Ian Curtis

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
Ian Curtis

Background information
Birth name Ian Kevin Curtis
Born 15 July 1956(1956-07-15)
Macclesfield, Cheshire, England[1]
Died 18 May 1980 (aged 23)
Macclesfield, Cheshire, England
Occupation(s) Musician, Songwriter
Instrument(s) vocals, guitar, keyboards, melodica
Voice type(s) Baritone
Associated acts Joy Division

Ian Kevin Curtis (15 July 1956 – 18 May 1980) was the vocalist and lyricist, as well as occasional guitarist and keyboardist, of the band Joy Division, which he joined in 1976 after meeting with Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook at a Sex Pistols gig.

Years after his death, critics and fans continue to write and discuss at length Curtis's music, as well as possible motivations and inspirations for his work. News of his suicide in 1980 spurred many rumours, further accelerating interest in his work and troubled life.


[edit] Early life and marriage

Curtis was born in Macclesfield, United Kingdom, in 1956.[1] He grew up in Hurdsfield[citation needed] and from a young age he exhibited talent as a poet. Although awarded a scholarship to attend The King's School, Macclesfield, at the age of 11, Curtis never pursued academic success. As he grew older, his ambitions and hopes became focused on a pursuit of art and literature and, ultimately, music. Curtis was employed as a civil servant in Manchester and later in Macclesfield.

He was influenced by the writers William S. Burroughs, J. G. Ballard and Joseph Conrad (the song titles "Interzone", "Atrocity Exhibition",[2] and "Colony" coming from the three authors, respectively), and by the musicians David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison, lead singer with one of his favourite bands, The Doors.

Curtis married Deborah Woodruff, whom he met whilst still at school, on 23 August 1975, when he was 19 and she was 18. They remained married until his death; his widow is still alive. They had one child, Natalie, who was born on 16 April 1979.

[edit] Joy Division

In 1976, Curtis met two young musicians, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook, at a Sex Pistols gig, who told him they were trying to form a band; he immediately put himself forward as a vocalist and lyricist. The three of them recruited, and sacked, a number of drummers before settling on Stephen Morris as their final member. Initially, the band was called Warsaw before changing its name to Joy Division in 1978, due to conflicts with the name of another band, Warsaw Pakt. The name "Joy Division" stemmed from the sexual slavery wing of a Nazi concentration camp in the 1955 novel The House of Dolls, and was thought to have been pitched by Curtis.

After starting Factory Records with Alan Erasmus, Tony Wilson "signed" the band to his label (although no contracts were ever signed, despite the story of Wilson signing a contract in his own blood).

While performing for Joy Division, Curtis became known for his quiet and awkward demeanour, as well as a unique dancing style[3] reminiscent of the epileptic seizures he experienced, sometimes even on stage, although he was doing the dance before he was diagnosed later that year.[4] The resemblance was such that audience members were sometimes uncertain if Curtis was dancing or having a seizure;[citation needed] there were several incidents where he collapsed and had to be helped off stage.[5]

Curtis's writing was filled with imagery of emotional isolation, death, alienation, and urban decay. He once commented in an interview that he wrote about "the different ways different people can cope with certain problems, how they might or might not adapt". He sang in a bass-baritone voice, in contrast to his speaking voice, which was higher pitched. Earlier in their career, Curtis would sing in a loud snarling voice similar to shouting; it is best displayed on the band's debut EP. Joy Division had its sparse recording style developed by producer Martin Hannett, with some of their most innovative work being created in Strawberry Studios in Stockport (owned by Manchester act 10cc) and Cargo Recording Studios Rochdale in 1979, a studio which was developed from John Peel investing money into the music business in Rochdale.

