Music: The Story of Joy Division (2/3)

Part 2: Ian Curtis
Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders
by Kilian

The life of Ian Curtis was a search. With his band he tried to find a sound beyond contemporary punk rock mainstream, his intellectual home should become the literary works of J. G. Ballard, William S. Burroughs and T. S. Eliot. In addition he longed for domestic happiness and family harmony with his wife Deborah and daughter Natalie. At the same time Curtis' needed ways out of the booming grey of the northern English suburb of Macclesfield. Somewhere there he left the path of an idealized pop icon and entered his personal hell.

The web of apparently insoluble problems was spun between four major coordinates of his life: his wife Debbie, the young Belgian journalist Annik Honoré, the band and his disease. At the beginning he was slaved away with his double commitment: a job in an employment agency that he had to do because of financial reasons and his band activities including nightly gigs. Ian later abandoned the job when the band yield enough to support his wife and child. Between the release of the first album Unknown Pleasures and the recordings of its successor Closer the band extendedly toured Europe. During this time Ian's critical symptoms that slowly and silently surrounded his life increased. In the course of his absence from Macclesfield he estranged from his wife Deborah, who he married at the age of 19. Although he regarded the birth of their daughter Natalie as a great blessing this alone could not bring back what was already lost. The liaison with the Belgian Annik Honoré was kept from his wife by him till the end. But there is more than one truth to know about this triangle since Deborah Curtis offered a completely different perspective in her 1995 book Touching From a Distance than Annik Honoré in her rare interviews. However Ian was massively torn between these two women.

He was burdened with another heavy load since he suffered an epileptic attack on the way back from the first London gig. As it was barely seriously treatable in the 1970s this was the beginning of Ian's nightmarish descent into the hells of the disease. The doctors could only offer heavy drugs to ease the symptoms while Ian feared its side effects. A single sound or a ray of light in the wrong moment were enough to cause an attack and this sadly happened above-average on stage. His bizarre dancing style in front of the microphone marching on the spot with spastic movements of the arms became famous under the name dead fly dance. This often led into another attack. Fans misinterpreted these as rehearsed performances which made him and his band famous in musical press. Anyway this led Ian to serious self-doubt. The loss of control in front of the crowd eroded his self-confidence and made him feel overstrained with the band's progress.

When Joy Division prepared their first US tour Ian became aware that he was not able to cope with all the demands of the band, its management, his family and his individual needs any more. Whereas Sumner, Morris and Hook had great pleasant anticipation to tour the USA Ian felt differently. In the early morning of the 18th May 1980 the 23-year-old hanged himself in his Macclesfield apartment. The night before his suicide he saw the film Stroszek by Werner Herzog and put on the record The Idiot by Iggy Pop. Only when it was too late his fellow men recognized that his death did not come out of the blue. Over months they underestimated his actual mental state but it seems Ian wanted nobody to know. In most situations he adapted to the cheerful and funny atmosphere among the band members and their environment celebrating their incredible success they did not get used to very fast.

His inner diremption was camouflaged and thus he channelled his personal suffering into the bands lyrics. To inconspicuously encrypt the knell of his suicide was definitely possible for Curtis' poetry had always been multidimensional. In Joy Division's lyrics he interwove the psychic abyss that he knew in himself with other poetic contexts. Blackout, loosing control over the own actions and being helplessly lost were all experiences Ian had made before he wrote She's Lost Control:

But she expressed herself in many different ways
until she lost control again
and walked upon the edge of no escape
and laughed, I've lost control. 

Motives of pain, loss, violence, madness and absurdity run through many of Joy Division's songs. Atrocity Exhibition includes the narration of entertaining violence in a gladiatorially mad world and Disorder depicts surrealistic disorientation while in Shadowplay the own death is staged. Entering the cold fantasy of this poet we can learn that with hope also disappears fear (Insight) and how alienation feels like when one is separated too long from another person (I Remember Nothing). Travelling the chimerical past with its unavenged schemes in Wilderness is as revealing as Heart and Soul where the pictorial narration is open to interpretation the most. In eternal contrast all good and rational comes together with horror, barbarism and arbitrariness.

It was Ian Curtis' personality to bear Joy Division. His fascination for the dark in human soul gave the band its incomparable aura. Finally the frontman shattered because of the negativity that he extroverted from the inside.


sources of pictures:
Ian Cig:
Ian Sing: