The Psychosis of Ian Curtis of Joy Division

Joy Division's contract was signed in blood!

Joy Division's lead singer, Ian Curtis, had an average life until he contracted epilepsy. This was devistating for him. In this article we look at the psychosis of Ian Curtis as Joy Division rose to fame in the late 1970s and what lead to his eventual suicide.

Arguably one those bands that had a great influence of modern day music, Joy Division were one of the first post-punk bands.

Much of their music was inventive with new sounds as they sowed much of the seeds to the ‘New Romantic’ movement in the early 80’s.

Although I touch on the band, this hub focuses on the psychosis of Ian Curtis of Joy Division. Although now known as New Order, I shall now highlight the bands roots.

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To die a legend is to live a legend

Ian Curtis - A Misunderstood Misfit.

Baratone drone with jolting actions were the hallmark of Curtis.
Baratone drone with jolting actions were the hallmark of Curtis.

The name Joy Division, formally known as Warsaw, was taken from the Auschwitz concentration camps. The Joy Division of the camp was a place where attractive Jewish women were made to perform sexual services as a reward to Jewish workers of distinction. Much of the band’s sound has a distinctive industrial, dark drone that might be associated with death and suffering.

The band was at the forefront of the Manchester scene and was signed to Factory Records. Their Manager, Tony Wilson who on signing their contract did this in blood, instigated this. Wilson was highly influential in the Manchester music scene as he promoted local bands on his news spot at Granada Television Studios.

Control, One Of My Top Films!

As one of my all time favourite films, Control is a story of Ian Curtis's rise to fame within the band Joy Division. Researched from various sources - the band, his wife and his girlfriend - the viewer can take a backseat view of the decline of Curtis's mental health and as to reasons why. Filmed in black and white, it gives the atmosphere of depression and the humdrum life within the North of England.

This film is a must view for any fan of rock, especially shoegazer, indie punk. I

Ian Curtis and Control - a snapshot of his life... Take a bite!

Buy Control on Amazon!

The song lyrics in 'she's lost control' demonstrates how epilepsy affected Curtis. He saw it happen to another and now it was happening to him!

External factors has an influence to people’s emotions. The psychosis of Ian Curtis of Joy Division was no exception.

Ian Curtis was born in Manchester but was raised in Macclesfield. As a bright lad, gained a scholarship and studied at The Kings School. His major musical influence was David Bowie and The Doors. It has been documented that Jim Morrison’s musical and lyrical ability had a major impact upon him. One can hear comparisons to the deep baritone voice and deathly subject material of both Curtis and Morrison.

However, life experience had a major impact on Curtis. He developed epilepsy, was married at 19 and had a child by the age of 22. Family life was difficult and they struggled to make ends meet. His wife, Deborah Woodruff and daughter, Natalie, lived frugally. Ian was working as a Government Officer where he was placing claimants with job vacancies during the day. By night, he was a singer in small venues with Joy Division. Curtis, as a result, became depressed. With these factors, and the side effects of the epileptic drugs, this placed him in a dark world. He felt trapped by the constraints of being a husband and father and frustrated will his illness. He sought comfort with another woman whom he met on tour. Annik Honore was born in Belgium. She was a Journalist who showed Curtis a different love. Ian had only experienced first love with Woodruff and whilst he was away on tour, it was as if he was free – living the single life of a lead singer in a band. It was as if his family life did not exist and neither did the struggles this incurred.

Much of the drama Joy Division presented was that of Curtis’s frequent seizures on stage. Many people felt that his awkward jolting motions was part of the act; that the fits were an attention seeking exercise in order to drum up media exposure. Of course, this was not the case and Curtis found it difficult to perform on stage, particularly with triggers that induce fits, like flashing lights, drink and late nights.