Although predominantly a vocalist, Curtis also played guitar on a handful of tracks (usually when Sumner was playing synthesizer; "Incubation" was a rare case where both played guitar). At first Curtis played Sumner's Shergold Masquerader, but in September 1979 he acquired his own guitar, a Vox Phantom Special VI (often described incorrectly as a Teardrop or ordinary Phantom model) which had many built-in effects used both live and in studio. After Curtis' death, Sumner inherited the guitar, and it was used in several early New Order songs, such as "Everything's Gone Green". Curtis also played keyboard on some later live versions of "She's Lost Control", and the melodica in a salvaged recording of New Order B-side, "In A Lonely Place" that was written and rehearsed for the cancelled American tour.

[edit] Death

Curtis's last live performance was on 2 May 1980 at Birmingham University, a show that included Joy Division's first and only performance of the song "Ceremony", later recorded by New Order and released as their first single. The last song Curtis performed on stage was "Digital". The recording of this performance can be found on the compilation album Still.

Detailed in Debbie Curtis's Touching from a Distance, Curtis was staying at his parents' house at this time and attempted to talk his wife into staying with him on 17 May 1980, to no avail. Debbie chose to leave him in her house overnight while she left to do some errands. Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle claimed in a 2006 interview that Curtis would sometimes phone him during the night and sing the Throbbing Gristle song "Weeping" – a song about suicide – to him.[6]

In the early hours of 18 May 1980, Curtis hanged himself in the kitchen of his house in Macclesfield, England.[1]. He had just viewed Werner Herzog's film Stroszek and listened to Iggy Pop's The Idiot. At the time of his death, his health was failing as a result of the epilepsy and attempting to balance his musical ambitions with his failing marriage. His wife found his body the next morning.

Wilson later said, "I'd been warned on a train to London two weeks earlier by Annik [Honoré]. I asked her, 'What do you think of the new album.' She goes, 'I'm terrified.' I said, 'What are you terrified of?' She replies, 'Don't you understand? He means it.' And I go, 'No, he doesn't mean it - it's art.' And guess what? He fucking meant it."[7]

Curtis's memorial stone, which is inscribed with "Ian Curtis 18 - 5 - 80" and "Love Will Tear Us Apart", was stolen in July 2008 from the grounds of Macclesfield Cemetery.[8] The missing memorial stone was later replaced by a new one.[9]

[edit] Legacy

The remaining members of Joy Division formed the immensely successful New Order following Curtis's death. The band had agreed not to go on as Joy Division if any of the members left for whatever reason. Their first album, Movement, featured a song called "I.C.B.", which stands for "Ian Curtis Buried".

Musical tributes to Curtis include, "Elegia", appearing on New Order's Low-Life album and the previously mentioned "ICB", "The Him" and "Dreams Never End", which appear on their debut album, Movement, U2's "A Day Without Me" the lead single from their 1980 debut album Boy, "The Missing Boy" by Label mates Durutti Column, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's "Statues" on 1980's Organisation, Psychic TV's single "I.C. Water" from Towards Thee Infinite Beat, Thursday's "Ian Curtis" on the album Waiting, Robert Smith of The Cure would dedicate the song "Primary" to Curtis in their early days, Alkaline Trio's "Help Me" and Luca Prodan's Divididos por la Felicidad.

Deborah Curtis wrote Touching from a Distance, published in 1995, a biographical account of their marriage, detailing in part his infidelity with Annik Honoré. Authors Mick Middles and Linsay Reade released the book Torn Apart: The Life of Ian Curtis in 2006. This biography takes a more intimate look at Ian Curtis and includes photographs from personal family albums and excerpts from Curtis's letters to Honoré during his affair with her.

Paul Morley wrote Joy Division, Piece by Piece, writing about Joy Division 1977-2007; it was published in late 2007. The book documents all of his writings and reviews about Joy Division from their forming, up until the death of Tony Wilson.

Artist Glenn Brown painted Exercise One (for Ian Curtis) (1995) and Dark Angel (for Ian Curtis) (2002), inspired by the singer and appropriating the paintings of Chris Foss.

A wall on Wallace Street in Wellington, New Zealand, had the words "Ian Curtis Lives" written on it shortly after the singer's death. The message is repainted whenever it is painted over, and another wall on the same street now bears the message "Ian Curtis R.I.P. Walk In Silence" along with the dates "1960 - 1981" (sic). Both are referred to as "The Ian Curtis Wall".

