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Praise for the series:

All six books revel in the distinct shapes and benets

of an album, its ability to go places lm, prose or sculp
ture can't reach, while capable of being as awe-inspiring
as the best of those mediumsPhiladelphia City Paper
Each volume has a distinct, almost militantly personal
take on a beloved long-player . . . the books that have
resulted are like the albums themselvesfilled with mo
ments of shimmering beauty, forgivable aws, and stub
born eccentricityTracks Magazine
At their best, these books make rich, thought-provoking
arguments for the song collections at handThe Phila
delphia Inquirer
Praise for individual books in the series:
Dusty in Memphis
Warren Zanes ... is so in love with Dusty Springeld's
great 1969 adventure in tortured Dixie soul that he's
willing to jump off the deep end in writing about it
Rolling Stone
Zanes uses Dusty in Memphis as a springboard to rumi
nate eloquendy on the history of Atlantic Records and
the myth of the American SouthTracks Magazine
Forever Changes
Hultkrans obsesses brilliantly on the rock legends' semi
nal discVanity Fair
The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
This is the sort of focus that may make you want to
buy a copy, or dig out your old oneThe Guardian
This detailed tome leads the reader through the often
fraught construction of what is now regarded as Davies's
masterpieceand, like the best books of its ilk, it makes
the reader want to either reinvestigate the album or
hear it for the first timeBlender Magazine
Miller makes a convincing case for the Kinks' 1968
operetta of English village life as a heartbreaking work
of staggering geniusRay Davies' greatest songwriting
triumph and an unjust commercial dudwith deep re
search and song-by-song analysisRolling Stone
Meat is Murder
Full of mordant wit and real heartache. A dead-on depic
tion of what it feels like when pop music articulates
your pain with an elegance you could never hope to
muster. 'Meat is Murder' does a brilliant job of capturing
how, in a world that doesn't care, listening to your
favorite album can save your lifeThe Philadelphia
Pernice hits his mark. The well-developed sense of char
acter, plot and pacing shows that he has serious promise
as a novelist. His emotionally precise imagery can be
bluntly, chillingly personalThe Boston Weekly Dig
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
John Cavanagh combines interviews with early associ
ates of Pink Floyd and recording-studio nitty-gritty to
vividly capture the rst and last ush of Syd Barrett's
psychedelic genius on the Floyd's '67 debutRolling
Packed with interviews and great stories . . . will cer
tainly give you a new perspective on Pink Floyd
Erasing Clouds
Unknown Pleasures
Also available in this series:
Dusty in Memphis by Warren Zanes
Forever Changes by Andrew Hultkrans
Harvest by Sam Inglis
The Kinks Are The Village Green
Preservation Society by Andy Miller
Meat Is Murder by Joe Pernice
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by John
Abba Gold by Elisabeth Vincentelli
Electric Lady land by John Perry
Unknown Pleasures by Chris Ott
Sign Vthe Times by Mchaelangelo Matos
The Velvet Underground and Nico by Joe
Let It Be by Steve Matteo
Live at the Apollo by Douglas Wolk
Aqualung by Allan Moore
OK Computer hy Dai Grifths
Let It Be by Colin Meloy
Led Zeppelin IV by Erik Davis
Armed Forces by Franklin Bruno
Exile on Main Street by Bill Janovitz
Grace by Daphne Brooks
Murmur by J. Niimi
Pet Sounds by Jim Fusilli
Ramones by Nicholas Rombes
Endtroducing... by Eliot Wilder
Kick Out the jams by Don McLeese
Low by Hugo Wilcken
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Kim
Music from Big Pink by John Niven
Paul's Boutique by Dan LeRoy
Doolittle by Ben Sisario
There's a Riot Goin' On by Miles
Marshall Lewis
Stone Roses by Alex Green
Bee Thousand'by Marc Woodworth
The Who Sell Out by John Dougan
Highway 61 Revisited'by Mark
Loveless by Mike McGonigal
The Notorious Byrd Brothers by Ric Menck
Court and Spark by Sean Nelson
69 Love Songs by LD Beghtol
Songs in the Key of Life by Zeth
Use Your Illusion I and II by Eric
Daydream Nation by Matthew
Trout Mask Replica by Kevin
Double Nickels on the Dime by
Michael T. Fournier
People's Instinctive Travels and
the Paths of Rhythm by
Shawn Taylor
Aja by Don Breithaupt
Rid of Me by Kate Schatz
Achtung Baby by Stephen Catanzarite
Forthcoming in this series:
Pretty Hate Machine by Daphne Carr
Let's Talk About Love by Carl Wilson
and many more . . .
Chris Ott
A continuum
The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc
80 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038
The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
The Tower Building, 11 York Road, London SE1 7NX
Copyright 2004 by Chris Ott
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any
means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or
otherwise, without the written permission of the publishers.
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ott, Chris.
Unknown pleasures / Chris Ott.
p. cm. (33 1/3)
ISBN 0-8264-1549-0 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Joy Division (Musical group). Unknown pleasures.
2. Joy Division (Musical group) I. Title. II. Series.
ML421J696O88 2004
Preface. 18.05.03 xi
Chapter 1. Suffer No Fiction 1
Chapter 2. The Illusion Vanishes 31
Chapter 3. The Record is Alive, as That Which It
Recorded is Alive 61
Chapter 4. His Very Flight is Presence
in Disguise 85
Chapter 5. The Helena 105
Post scri pt . 115
Preface. 18.05.03.
I'm listening to a cover version of "Disorder", the
rst song on Joy Division's debut album, Unknown Plea
sures. It was recorded in the auditorium of a Dallas,
Texas Community Church in March of 1994 by a band
called Bedhead, using a single, carefully positioned mi
crophone. Bedhead wrote monastically austere music
and clothed it in increasingly minimal album sleeves,
willfully remaining in a shadow cast in large part by the
short-lived Manchester, England band they pay tribute
on this track. Yet there is no opportunism in their prox
imity: Bedhead's rendition of "Disorder" communicates
the internalization of a past they can only lament, and
without crass or naive appropriation of Joy Division's
signature sound. In nostalgic recognition of the song's
enduring power, "Disorder" was only performed a few
times over the Dallas band's ve-year existence, and
always as a concert nale. As a farewell to their lead
singer's adoptive home, "Disorder" was the last song
Bedhead ever performed in Boston, on a frigid spring
night in 1998.
Twenty-three years ago today, twenty-three year-
old Ian Curtis committed suicide. His singular voice
coated Joy Division's harrowing music in wondrous in
nity, but relative to his lamented legacy, Curtis was
unknown in his lifetime, performing only eleven con
certs outside his native England, and barely fty beyond
the city limits of Manchester. His lyrics revealed a
mounting, innate gift for poetic exposition that
although it was barely realizedcould only be called
genius. Initially naive, stoic observations on societal fail
ure gave way to a crushing fatalism as Curtis turned his
unwavering, unforgiving gaze inward. This agellant
self-analysis brought forth anguished verse so nakedly
honest, it was impossible for those closest to him
distracted by possibility or alienated in its waketo
recognize his words as a literal cry for help.
Decades later, we continue to pine for so tragic a
loss. As online communication exposes the true desires
of pop music fansallowing them to talk amongst
themselvesJoy Division are more and more revealed
as one of the most signicant and renowned bands of
all time. No longer the elitist herald of critics and
tastemakers, their music has become a rite of passage
for anyone even casually interested in the histories of
punk and alternative rock. Though this fame is due in
no small part to the eternally romantic allure of suicide
and the latter-day mainstream success of New Order,
Joy Division's music has deed imitation, and continues
to confound listeners with its unparalleled gravity and
Unknown Pleasures began as a brief essay titled An
Ideal For Listening, originally published by Pitchforkme- and subsequently reprinted without my permis
sion (or complaint) by the comprehensive Joy Division/
New Order fan site (they inexplica
bly re-titled the piece "His Story"). Written in a few
days, the essay was intended as an overview of Joy Divi
sion's career, but was not at all comprehensive of my
thoughts. All the same, it was exhausting, as the history
at hand has been retroactively lled with so much misdi
rection, exaggeration, and marginal journalismoften
by authors prohibitively taken with the band's mystique.
Perhaps that's contentious, but one thing invariably
missing from discussions of Joy Division's work is per
spective, and only time can lend that. However objective
one aims to be, and however distant they are from
the story, Joy Division's music is potent as any drug:
overwhelming, stupefying, and certainly addictive. I had
doubts about the toll a longer examination would take
on me, but I couldn't turn down the invitation of Con
tinuum's expert, corralling editor, the ever-supportive
David Barker.
Chapter 1.
Suffer No Fiction
The dramatic, distant work of Joy Division endures
as one of rock and roll's most challenging curiosities.
Forming in the wake of England's punk rock explosion,
Joy Division were known for a few minutes as the Stiff
Kittens, for a few months as Warsaw, and for an eternity
as the authors of spectral anthems like "Love Will Tear
Us Apart", "Transmission", and the sonorous "Atmo
sphere". Their beginnings aren't particularly extraordi
nary, but the band's furious evolution over the course
of just three years is testament to a fearless imagination,
purposeful single-mindedness and innovative spirit as
potent as any in the history of popular music.
The daring of Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop pointed
up rock's ability to challenge more than just a concert
hall audience: young New Yorkers embraced their aban
don and found freedom in a sneering disregard for de
luded, detached pop stars. Frustrated by malaise and by
America's bi-polar postwar conservatism and paranoia,
a tattered, Bowery-bred poetry of futility owered in
the mid-1970s. Andy Warhol's Factory band the Velvet
Underground had split, but their depressed anthems
provided a much darker template for rock and roll,
inspiring Richard Hell, the New York Dolls andmore
directlyTelevision, but it was the all-energy Ramones,
with their leather jackets, dirty jeans and postmodern
rock and roll irony that came to dene punk in the
popular consciousness. The sped-up, zoned-out Beach
Boys and Ronettes covers on their self-titled debut al
bum arrived in the UK in 1976, and acted as an instruc
tion manual for both the Sex Pistols and the Clash. But
The Ramones' tongue-in-cheek, way-oh pop had grave
implications when mixed with politics and screamed in
British dancehalls, where there was literally no future
to hope for.
Punk rock instantly divided England, simultaneously
identifying and embodying the nation's economic fail
ure. Armed with outrage and their minder Malcolm
McLaren, the blushing brats in the Sex Pistols hastened
to celebrate ideological anarchy. As Todd Rundgren
succinctly put it in the documentary series The History
of Rock AT Roll, their "Cash from Chaos" ethos fanned
from spark to inferno because "England was a) much
more fashion conscious than America, and b) poor."
With nothing to lose, they had everything to gain.
