JOY DIVISION FEATURE
Joy Division provided an alternative soundtrack for introverted punks who were too sensitive to pogo. Fifteen years after Ian Curtis committed suicide, his widow has written a book about the band and its doomed singer. Eddie Gibb talks to DEBORAH CURTIS.
Hangman looks around as he waits, Cord stretches tight then it breaks, Someday we will die in your dreams, How I wish we were here with you now.
‘ln a Lonely Place’. New Order, 198]
his is the final verse of probably the last song Ian Curtis wrote with his band Joy Division. Before they could record it. Curtis hanged himself in the kitchen of his Macclestield house in May 1980 after listening repeatedly to lggy Pop’s The Idiot. He left behind a young wife and eleven-month-old baby. Who knows whether suicide was in Curtis’s mind when he wrote those words, but he had talked of killing himself several times. A prescription drug overdose the previous month had borne all the hallmarks of a ‘cry for help’.
During the last year of his life, lan Curtis’s epilepsy became an increasing worry as the pressure ofthe rock ’n’ roll lifestyle led to more frequent attacks. The spastic, ﬂailing dancing style in which Curtis seemed to lose himself on stage was a grim parody of his epileptic tits: often it turned into the real thing.
in her personal account of her husband’s life, Touchingfrom a Distance (a line from the single ‘Transmission’) Deborah Curtis reveals how several attempts to seek medical help for Ian’s condition were thwarted. He was prescribed a cocktail of drugs. the effects of which never seemed to be properly monitored by doctors. ‘I don’t think epilepsy was the only thing wrong.’ she says. Their five years of marriage were dominated by lan’s depression, mood swings and continual jealousy.
Latterly he kept Deborah apart from his life with the band. eventually moving into a flat with Annik Honore, a Belgian Joy Division fan, during the recording of Closer. in her book. Deborah recounts these events with a remarkable lack of bitterness, though she admits earlier drafts contained more spleen. Ian Curtis is portrayed as mentally unstable, but Deborah refuses to romanticise his battle with inner demons. For much of their time together, [an made Deborah’s life hell. ‘l’m hoping that other young people might read the book and think it‘s
not such a great thing to be like that.’ she says.
In March last year. Deborah and her family were looking forward to seeing Nirvana who were due to tour in the UK when news came through of singer Kurt Cobain’s drugs overdose which left him lying comatose in a Rome hospital. Deborah remembers feeling the sickening lurch of recognition. ‘Once people start taking overdoses they isolate themselves.’
‘Once people start taking overdoses they isolate themselves, but I thought the signs were so obvious that people would be able to stop him.’
Deborah Curtis on Kurt Cobain
she says. ‘but I thought the signs were so obvious that people would be able to stop him.’ They didn’t. A month later. Cobain turned a gun on himself and joined Ian Curtis in ‘that stupid club’ of rock musicians who have pressed the self-destruct button.
Fifteen years earlier. Joy Division were regarded as the undisputed leaders of indie—rock gloom which emanated from the post-industrial north of England. and Manchester’s ironically- named Factory Records in particular. The look was pinched and ashen faces, with long overcoats. skinny black ties and severe military crops. The sound married the have-a-go ferocity of punk with the bleak. nihilistic melodies of lggy and David Bowie’s Berlin years. The music was complemented by Factory’s in-house designer Peter Saville. whose sparse cover designs frequently omitted basic details like band names or album titles.
Almost from the start, Joy Division were accused of flirting with fascism. The cover of their first EP ‘An ideal for Living’ from 1978 gave full rein to Curtis’s boyhood fascination with Nazi regalia. While London punks like Siouxsie Sioux just about managed to get away with wearing swastikas on the spurious grounds that they were subverting a symbol, the fascist tag stuck to Joy Division. The band’s name was taken from a Nazi term for concentration camp prisoners who were used as prostitutes by soldiers. After Curtis’s death, the remaining members carried on under the name New Order,
The fresh-faced Curtis on his wedding day
which continued this dubious theme.
At the time. the earnest music press was rife with Joy Division-are-Nazis stories. and the band’s refusal to make unambiguous statements on any subject during the few interviews they submitth to. perpetuated the myth. Fans weren’t even sure whether guitarist Bernard’s second name was Sumner or Albrecht, or both, let alone what the songs were about.
One of the prevailing rumours was that Curtis’s marital difficulties were the cause of his unbalanced mental state, and possibly even led to his suicide. But the one person who might have been able to set the record straight was never asked. In her book, Deborah Curtis gives for the first time her recollection of the events that led to Ian’s suicide. it’s an uncomfortably personal book, written partly to heal her own emotional wounds, and partly to give her side of the story.
‘Nobody thought to ask me what happened.’
she says. ‘People who were looking for a reason for lan’s death blamed it on marital problems or looked at his lyrics. But he wouldn’t discuss his lyrics and l don’t think he wanted to be understood.’ L] Touching from a Distance is published on 8 May by Faber at £9. 99. lxmdon Records release the single ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart' on 30 May, followed by a compilation album, Permanent, in June.
Deborah Curtis: her five-year marriage to Curtis was donated by his depression and lealoosy
The List 5-l8 May 199513