Manchester United fans sing "Giggs will tear you apart" to the tune of "Love Will Tear Us Apart",[10] although Curtis was a Manchester City fan.[11]

[edit] Film portrayals

Curtis was portrayed by Sean Harris in the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People, which dramatized the rise and fall of Factory Records from the 1970s to the 1990s.

In 2007 a British Ian Curtis biopic called Control, based on material from Deborah Curtis's book Touching from a Distance was released. It was directed by rock photographer and music video director Anton Corbijn, who had previously photographed the band and directed the video for "Atmosphere". Deborah Curtis and Tony Wilson were executive producers. Sam Riley (who actually portrayed The Fall frontman Mark E Smith in 24 Hour Party People), the lead singer of band 10,000 Things, portrays Curtis, while Samantha Morton plays his wife, Deborah.

The film had its debut at the Cannes Film Festival on 17 May 2007 to great acclaim, taking three awards at the Director's Fortnight. It portrays Curtis's secondary school romance with Deborah, their marriage at a very young age, his problems balancing his domestic life with his rise to fame, his affair with Annik Honoré, his struggle with poorly medicated epilepsy and depression,[12] and his suicide.

[edit] References

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ a b c "Biography for Ian Curtis". www.imdb.com. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0193350/bio. Retrieved on 18 January 2009. 
  2. ^ According to Vini Reilly in the documentary 'Joy Division - Sex Drugs and Rock n Roll' Ian loved the poetry of T. S. Eliot. cf the chorus of Atrocity Exhibition with the closing lines of The Hollow Men
  3. ^ . In an interview for Northern Lights cassette magazine in November 1979 Ian Curtis made his only public comment on his dancing and performance. He explained the motivation as: "Instead of just singing about something you could show it as well, put it over in the way that it is, if you were totally involved in what you were doing".
  4. ^ Curtis (1995), p. 114
  5. ^ Curtis (1995), p. 113
  6. ^ Svenonius, Ian. Interview with Genesis P-Orridge. "Soft Focus". New York City: VBS.tv. 29 September 2006. Retrieved on 20 March 2009. Note: At 5:02
  7. ^ Factory: Manchester from Joy Division to Happy Mondays. BBC documentary 2007
  8. ^ "Ian Curtis memorial stone stolen". BBC. 2 July 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/7486280.stm. Retrieved on 2008-07-03. 
  9. ^ "New stone laid at Curtis memorial". 30 July 2008. http://www.macclesfield-express.co.uk/news/s/1060415_new_stone_laid_at_curtis_memorial. Retrieved on 2009-01-22. 
  10. ^ Findon, Ben (10 December 2007). "Alex Ferguson's United find Derby a soft target". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/2328068/Alex-Fergusons-United-find-Derby-a-soft-target.html. Retrieved on 13 October 2008. 
  11. ^ Cummins, Kevin (27 August 2005). "Ian Curtis". The Times. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/whats_on/listings/article557886.ece. 
  12. ^ Biopic avoids venerating troubled artist antihero

[edit] Sources

  • Curtis, Deborah (1995). Touching from a Distance - Ian Curtis and Joy Division. Faber and Faber Limited. ISBN 0-571-17445-0.

[edit] Further reading

  • Middles, Mick and Reade, Lindsay (2006). Torn Apart: The Life of Ian Curtis. Omnibus Press. ISBN 1-84449-826-3.
  • Heylin, Clinton and Wood, Craig (1988). Joy Division: Form (and Substance). Sound Pub. ISBN 1-871407-00-1.
  • Middles, Mick (1996). From Joy Division to New Order. Virgin Books. ISBN 0-7535-0638-6.
  • Edge, Brian (1984). Pleasures and Wayward Distractions. Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-1439-7
  • Johnson, Mark (1984). An Ideal For Living. An History of Joy Division. Proteus Books. ISBN 0-7119-1065-0

[edit] External links

Personal tools