‘She’s Lost Control’ may give us some insight as to how these fits affected him. He seemed to identify with one of his clients from the career’s office who had a fit in front of him. It wasn’t too long after this experience that he was diagnosed with the condition too. This perception of another may have given him an insight as to how others viewed him. He was shocked when he saw it, so others may be shocked with him.

She's Lost Control by Joy Division

24 Hour Party People - A MUST See!

24 Hour Party People is the story of the rise and fall of Factory Records. Tony Wilson, its founder and manager, is played by Steve Coogan. It is a funny account based around Wilson's experience of the many bands that he helped to launch. These include Joy Division, Happy Mondays and New Order. Watch how Mr Manchester, Wilson, create The Hacienda - the famous club that became the hub of Manchester. See how it made him and, with the help from Ryder of Happy Monday's excessive drug consumption, break him. Well the DVD wouldn't be called 24 Hour Party People for nothing, would it?!!

Buy the Party Here!

‘with children my time is so wastefully spent. Burden to keep, though their inner communion. Accept like a curse an unlucky deal’ The Eternal from Closer

Family discontentment was paramount in the life of Ian Curtis. The lyrics of ‘Closer’s’ ‘The Eternal’, for example, demonstrate this: ‘with children my time
is so wastefully spent. Burden to keep, though their inner communion. Accept like a curse an unlucky deal’. It was as if marrying so young was holding him back. Family life did not allow him to express himself - it was constraining and controlling.

Curtis had a fascination with the suffering endured by the Nazi’s and suggested that a set of people in positions of power reincarnate to induce such suffering. He cited that the Ancient Egyptians and Romans returned at different points of history to initiate such suffering as with the Nazis. ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ from the ‘Closer’ album suggests this: ‘You'll see the horrors of a far-away place. Meet the architects of law face to face. See mass murder on a scale.’ Curtis couldn’t get his head around the concept of such suffering and he read many books on this.

Studying psychological theories from people like Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Existentialism’, spiritual ideas and philosophy deepened Curtis’s understanding of people and the world. The process helped him to become more isolated as he became more withdrawn. A deep thinker often requires other deep thinkers in order to thrive and bounce off of.

His family did not have this level of thought. Annik, however, was academic, would listen and show more understanding. It is with her that he could escape and talk over ideas with. From her and the books he was reading, he was inspired to write his funereal, dark lyrics.

Love will tear us apart!

The perception of there being more to life in death, must have been a great incentive to carry out his successful second suicide attempt. Jim Morrison had a big influence on Curtis. Both had similar ideas and there seemed to be parallels to both their psyches. If the perception is that without doubt, there is Nirvana and an end to life’s misery, then what is there worth living? Curtis was caught between the first love and the illicit love. Both pulled but only one would be fair to commit to.

Being caught between two worlds was torture. Both had equal levels of satisfaction in his needs, but only aspects of those needs. He could not live without either. It is true, in the words of Curtis, ‘Love will tear us apart’. It is the case here. Suffering from ‘Isolation’ in a life where the ‘Novelty’ (‘You're all on your own now, Don't you think that's a shame. But you're the only one responsible to take the blame. So what ya gonna do when the novelty…’) has gone, can only lead to ‘Dead Souls’ on the other side, ‘they keep calling me’. Much of his written ability, therefore, was a direct demonstration of his emotions. The psychosis of Ian Curtis of Joy Division was not joyous. It was dogged with frustration and depression.

Just on the ebb of a tour to America and making it big Ian Curtis was found hanging in his home, Macclesfield. He was estranged by this time from his wife. It was the 18th May 1980 after watching the Werner Herzog’s film Stroszek he took his life. Ironically, the design of the last album ‘Closer’ was of a crypt. Further irony is that when he was found, the record turntable kept moving. What was playing? Iggy Pop’s ‘The Idiot’.

This work is covered under Creative Commons License

If you like Indie, Shoegazer, Death Disco, Emo and Gothic Music. The following hubs might be of interest to you:

Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures

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Comments 30 comments

Denno66 7 years ago

Yikes! Dark. Very Dark and informative; thanks for the good read.

needful things profile image

needful things 7 years ago from Poland

Such is life. A little sad though. But I bet he has lived his life fuller than most of us will do.

