Remembering Ian Curtis

By , May 18, 2010

I attended public school until the end of junior high, but once I hit the 9th grade, my parents enrolled me into the nearest Catholic high school. I found myself thrust into a brand new school, populated mainly by children from wealthy families, nearly all of whom had grown up together and gone through the same private school system since preschool. I was a 13-year old kid, already feeling the uncertainty and disorientation that comes with that age and the leap to high school, and I was completely out of my element. I was surrounded by kids from an utterly different background, all of whom were ensconced in long-formed cliques. I had little in common with anyone at the school, and as the school was an hour’s bus ride from my home, I didn’t even have any friends in the area to whom I could turn. I could not have been any more lost or alone.

Had my life been a Hollywood teen film, I would have accidentally befriended a popular and wealthy student who would have been enamored of my lower-class upbringing. After some humorous early false-starts, our friendship would have cemented over some exciting incident, and by the final reel, he would have introduced me into high society and I would have spent my remaining high school years enjoying friendship and popularity. I’d like to think I would have dated a cheerleader. However, as I actually dwell in the real world, I made no such friend. Instead, I drifted from one awkward false start to the next, and didn’t form close bonds with anyone; I was too athletic and tough to be a geek, but too poor and punk rock to be popular. I ended up a loner.

I cut class one day early in the school year, and ended up at a nearby record shop. At the shop, I purchased Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division’s first album. I was mesmerized by its iconic Peter Saville pulsar cover; that somber image summed up my mood so precisely that I bought the record without even being fully aware of who the band were. I carted the record around town with me for the remainder of the day, not quite sure what I had, but hoping it would live up to its promise. How could it not? Those stark, white lines radiating from the all-black background promised something foreboding and otherworldly; that night at home, I was at last able to play the record. From the opening line, I was entranced.

I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand.

I played the record over and over that night; as soon as side B finished I would flip it back over and play it from the beginning. In the voice of Ian Curtis, I had found poetry that spoke directly to my sense of isolation, and thus began a long-lasting fascination with not only the band’s music, but the singer and his life. When I learned shortly thereafter that Ian Curtis had committed suicide, the bond only grew tighter. Perhaps paradoxically, even though his lyrics were so often grim, and spoke of fear, disillusionment, and helplessness, I found something life-affirming in them. This man, who had felt so deeply the sorrows about which had sung that he had killed himself, somehow came to represent hopefulness to me. My fascination with Curtis and his music lasted well past my awkward adolescent years; just look at the title I chose for my blog.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ death. In the three decades since his departure, his influence and legend have only grown. Joy Division, a band virtually unknown when I was in high school, today enjoys huge popularity. Movies have been made about the band, and about Curtis’ life, and it would not be a stretch to say that the band today enjoys more popularity than ever before. Yet to me, Ian Curtis and Joy Division remain a very personal facet of my life. When I had nothing of substance, Ian Curtis gave me something of depth in which to immerse myself, and offered a beacon of hopeful light at the end of what had once been Stygian emptiness.

Oh, I’ve walked on water, run through fire
Can’t seem to feel it anymore
It was me, waiting for me
Hoping for something more
Me, seeing me this time, hoping for something else.

Ian Curtis
Ian Curtis (15 July 1956 – 18 May 1980)
Love Will Tear Us Apart

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16 Responses to “Remembering Ian Curtis”

  1. scott says:

    fantastic post. I have had a very similar evolving relationship with Joy Division over the course of my life as well, though I was luckier about finding some other loner friends to hang out with in high school. :)

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    Victor Buck Reply:

    @scott, Im 18 and I’ve been listening to them for about a year and I feel so lucky to have ever heard of them. I was looking up artist who died young and found about these guys. Stupidly of me I was like “hmm Ian, 23, oh alright” went away. I was getting bored of listening to my favorite band, Nirvana, and just wanted something different. When I heard “She Lost Control” for the first time and saw the performance, I was hooked ever since. They’re now my 2nd favorite band! XD

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    Peasprout Reply:

    @Victor Buck, Glad to “meet” a fellow fan. They really were a great band, and it’s such a shame things ended up the way they did. On a more positive, and slightly random, note: Your visit to this particular entry officially moved it past my post about the iPad, and into the number one spot on the list of most-visited posts since I migrated to this url in January 2010.