The future members of Joy Division were raised in
a decaying industrial landscape of vacant chemical plants
and mild-to-severe poverty, and though the Sex Pistols
were equally if not more impoverished, in London they
had access to a social network of wealthy backers. Their
metropolitan locus lent them a sense of urgency: the
sustaining, center-of-the-universe belief that what they
were doing could change their world. Excluding low-
grade celebrity supporter Tony Wilson, the players in
Joy Division's story lived relatively disconnected lives
in Manchester, a city that bred self-sustenance and pride
as virtues. To Mancunians, what went on in London
was t for critique, not sacrosanct; the very rst London
punk groups overcame this ingrained doubt thanks to
fury, originality and bombast. Before infamy would taint
their initially untouched, anarchic light, the Pistols
brought hope to audiences the same way their predeces
sors had in America. Their obnoxious, exuberant decon-
struction of rock and roll inspired peers who would
create even more remarkable music.
Like many anecdotes in this famous story, it's end
lessly retold that Peter Hook bought a bass guitar for
35 the day after the Sex Pistols' fabled June 4th 1976
concert at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, having no
idea how to play it. Though we still marvel at the noise
he made with the instrument, the tale endures not only
because of his work in Joy Division, but because it
underscores an event so signicant, it not only intro
duced the Factory Records biopic 24 Hour Party People,
it spawned its own book, / Swear I Was There, later
adapted for a Granada TV documentary. (Approxi
mately 42 people were at the Pistols' rst Manchester
Free Trade Hall gig, though thousands would later
claim attendance.) "It was absolutely bizarre, the most
shocking thing I have ever seen in my life," recalled
Hook in the New Music Express. Included in the spotty
crowd: Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook, their future
manager Rob Gretton, sound engineer and edgling
producer Martin Hannett, Manchester's Granada tele
vision reporter Tony Wilson, and his then-best mate,
actor Alan Erasmus.
The Pistols, just weeks into their career and not yet
media pariahs, returned the next month, allowing the
band that brought them to Manchester in the rst
placePete Shelley and Howard Devoto's underdevel
oped Buzzcocksto officially debut, on July 20th (ex
actly one week after the publication of the rst UK
punk 'zine, Mark Perry's Snifn' Glue). It was the rst
time Ian Curtis saw the Sex Pistols, and like Sumner
and Hook, he was irrevocably altered (and perhaps for
different reasons: the gig descended into a Cockney v.
Mancunian row, sides charging at each other during
and long after the Sex Pistols' set). Where surprise and
shock greeted a few dozen curious and/or clued-in music
fans (and probably an equal number of clueless punters)
on June 4th, the July 20th gig was an event, a proposition
that divided and energized Manchester's youth.
Punk as a national movement didn't gel into an unde
niable, palpable phenomenon until a month later, in
August 1976. The Damned, Nick Lowe, and proto-
punk pub-rockers Eddie & The Hot Rods all performed
at the Mont De Marsan Punk Festival on the 5th, a
concert Ian Curtis and his wife Deborahboth teenag
ersjourneyed to see three weeks before their first wed
ding anniversary. Deborah Curtis details their trip in
her memoir Touching From a Distance (required reading
for anyone interested in Joy Division's history), but
that French festival was eclipsed by what's become the
dening event in punk rock's developing year, the Au
gust 29th 1976 Screen On The Green gig in Islington,
featuring the Clash, Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols. By the
time Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook met Ian Curtis
at the Pistols' triumphant Electric Circus shows in De
cember, those tattered London maniacs had shocked
all of Manchester on Tony Wilson's So It Goes variety
program, and "punk rock" was becoming a re threaten
ing to burn down British society.
Simplicity, suspicion and selshness were implicit in
punk rock, and proved its undoing, as the primary play
ers descended into stubbornness and absurdity at
breakneck speed; around them, bands jumped on the
spiked leather bandwagon, using this new freedom as
an excuse to exploit, smashing at their instruments in
a self-absorbed bid for fame, money and girls. The band
that became Joy Division grew disinterested in such
uncreative chaos and aggression; whatever fame they
strove for would be justied in their music.
Sumner and Hook had been practicing together for
a few months, Bernard having fashioned a makeshift
amplier out of his grandmother's phonograph. Curtis
joined their nascent "band" as singer after their Decem
ber 1976 meeting, but they wouldn't nd a proper
drummer or even settle on a name until the day of their
rst show, a full six months later.
The potential early moniker Stiff Kittens has perhaps
been taken too seriously over the years by fans and
critics, thanks in large part to joking references from
Factory Records and the band itself. As the story goes,
a woman living above the Buzzcocks supposedly shouted
"This room's full of stiff kittens!" after her cat delivered
a lifeless brood; front-man Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks'
manager Richard Boon found it hilarious, and swore
they'd use it, offering it to Ian Curtis, who had been
poking around the studio during the December 28th
sessions for their learning Spiral Scratch EP. Curtis
didn't even have a band yet, so it's entirely possible
the whole thing was a joke Boon and/or Shelley were
playing, a way ofas the British saytaking the piss
out of their young friend. Peter Hook recalls their debt:
"We had a meeting with Pete Shelley in a pub in
Broughton to ask him how we should form a band. And
he told us."
The edgling group, with untrained friend Tony
Tabac on drums, were billed as Stiff Kittens by Boon
in advance of their support slot for the Buzzcocks' May
29th 1977 Electric Circus gig. The day of the gig, the
group indignantly demanded Boon change the marquee,
disgusted with such an unserious name that, more im
portantly, wasn't their own creation. They had already
decided to take the name Warsaw, which at the very
least "wasn't 'the' somebody," as Bernard later put it.
Mancunian musician, critic, author and journalist
Paul Morley was a fervent listener and passionate con
sumer of all things pop in his youth, and wrote an even-
handed (if not generous) critique of Warsaw's rst gig
for Britain's premiere rock weekly, the New Musical
Express. Already hugely involved in the Manchester mu
sic scenehe'd been running his own fanzine and had
played with a few wanting punk acts like the gimmicky
Negatives (before forming the commercially and cre
atively triumphant Art of Noise in 1982)Morley's en
couraging, step-by-step dissection of Warsaw would
help the band move beyond their limited beginnings.
He had yet to succumb to the band and singer he would
become inextricably linked with over the years, but
when compared with other reviews of the gig, comments
of Morley's like "There's an elusive spark of dissimilarity
from the newer bands that suggests they've plenty to
play around with" are positively beaming. As can be
expected, reaction from mainstream writers was less
forgiving, and far outweighed Morley's curiosity. Ian
Wood's bitterly dismissive article in Sounds has been
quoted most often, referring to Bernard as a "refugee
from a public school" and noting that Curtis had "no
impact." In fact, the only compliment he paid the group
was a nod to Peter Hook's leather biker cap.
Ian Curtis would come to intimidate audiences with
his frantic, burning stage presence, but his understand
able early insecurity and Warsaw's Nazi-era outfits
leather pants and 1940s moustachesare embarrassing
in retrospect. Friend and initial drummer Tony Tabac
was at odds with these poses and left in late June, in
stantly replaced by Steve Brotherdale, who improved
the band's power hugely, though his punk whirlwind
style limited their dynamic.
Warsaw played repeatedly at two Manchester pubs
throughout June of 1977: Rafters, and The Squat, a
dilapidated University hovel located on Devas St. off
Oxford road (today, Devas St. is little more than a drive
way leading to the Contact Theatre and its Deluxe Bar).
The band's evolution from naive, politically bent punk
was rapid: of their earliest material, "Failures"which
originally included the parenthetic appendix "(of the
Modern Man)"is the band's most egregious musical
debt, a dead ringer for the rst-ever punk single, "New
Rose" by the Damned. Still, a focused, barreling energy
makes up for the similarity, in contrast with most of
the other, comparatively rote Warsaw tracks from this
era. The almost hardcore stomp "At a Later Date" is
the only memorable song from their rst batch, and
wound up being their rst released recording. Like all
of Warsaw's early tracks, the rst studio recording of
"At a Later Date" is widely available on a suspect but
somehow ubiquitous compact disc, featuring a baby's
face on the cover.
The Portuguese record label Movie Play Gold has
been steadily repressing a Warsaw CD since 1994.
Though the sub-amateur artwork runs contrary to Fac
tory Records' design legacy, the recording information
and track list are entirely accurate, down to the inclusion
of Steve Brotherdale, who was ejected from the group
right after their rst sessions. By all accounts this is
a bootleg, exploiting loosely dened European rights:
Zomba took charge of the global rights to Joy Division's
catalog once they signed to Factory, but these no-delity
demo tracks were never retroactively absorbed into their
holdings. It's not known whether they were sold to
Intermusic SA before Zomba knew of them, but cer
tainly, the members of Joy Division would not have
released such incongruous material, and even Factory
Recordswho've released a fair share of questionable
post-mortem "archives" from their rosterwould have
to concede these tracks are commercially unmarketable,
even as history. For Joy Division's most dedicated fans,
however, Warsaw is an invaluable document, combining
the two unreleased sessions recorded under that name:
the May 1978 demos for RCAwhich we'll come to
shortlyand their first session, five songs they produced
themselves on July 18th 1977 at Pennine Sound Studios
in Oldham.
Warsaw Demos
Recorded July 18 1977 at Pennine Sound Studios,
Oldham. Self-produced. [Never ofcially re
leased. Available on the Movie Play Gold compact
disc Warsaw]
At a Later Date
Inside the Line
The Kill
You're No Good For Me
The performances here are totally amateurish. Bernard
Sumner's guitar tracks benet from distortion, masking
his inaccurate playing, but Peter Hook's bass work is
sloppy and behind the beat, sounding as though it was
recorded direct to tape from his amp. Though these
technical failings can be blamed on an urgency born of
nancial limitations, no manner of sonic nesse could
help Hook's playing at this stagehe'd yet to develop
the high-fret style he's now known for, and his clumsy
low-end lines on this demo are a muddy mess. Critiqu
ing these run-throughs is needlessly severe: the session
lasted just half a day, and was only intended to help the
nascent group get gigs. Each member walked out with
his own cassette copy, and no one's sure what happened
to the badly damaged master reels they recorded on.
Deborah Curtis is sure the Warsaw bootleg is taken
from a cassette copy, not the masters, and in all likeli
hood she's right: a no-name band in Warsaw's nancial
situation was probably relegated to loaning out fre
quently recycled "economy" reels at the studio, and
these could have been recorded over within days. For
their marginal empirical worth, these songs document
the heavy metal sound Warsaw began with, and though
they were all shelvedindefinitelywithin a few
months, they point toward two of Joy Division's most
powerful songs, "Shadowplay" and "Dead Souls".
"Gutz" was originally intended as the band's show-
starting anthem, Curtis screaming "Warsaw!!" at the
top of his lungs, calling the band to action for one of
their most thuggish Motorhead/Sex Pistols hybrids.