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 7 years ago from Great Britain Author

@Denno Well, I guess if you truly know there is more to life in death then what would be the point of living? I think this was Curtises view.

@ Lloyd Christmas. It is often the case when a talent leaves the world too soon. It highers the profile and people think 'what have I missed?' I think this is what happened with Joy Division. Who knows whether 'New Order' would be where they are now without this situation. 'New Order' released 'Blue Monday'.

@Needful things. If you watch 'control', I don't think you will come to this conclusion. His life was a misery.

Thanks guys for stopping by. xx

bat115 profile image

bat115 7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

good hub here. Joy Division's music have been very influential in a novel i am working on.

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 7 years ago from Great Britain Author

bat115... Ian Curtis was also influenced by David Bowie and Jim Morrison... useful for your book?? Also, Mr Manchester, Tony Wilson (RIP), was the catalyst to the whole thing!

I will be publishing a hub on Mr Manchester soon, so watch this space!

Thanks for reading xx

bat115 profile image

bat115 7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

I suppose so on the Bowie & Morrison as there music is usually part of what I listen to when I write.

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 7 years ago from Great Britain Author

Is your writing quite dark? I shall have to give you a further read! x

poetlorraine 6 years ago

i am loving your work

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 6 years ago from Great Britain Author

poetlorraine... this is mutual.. Im loving yours too! x

Sherbet Penny profile image

Sherbet Penny 6 years ago from Galway, Ireland.

Great hub to the genius that was Ian Curtis and Joy Division, one of my favourite inspirational bands ever. Nice videos and it's a pity there was never any interviews to look at, very sad. The two movies you have put up here are brilliant, two amazing movies, thank you for the memories here in this hub.

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 6 years ago from Great Britain Author

Hi Sherbert Penny... Where would music be today without Joy Division? There is so many great indie bands that owe a debt to JD! Look out on my Hub on Mr Manchester - the late great Tony Wilson ... Shaz FAC21!

Great you enjoyed this article! xx

Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Great Hub, Shaz - like so many artistic geniuses, he flirted with the all-pervading darkness, which eventually consumed him. I am a firm believer that all artists have the ability to tap into the bleakest emotions but, for many, they fly too close and, like some demon-beset version of Icarus, plummet into a chasm of self-despair.

Brilliant man - I am just about to put on 'Dead Souls' at full volume and wind my partner up. She doesn't fully understand the artist mentality and why I listen to dark, bleak wasteland music, which is probably a good thing for us both. Maybe some 'Killing Joke' afterwards :D

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 6 years ago from Great Britain Author

Sufi... I love killing joke ... Theatre of Hate... Brilliant!

You said 'he flirted with the all-pervading darkness, which eventually consumed him. I am a firm believer that all artists have the ability to tap into the bleakest emotions but, for many, they fly too close and, like some demon-beset version of Icarus, plummet into a chasm of self-despair.'... wow! Perhaps we could use this for some dark lyrical banter in a song! However, soooo true!

In the same vain, of course... 'The Sound's' Adrian Borland went 'from the Lion's mouth' to the train tracks of my tears (he committed sucide)- another one lost to Dead Souls :( - for whence the same record label as Echoe and the Bmen.

The Chameleon's lead singer - Mark Burgess - survived the darkness and has since stood in for Borland (the only one who really could carry it off!). But these are iconic, pioneering bands that operated at an underground level - as deep as the darkness of old peculier.

Don't you think that flirting with the wings of death can be like the moth to the light?