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  2. Millie D says:

    30 years? Wow! Love Joy Division!

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  3. Kim says:

    wow that is really cool how you named your blog after this band. and all this time i thought it was just because it’s your name.

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  4. Otomo says:

    Joy Division is so uncredited in how they really changed music, and same with The New Order that followed in Ian Curtis’ footsteps. You pay great homage, Peasprout!

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  5. Idle Beth says:

    every time you post something about him you keep reminding me I want to rent the movie about him/them – “Control??”

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  6. Ashli says:

    Wow.. here’s me thinking who is this guy?? Thinking you sound like your in a world totally foreign to me.. like your so different to me.. and now I see I was wrong!

    I went to a public primary school, all the kids in the neighborhood went there and we were all friends, they went to the public high school but after my older brother went there my Mum didn’t think it was right for me and sent me to an all girls catholic school 45 minutes away from my little world, where i fell in with the odd balls and became everyone’s friend but no ones best friend, bit of an academic, sporty, a leader but one of the derelict stoners and party girls but still a bit of a loner, different to everyone else, all rolled into one… i never really fit in anywhere

    As for Ian’s voice.. woah! You can hear the feeling in every word! His songs stick out to me to, I can kind of sink into them, switch off and mellow out just listening.. but hope?? Hope is not what i get from his lyrics… I see myself in his lyrics and knowing his end makes me wonder.. is there hope?? Or will the feelings and emotions become too much for me, just like they did for Ian… But that doesn’t make the sounds of Joy Division depressing, more like soothing, it’s good to feel understood for once, like im not the only one..

    sorry for my ramblings.. i guess it just spun me out to realize we have something in common

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  7. Starr says:

    What wonderful tribute on the anniversary to remember someone who had such an important impact on your life growing up. It’s amazing when you think that something so dark, can create such a community, where these isolated people, don’t feel so isolated at all.

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  8. Macclesfield Mike says:

    Beautifully written, and one of the best tributes to Curtis I’ve read this week. I appreciate that you offered your own personal tale concerning why he meant something to you, rather than the typical rehash of who he was and what he did that so many people wrote this week. I find tales like yours far more interesting, and indicative of who Curtis was as a person, than I do the run of the mill Wikipedia rewordings.

    Your inclusion of his epitaph beneath his picture sent a chill down my spine.

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  9. Lucy says:

    Love reading this post!

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  10. Great posting :) Pleas check our site too…

    [Reply]

  11. kelly says:

    Good stuff and it mirrors much of my life as I moved from a deprived area to an affluent one where I stood out due to my rough accent and lack of cash. However I have never put as much emphasis on lyrics as your average person. I knew some of his lyrics but I let the music take me and this is where Curtis cut through to my heart. The early use of synths with the sombre yet powerful tones moving from the harsh aspects of their live set to the dramatically engineered sound of the studio recordings (of which they were never happy) caused that music to reach parts of my soul which had not been touched before. Add to that the amazingly different visual aspects you had something which was incredibly unique. The suicide was a shock and nobody saw it coming and their oversight of the obvious almost destroyed the band. It is sad that so many dwell upon this tragic event but I suppose it draws you in. So many rock deaths are accidental but this guy made a clear and reasoned decision that his life was not worth living and few people learn of this story and walk away untouched. Ian Curtis said that the lyrics meant nothing and that people should take what they want from them but I defy anyone to listen to those words and not see the despair and isolation of a young man struggling with the life he has been dealt. The movie Control leaves you rather empty is such a powerful way that it took me a while to recover. Every now and again I return to my Joy Division collection and browse a little so I was so happy at finding your posts which take a personal approach to a very personal topic rather than the usual dribble that gets repeated everywhere else – thank you.

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  12. Samidha says:

    Absolutely a great tribute to the genius of Ian Curtis. It’s such a shame we lost him so early, only when they were on the threshold of becoming hugely popular. Curtis was as much a poet as he was a musician.

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  13. Henrietta says:

    Great post! I’m glad this came up when I searched for an image of Ian. Joy Division clearly affected your life.

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  14. Paul says:

    JOY DIVISION: The never were, but always are…:-)

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