The Psychosis of Ian Curtis of Joy Division
Joy Division - One of the most influential post punk bands of our time
Joy Division's lead singer, Ian Curtis, had an average life until he contracted epilepsy. This was devastating 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 and even today, are one of the most influential post punk bands of our time.
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.
Ian Curtis - A Misunderstood Misfit.
To die a legend is to live a legend
From Warsaw to Joy Division
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
‘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’.
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© 2009 shazwellyn