Thanks for reading Sufi!:)

Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Hi Shaz - I do indeed. The darkness can be very addictive and alluring - it promises everything, but extracts a large blood-price. I used to write very bleak, violent prose, and draw gloom-laden pictures, but not anymore - you have to give too much of yourself and it eventually drags you down. Much safer writing about sun, sea, and Ouzo, and drawing Greek ruins :D

I still love dark music, though - I believe that Trent Reznor is about to collaborate with Gary Numan, which will be f*!king awesome if it happens!

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 6 years ago from Great Britain Author

But in the darkness, there is hope and light. How do you know life, if you haven't lived with death? How do you know happiness if you haven't been unhappy? How do you know joy, if you haven't experienced sorrow?

It is not enough to be a seeker of life and ponder upon its meaning... but to LIVE IT!

Life is for living Sufi! Im glad you have found its essence in Greece:)

Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

I fully agree - that is the reason why we moved here, because Greeks enjoy life instead of getting into the endless grind that afflicts the UK. Part of that is because they have been through some very dark times - Nazi occupation, Civil War, a Fascist Regime, and extreme poverty. They appreciate the good times more.

One of my favourite quotes, from the play 'Agamemnon':

Zeus, whose will has marked for man

the sole way where wisdom lies;

ordered one eternal plan:

Man must suffer to be wise.

I have always loved flawed, tragic heroes - Moorcock's Elric springs to mind!

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 6 years ago from Great Britain Author

Sufi.. you say about the endless grind... Curtis identified with this... 'day in.. day out... day in...' - it always comes to mind on the M25! Same old scene, different time - 1979 - 2010. It has been 30 years since his passing and nothing has changed - except technology.

Like Curtis, I have a fascination for the psychology of Morrison, Hitler and all things mythical - especially Egypt and mu mu. Greece has many connections between the histories of both. Ever been to Ephesis in Turkey? Quite remarkable. I know the two cultures don't see eye to eye though, but I would imagine that you wouldn't stoop to these biases. Yes, I will visit Greece one day (had a day trip to Kos once - lol - Hypocratices - useless speller, sorry hehehe), probably on my way to Cypress, but it wont happen for at least two years.

I like Kahlil Gibran's 'the prophet' - in fact used his words for important times of celebration. Have you read his works?

billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

What a super hub - I will definitely be linking my Ian Curtis hubs here - this is a brilliant Joy Division resource with the reviews and all. Heart and Soul and isolation brilliant. Disorder brilliant....

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 6 years ago from Great Britain Author

Hi Billy - Great to meet another Joy Division fan! If you track back from today's music influences, in terms of indie, you will find Joy Division at the core. Of course, Ian was a major fan of Jim Morrison of the Doors (another whom I deeply adore, btw.). Same type of psychology within the two of them - spiritual, tribal and anti establishmentarists.

Editors, Interpol, Arcade Fire, The National, Revere - just bands from the top of my head are all deeply influenced by Joy Division.

It has been 30 years since his death and we are still talking about him today. Now that dear Tony Wilson passed, the Madchester scene will never be the same again. Even at Wilson's funeral Atmosphere was played.

I shall be sharing the linking love dear Billy x

billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Interpol is one of my favorites, I have seen them live a few times. There bass player Carlos quit a few months ago. I even see a bit of Joy Division in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Nick Cave of course. Atmosphere perfect for a funeral, especially Tony Wilson's.

Jim Morrison and the Doors brilliant too - The End seems to be appropriate for the world right now :(

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 6 years ago from Great Britain Author

Billy... I absolutely agree with you!! Wow! Yes, I saw Interpol a couple of times - love turn on the bright lights the best but Antics was good too - I think they lost touch with reality by album 3 - oh well! Nick Cave is awesome live - saw him at Latitude... stagger lee, Henry lee - I must say he is the best performer I have seen (and I have seen a lot! lol). Yeah Yeah Yeah's - I really get you on this one! Maps is such a classic.

You should take a listen to clap your hands and say yeah, The National... Have you read my hubs indie promotion 1, 2 and 3? All the bands cited are so obviously Joy Division... lol

You should check out my myspace as well...