The lyrics are a grotesque, sexist hodgepodge of con
demnation, savaging everyone from female pub-goers
to his wife as controlling maternal gures and "chic
tarts." Curtis's ego and arrogance comes to bear in lines
like, "Blame bad things on me/ Whatever you do/ When
I come home/ My world is different from you." You
hope that a measure of third-person imagination is at
work here, butas detailed in Touching From a Dis
tanceCurtis's teenage marriage proved to be a frequent
source of tension and hostility, though by Deborah's
account this was his doing. A dramatist to the last, Curtis
often espoused a dour home life when out with his
mates, somewhat cruelly objectifying his unknowing
young wife as the embodiment of stations he considered
beneath him: the domestic role-playing of marriage and
an unremarkable working class life.
Vague and paranoiac, "The Kill" is only notable for
its heavily staged and pub-baiting chorus: "It's a-nother,
'nother, 'nother, 'nother kill!" The song would be re-
worked to an unrecognizable degree with all new lyrics,
and though it audibly evolved from its earlier namesake,
the April 1979 Strawberry Studios recording of "The
Kill" could have been called anything. Hardly a success
even when revamped, that second version of "The Kill"
wasn't released until the posthumous Still double-LP
of August 1981.
The direst moment in Warsaw's formative catalog is
unquestionably the head-bobbing pub metal dud "Inside
the Line", featuring macho Oi chants of "Hey! You!"
after each verse. It's a level of standard rock rifng
difcult to reconcile for anyone familiar with the band's
brilliant later work, but it's also the strongest evidence
of just how dramatically Joy Division would change over
the next year.
Warsaw had spent the better part of six months
working up a set of by-the-numbers punk material for
their demo, but soon after laying down their learning
tracks, the band became fed up with the genre's stiing
boundaries, and the increasing fraternity of other bands
out to enjoy status more than music. Having played to
a few relatively large pub audiences, they met with more
experienced musicians and fans, and started concentrat
ing on new sounds rather than the rock and roll cliches
someone like their drummer was out to enjoy. Immedi
ately after recording the Warsaw demo, Steve Brother-
dale joined a second local band, The Panik, today
notable only for their manager: local DJ Rob Gretton.
Brotherdale attempted to lure Ian Curtis away from
Warsaw during August of 1977, having him sing along
to The Panik's single, but unsurprisingly, baritone vo
cals didn't work over post-pub rock. Soon after, Broth
erdale was quite literally ditched by Warsaw, when they
asked him to check on an ostensibly at tire. A glam
rock hangover, a braggart and namedropper who re
galed pub-goers with tall tales of life on the road in
Americaclaiming he'd opened for KissBrotherdale
never t in with Warsaw, and once he'd tried to steal
Ian Curtis away, his boorish behavior wasn't so easily
laughed off. Still, his acquaintance with Rob Gretton
was an inroad for a band with few connections, and
though Warsaw weren't in a position to take on manage
ment in 1977, they were making a name for themselves
in the tiny Manchester scene.
For most of the summer and fall of 1977, Curtis
holed up in a triangular room of his and Deborah's
Maccleseld apartment, which he'd painted sky blue.
He smoked Marlboro Reds and wrote constantly. His
lyrics began to move toward more nostalgic, linear
storytelling, but, passionate as they were, his ideas were
still born of a naive, black and white view of the world:
his condemnations, reproaches and preaching are shal
low and obvious. Barely into his twenties, however, his
melodrama is forgivable: artistic divinity was unspoiled
in the heart of this record collector, and his rst ights
were buoyed in equal part by adoration of his heroes'
egomaniacal conviction, a desire to attain their success,
and the fear he'd fail in this mission.
Curtis had the brio and drive to impress people
whose wisdom he envied. Never obsequious or fawning,
he shot his mouth off and stuck to his guns, and if his
opinions were occasionally too brashor flatly wrong
his directness, earnestness and fervor always intrigued
his elders, even if it meant laughing him off. Demanding
to be heard, refusing to accept that anyone else should
be talked about when he was obviously more talented,
Curtis accosted or offended a number of musicians as
Warsaw climbed the stunted ladder of Manchester's
late-70s music scene.
"I just thought he was a pretty sort of intelligent,
happy, funny guy," recalled Bernard Sumner. "He
wasn't depressive at all; he could get on a soapbox about
things though, if you got him on the right subject.
He'd go off and he'd rant and he'd be likedare say
it?Hitler making a speech. That was the only thing,
you had to be careful not to light his fuse."
Recalling an occasion when he approached Gus Gan
grene of bland Mancunian also-rans The Drones (an
act initially backedand producedby Paul Morley),
Curtis summarized his overzealous campaigning: "I
thought I would easily be able to ingratiate myself. I
mean, I was very naive ... I didn't know whether that
particular band was really any good or not, but they
were up there, onstage, doing it. I was really in awe of
that." By all accounts, Curtis wanted to make his mark,
but he was a know-it-all who knew very little by the
standards of many chic contemporaries. Insecure about
any possible ignorance, he read constantlyheavy phil
osophical and literary works sure to lend severe opin
ionsand listened to the most challenging sounds
coming out of the hyperactive late-70s underground.
Throbbing Gristle formed in London at the start of
the 1976 punk explosion, but they've been compara
tively overlooked in the wake of the Sex Pistols' more
accessible tunes and media-friendly daring. Essentially
responsible for Industrial music as it came to be
knownand it wasn't so much music at that point as
grating, overpowering noiseThrobbing Gristle incor
porated prostitutes, pornography and images of the ho
locaust in a detached all-is-art debacle. Celebrated by
the "Bromley contingent" (who would go on to form
Siouxsie & The Banshees and Generation X),
Throbbing Gristle released their debut LP Second An
nual Report in the wake of a politically decried October
18th 1976 concert at the ICA in London, featuring all
manner of "unseemly" imagery. The troupe broke moral
and artistic rather than political or social boundaries;
they were barely real, impossible to gure, and were
often dismissed as mere shock art by confounded, clo
seted observers. (To be fair, they were more simply
considered "shit" by an equal number of disinterested
witnesses.) The Sex Pistols tapped into the understood
image of a rock and roll bandguitar, bass, drums,
superstar lead singerwhich excited Ian Curtis (and
the rest of Britain's youth) immensely, but as he explored
music further, Curtis became deeply fascinated by the
button-pushing bravado of Throbbing Gristle's inargu-
ably vile, controversial imagery. Warsaw's early yers
owe much to Throbbing Gristle's stylized postwar
Diving headlong into shock art and frequently don
ning a wartime trench coat, Curtis penned the overt
"Novelty", which trumpets the band's shift in focus:
"Can't rest on your laurels now/ Not when you've got
none/ You'll nd yourself in a gutter/ Right back where
you came from." The next verse begins too honestly:
"Someone told me being in the know is the main thing."
Curtis is pushing himself to contend with the present,
to confront his fears, but the verse quoted here resonates
even more personally with regard to Joy Division's
The street where Bernard Sumner was raised in "old"
Salford (Lower Broughton) had been collapsing in on
itself for years, engulfed by a huge chemical plant and
littered with its waste. Yet amid the environmental squa-
lor, he enjoyed "a strong sense of community" that was
eventually demolished along with the neighborhood:
his family was moved to a tower block, like so many
during the depressed 1970s. Around the time Joy Divi
sion were getting together, he was already stufng enve
lopes, wasting away his teenage life for a meager
paycheck. Perhaps even more than Ian Curtis, Sumner
had a real insight into the bleak possibilities that lay
ahead, and the dashed happiness of his adolescence
proved a powerful motivator. Aside from acknowledging
his mutable surnameSumner has steadfastly refused
to comment on this formative hobby beyond citing "per
sonal reasons""Barney" (as he's known to familiars
and cloying journalists) is foggy on Joy Division's ori
gins. He often refuses to acknowledge that Joy Division
were ever known as Warsaw, which is perhaps the
strangest contradiction in any account of the band's
past. Flyers, master reels and his other band members
have all been quotedeven in interviews dating from
the 70sreferring to the group as Warsaw, until their
late 1977 name change. Sumner was posing with the
Teutonic stage name "Albrecht" during the Warsaw
and early Joy Division eras; it "sounded German," which
meant it sounded intimidating to late-70s England, but
it was altogether harmless: he had worked in an ofce
with a printing machine named for Albrecht Pster,
the Bavarian who produced the very rst illustrated
book, Edelstein.
Warsaw found new and instantly permanent drum
mer Stephen Morris through adverts in August 1977,
just weeks after kicking out Steve Brotherdale. With his
famously recounted inspiration to "be a drum machine,"
Morris would prove a catalyst for the band's maturation.
Unlike most drummers, Morris was quiet between songs
during rehearsals, which meant the band could hear
what they were playing, not to mention what they were
thinking. Morris had a wicked sense of humor, and had
attended the same school as Ian Curtis (he was a year
or two Ian's junior). Curtis remembered him as part of
a group of troublemakers briey suspended for drinking
cough syrupan activity he could readily identify with,
as Curtis too had a history of teenage experimentation.
This culminated in a stomach-pumping overdose of
chlorpromazine hydrochloride, or Largactil. Phenothi-
azines like Largactilincluding the more recognizable
American drug Thorazineare used to treat extreme
emotional disorders such as schizophrenia, and even at
prescribed doses can cause seizures and facial ticks. It's
tempting to link this to Curtis's later bouts of crippling
epilepsy, but in Touching From a Distance, his wife Debo
rah recalls a few minor incidents that would indicate
Ian had low-grade, undiagnosed epilepsy since his early
teens (out of body sensations, and one specic collapse
in 1972 after a concert featuring a strobe light).
The solidied lineup of Curtis, Sumner, Hook and
Morris played some early datesmost notably on Au
gust 27th at Eric's in Liverpool, their rst concert out
side Manchesterbut these were really warm up gigs:
Warsaw's new intentions were ofcially announced dur
ing the closing weekend of Manchester's most im
portant punk-era nightclub, the Electric Circus. On the
evenings of October 1st and 2nd 1977, just about every
band in Manchester played a set at this weekend-long
farewell to the Circus, an event recorded for posterity
and released on Richard Branson's Virgin imprint. Only
a select handful (including The Fall and The Drones)
made it onto Short Circuit: Live at the Electric Circus, a
10" compilation of these performances released long
after the fact. Warsaw were supposed to play on the
rst night, but they were bumped at the last minute, as
the gig was overbooked. Their version of "At a Later
Date" from October 2nd benets from the tension and
frustration of this delay, and as a stand-alone track nicely
sums up the band's formative "punk" year. Sumner (as
Albrecht) famously bellows, "You all forget Rudolf
Hess!" at the beginning of the track, in reference to the
enfeebled Nazi war criminal then languishing without
proper medical attention in a Spandau prison following
a massive heart attack. Sumner's intention was to chide
people, to remind postwar Europe and England of their
cruel treatment of Hess as a scapegoat, a lazy pat on
the back assuring them that at least one man was paying
for the crimes of his peers. But Sumner's political jab
was misconstrued as sympathy, whenthanks to de
laysShort Circuit wasn't released until eight months
later, hitting the shelves in June 1978 just as the band
were mailing out their controversially sheathed debut
EP, An Ideal for Living.
