Ian Curtis


Ian Curtis
Ian Curtis

Curtis (second from right) with Joy Division in 1979
Background information
Birth name Ian Kevin Curtis
Born 15 July 1956(1956-07-15)
Stretford, Lancashire, England
Origin Salford, England
Died 18 May 1980(1980-05-18) (aged 23)
Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, UK
Genres Post-punk
Occupations Musician, songwriter
Instruments Vocals, guitar, melodica
Years active 1976–1980
Associated acts Joy Division

Ian Kevin Curtis (15 July 1956 - 18 May 1980) was an English singer and lyricist, famous for leading the post-punk band Joy Division. Joy Division released their debut album, Unknown Pleasures, in 1979 and recorded their follow-up, Closer, in 1980. Suffering from epilepsy, a failing marriage and bouts of depression, Curtis committed suicide on May 18th 1980 on the eve of Joy Division's first North American tour, resulting in the band's dissolution and the subsequent formation of New Order.

Curtis was known for his bass-baritone voice, dance style and songwriting filled with imagery of desolation, emptiness and alienation.

In 1995, Curtis's widow, Deborah, published Touching from a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division, a biography of the singer. His life and death have been dramatised in the films 24 Hour Party People (2002) and Control (2007).

Contents

Life and career

Early life and marriage

Curtis was born at the Memorial Hospital in Stretford in Lancashire (now part of Greater Manchester). He grew up in Hurdsfield, an area of Macclesfield,[1] and from a young age he exhibited talent as a poet. Proof of his ability was his admission at the age of 11 to The King's School, Macclesfield with a scholarship. Despite this, he was not a dedicated student and did not further his education beyond O-level.[2]

After leaving school he focused on the pursuit of art, literature and, most importantly, music. Curtis was employed in a variety of jobs, including civil servant in Manchester and later Macclesfield.

On 23 August 1975 Curtis married an old school friend Deborah Woodruff. He was just 19 and she 18. Their daughter, Natalie, was born on 16 April 1979. She is a photographer.[3]

Joy Division

In 1976 at a Sex Pistols gig Curtis met Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook. They were trying to form a band, and Curtis immediately proposed himself as vocalist and lyricist. The trio then unsuccessfully recruited a number of drummers before selecting Stephen Morris as their final member.

Initially the band was called Warsaw, but as their name conflicted with that of another group: Warsaw Pakt, the name was changed to Joy Division. The moniker was derived from a 1955 novel The House of Dolls which featured a Nazi concentration camp with a sexual slavery wing called the "Joy Division".

After starting Factory Records with Alan Erasmus, Tony Wilson signed the band to his label.

Whilst performing for Joy Division, Curtis became known for his quiet and awkward demeanour, as well as a unique dancing style reminiscent of the epileptic seizures he experienced, sometimes even on stage.[4] There were several incidents where he collapsed and had to be helped off stage.[5] 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 dance as a type of sign language with which to further express a song's emotional and lyrical content: "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".

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 fell in the tenor range. 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, An Ideal for Living (1978). 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 synthesiser; "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 used it in several early New Order songs, such as "Everything's Gone Green". Curtis also played keyboard on some live versions of "She's Lost Control". He also played the melodica on "Decades" and "In A Lonely Place"; the latter was written and rehearsed for the cancelled American tour, and later salvaged as a New Order B-side.

Death

Curtis' last live performance was on 2 May 1980, at Chamberlain Hall of Birmingham University, a show that included Joy Division's first and only performance of "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 is on the Still album.

Detailed in Debbie Curtis' 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. He told her to leave him alone in the house until he caught his train to Manchester the next morning.[6] In the early hours of 18 May 1980, Curtis hanged himself in the kitchen of his house in Macclesfield. 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 marriage, which was floundering in the aftermath of his affair with journalist Annik Honoré. His wife found his body the next morning.

Curtis' 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.[7] The missing memorial stone was later replaced by a new stone.[8]

In a 1987 interview with Option, Stephen Morris commented on how he would describe Curtis to those who asked what he was like: "An ordinary bloke just like you or me, liked a bit of a laugh, a bit of a joke."[9]

Legacy

In 1990, Psychic TV released I.C. Water, a song dedicated to Curtis.

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 Lindsay Reade released the book Torn Apart: The Life of Ian Curtis in 2006. This biography takes a more intimate look at Curtis and includes photographs from personal family albums and excerpts from his letters to Honoré during their affair.

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 Tony Wilson's death.

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. A nearby wall on the same street on the 4 January 2005[10] was originally emblazoned "Ian Curtis RIP", later modified to read "Ian Curtis R.I.P. Walk In Silence" along with the dates "1960–1981" (sic). Both are referred to as "The Ian Curtis Wall". On 10 September 2009, the wall was painted over by Wellington City Council's anti-graffiti team.[11] The wall was chalked back up on 16 September 2009. Following this, council spokesman Richard MacLean said, "They [the anti-graffiti team] may turn a blind eye to it".[12] The wall was repainted on 17 September 2009, this time with correct dates.

Film portrayals

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

In 2007 a British Ian Curtis biographical film called Control was released, based on material from Deborah Curtis' book Touching from a Distance. It was directed by the Dutch 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, the lead singer of the 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 Directors' Fortnight. It portrays Curtis' secondary school romance with Deborah, their marriage, his problems balancing his domestic life with his rise to fame, his affair with Annik Honoré, his struggle with poorly medicated epilepsy and depression,[13] and his suicide.

References

  1. ^ Curtis, Deborah. Touching from a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division, London: Faber, 1995 (2nd ed. 2001, 3rd ed. 2005). ISBN 0-571-17445-0, p. 1
  2. ^ Curtis, p. 6
  3. ^ Natalie Curtis's photography website
  4. ^ Curtis, p. 114
  5. ^ Curtis, p. 113
  6. ^ Curtis, pp. 131–132
  7. ^ "Ian Curtis memorial stone stolen". BBC. 2 July 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/7486280.stm. Retrieved 3 July 2008. 
  8. ^ "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 22 January 2009. 
  9. ^ Woodard, Josef (November/December 1987). "Out From The Shadows: New Order". Option. 
  10. ^ Steve McKinlay (5 January 2005). "Mother, I tried, please believe me". Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/28643192@N00/1998098614/. Retrieved 25 September 2010. 
  11. ^ Kelly Burns (12-09-2009). "Killjoy division cleans up 'Ian Curtis wall'". Stuff.co.nz. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/2857052/Killjoy-division-cleans-up-Ian-Curtis-wall. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  12. ^ The Dominion Post (17-09-2009). "Wellington punk art wall rises again". Stuff.co.nz. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/2872027/Wellington-punk-art-wall-rises-again. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  13. ^ Tim Kroenert (31-10-2007). "Biopic avoids venerating troubled artist antihero". EurekaStreet.com.au. http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=3698. Retrieved 30-10-2011. 

Further reading

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

External links


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