Closer: When Curtis Was Torn Apart Thinkbabymusic Collective

When Curtis Was Torn Apart

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 singersongwriter 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. Today, his doctors would be in prison for the ultratoxic mix of meds they gave him. There was no effective or proper medicine for epilepsy at that time. 

Also, many epilepsy sufferers are getting better results from medicine made from cannabis extract than from the many government approved Big Pharma meds. 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 postpunk movement of the late 70s and early 80s. 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. Just ask Trent Reznor, or actor Sam Riley, who appeared possessed by the soul of Ian Curtis in the movie ‘Control’. Riley’s acting is absolutely spectacular, he accurately captured the personal anguish Ian was experiencing in his loveless marriage, and the demanding band and record company. ‘Control’ is an underrated film that only Anton Corbijn could have made. He was right there with the band pretty much the whole time.

But was Ian Curtis the innocent victim JD fan boys often make him out to be? These same friends dragged him out of a hospital bed to play a gig. What lovely, considerate people place somebody with severe epilepsy in a situation like that? One thing is certain, they were incredibly naive to underestimate the effects of Ian’s condition. On the other hand, people say Ian killed himself and Debbie was completely responsible. They argued on the final night, the night before the band was set to fly off and tour the US. Divorce was on the table. He was found dead on May 18, 1980. They go on to say: ‘Her fucking gas lighting and postmortem slander of his memory is despicable.’ Those medications can cause and worsen paranoia, hallucinations, hostility, and there’s overwhelming statistics that the meds commonly cause suicidal ideas, and the ability to actually go through with it. The truth is in Ian’s lyrics, and the fact that a final confrontation broke his spirit that night, and Ian simply could not take any more.

Real artists express, and Ian was a real artist. Expression, for an artist is a lifeline. Losing it would not have stopped him from ending his already miserable and tortured life, on his own terms. Ian never wrote lyrics about his manager, the record company, the other band members, and he was one of the most direct artists that the world had seen. Ian chose to end life on his own terms, because things were just not getting better. His doctor should also have been held accountable. If that happened today, the doctor would be in Club Fed, he’d get what Michael Jackson’s doctor got. 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.

On stage you are alone. No matter how tight you may be with your band, 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. Joy Division were ahead of their time. Until the unreal becomes so real.

May 18th, 1980, the same date as the Mt. St. Helen’s eruption. She’s lost control.

Published: In Print Issue Nº 07—2019
Words: Major Tom Alexopoulos, Thinkbabymusic Collective
Photography © Slater B. Bradley model homage to Ian Curtis. True Faith Exhibition, Manchester Art Gallery