Love will part us: 42 years after the death of Ian Curtis, leader of Joy Division

On May 18, it was 42 years since the tragic departure of Ian Curtislegendary vocalist of the band Joy Division, one of the initiators of the post punk Worldwide.

Although he committed suicide when I was only 23 years old, his life was much more than the tragedy that can be assumed taking into account his last days. Ian Kevin Curtis was a poet, an composer excellent and a avant-garde musical genius that, perhaps, he never knew how to ask for help.

Teenage punk and first band

Ian Curtis lived his adolescence during the years in which punk began to overflow in the convulsed England early 1970s. With an introverted personality but with a rebellious spirit, he did not hesitate to walk the streets of his native Manchester with the word “Hate” written in orange paint on his jacket.

It was also during those years that he met those who would be his musical partners during his life. at a concert of Sex Pistols of 1976 coincided with Bernard Summer Y Peter Hook, who later told him that they were putting together a band inspired by the sound of the Pistols. A year later, he joined Stephen Morriswho after an audition, joined as a drummer.

The first name of the group was Stiff Kittensalthough they later changed to Warsaw (Warsaw) for the song “Warszawa” by David Bowie and for Curtis’s fondness for World War II. In may 78 they enter the recording studio, but are not satisfied with the results. Ian was looking for something more in the band’s sound, something that fits his baritone voice and that it reflected, more authentically, his vision of the world.

This is how the group decides to try it one more time and they change their name to Joy Divisionin allusion to the group of Jewish sexual slaves that the Nazis had in the concentration camps and that appear in the work “The House of Dolls” of K-Tzetnik.

From here, the legend begins.

dark sound makers

Rob Grettonmanager of the band at the time, manages to contact them with the nascent independent label Factory Records Founded by Tony Wilson who, seeing the tremendous potential of the group, decides to sign them and put them back in the studio. And this is where the next person responsible for the unique sound, at that time, of Joy Division comes in to carve: Martin Hannett.

It was Hannett who, fed up with the classic sound of rock, proposed (or imposed, depending on how you saw it) echo effects, reverbs, and shadow textures which, together with Ian’s desperate and atonal voice, became that nihilistic, tragic and dark work of art that is Unknown Pleasuresthe group’s first album, released in 1979.

It didn’t take long for the album to become a hit in the underground circuit. With the iconic cover of peter savile and classics like “Shadowplay”, “She’s Lost Control” and “Disorder”the LP began to attract the attention of music critics despite the fact that it did not have any radio singles.

Despite nascent success, Ian Curtis was beginning to see his private life crack. With a rampant depression picturehis wife, Deborahpregnant, and the responsibilities of being front man of a gang with many ambitions seemed to plunge him deeper and deeper into quiet desperation.

In addition to this, Curtis began to have epileptic seizures that became more and more frequent. This situation led him to spend the night sitting up to avoid severe convulsions, and it also manifested itself in his “peculiar” way of “dance”while performing the band’s desperate and raging songs.

love will tear us apart

In August 1979, Ian meets music journalist Annik Honore and initiates an extramarital affair with her. This ended up destroying his conjugal relationship with Déborah. Despite Curtis’s guilt and personal pain, the gang seemed to rise and, in May 1980, they were preparing for their first American tour. Joy Division seemed to take off.

However, something unknown to his groupmates at the time was that Ian had attempted suicide with a phenobarbital overdose, a few days after finishing the recording of their second LP, closer.

According to a chronology compiled by the music journalist Tom TaylorOn May 18, 1980, Ian and the other members of the band went out to buy clothes, excited about the tour that would begin two days later. Bernard Summer He says that, when passing through a cemetery, he made a comment related to not wanting to end up on a tombstone. “Sure, who would want that, right?”was the enigmatic response of the vocalist.

At night, Curtis, alone in his memorabilia-filled marital home, put on the album “The Idiot” by Iggy-Pop on the record player, he gathered all the photos of his wedding and his daughter on a table, and wrote his farewell note in which reaffirmed his love for his wife and little, despite recent infidelity. A few hours later, Deborah found him dead.

Ian was cremated two days later and his ashes interred at Macclesfield, with the inscription “Love Will Tear Us Apart” on his tombstone, at the request of his wife.


Describing the tremendous legacy of Joy Division in the musical development of the last decades would not fit in a single note. Bands from U2 to Interpolgoing through Soda Stereo until caifans owe much to the legacy of the Ian Curtis band (later to become the equally huge New Order).

However, acts such as yesterday’s in which his former bandmates, Bernard Summer and Stephen Morris, were present at an event of the English Parliament as speakers of a talk called “Suicide Prevention: breaking the silence” that was originally going to be held to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Ian’s departure, but that did not materialize due to the pandemic.

“Originally, we didn’t think he had a mental health problem, we thought he had an epilepsy problem. […] His lyrics were a bit on the dark side, but when Ian was with us on a day-to-day basis, he would laugh a lotSummer recalled.

“The problem with Ian and with young men with depression is that you’re slowly boxing yourself in and you don’t know who you can talk to,” Morris said on the panel.

Perhaps Ian’s departure is not only a reason to mourn the early loss of a music Icon, but to warn of how suicide can be seen and seek to generate spaces for professional and emotional help in the face of depression, disease that is still stigmatized and neglected by health systems around the world.