Closer: When Curtis Was Torn Apart Thinkbabymusic Collective

Closer: When Curtis Was Torn Apart
Words: Major Tom Alexopoulos
Photography © 2001 Slater Bradley

Thinkbabymusic © In—Print Issue #07, 2018

Music changes steadily with time. Every now and then, a band comes along and grabs music by the throat, changes it instantly, and it goes off in a direction nobody thought of. Joy Division is such a band. Joy Division is one of the most inventive, evocative and influential groups of their era. Joy Division were formed in the late 1970's and dissolved May 18,1980, following the suicide of lead singer-songwriter Ian Curtis.

People can easily point fingers at who's to blame for Ian's death. But no one knows what really went on in his head. It shocked and saddened the people around him. Fans went numb. His daughter said that the NHS and mental health services were what let him down, not young, immature people. There was no effective or proper medicine for epilepsy at that time. The remaining Joy Division band members went on to form New Order, and have achieved much critical and commercial success. The influence of Joy Division, however, is far reaching.

They were a pioneering band of the post-punk movement of the late 70's and early 80's. Their music was called "cold wave", kind of post punk working class music. What stands is the vast influence they had on British music in such a short time, and the world today. Among other things, Ian Curtis suffered from epilepsy. There's just something about Ian's eyes. It's like he's almost dead, but he keeps on fighting. He's fighting himself and doesn't want to give up. Having a medical emergency around people that are stoned and drunk may not turn out well for you. Vegas bookies give 70 to 1 odds that you're not going to make it. Triggered by booze, drugs, loud amps and flashing lights, Curtis had a seizure while performing on stage, and everyone thought it was part of the act. His band mates had no idea what to do. They panicked. They didn't know what epilepsy was like. The number of bands and artists that Joy Division touched are innumerable.

Real artists express, and Ian was a real artist, he was one of the most direct artists that the world had seen. Expression, for an artist is a lifeline. Losing it would not have stopped him from ending his already tortured life. The truth is in the lyrics. Ian chose to end life on his own terms because things were just not getting better. His band claims they had no clue about the words he wrote until after his death. Ian's doctor should have been held accountable. A few years ago, an epilepsy expert looked at the cocktail that Ian was on and almost fell out of his chair. The dosage and mix was destined to kill him. In Ian's day, there were no SSRI's, this is pre—Prozac. Antidepressants had much worse side effects then, and combined with epilepsy drugs, would have made it almost impossible to function.

Most people who have never fronted a band will never understand: on stage you are alone. No matter how tight you may be with your band mates, no matter how many allies you have in the audience, all that exists is the music and what it does to you. Ian Curtis was the embodiment of that dark phenomena. The strength and talent of their music still holds today with the best of them. Ian Curtis and Joy Division were ahead of their time and had real a authentic soul. Then the unreal becomes so real. Another great young soul gone too soon. May 18th,1980, the same date as the Mt. St. Helen's eruption. She's lost control.

(Major) Tom Alexopoulos is a Greek, American journalist, producer, and radio presenter, also known for his residency at AIR 104.4 FM, Athens, as well as his long—standing editorship at Thinkbabymusic. Photo: A recreation by artist Slater B. Bradley (Berlin) paying homage to the famous Kevin Cummins shot of Ian Curtis. True Faith Exhibition, the exhilarating art and afterlife of Joy Division and New Order.  Friday 30 June—Sunday 3 September 2017, Manchester Art Gallery.