In November 1977, a shaggy, fame-hungry band of
London rockers calling themselves Warsaw Pakt
ooded shops and posted bills with their gimmick LP
Needle Time. With the considerable nancial support
of Island Records, the album was recorded, mastered,
produced, packaged and distributed in one day, from
10 p.m. on Saturday, November 26th to 7 p.m. on
Sunday. Thanks to advertising saturation, it sold over
5000 copies in its rst week of release, but in a blatant
display of Island's intent to set a Guinness Book World
Record, Warsaw Pakt were unceremoniously dropped
a week later. Guitarist Andy Colquhoun remembers,
"We were warned it was all experimental. They treated
us well, but they didn't hear us. It was a bit like being
a contestant on a game show."
In the wake of this fiasco, Warsawalready debating
new directionschanged their name to Joy Division.
It was an appalling choice given the term's denition,
and it's only thanks to the strength of their later work
that the band's use of Nazi imagery can be forgiven.
To many people, the new name implied that Warsaw
could only have referred to the European capital where
Polish Jews were massacred after rising up against their
tormentors. It's an unfortunate coincidence, as the band
always said they got the name from "Warszawa", an
atmospheric instrumental track off of David Bowie's
critically adored 1977 album Low. (Erroneous release
date information has led a few recent authors to specu
late that this story is a cover-up, but Low was available
from January 14th 1977, well before Warsaw took
their name.)
The phrase Joy Divisionas well as a spoken word
passage Ian Curtis recites during "No Love Lost"
comes from Yehiel Dinur's House of Dolls, a deeply dis
turbing account of the buildings where subjectively
selected, "racially pure" women were held near concen
tration camps and military outposts, and abused un
speakably at the command's leisure (the racial
qualication was of course a complete ction: many
Jewish women were held in the same sort of barracks).
While the band may have felt they were empathizing
with, or calling attention to perhaps the greatest atrocity
the Nazis committed, the name Joy Division referred
to an aberration so offensive, it probably shouldn't have
been associated with something so slight as pop music.
Such is the conviction and intensity of youth.
Bernard Sumner: "There was a bomb shelter in our
backyard. There were underground shelters at the end
of our street where we used to play. All the lms on
TV when we were kids were about the war. So when
you grew up and understood what had gone on, you were
naturally pretty interested in it. It was unfashionable to
talk about ityou had to drop the subjectbut I didn't
think it should have been dropped and I think that was
where our interest came from. It had been a decade
before we were bornnot that long ago."
In David Nolan's / Swear I Was There, Peter Hook
is a bit less revisionist in his nostalgia: "Me and Bernard
used to go buy Scout shirts and paint swastikas on them
and put SS badges on and all that crap. God, you
wouldn't be allowed anywhere near it now!"
In 1977, Ian Curtis was ring stern political salvos
at the tall shadows of WWII. He preached damnation
for the nation's head-in-the-sand retreat into mod cons,
and a postwar conservatism that proved to be England's
downfall. The rst proper Joy Division release, a seven-
inch EP called An Ideal for Living, was designed to offend
these ostriches: emblazoned with a Nazi-era Germanic
font and extraneous umlauts over the vowels of their
instruments (e.g. Peter Hook: Bass), its cover image of
an Aryan Youth drummer boy was taken from a vintage
propaganda poster. Designed by Bernard Sumner/"Al
brecht", the interior foldout featured a grainy, black
and white photograph of a Nazi foot soldier pointing
his automatic rie at a small Jewish child whose hands
are raised in surrender. While hardly as grotesque as
anything Throbbing Gristle purported, this morose,
grieving invocation of the holocaust was hard to distin
guish from the twisted crosses worn by Sid Vicious and
the Pistols' shock troops.
Nazi imagery was already falling out of favor within
the punk community as a racist National Front began
marching in the streets of England's major cities, but
Joy Division's early dares were only intended to raise
eyebrows. Without becoming an apologist for their boy
ish viciousness, it's easy to see these romantic, dramatic
young men werelike the original punks who co-opted
the more blatant swastikaconcerned with the forbid
den aspect of Nazi Germany, the terrible specter of
the fascist engine that threatened to lay waste to their
homeland. These poses offered the press a bleeding
cutlet, but the band weren't prepared with a concise
explanation, and came out the worse for it in interviews.
Of course, they sheepishly blamed this on the "idiots
in the press," which only made writers more eager to
rip them to shreds. Reviewers condemned Joy Division's
careless, blatant employment of Nazi memes. It's one
thing if your entire aim is to shock, but Joy Division's
relatively straightforward music was hardly so theoreti
cal or conceptual as to suggest heady academic subtext.
To critics, their looks and layouts reeked of affectation,
a juvenile misappropriation of something they could
never understand well enough to trumpet as inspiration.
An Ideal For Living was financed by a faked 400
furniture loan Ian Curtis divined from his and Deborah's
bank manager. Everyone concernedincluding Ian's
wifehelped assemble the sleeves in their Macclesfield
home, but the boxy, dry sound on this initial, self-pro
duced run of 1000 7" EPs was a crushing defeat for the
band. In October 1978, when the rst printing was
almost sold out, the band remastered and repressed the
EP on 12", in part prompted by the discovery that the
name they'd chosen for their first "record label"
Enigmawas in use by a legitimate American imprint
(bands were long in the habit of inventing phony record
companies to stamp on their self-released material in
order to lend a more professional look). Once the tracks
were remastered properly, the band were elated to nd
that clear, if not excellent sound was buried beneath the
botched, muddy mastering that dulled the original 7".
An Ideal For Living
Recorded December 1977 at Pennine Sound Stu
dios, Oldham. Self-produced. [7" vinyl pressed
January 1978, released in June 1978. Remastered
12" reissued in October 1978. Included in full on
both the 1988 Substance compilation and 1997
Heart and Soul anthology.]
No Love Lost
Leaders of Men
Failures (of the Modern Man)
The brief "Warsaw" serves as nominal recognition of
their recent past, and along with "Failures" marks the
best and last straight punk tracks the band would record.
"3-5-0-1-2-5 Go!" Curtis shouts, using a concentration
camp identication number as a morbid alternative to
"1-2-3-4!" House of Dollsthe novel that inspired so
much of Ian's reproach at this timewas based on the
diary of a captive Jewish woman, and written under
novelist and holocaust survivor Yehiel Dinur's "Kazet-
nik" or "inmate" number, 135633; Curtis got the num
ber used in "Warsaw" from elsewhere in the book. As
with all the tracks on An Ideal For Living, "Warsaw" is
still lyrically bound to simple observationsaccusations
of external falsity, declarations of internal integritybut
it's melodically much darker than initial tracks like "At
a Later Date" or "The Kill", thanks to the Sabbath-style
heavy metal riffs that informed Joy Division's evolving
sound. For whatever relative inequity the song weathers
alongside their later catalog, the bleak and contemptu
ous energy of "Warsaw" is more exciting than most of
the pedestrian and topically poppy punk tracks other
acts were peddling in 1978. Its pulsing tempo points
toward "Digital", the rst song they'd record for Factory
Records and the denitive bridge between Joy Divi
sion's punk roots and a more captivating future.
"Leaders of Men" is less appealing, and is certainly
the weakest of these four tracks, bogged down by fatuous
couplets typical of Curtis's earliest lyrics: "When you
walk down the street/ And the sound's not so sweet/
And you wish you could hide/ Maybe go for a ride." It
does offer his most powerful, tonally accurate singing
to this point, during the much better last verse. The
a typically open major guitar chords in the chorus sound
something like a younger, ascendant London band, The
Cure (whose records Rob Gretton refused to play while
DJ-ing at The Squat: see Tony Wilson's excellent 24
Hour Party People for fond remembrance of his stub
bornness). Joy Division would go on to open for The
Cure a handful of times over the coming months, and
had an immeasurable inuence on Robert Smith.
The second track on An Ideal For Living is really the
beginning of Joy Division proper. As much they came
to be known for funereal dirges and morbid, despondent
anthems, the swerving, almost funk tempo of "No Love
Lost" is a perfect example of how their more driving
post-punk songs snapped tightly on the beat. Much of
this is due to Stephen Morris's precise drumming: unlike
planted players, Morris's entire frame drove into each
beat, casting off pints of sweat and striking from the
elbow with remarkable power from such a rail thin
physique. Sounding something like Wire, but not as
strictly bound to the blues scales of Pink Flag, the song's
introductory measures also point up another frequent
comparison leveled against Joy Division: their similarity
to The Doors, in this case, "Riders on The Storm". In
a September 1979 interview recently made available as
an appendix to The Complete BBC Recordings, Stephen
Morris laughs off the comparisonor at least the notion
that it should be damningrevealing that "Barney an'
Hooky ain't even 'eard The Doors!" While there's no
reason to doubt this, it's undeniable that Ian Curtis was
hugely inuenced by Jim Morrison's stage presence,
and loved The Doors' music. Moreover, Peter Hook
has since admitted that the band covered "Riders on
The Storm" in rehearsals, though in their inexperience
it never sounded anything like the original.
Disregarding minutiae where inuence is concerned,
"No Love Lost" deals most directly with Ian's holocaust
obsession with its passage from House of Dolls, but his
bookend lyricslike most from this period of workare
about impatience, expectation and disappointment, con
demning: "You've been seeing things in darkness not
in learning/ Hoping that the truth will pass." There's
a specically fascinating moment of pentameter imme
diately following this line, when Curtis sings "No life
underground/ Wasting never changing/ Wishing that
this day won't last." The rst three words are delivered
with such darting, barked breath as to highlight the
funk rhythm underlying Bernard's triplet guitar accent,
mixed hard left. It's also the rst moment of real sonic
exploration, with double-delay on Curtis's vocals and
Bernard's harmonic slide down the strings. Joy Division
had taken their punk phase to its limits, and "No Love
Lost" is the rst hint of where they'd take things in the
coming months.
By this time, the political nerve was already being
pinched down in London. The band were, for the most
part, unaware of the company with which they were
being compared, and wisely opted to abandon such dis
tractions in favor of perfecting their monolithic decon-
struction of rock and roll. As they retreated into bleak,
amorphous anonymity, Curtis began to focus on more
philosophical, expressive lyrics. The more the band ap
peared to succeedthe more positive press and popular
ity they garneredthe more seriously Curtis took
himself and his work.
Chapter 2.
The Illusion Vanishes
To the considerable frustration of Manchester's
Manpower Services Commission, Ian Curtis often
missed work. As it happened, his absenteeism worked
to his advantage, when the record store owners he'd
been skipping shifts to pump for Iggy Pop posters called
with a proposition for his struggling band.
The events surrounding Joy Division's brief irta
tion with RCA Records have been inaccurately reported
from the beginning, perhaps in an attempt to gloss
over the disastrous pairing, an utter embarrassment for
everyone involved. UK music industry xture and latter-
day Lisa Stanseld manager Derek Brandwood was run
ning a northern RCA promo ofce in Piccadilly Plaza
in the late 70s, and often entertained Curtis on his
illegitimate days off, in all likelihood humoring the
slightly skewed up-and-comer (at least initially). In early
1978, Curtis had given him a pre-release copy of the
Ideal For Living EP, which although far too rough to
really excite Brandwood, put Joy Division in his line of
sight. Soon after, Brandwood's chief employee, north
ern soul DJ Richard Searling, brought him a strange but
probably lucrative offer from his friend John Anderson.
