Ian Curtis

By: Devin McKinney
July 15, 2015


Especially given his suicide by knotted clothesline at the age of 23, it seems true enough to say that Joy Division vocalist IAN CURTIS (1956–80) sang as if he were already dead, so cold and flat was his way of infiltrating a song. But that’s not quite it. Any given Joy Division performance is a three-way collision between Curtis, the band, and the latency of the song itself. The song (cf. “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Transmission,” “Days of the Lords,” “Twenty Four Hours,” anything else on 1979’s Unknown Pleasures or 1980’s Closer) is Morse code from a metallic corridor in a bleak ten-minutes-from-now future. The band is pent-up and propulsive, with a post-punk resistance to conventional emotional display, yet livid with nerves and aching for drama. As much as Levi Stubbs or Johnny Rotten, Curtis must attack and be attacked by the combative, supportive elements of song and band, must carry the weight of the confrontation, and that can’t be done in the voice of a dead man. His domination seems deathly because it is overpoweringly fearful. The drama of a Joy Division song is that of the man who wakes from a drugged stupor to find himself buried, trapped like a Poe character in a coffin, dungeon, bricked-up tomb — and the rush that powers its climax is the man discovering that the tomb is his own body. Which is where the song always ends.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Walter Benjamin, Johnny Thunders, Emmeline Pankhurst, Jacques Derrida.

READ MORE about members of the Original Generation X (1954–1963).


HiLo Heroes, Punk