I hadn’t yet come to terms with. As things turned sour for
both Factory and New Order, it was hard not to feel that
his death remained unresolved for the 'main participants.
It seemed like a good time to tell his story. I contacted
Curtis’s group manager, label owner and wife, Bernard
Sumner, Peter. Hook, Stephen Morris, Rob Gretton, Tony
Wilson, Deborah Curtis – and they all, except Gretton
who hardly.ever does, agreed to speak.
In her biography, Touching from a Distance, Deborah
Curtis writes about the reality behind the performance, the
fact that Ian's mesmeric style mirrored the ever more fre-
quent epileptic spasms that she had to cope with at home:
as she says now, “People admired him for the things that
were destroying him”. Ian Curtis’s death was a personal
tragedy with wider implications: couldn’t it have been pre-
vented? Was what we thought to be artistic exorcism
sheer, unrelenting autobiography? Where did such dark-
ness come from and why did we so willingly enter it?
Joy Division began, as did so much else, on the fourth
of June, 1976. Invited by the fledgling Buzzcocks, the
Sex Pistols played their first Northern date in a tiny hall
above Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. In a super 8 film shot
that day, Johnny Rotten twists around the small stage in
an already stylised ritual of aggression and withdrawal.
"It was dead exciting and dead heavy, real laddish", says
Peter Hook. "Something was happening and the music
"I went with Hooky and Terry Mason, our roadie", says
Bernard Sumner. "He’d read somewhere about the Sex
Pistols having a fight onstage and he dragged us down
to see them. I didn't think they were good: I thought they
were bad, that’s why I liked it. I thought they destroyed the
myth of being a pop star, of a musician being some kind
of god that you had to worship.
"I first me Ian at the Electric Circus. It might have been
the Anarchy tour, or The Clash. Ian was with another lad
called Ian, and they both had donkey jackets: Ian had
'HATE’ written on the back of his but I remember liking
him. He seemed pretty nice, but we didn’t talk to him that
much. About a month later when we decided to try to find
a singer – because Hooky and I had formed a group – we
put an ad in Virgin Records: Ian rang up and I said, Right,
OK: we didn’t even audition him.
"Ian brought a direction. He was into the extremities of
life. He wanted to make extreme music: he wanted to be
totally extreme onstage, no half measures. Ian’s influence
seemed to be madness and insanity. He said that a mem-
ber of his family had worked in a mental home and she
used to tell him things about the people there: people with
20 nipples or two heads, and it made a big impression on
him. Park of the time when Joy Division were forming, he
worked in a rehabilitation centre for people with physical
and mental difficulties, trying to find work. He was very
affected by them".
Ian Curtis was born on the fifteenth of July 1956, the
elder son: his father worked in the Transport Police.
During his teens, his parents moved from Hurdsfield on
the outskirts of Macclesfield to the huge '60s blocks of
Victoria Park, near the station. Although only just beyond
the furthest Manchester suburbs, Macclesfield is an older,
small town, where the looming Pennines offer both an
escape and a witchy emptiness: “It’s actually quite nice,
the hills around”, says Sumner. “But if you drive round
there on a winter night, and I’ve done it, you won’t see
a soul on the street”.
According to Deborah Curtis, who met him when he
was 16, Ian had a normal bohemian adolescence. Like
many teens growing up in the early ’70s, he was fired
by David Bowie, who placed in pop culture a whole set
of self–destructive references both musical and literary:
Jacques Brel, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground,
William Burroughs. At the time, this seemed like little more
than the standard teenage dramatisation of misery: after
leaving the King’s School, Curtis went to work every day
and, in August 1975, got married. It seemed as though
he was settling down.
With hindsight, its now clear that things went deeper.
When he was 14, Ian would, like many teens do today, raid
the medicine cabinets of anyone they visited, and try out
the combination of drugs as a leisure option. In the sum-
mer of 1972, there was an ambiguous overdose with his
friend Oliver Cheaver, where both boys had their stomachs
pumped: overdose or suicide attempt? “I think he wanted