Anderson had just started a new soul label called Grape
vine with Bernie Binnick, the owner of a classic Ameri
can rock and roll imprint, Swan (a label with many
claims to fame, foremost among them the U.S. distribu
tion of The Beatles' rst single "She Loves You"). Bin-
nick was quixotically looking to break a British New
Wave band in America via a cover of Richard Flowers's
"Keep On Keepin' On", most famously recorded by
N.F. Porter. Brandwood thought Joy Division, with
their singer's deep voice, was the best option in his
region, and put Anderson and Searling together with
Ian Curtis.
Curtis ignored the overtly Mephistophelian intent
behind their offer, and though Peter Hook thought it
ridiculous, RCA was the home of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed
and David Bowie. Joy Division could hardly refuse the
chance to join such ranks, and all but blindly leapt at
the opportunity to record on someone else's tab, at
Manchester's most professional 24-track studio, no less.
With a 1500 initial investment divided equally between
Anderson, Searling and Brandwood himself, Joy Divi
sion began preparing for a weeklong session at Arrow
Studios with Searling set to produce.
While rehearsing and writing in late March and April
1978, Joy Division grew closer as a unit, enjoying the
absurdity of their task and mutilating the N.F. Porter
single they were given. For their playful attitude, they
did come up with "Interzone" using some key progres
sions from "Keep On Keepin' On". But it was an April
14th concert performance that became the turning point
in Joy Division's career, where they would demonstrate
their intense onstage presence for the two most im
portant gures in their future. Still promoting the Ideal
For Living EP, they were frantic for a break at the Stiff/
Chiswick Challenge, a Manchester battle of the bands
orchestrated by those two up-and-coming London re
cord labels, held at Warsaw's old stomping ground,
Rafter's. In the name of equity, the bill was determined
through a hat drawing, and almost predictably, Joy Divi
sion pulled the last, or "headlining" slot. Headlining in
this case, though, was a disaster, sinceif the band even
got to play at allit would be so late by the time they
went on that the signicant audience members (label
personnel, photographers and reviewers) would either
be exhausted or long gone. Throughout the night, Joy
Division threatened the other bands and complaineq1
bitterly, accosting Paul Morley, Richard Boon and who
ever else they could corner. Ian Curtis even sat down
next to Tony Wilson and called him a "cunt" and "bas
tard" for not having put Joy Division on his short-lived
TV program So It Goes. Curtis and company nally
made it onstage just before 2 a.m., and as might be
expected after this long night of anxious paranoia, their
performance was furiously over the top. Curtis behaved
as if touchedhe didn't have a seizureand although
they only managed a few songs in the brief time they
had left (the club was closed down around 2:30), they
had unknowingly accomplished as much that night as
in the entire year prior to it.
It turned out that Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton
had, for the most part, attended the Stiff/Chiswick Chal
lenge to evaluate Joy Division as a potential investment.
Thoroughly taken with their live set, Gretton became
their manager only weeks later, as the group labored
through sessions for RCA. Tony Wilson also took them
under his wing, inviting them to headline the opening
of his Factory night at the Russell Club in June. In
September, when he had the opportunity to book local
talent for the Granada Reports segment What's On,
he remembered Ian Curtis's foul-mouthed request and
brought them on. As is the case with every great band,
the moment Joy Division perceived a sympathetic audi
ence and potential backers, their previously untapped
creativity explodedfostering a unity, hope and belief
that produced three of their best songs in a matter
of weeks: "She's Lost Control", "Transmission" and
"Shadowplay" dated everything they'd recorded to
that point.
On May 1st, Joy Division entered Arrow Studios
with John Anderson and the vastly experienced producer
Bob Auger overseeing Richard Searling. The sessions
were produced directly for Derek Brandwood. Amid
these seasoned, occasionally slick industry types, Sear
ling can be excused as the overexcited, hopeful agitator,
eager to make his name on a band that, by mid-1978,
was one of very few plausible investments in Manches
ter. (The Buzzcocks had signed to United Artists back
in November of '77, and The Fall were, to put it kindly,
unmarketable in their spitting, abstract obtuseness.)
After a few tentative days of vocal treatments and plan
ning with Bob Auger at the boards, Joy Division hit
a major wall with John Anderson, who had come to
dominate the younger Searling and had the nal say over
Auger's mix. Anderson didn't take the group seriously at
all, and in fact felt they weren't technically capable of
recording a proper album. He'd thought about getting
session men in to correct their still audible imprecision,
and of course, the band was livid at the idea of this.
When Anderson suggested putting synthesizers over
the tracks to lend them a more polished sound, Joy
Division exploded in a litany of expletives and umbrage,
andin a moment of massive retrospective irony
lambasted the use of synths as a demeaning manipula
tion of their raw sound.
Searling called in Derek Brandwood to negotiate
the stalemate, whereupon the band pointed a nger at
Anderson, moaning, "He can't produce shit!" The older,
wiser (and admittedly commercial-minded) Anderson
calmly explained the dilemma to Brandwood: "They
just can't play." His dismissive treatment of Joy Division
betrays a staid expectation of airtight, virtuosic material
aimed at the radio, but in his defense the group were
stied by the unfamiliar, imposing situation, and
sounded tentative working outside the comfortable, self-
determined world of their rehearsal room.
A band's rst time in a professional recording studio
is usually exciting and often revelatory, but beyond their
bad case of nerves and mistrust, Joy Divisionespecially
Curtishad set themselves very high standards, consid
ering their inexperience. Their dream of turning out
the next Low or Heroes was pitted against a rush job:
although they recorded an album's worth of material,
the RCA underlings were only interested in getting a
saleable version of "Keep On Keepin' On" for Bernie
Binnick. Aside from two promising brand new songs,
Joy Division were still running through the same set of
Black Sabbath punk they'd been playing as Warsaw.
From the sound of these tapes, or at least the mixes
that have survived to bootleg, Auger made no effort to
embolden the group's sound with heavy panning or
multitracking. Apart from slight reverb, the tracks are
as unexceptionally dry as those on An Ideal For Living.
John Anderson only ended up tainting two tracks with
post-production synthesizer before the sessions col
lapsed, inserting Genesis-caliber blips into "No Love
Lost" and a nascent, sluggish version of "Transmission"
with the subtlety of a blunt axe. The three best tracks
from the session were included on the 1997 retrospec
tive box set Heart and Soul, but in light of the later
versions the band would polish with Martin Hannett,
these only serve as honest evidence of this acrimoniously
aborted disaster.
RCA Demo Session
Recorded May 1-5 1978 at Arrow Studios, Man
chester. Produced by John Anderson, Bob Auger
and Richard Searling. ["The Drawback", "In-
terzone" and "Shadowplay" were released as part
of the 1997 Heart and Soul anthology. The entire
session is available on the 1994 Movie Play Gold
compact disc Warsaw.]
The Drawback
Leaders of Men
Walked in Line
No Love Lost
Ice Age
Of the songs they hadn't previously recorded, "Ice
Age" is a notable standout, and was a concert favorite
in 1978. It's one of the earliest tracks to illustrate how
Stephen Morris's jittery tempos and preference for torn
rhythms turned the band's basic progressions into more
beat-driven, undulating dirges. His stuttering but totally
accurate command of the kit was a huge component of
the evolving Joy Division sound, and helped tighten
up Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook's playing con
The brief "Interzone"written around the basic
melody of the N.F. Porter tune they were hired by RCA
to coveris one of the best punk tracks Joy Division
ever recorded, and survived to make the cut for Unknown
Pleasures just under a year later. In the nal Unknown
Pleasures versionwhich definitely stands out as simpler
than the rest of the albumHannett and/or the group
would choose to de-emphasize its most curious and
energetic component: Ian's choked, rattling yodel. His
yelps sound uncannily like the whirring Dies Irae ghosts
Stanley Kubrick would use just a year later over the
opening shot of The Shining. The actual lyricseven
in the final versionare somewhat rudimentary: it's a
frustrated rst person account of walking around the
decaying city, "looking for some friends of mine," and
"trying to nd a way to get out."
"The Drawback" is one of the band's earliest tunes,
very simple in its chugging progression and overreach
ing, world-weary lyrics ("I've seen the troubles and the
evils of this world/ I've seen the stretches between godli
ness and sin"). What's most interesting about the song,
beyond Curtis's exceptionally smooth, velvety delivery,
is the line, "I've had the promise and confessions of
true faith," which looks forward to New Order's hugely
successful single of 1987. That single was about young
boys growing up together, then succumbing to drug
addiction and self-destruction: it was a clear nod to their
frantic younger days, a time the band always looked
back on, though usually with a greater degree of subtlety
than in this case.
"They Walked In Line" and "Novelty" were both
pounded out as contentious, barking pub-punk tunes
at this stage, but were recent compositions, and stuck
around long enough to be eshed out and reworked
during the Unknown Pleasures and "Transmission" ses
sions with Martin Hannett in 1979. Those subsequent
versions would strip away the anger and preachy cer
tainty, hollowing the songs out nicely, but never making
them exceptional enough to rise above their status as
"Shadowplay" is the nest of Joy Division's metal-
influenced anthemswhich makes sense, as it's the last
song they wrote in this vein. Sumner's three-note, de
scending lead carries the hollowed out passages after
each verse as Hook's warbling, low bass line rumbles
menacingly in the background. As a fairly straight rock
song, it suffered little for these stiff recordings, always
communicating the craven, echoing desolation of 1970s
Manchester in the dead of night. That Martin Hannett
was able to improve the song so hugely for Unknown
Pleasures is testament to his unique skills.
The real glimpse of change in these RCA sessions
is "Transmission", whichalthough it was written just
the week beforewas fully realized. Structurally identi
cal to its later incarnation (if much slower), it was oblit
erated by nonmusical, superuous synthesizer sounds
added only for their chic "production value" by John
Anderson. When the band came around to synths and
electronic sounds in early 1979, they would redene
their purpose with Martin Hannett's help, layering
tones like strings behind Hannett's already cavernous
reverb and digital delay.
When Rob Gretton came on board as manager soon
after the RCA session, the band began negotiating much
better gigs, thanks in large part to Tony Wilson's sup
port (he had them headline many of his Factory nights
at the Russell Club). But it was Gretton's protective,
dedicated managerial zeal that saved Joy Division from
falling victim to their exasperated, recognition-starved
antics. With an increasing fan base garnered from Man
chester-area gigs and Paul Morley's attentive coverage
(and indirect tutelage) in the NME, the band were ush
with possibility, driven by the notion that what they
were doing could matter: artistically, socially, and per
haps even economically (who wouldn't prefer wealth as
a guilty rather than unknown pleasure?). Rob Gretton
allowed them to concentrate on these possibilities. His
friendship with local music industry magnate TJ David
son paid off when Joy Division were able to secure
the top oor of his imposing new rehearsal warehouse,
capped by cathedral roong and shot through with mas
sive lead windows.