I went to see Jim's grave in Paris last year - but I guess I do tend to be macabre... rather like Curtis himself - why do you think I understand him so! lol

(peace frog, the end - I know exactly what you mean... shssh! -, not to touch the earth - all very pagan, don't you think! lol).

What a delight to find a fellow music lover x

n00w 6 years ago

Nice article but please don't use medical terms when you obviously don't know what they mean. Psychosis implies both the invention or the perception of a non-existing reality, and the loss of conscience. For instance, it happens if you have hallucinations and you start to believe that they are the truth. The most common side-effect of true epilepsy is depression. Most likely, Ian Curtis suffered these two illnesses, and this is largely enough to push someone to commit suicide.

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 6 years ago from Great Britain Author

nOOw - I am glad you made this observation. Your summary is exactly what I have written about in this article. Thank you for saying this so eliquently. :)

Yosele profile image

Yosele 6 years ago

I have 2 questions for Shaz, considering Curtis' wife Deborah was an executive producer on the film 'Control' and indeed wrote the book on which it is based, is the film an accurate portrayal of Ian Curtis.

Also considering the nature of rock acts, how much of what we know about Curtis is part of the public image that he portrayed through his songs, interviews and public appearances.

Neither of these questions are meant in a challenging way, I would be honestly interested in what you have to say.

Great article!

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 6 years ago from Great Britain Author

Hi Yosele - the truth is no one can really truly know - unless you are the person yourself. We can only go on the evidence - albeit minimal. Even when someone does an autobiography, it cant be totally true - only true to the person. It is a well known fact that in war, for example, it is the victors who write history... this is 'their truth, tell me yours', springs to mind.

All assessment is based on what is observable - the behaviours exposed, the evidence from others. It is always skued.

Unfortunately, dead people don't talk - it would be wonderful to ask the source, wouldn't it.

This article is provided as food for thought, nothing is ever written in stone.

I hope this explains a bit better.

Karl 4 years ago

Just out of curiosity was Ian Curtis Jewish, yes or no will do, thank-you! Best album? Unknown Pleasures (First Joy Divison album I bought so a bit biased) Best song? Probably a predictable Love Will Tear Us Apart and then Transmission. Interpol?!? Yeah I've got Turn On The Bright Lights and Antics but they've got NOTHING on Joy Division... A Joy Division for the 00'S...? Nah! There was only ever one and will only be ever one Joy Division!

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 4 years ago from Great Britain Author

Hi Karl, not sure if Curtis's line of origin was Jewish, but he certainly had an avid interest in the Holocaust, especially how vile the use of Jewish women purely for sex in the 'Joy Division' of Auschwitch.

BTW, I totally agree with you on the rest of your comment - it is only the pioneers that count, and in this instance, Joy Division was the first! However, I do value 'Turn on' for its own merit and I love the insurgence of these similar vained bands. You should check out a new band on the scene - all girls but very Joy Division mixed with a Banshee voice called The Savages. Watch out for them, especially at next year's Glastonbury Festival!

James 3 years ago

Ian Curtis was a nazi

James 3 years ago

No doubt about it he'd be a nazi BNP supporter.

shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 3 years ago from Great Britain Author

No James, I just think this was a 'shock tactic' so as they would be heard. This was typical for punk. If anything, it was an 'in your face' method to highlight the terrible things that can happen to human beings. These things were not spoken about at that time because it was still raw, but Curtis was a new generation and this issue was not going to be hidden.

The whole tone of Joy Division was very black and white... industrial and dark. Their style symbolised the rain and depression of the day. Britain was still recovering from the war, in little terraced houses and the grey new landscapes of 1970's office blocks and high rise flats. There was still lots of deprivation and many working class people didn't feel hopeful.

The winter of discontent extended to the music of the day and Joy Division slotted very neatly into this niche - hum-drum social entrapment.

Now was the cry of a generation and now was the time to be heard!

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