwise, these helplines are open 24 hours a day, every day.