This enormous, elongated penthouse of warped
wood, brick and hazy light was the perfectthe abso
lutely ideallocation for Joy Division to nurture their
increasingly potent songwriting gift. The band's mount
ing creativity and originality translated into increased
isolation from their comparatively basic peers; they re
treated, resolute, from the cold shoulders of their neigh
bors at TJ Davidson's space, and pressed on. As they
enjoyed a summer of practicing and mucking around
as a very real force on the shrinking Manchester scene,
their manager voraciously fended off RCA with outra
geous demands, requesting an unheard of, unrealistic
advancebetween 10-15,000and a stratospheric
15% royalty rate. With or without Gretton's grand
standing (which was actually effective in staving off
Richard Searling), the pitiful 3.5% publishing contract
RCA had offered Joy Division in the midst of the Arrow
sessions was carelessly backdated from May 3rd to 1st,
when recording began, and was therefore illegal. Addi
tional minutiae in the contractbased on American
legal standardsworked in contrast to British copyright
law. Gretton had a solicitor friend detail these actionable
items in a letter to John Anderson, and Derek Brand-
wood soon conceded the situation was untenable.
Though Searling had hoped to make the band his suc
cess story, the embittered disappointment with the RCA
sessions left a bilious taste in Joy Division's collective
mouth, and Gretton constantly pressed on RCA to nal
ize their situation. Though they didn't physically hand
the check over until January of 1979, by the latter half
of 1978 Joy Division were legally free of RCA, and had
agreed to repay the initial 1500 investment of Searling,
Anderson and Brandwood. The band's calamitous dalli
ance with the majors set them up for a wonderful fall:
they were easily wooed by the bombastic, philosophi
cally saturated advances of their most recent and capti
vating convert, Anthony Wilson.
After a brief irtation as the A&R man for Eric's
Recordsa label run by Roger Eagle, owner of Eric's
in LiverpoolTony Wilson decided to partner with
Alan Erasmus and take their Factory from the club on
to vinyl. Relatively wealthy after a 12,000 inheritance
from his mother's passing, Wilson looked to launch
Factory Records with just under half that gure. Alan
Erasmus would act as conductor, ofciator, and cop,
while Peter Savillea Manchester Polytechnic student
who'd designed the poster for Factory's rst night at
the Russell Clubwas given a shot as the imprint's
art director.
Wilson gave Joy Division a chance of exposure on
Granada's Whafs On segment, for which the band re
corded a sedate, slightly bored, slightly nervous rendi
tion of "Shadowplay" on September 20th. Static,
negative footage of monotonous highway trafc and
industrial cityscapes played behind them on blue screen.
The group were aghast: the utterly pedestrian subject
matter of these World In Action documentary reels re
minded them of the "production value" synthesizers
with which John Anderson had ruined their RCA ses-
sion. Sure, Joy Division had just performed on televi
sion, but they were soon to reissue An Ideal For Living
and were concerned about the impact these cheap effects
might have on their image. Forgiving the technical limi
tations of late 70s British television, the imagery isn't
totally incongruous with the band's most overtly indus
trial track, and though the performance is subdued, it
survives as a glimpse of Curtis in a more controlled
mode, quietly snapping his ngers and shufing his feet.
Preparations were soon underway for A Factory Sam
ple, an impractical double-7" EP to debut Wilson and
company's new label. It would feature two tracks each
from Joy Division, Vini Reilly's effects-driven guitar
outt the Durutti Column, industrial/electronic innova
tors Cabaret Voltaire, and, oddly enough, Mancunian
comedian John Dowie, "England's answer to Lenny
Bruce." Dowie was a friend of Wilson's from Granada
TV who enjoyed minor celebrity in the 1980s (and
returned in 2001 with a popular monologue called Jesus,
My Boy)but, we can safely say that original copies of
A Factory Sample don't fetch hundreds of pounds because
of Dowie's brief shtick "Hitler's Liver".
Having persuaded Martin Hannett to split time be
tween Factory and his own imprintthe quickly fading
Rabid RecordsWilson finally had a producer on the
Factory board, andmore significantly, as it turned
outon the Factory books. An infamously impractical
visionary, Hannett dened the notion of a creative
rather than reective producer, bringing new ideas to
bands rather than documenting theirs. Over the years,
the sonic depth of Joy Division's music has been contro
versially laid at the altar of this second genius in their
midst, and though the rst two tracks they recorded
with him aren't as obviously inuenced by his designs,
one of them is named for a brand new device whose
possibilities Hannett would explore via Joy Division's
music, creating sounds and shapes unheard before or
A Factory Sample
Recorded October 11 1978 at
Cargo Studios,
Rochdale. Produced by Martin Hannett.
leased December 24 1978]
The surprising, almost shockingly upbeat "Digital"
bounces into action with Peter Hook's elated bass line,
spurred on by Stephen Morris's binary drum pattern
and a wall of guitar reverb. But it's in the frigid musical
echoes and warped, warbling effect that Hannett's delay
would have on Ian Curtis's voice that "Digital" reverber-
ates as a conicted, frustrated rock and roll masterpiece.
The chorus harks back to classic Stax tracks, like the
slow, steady burn of a Sam & Dave chorus, though the
R&B inuence has been ltered through the maudlin
rock and roll of the Velvet Underground. Curtis contin
ues what he started in "Ice Age", thinning out his verses,
and removing the unwieldy, overowing sentences of
his punk tunes for simpler, more evocative lines. "I feel
it closing in/ Day in, day out, day in, day out" may not
resonate as well in print, but with fewer syllables to
force out, Curtis is able to concentrate on melody, each
syllable ringing with a previously unheard power and
tonal command. His vocal track clips to static with Han
nett's reverbed delay, crackling during the harrowing
nal plea "Don't ever fade away/1 need you here today."
"Glass" is another leap forward, marking the rst
appearance of the exasperated croon Curtis became syn
onymous with from this point forward. It's also redolent
of Hannett's involvement: he employs his new digital
delay box in a left-to-right stutter, prominently mixes
synth chimes and alarms in the right channel, and lls
the left channel with heavily anged guitar feedback.
Peter Hook resents how easy a case "Glass" makes for
the arrival of Martin Hannett as an ordering, polishing
inuence and developer of their monolithic studio
sound: "A lot of people [say] that was the moment things
turned, that Hannett [changed] us, found our secret
weapon. I don't see it that way at all. Hannett was
OKwe were a bit in awe of himbut he didn't write
the songs." Indeed, Hannett's new toy is superuous
on Stephen Morris's snare, and the guitars are still mixed
up front. "Glass" is the bridge between the raw, combat
ive Warsaw material and the momentous, assured tracks
of Unknown Pleasures, the point where Hannett is still
guring out how to construct the sound he heard under
neath Joy Division's dark chords, anxious drumming
and booming baritone vocals.
Peter Hook recalled meeting the irascible Hannett
in a December 1997 issue of the NME: "Bernard and
I were very down to earth, and he was, like, from another
planet. He was just this really weird hippy who never
talked any sense at allat least, I never knew what he
was talking about anyway. Still, you had a rapport with
him." He used to say to Rob, 'Get these two thick stupid
cunts out of my way.' In the studio, we'd sit on the left,
he'd sit on the right and if we said anything like, 'I think
the guitars are a bit quiet, Martin,' he'd scream, 'Oh my
God! Why don't you just fuck off, you stupid retards!' It
was alright at rst, but gradually he started to get
weirder and weirder."
In his brief and legendary tenure as the genius pro
ducer of Joy Division's music, Hannett's mania and
increasing drug abuse make sense. As Factory swelled,
so did Martin Hannett. In the fall of 1978, he was very
taken with the nascent promise of Factory, and had
glowed about its future with Manchester's almost comi
cally omnipresent music industry overlord, Derek
Brandwood. Soon, however, the Factory players would
usurp his status: in just over ten years, with a few hugely
successful pop bands, they would be competing on an
equal footing with the likes of RCA. All in good time
and good timesbut sadly, Hannett wouldn't enjoy
much of it. Or, if he did, he certainly wouldn't remem
ber it.
The week after their rst and most economical ses
sion with Hannett, Joy Division re-released An Ideal
For Living as a 12" with all new, formless artwork (the
entire cover is a single image of scaffolding) and an
improved remix. The reverb on Steve Morris's drums
was increased, and Bernard's guitar tracks were panned
more dramatically, clearing out more "space"a quality
the band would come to dene with Hannett's help.
The disc was handed out to reviewers after the band's
very well received set at Tony Wilson's Factory club
on October 20th. Joy Division were fast becoming one
of the most important bands north of London, and had
yet to record a proper single, let alone an album.
On dates throughout northern England in Novem
ber and December, crowds were inconsistent but they
frequently locked in on the band's energy. After a brief
tour in support of the Rezillosduring which the head-
lining act broke upA Factory Sample was released on
Christmas Eve, and Joy Division nally made their Lon
don debut on December 27th 1978, at The Cure's
stomping grounds, the Hope & Anchor in Islington.
Whatever the causeweather, exhaustion from travel
ing to so many gigs outside Manchester, or simply
germsBernard Sumner was suffering from a terrible
u that night, and had to be packed in a sleeping bag
for the drive down, as the idea of missing their inaugural
London concert was unthinkable. Expecting to convert
a large, eager audience, Joy Division were shocked to
discover the Hope & Anchor was a small pub, andto
their further dejectiononly a few dozen young fans
had turned up. During the miserable ride home, Sumner
and a depressed Curtis fought for the sleeping bag:
during the tussle, Ian lapsed into a major seizure. The
band pulled over and, once the t had subsided, drove
recklessly to Luton Hospital, where Ian was given Phe-
nobarbitone tablets and sent home. (Now referred to
as Phenobarbital, it is still one of a very few medications
available to treat epilepsy.) It would be almost a month
before Curtis was clinically diagnosed, on January
23rd 1979.
A Factory Sample sold respectably during its rst two
months, and would soon sell out thanks to continuing
support from Paul Morley in the form of a late-March
NME review, but at the time of its release, all of the
contributors were unproven, and the record didn't travel
far from the already established, isolated audience of
spotters and critics. On January 8th, Joy Division nally
paid back Richard Searling, John Anderson and Derek
Brandwood their investment in the RCA demos, and
with a renewed sense of freedom, looked forward to
touring and recording their new material.
On January 13 th, Ian Curtis appeared on the cover
of the NME for the rst time, after months of lobbying
from Paul Morley. The Kevin Cummins image of Curtis
in his olive overcoatwintry complexion, cigarette in
handremains as one of very few staged portraits, and
revealed a beautifully sculpted Roman countenance. Up
to that point, Curtis had predominantly been known
for his panting, wide-eyed ailing onstage, an image the
NME cover countered. Though Anton Corbijn became
more widely known for his photo and lm work with Joy
Division, Cummins was Factory Records' rst dedicated
photographer and, as of this writing, is negotiating to
release a ne art book of his prints from this era.
