By Aidan Morales
Ian Curtis was born into a British working class family on the 15th of July, 1956, in Northern England. Lancashire and Northern England as a whole are known for depressing industrial areas and beautiful nature, forming an uncanny dichotomy. As a young child, Curtis showed a remarkable interest and skill in poetry and music writing. A prodigal child, Curtis won several awards throughout his childhood for his literary accomplishments and was renowned by his friends and family for his work with the elderly and those in need. As time passed he expressed a growing interest in music and considered forming a band. This effort proved to be fruitful because in 1976 he met up with childhood friends Summer, Hook and Mason and created a band together. Unbeknownst to the group, history was made and their music would be celebrated around the world. The band that came to be known as Joy Division was one of the main pioneers of the post-punk sound and inspired bands like The Smiths, The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees to craft and make their own post-punk sound.
At odds with the name, Joy Division was a band that made music filled with the dismal and depressed vocals of Curtis and the hypnotic instrumentals of post-punk sound. Curtis dealt with several medical problems throughout his life such as epilepsy and depression, which influenced his music and vocals with an apparent melancholy gloom. Performances and recordings became a strenuous task for Curtis and the band was never able to consistently release music, as well as go on tours. Attempting a tour in Europe, Curtis experienced seizures but was able to perform in accordance with the tour schedule, however his mental health declined heavily during this time. Lack of sleep and depression worsened his seizures and he often had seizures mid-performance. This embarrassed him and worsened his depression, often causing him to be reclusive. In spite of all Curtis’ problems, Joy Division managed to release two hits Love Will Tear Us Apart and Disorder, along with two full studio albums.
Prior to the band’s debut tour in North America, Ian Curtis was hit with a depressive episode and hung himself in his kitchen, not dissimilar to his failed several suicide attempt earlier that year. This shocked the band members as their friend and manager said: “I think all of us made the mistake of not thinking his suicide was going to happen … We all completely underestimated the danger.” He was survived by his wife and child, of whom he had a strenuous and conflicted relationship with due to an affair. After a period of mourning, the band rebranded themselves as New Order, however most music platforms separate them as two different bands. In terms of mood, the bands are completely different, however Curtis’ influence and legacy can be seen in both.
New Order was a very different sound than Joy Division, often including more hopeful tracks and instrumentals. Their vocals often remained dismal and melancholy, possibly as a tribute to the late Curtis. Even so, they sounded much more mainstream and pop, which helped them widely gain popularity. While you may not know them by the name New Order, you definitely know a song they made, “Blue Monday” which was a club hit both in the UK and internationally. Power, Corruption & Lies was their second album, but many see it as their stylistic debut from Joy Division and the formation of their own unique style. With the path ahead of New Order layed down with a red carpet, the rest was history as New Order continues to be an influential band and continues to perform today, although with many personnel changes. Much to his friends and fellow band members’ sadness, Ian Curtis never got to see how popular and influential his music turned out to be. He will forever remain a music legend and a reminder for us to raise awareness for depression and that we must destigmatize mental health issues. Even as they played without Curtis, he will always be remembered by his loved ones and those who listened to his music.
Rest in Peace Ian Curtis (15 July 1956 – 18 May 1980)
“Existence is.. well.. What does it matter? I exist on the best terms I can. The past is now part of my future. The present is well out of hand.”