Mother, I tried, please believe me
I'm doing the best that I can
I'm ashamed of the things I've been put through
I'm ashamed of the person I am

—"Isolation"—

Ian Curtis, born July 15, 1956 in Stretford in Lancashire, England, was a vocalist and guitarist, most notably for Joy Division, from its inception in 1976 to its dissolution in 1980. He was (and remains) a hugely influential figure in the British post-punk scene of the late 1970s.

Before his musical career began in 1976, he held a job as a civil servant in Manchester and Macclesfield. After attending a Sex Pistols concert that year, he instantly decided that he wanted to do something similar. This lead to the formation of a band that wasn't named until after their first gig, although the venue needed a name to put on its posters, so Ian said that they were called the Stiff Kittens. This name was dropped immediately after the show. Afterwards they settled on the name Warsaw, and then finally, Joy Division. As Joy Division, the band became famous, due largely to the success of the post-punk/no wave movement. The band's shows were minimalist, although Ian's undulations at centre stage lead some to wonder if he was having an epileptic fit. He was afflicted by epilepsy, although he never confirmed or denied whether his onstage antics were caused by it or if he was merely dancing in his own unique way, or if it was a combination of both.

Ian wrote all the lyrics for Joy Division, and many of them were political in nature, particularly in the band's early output (i.e., "Warsaw," "Leaders of Men," etc). Later, his lyrics would focus almost exclusively on depression, despair and psychosis. He was a voracious reader, and as such he also penned songs based on the works of William S. Burroughs ("Interzone") and J.G. Ballard ("Atrocity Exhibition"). Despite his troubles accepting success, Joy Division was quite successful in their native England right from the start, and they had success in North America, as well. They were to tour there, at the height of their success, but it was not to be: Ian Curtis hanged himself on the eve of their flight to New York in the kitchen of the Manchester home he shared with his wife Deborah and their daughter Natalie on May 18, 1980.

In 1975, before his rise to success, he married Deborah Woodruff when they were both 19 years old. By the time of Natalie's birth in 1979, Ian and Deborah were headed towards divorce; his extramarital affair with a Belgian woman named Annik Honoré, who was a writer for the French-language magazine En Attendant, also contributed to the disillusion of their marriage. The further the band went, the deeper into depression he sank. He attempted suicide once before his death, when he swallowed a pint of phenobarbitone on April 2, 1980. His stomach was pumped and he survived, but only for a month and a half. He continued gigging with Joy Division throughout this time, with the last show before departing for America occurring on May 2, 1980. The final song Ian performed live was "Digital," a grimly apt song which could be seen as foreshadowing his eventual suicide:

I'd have the world around
To see just whatever happens
Stood by the door alone
And then it's fade away
I see you fade away
Don't ever fade away
I need you here today
Don't ever fade away
Don't ever fade away
Don't ever fade away
Don't ever fade away!

And with that, he retired to his home, where he spent the two weeks before his death listening to his favourite records and watching his favourite films. On May 18, he watched Werner Herzog's Stroszek (a particular favourite), then when it was over he put on Iggy Pop's The Idiot, and listened to it while he tied the laundry line around his neck. Some have speculated that his final choice in what to listen to was an expression of his self-loathing. Nevertheless, he knew what he was going to eventually do, and so he made a pact with the other members of Joy Division, in which they each agreed to continue on as a band if one of its members should leave or die. The result of that pact was the band New Order.

Ian's suicide resonated strongly with the musicians and bands of the day, and it continues to affect people a generation later. The romance surrounding it has inspired countless creative endevours (and no doubt an equal number of suicides among the irrepressably depressed). He's been portrayed on film by actors Sean Harris (24 Hour Party People (2002)) and Sam Riley (Control (2007, based on Deborah Curtis' book Touching from a Distance and directed by noted rock photographer Anton Corbijn)), respectively, and in stock footage of himself in every documentary about Joy Division and/or New Order that has ever been made. His baritone singing voice has given way to numerous up-and-coming singers. Control, by the way, is a superb depiction of the life and death of Ian Curtis. The direction, acting and music are all spectacular. It's a depressing story, of course, but it's also very moving and beautiful.

Like Nick Drake before him and Kurt Cobain and Richey Edwards after him, he deprived us of his company at a time when we were most interested in him and his work. However, his creativity will never die. Those who he influenced are everywhere, and as such you're unlikely to turn on a rock n' roll radio station without hearing someone he influenced in some way. If you've never heard anything by Joy Division, I can only pity you and recommend that you head forthwith to a vendor of music and pick up any Joy Division album at random; whichever one it is tells a fascinating story of a young man and his despair. And though he isn't around to appreciate people appreciating him, we at least have the two albums (Closer and Unknown Pleasures, plus several singles, compilations and live albums) that he left for us to discover when we are most in need.

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