Two weeks after the NME feature, Joy Division were
invited to record a session for Radio One DJ John Peel's
renowned program, the launching pad for nearly every
critically acclaimed UK rock act of the last three
Peel Session 1
Recorded January 13 1979. Produced by Bob
Sargeant, engineered by Nick Gomm [Broadcast
February 14 1979. Released as a stand-alone EP
in November 1986 by Strange Fruit. Compiled
for Strange Fruit's Peel Sessions Album in 1990
and reissued in 2000 as part of The Complete BBC
Recordings. "Exercise One" was also released as
part of the 1997 box set Heart and Soul.]
Exercise One
She's Lost Control
This session was effectively the rst opportunity
large numbers of people outside Manchester had to hear
Joy Division, and even clued-in fans hadn't heard any
of these songs outside small clubs and booming concert
halls (where sound quality varied greatly to say the least).
To their loyal but tiny legion of raincoat-wearing fans,
Joy Division were still a screeching cacophony of punk
guitars and frantic drumming, which, for their power,
were pushed to the background by the increasingly pos
sessed performances of their lead singer. During this
Peel Session, fans and casual listeners were treated to
four new songs, including future singles "She's Lost
Control" and "Transmission". "Exercise One" and "In
sight" were both recorded for Unknown Pleasures, but
the former was kept off for some reason, and wouldn't
see release until Factory's posthumous 1981 compilation
of Joy Division rarities, Still.
"Exercise One" boasted fantastic lyrics, including the
icy rst verse used for the introduction to the gorgeous
booklet which accompanies the Heart and Soul anthol
ogy: "When you're looking at life/ Through a strange
new room/ Maybe drowning soon/ Is this the start of
it all?" Its central guitar riff was a bone chilling minor-
note clasheven without the ghostly delay Martin Han
nett would add during the Unknown Pleasures sessions
but it was compositionally weak at just over two minutes,
and proved too simple to lead either side of their debut
album. Opening a record with feedback was already
terribly gauche in 1979, so that was right out; wherever
else you could sequence it, the long introductory passage
would disrupt the ow from one song to the next. But
it's unlikely there was much debate about this, as the
band apparently never cared much for "Exercise One",
only performing it at a handful of concerts over the
next year and a half.
The other three tracks from the Peel Session were
much more accomplished and proved tantalizing teasers
for fans, record labels and critics. "Transmission" is
nude in comparison to its eventual, awe-inspiring Han
nett production, but in this raw, twanging takeas in
a Granada TV performance later in 1979Ian Curtis's
vocals aren't as smoothed by effects. In the nal verse,
his now famous scream "And we could dance!" is more
captivating and unsettling for it, a furious performance
of a track that would take on a more majestic, eternal
glimmer when recorded as a single six months later.
"Insight" began with the kind of liquid, high octave
bass line that became Peter Hook and Joy Division's
trademark. He attributes his signature sound to neces
sity: "If you played higher up the guitar, it was easier
to hear yourself, 'cos your equipment was so crap." The
incessant double-tap beat from Stephen Morris included
a new electronic drum pad they'd acquired; this was
more noticeable in the industrial echoes of "She's Lost
Control", a future single thatalong with "Love Will
Tear Us Apart"would endure as one of Joy Division's
most popular tracks. It was an early indication of how
electronic sounds were coming to the fore in the wake
of punk rock's boxy, all-guitar squall. Though Wire
were clearly leading the way in this capacity with 1978's
Chairs Missingand both the Human League and Or
chestral Maneuvers in the Dark were just months away
from bringing it to the mainstreamJoy Division's at
tachment to the pop song format set their dark dirges
apart from the titanic dub instrumentals John Lydon
was screaming over in Public Image Limited. Of all the
post-punk contenders, Joy Division split creativity and
the desire to communicate in their favorite medium
right down the middle. The Peel Session evidenced
their rapid evolution over the few months since they'd
said goodbye to the Electric Circus, pointing toward
an almost accessible but serious sound. It elevated their
standing hugely within London.
In many ways, John Peel has been doing the legwork
for lazy (ormore forgivinglyless-attuned) London
A&R men for over thirty years now. On Valentine's
Day 1979, the major labels were handed a taste of Joy
Division on a platter. This resulted in a chaotic Spring
lled with opportunities, but the band couldn't capital
ize on the interest with live shows: between January
and March, Ian Curtis's recently manifested epilepsy
mounted andbeyond the reasonable expectation that
he might take a few months off to rest and test out new
medicationshis wife was in the final stages of her
pregnancy. In the wake of their Peel Session, Joy Divi
sion wouldn't play until March 1st, and only seriously
entertained one record label. Immediately after hearing
the broadcast, Buzzcocks producer Martin Rushent put
together a deal with an advance of around 40,000, for
a two-album contract with Radar Records (a Warner
Brothers imprint masquerading as an independent). In
the 1980s, Rushent's production company Genetic
would do for sequencing what Hannett did for digital
delay, making superstars of the Human League, but at
this stage he wasn't yet known as an ingenious wunder-
kind. He was a respected producer in the punk commu
nityespecially in Manchesterfor his work with the
Buzzcocks and Generation X, but as much as he wanted
to produce Joy Division, he was out to break an exciting
new band to further the standing of his production
company. After a better-attended, if not triumphant,
return to London's Hope & Anchor on March 1st, Joy
Division returned to the capital three days later to re
cord demo versions of ve songs with Martin Rushent.
Genetic Demos
Recorded March 4 1979 at Eden Studios, London.
Produced by Martin Rushent ["Insight", "Glass",
"Transmission" and "Ice Age" were made avail
able for the rst time anywhere as part of the 1997
Heart and Soulanthology: "Digital" never surfaced
until much later, appearing on a beautifully pack
aged European bootleg called PerformancesOl in
early 2003.]
Ice Age
A rote run-through of some of their newer material
in a single day, these tracks are wholly unexceptional,
and from Curtis's uninvolved delivery one can assume
he was either rushing through recording or already dis
interested. In fact, by the time they recorded these de
mos just weeks after hearing from Rushent, it might
have already been a foregone conclusion that the group
would stay with Factory for their debut full-length. Fac
tory was still using that tasty 50/50 prot split as mani
festo, and as the band's audience continued to grow
with London now paying attention, the 8% royalty rate
offered by Genetic/Radar/Warner Brothers seemed like
a losing proposition. Generic's offer was fair, and with
the advance possibly gracious, but there has always been
a Mancunian distrust of London, and Rob Gretton in
particular loathed its stately pomp; he detested fashion
victims and the effusively positive outlook major label
employees seemed to be infected with. Joy Division
would rather not involve themselves with so uncaring
a business, and, as Peter Hook put it, for Gretton "it
was better to work with someone you could get hold
of. Factory, for all its failings, if you had a beef, you
could yell."
The group had developed a close relationship with
their manager, lobbyist, defender, brawler andmost
importantlybeliever Rob Gretton, though it took
some time for Ian Curtis to accept his guidance. Stephen
Morris remembered a particularly explosive incident in
the NME in December 1997: "He was like Basil Fawlty.
He'd just boil up, boil up, boil up and then go mad and
run around the rehearsal room with a bucket on his
head. At the time we all thought it was dead funny, but
in retrospect I suppose it was quite bizarre."
Bernard expanded on the incident in the liner notes
to Heart and Soul: "I remember him having this argu
ment with Rob Gretton at our rehearsal room [at] TJ
Davidson's. He got so frustrated that he picked up the
garbage bucket, stuck it over his head and started run
ning up and down the room, screaming at Rob, and he
was just completely mad."
As Deborah Curtis put it, Ian "made up his mind to
accept Rob Gretton," but as she further states, "Ian had
no interest in learning anything practical at all." Totally
cerebral and often self-absorbed, Curtis was also born
clumsy and ashamed to the point where he made no
effort to learn a simple task like driving. He would
always have trouble understanding how nances
worked, and without Gretton for guidance, his confu
sion would have been a serious detriment to Joy Divi
sion's success, especially once contracts and concert
guarantees came into play.
In late 1978, after listening to a heady speech from
Tony Wilson about artistic ideals, equal shares and a
50/50 split of the prots after Factory recouped over
head costs, Gretton prodded the dramatist Svengali for
his credo in writing. According to legend, Wilson wrote
on cocktail napkins in his own blood, "The musicians
own everything, the company owns nothing. All our
bands have the freedom to fuck off." Whether he wrote
all of that in blood, or inked it and signed in blood,
Wilson's bravado nevertheless impressed Gretton and
certainly Joy Division, who were starving for some cred
ibility, embarrassed by the gauche industry they had
recently brushed up against. The only hesitant party in
the room was a somewhat confused Alan Erasmus, who
had discussed the meeting with Wilson beforehand and
intended to draw up a proper contract (and in fact, there
were more words than those on the napkins, to the
effect that the master tapes would revert to the band
after six months). Wilson, swept up in one of his signa
ture pontications, ruled the room as if directing a show;
Erasmus looked on, likely amused, and decided that day
to follow Wilson's lead. For all his graceful and grand
salesmanship, Wilson was leading with the advantage
of a sizeable inheritance and appreciable income as a
television personality. Though he wouldn't regret it
until years later, Erasmus might have behaved differ
ently if given the chance to do it again; he has totally
dropped from the pages of the Factory story, a willfully
anonymous contributor from the start, who left with a
bitter hatred for Tony Wilson (who has since been
accused of cynically using Erasmus's long-standing vote
within Factory to get his way in the out of control 80s).
In 1978, Wilson could only be accused of unrealistic
optimism and idealism, but his charm went a long way.
Twenty years, in fact.
The decision to remain with Factory was not rooted
solely in philosophy or comfort: Joy Division and Caba
ret Voltaire weren't bankable names at the time, yet the
double-7" EP A Factory Sample nearly sold out its 5000-
copy run. It happened almost entirely on word of mouth.
With the fair, if not cheap 2.99 cost to consumers,
the EP proved that affordability and image alonethe
record's image, not necessarily the group it docu
mentedcould attract buyers. In the appropriately slick
1993 documentary neworderstory (produced by Paul
Morley), Peter Savillethe graphic designer responsi
ble for the gorgeous record sleeves, and the look of
nearly every item in the Factory Records catalog
points to a New York Times article by Jon Pareles entitled
"How Cool Is Coldness?" In the article, Pareles dis
cusses the idea of a mass-produced secret, something
that 250,000 to half a million people are aware of, but
that has never been discussed or advertised in main
stream media. It's a proposition that had, on a much
smaller scale, already played itself out in 1979. With
only one notable radio appearance, no national televi
sion exposureyetor even much in the way of adver
tising, Joy Division's independently produced debut
album Unknown Pleasures sold 5,000 copies in its rst
two weeks of release, and another 10,000 within six
Chapter 3.
