Ian Curtis

Ian Curtis

36 six years ago Ian Kevin Curtis, born July 1956 in Macclesfield, tragically took his own life. Battling severe depression from medication brought on by a diagnosis of Epilepsy, along with a strained marital relationship, the music created by Joy Division lives on as a sobering reminder of the jilted mind of the exuberant frontman. Despite the sadness surrounding the story of the four piece, I feel it’s necessary to look at the positive impact Joy Division, Curtis in particular, had on music.

Initially formed in 1976, following an infamous performance from the Sex Pistols at Lesser Free trade hall in Manchester, the band went on to the produce two of the most important and influential albums of the late 70s, early 80s. ‘Unknown Pleasures’ (1979) and ‘Closer’ (1980) gave the world 19 beautifully produced songs of love, despair, grief and inner turmoil. Along with these studio cuts, there are a plethora of non-album tracks with equal, god-tier worth. Despite their dark themes, inspired by the troubling stress and anxiety of Curtis’ life, they manage to lift you out of your own shadows of distress and onto higher plains of appreciation. It’s almost as if the 23 year old sacrificed himself for everyone else’s sins and strife to be washed away.

Here I pick it out my top 3 Joy Division recordings, which have had a huge impact on my life so far.

  1. No Love Lost

Taken from their first release, ‘An Ideal For Living’ (1978), this track acts as the original schematic for Joy Division as a group. The catchy bassline intro provided by Peter Hook with powerful drumming from Stephen Morris, presents the perfect platform for Bernard Sumner’s raw guitar sound and eventually Curtis’ iconic voice to stand on. It definitely has more of a punk aesthetic compared to later work, but still manages to chill and disorientate with its lyrics. They remind me a lot of ‘The Gift’ by the Velvet Underground, a disturbing story forms with the words:  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. Taken from the 1955 book ‘House of Dolls’ by Auschwitz survivor Yehiel De-Bur, they have an eerie quality. The oppressive sound meshed with words based on true events in concentration camps, fits superbly with the Nazi imagery presented on the EP’s cover. The song was used in the 2007 biopic ‘Control’ directed by Anton Corbijn, thus creating one of my favourite scenes in recent cinema history. Walking to work with “HATE” emblazoned on his battered jacket, the song plays over the black and white imagery of a floppy haired Curtis, perfectly encapsulating my attitude to life and authority at the time. It’s been one of my favourite JD songs, and songs in general, since I first saw the film around 2010.

  1. Love Will Tear Us Apart

Probably the most known JD song, I know some people may cringe at its appearance on this list. But, I can’t leave out the first song I ever heard by the band. It’s what started my journey listening to Joy Division in the first place, I owe it a great deal. It’s an absolutely amazing song, the words alone on paper make for a powerful and emotive poem. Why is the bedroom so cold? You’ve turned on your side/is my timing that flawed? Our respect runs so dry/Yet there’s still this appeal, that we’ve kept through our lives/But love, love will tear us apart again. It’s heart wrenching stuff. Inspired by the bizarre love triangle between Curtis, his wife Debbie and lover Annik Honore, it’s a crushing tale of how one man’s disease can be detrimental to everyone else in his life. I’m sure a few of us at one point have sang this song, absolutely wankered in the Pilgrim (Liverpool) or Gulliver’s (Manchester), mourning the loss of a girl/boy whom at the time we believed to be “the best thing since sliced bread”. Even if its bait for hipster behaviour and activities, it’s too good to leave out. “But Connor, there are much more obscure songs of greater wealth and depth.” Well for me, it was crucial in forming my respect and admiration of this band, and Curtis as a ly0ricist. It gave me an appreciation for words in music, and has led me onto the work of other legendary frontmen like Morrissey and Mark E. Smith.

  1. Atmosphere

Walk in silence/don’t walk away, in silence. I wouldn’t be surprised if this song, originally recorded in Central Sound Studios in Manchester, tops most fan’s lists. Its appeal for me lies in the production by Martin Hannett. The whimsical chimes which enter the frame after a funeral procession like intro, are spine tingling, again conveying an eerie and unsettling feel. Curtis sounds like he’s singing about his own funeral, a self-written requiem for his eventual passing. It’s as if even then, after releasing ‘Unknown Pleasures’ in 1979, he knew he wasn’t going to make it past 1980. Its cavernous quality, leaving me feel desolate and lonely is achieved with every listen, without fail. The drums provide an off centre marching beat, the humming synth which lies beneath is like a chorus of monks, or mourners, as the coffin is lowered into the ground. This song represents death, the demise of an icon and I admire Curtis’s courage for facing these issue in his life head on in his art. The honesty is what makes this recording great.

There’s no question that Curtis should be up there with the great musicians and poets of the 20th Century. The band are also one of the UK’s greatest exports and we’re fortunate that Hook, Sumner and Morris had a lot more creativity to shed after the demise of their bandmate. Now personally, I’m not as much of a fan of New Order; the darkness of JD beats NO any day. They certainly lost an atmospheric and morbid element in the chemistry post ‘Closer’, however, they have produced some timeless tracks to be savoured by all too. “Ceremony” in particular, written by Curtis before his death, is an absolute masterpiece.

If Ian Curtis hadn’t of ended his life on 18th May 1980, and gone on that American tour, perhaps he’d still be around today. Of course, it would be fantastic to imagine what other albums and concepts the group as Joy Division would have produced. But to be honest I wish he was around to simply absorb all the critical, universal acclaim for the music. Because ultimately, whether his death plays a part in their success or not, for the last year or so of his life Curtis lived in a place where a lot of people will fortunately never go. They’re an essential outfit for people of the future to hear, long after we’ve gone and are rotted away in the earth. Their music will never die, the words of Curtis is go on. Rest In Peace.

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. Genius.

Liverpool born music writer with passion for punk and Everton FC