Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” may rightfully be seen as a forlorn goodbye to a too-young singer and his band, but ultimately it pulses with love.
Ian Curtis was exuberant. His band Joy Division had the wind at their backs and were days away from their first North American tour. On the evening of May 16, 1980, they had a superb rehearsal and crammed into bassist Peter Hook’s car to drop off Curtis at his parents’ house in Failsworth, England. As Hook remembered 32 years later, the boys were on top of the world — especially their legendarily scowly lead singer.
“We were laughing and joking… one of us would go, ‘I can’t believe we’re fucking going to America!’ We were screaming in the car, jumping up and down on the seats, properly shouting, whooping, hollering: ‘Yeah! America!’” Hook wrote in his 2012 memoir Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. “I drove [Ian] home that Friday night and he was cock-a-hoop, full of it.” Curtis exited the vehicle outside his house a quarter of a mile from Hook’s. It was the last time Hook ever saw his bandmate and friend.
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)
On Saturday morning, things took a despondent turn. As Hook wrote, Curtis received a letter about his impending divorce proceedings from his wife Deborah. Curtis canceled a water-skiing trip with guitarist Bernard Sumner, and that night, Deborah dropped by Ian’s house to find him drinking whiskey and coffee after watching Stroszek, Werner Herzog’s film about a European émigré to America who kills himself rather than choose between two women.
Deborah offered to stay the night, worried that Curtis, an epilepsy sufferer, would have a fit, but he asked her to leave instead. After listening to Iggy Pop’s The Idiot on repeat, he hanged himself to death on a kitchen clothes rack in the early hours of Sunday morning. He was two months shy of his 24th birthday.
Accounts from those close to Curtis vary on his state of mind in the last few weeks of his life. “The week before, we went and bought all these new clothes; he was really happy,” Factory Records co-owner Touching From a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division. On the other hand, Curtis reportedly told Psychic TV’s Genesis P-Orridge that he’d “rather die” than go on tour. (“Maybe he did say that, but not to us he didn’t,” Hook explained in his book. “No way. With us, Ian was bang into the idea.”)
Jon Savage, the author of ‘This Searing Light, The Sun and Everything Else,’ discusses the post-punk singer, who committed suicide on May 18, 1980 at age 23.
A few months into 1980, the British post-punk group Joy Division were ready to take the next steps in their promising career. Led by their compelling lead singer Ian Curtis, the emerging quartet from Manchester were gaining momentum with an acclaimed debut album in Unknown Pleasures; their live shows were must-see draws; and they had gotten exposure on television and favorable reviews in the music press. Now Joy Division were set to embark on their first-ever U.S. tour and release a new record, Closer, that saw them expanding on their sonic palette. But that all came to a tragic halt when Curtis – who struggled with personal and health issues – committed suicide at the age of 23 on May 18, 1980.
“A poetic, sensitive, tortured soul, the Ian Curtis of the myth—he was definitely that,” former Joy Division bassist Peter Hook remembered Curtis Continue reading →
Married at 19, the brightest star of the post-punk scene at 22, dead at 23. The life of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis is the stuff of rock mythology – and a much talked-about new film. Here, his former band-mates talk exclusively to Jon Savage about their troubled singer’s last days
Saturday 27 October 1979. I’m up in the gods of the Ardwick Apollo, a huge 1930s cinema situated in the middle of slum clearance. The Buzzcocks’ manager Richard Boon is fiddling with the tripod of a primitive Beta video camera as he attempts to get the stage area into focus. His primary purpose is to film his group, who are headlining tonight, but he inadvertently ends up capturing a piece of history.
Framed within the cinema’s huge proscenium arch, Joy Division walk out and launch into “Dead Souls”. The peculiarity of this song is that it has a long, rolling introduction that allows the group to orient themselves in their environment for the night. Like many of the venues on this 24-date national tour, the Apollo is larger than the clubs that have been the group’s environment to date. But they are not intimidated. They inhabit the space.
Then he begins to sing: “Someone take these dreams away/ That point me to another day”. The lyric to “Dead Souls” is an unsettling evocation of psychic possession and the presence of past lives. The chorus is an anguished chant: “They keep calling me”. From today’s materialistic cultural perspective, this might excite derision, but like many others in that hall, I’m totally gripped. Continue reading →