The Record is Alive, as That
Which It Recorded is Alive
In April of 1979, Joy Division nally committed to
tape the frantic performances on which they'd built a
modest but critically impressive reputation. At the posh,
36-track Strawberry Studios in Stockportlined with
gold recordsMartin Hannett produced the set of fif
teen songs they'd built up during months of rehearsals
at TJ Davidson's. It was during these sessions that the
band rst realized the depths of Martin Hannett's mer
curial personality, increasing drug use and impatient,
cerebral hyperactivity. While his temper was bearable
during the single day of recording for A Factory Sample,
Factory had hired out Strawberry Studios for three
weeks to record and mix Unknown Pleasures. Joy Division
endured Martin's inexplicable recording techniques,
drug-fueled irrationality and inherently abusive person
ality for ve straight days, then fought for weeks to be
present for the off-hours mixing. On the third day of
recording, Hannett famously disassembled Stephen
Morris's drum kit down to its metal rims, searching for
a rattle that was bleeding through due to his brilliant,
if hilarious, technique: the output from the drum room
was lined down to an Auratone speaker that sat perched
on the seat of a tiny basement toilet, removing all
In the kind of dead silence you'd only nd in a
basement, Stephen Morris was playing to ghosts, who
in the form of a single microphone breathed back his
muted wooden thuds to Martin Hannett's fantastic little
black box. Just weeks before recording "Digital" and
"Glass", Hannett had gleaned a prototype of a digital
delay rig from friends within AMS Neve, a cutting-edge
electronic audio company based in Burnley, Lancashire.
Though the digital delay line had been invented in
the 60s and large technology companies were already
working with it, binary digital delay hadn't yet been
captured in a separate device that could be selectively
appliedpost-effectedto live sound. Wah-wah and
distortion pedals were already commonplace in rock,
but they modied sound as it traveled from the guitar
to the amp. Digital delay was the rst device that could
reproduce that sound exactly. Reverb was a series of
reections, with limited and diminished frequency re
sponse: it had a uniform sound and any tracks using it
would bleed together in a Joe Meek racket. Charge-
coupled (CCD) analog "tape echo" had been available,
but it produced unmanageable line noise and increasing
distortion with each bounce. Binary digital delay trans
lated its input into electronic datal's and O'sbefore
bouncing it back, completely intact, as frequently as the
operator chose. Hannett chose a miniscule report time,
as Factory staple Vini Reilly of the Durutti Column
who were inextricably linked with guitar delaylater
explained: "Martin used that digital delay not as a repeat
echo delay but to make a tiny millisecond that came so
close to the drum it was impossible to hear. I would
never have thought of doing that. Nobody else would.
I don't know how he could have possibly envisaged the
nal sound."
The urgent, alien thwack of Stephen Morris's pro
cessed snare drum as it bounced from the left to right
channel was so arresting, one could have listened to
that opening bar for hours trying to gure how on
earth someone made such sounds. Like John Bonham's
ludicrous, mansion-backed stomp at the start of "When
The Levee Breaks"only far less expensivethe crisp,
trebly snare sound Martin Hannett would make his
career on announced Unknown Pleasures as a nessed,
foreboding masterpiece. Peter Hook's compressed,
somewhat at bass line rides up front in the mix, and
it's not until the hugely reverbed, minor note guitar
line crashes through that you can understand the need
for such a warm, analog treatment. Layering a few tracks
together to create a six-string shriek on par with
Siouxsie & The Banshees' The Scream, Hannett's equal
ization cuts the brunt of Sumner's fuller live sound down
to an echoing squeal. In search of vocal clarity and space
for delay and reverb to ring out, Hannett relegates the
guitar to hard-panned stereo placement in later tracks,
and thins the robust double-humbucker sound of Sum
ner's Gibson SG. And that's what Bernard Sumner's
historic dissatisfaction boils down to: in 1979, he still
heard guitar attack and fury. From the Heart and Soul
liner notes: "We played the album live. The music was
loud and heavy, and we felt that Martin had toned it
down, especially with the guitars. The production in
icted this dark, doomy mood over the album: we'd
drawn this picture in black and white, and Martin had
coloured it in for us."
As Sumner often says, the band were always more
aggressive in concert, but Ian Curtis was very impressed
with the icy, evocative sound of Unknown Pleasures. His
approach to lyrics had been steadily evolving, and by
the time the group entered the studio he had moved
beyond storytelling and condemnation into expression-
ist pleading: "I've been waiting for a guide to come and
take me by the hand/ Could these sensations make me
feel the pleasures of a normal man?" The album's open
ing lines, from "Disorder", suggest Curtis is lamenting
his depression and alienation. The song's very name
seems to invoke the epilepsy that was, along with the
powerful medications he had to take, preventing Curtis
from pursuing the late nights, casual alcohol intake and
cathartic stage shows he enjoyed so much with Joy Divi
sion. The booming, climactic nale spins out of control
as Curtis bellows "I've got the spirit/ But lose the feel
ing." "Disorder" is so arresting, cathartic and novel, it's
hard to fathom there are even more potent moments
beyond its collapsing explosion of snare drum and
Few lyric poets are as readily dissected as Ian Curtis,
whose every word seems to have layered meanings en
twining personal struggleshis disease, ensuing suc
cess, possible failure and the ultimate futility of
eitherwith more universal pleas for honesty and con
viction. Regret and self-doubt would rule the rest of his
short life, but on Unknown Pleasures he's still asking
questions, wondering if his afiction would subside, and
whether he'd nd happiness as Joy Division continued
to make bold strides. "Where will it end?" he screams,
during the surprisingly laconic dirge "Day of the Lords"
(named for a discarded early lyric sheet that included
the phrase). By this point, Joy Division have clearly
laid punk's quickly-consumed re to rest, concentrating
instead on atmosphere and the severity of slower tem
pos: hammering chords ring out into stretched silence;
during lulls, there's space for more complex guitar pro
gressions, menacing feedback and eerie, monotonous
keyboards. Like all the material written in advance of
Unknown Pleasures, "Day of the Lords" confronts uncer
tainty, the onset of adulthood and the death of youth's
romantic abandon, building to a pulsating crescendo
with each despondent, imploring refrain from Curtis.
"Candidate" is even more subdued, a barely-there
backdrop of repetitive bass broken by drum lls. Hap
hazard, creeping guitar squeals rise and fall in the dis
tance, swirling between both channels; Hannett's snare
treatment is at its most exposed, punching with rst
contact and quickly dispersing as controlled, shim
mering high-end decay. In "Disorder" and "Day of the
Lords", Curtis's voice is sonically ush with the song's
palette, a mostly realistic recreation of their perfor
mance, but on "Candidate", Hannett increases the tre
ble to the vocal track, creating a throaty, tremulous
timbre shattered by hissing consonant inections. The
lyrics are perhaps the album's most egregiously morose:
"Corrupted from memory, no longer the power/ It's
creeping up slowly, that last fatal hour."
Sumner and Hook's instant dissatisfaction with Han
nett's production is easiest to appreciate during "In
sight", which is hugely diminished on record in
comparison to the song's in-concert power (and even
compared with the Peel Session performance in Janu
ary). Hannett's focus on drums, vocals and electronic
noises to the exclusion of guitars reduces this driving,
climactic composition to a nervy, tame mid-tempo bal
lad, staging the electronic drum breakdown toward the
end too dramatically. Lyrically, the song is perhaps the
most telling document of Curtis's fermenting internal
resignation and fatalistic outlook:
Guess the dreams always end
They don't rise up just descend
But I don h care anymore
Vve lost the will to want more
Vm not afraid not at all
I watch them all as they fall
But I remember when we were young
His debilitating epilepsy and impending fatherhood
Deborah gave birth to a daughter as Martin Hannett
was finishing the mix for Unknown Pleasuresweighed
heavily on such a dramatic young soul. The shift in tone
from the band's simpler rst wave of punk songs was
undeniable, but it was art, and so artistic, so outstanding
that Curtis's fellow band members were excited by the
seriousness it lent their already brooding music. Know
ing he was suffering through frequent seizures and was
affected by the heavy medication he was taking, it seems
obvious that someone should have pried into his mental
state right away, but as Deborah Curtis would later
write, "it was too incredible to comprehend that he
would use such a public method to cry for help." Indeed,
photographer Kevin Cummins has dozens of prints
from early 1979 of Curtis laughing and messing around
like schoolboys with his band mates outside their re
hearsal space. To people who knew him, Ian Curtis was
a fun if explosively temperamental character. Whatever
self-obsessed fatalism he was beginning to harbor was
kept secret, revealed only in his lyrics and denied outside
their context as poetry and art.
Though Unknown Pleasures remains a debut album
of unparalleled drama and scope, the central passage
from side one (titled "Outside") to two ("Inside") is
where it makes its most powerful rst impression. "New
Dawn Fades" closes the rst side at a faster tempo than
"Candidate" or "Day of the Lords", but it's denitely
of the same monolithic, stately stock as these newer
tracks. Sumner plucks a series of notes through the
rst half, distantly chiming behind Hook's hard down-
strokes before the song's explosion at the 2:45 mark,
Curtis bellowing in a cracking, full-torso scream, "The
strain's too much/ Can't take much more/ I've walked
on water, run through re/ Can't seem to feel it any
more/ It was me/ Waiting for me/ Hoping for some
thing more."
Deborah Curtis was rightly unsettled by such grave
lyrics and their depressed deliveryespecially audible
in "Insight"and questioned her husband about the
morbid, ailing nale of "New Dawn Fades". Her justi
able consternation only drew protestations and slight
denials: the pair fell into a ght, and Ian stormed off
in a frustrated huff. It's an incident that betrays Curtis's
increasingly solipsistic, self-absorbed outlook after ac
quiring a disease he had studied just over a year earlier.
While working as the Assistant Disablement Resettle
ment Ofcer at Maccleseld's Employment Exchange
in late 1977, Curtis was required to take a course on
epilepsy to better understand its impact on the people
he was helping. That he could then succumb to such a
dramatic case of the disease was a bizarre coincidence.
But, using the anomalous adolescent incidents and Ian's
description of feeling "flashbacks" as a teenmost likely
pre-seizing "auras" that never fomented, or only culmi
nated in easily ignored "absence seizures"it seems
obvious epilepsy was lurking in the background, waiting
to manifest itself until Curtis reached his twenties, when
so many neurological maladies assert themselves.
Ian's experiences with the mentally ill informed the
band's dening track to this point: "She's Lost Control",
the band's rst ever hit with audiences. It was written
about an epileptic woman who would often turn up
at the Maccleseld Employment Exchange looking for
work; when she stopped coming in, Curtis wrote the
comparatively normal, descriptive lyrics about her, but
as his own epilepsy took hold, the song grew to have
awful implications, especially after he learned she'd died.
Joy Division would glossily re-record it in 1980 as Curtis
himself spiraled out of control; a side-by-side compari
son of his vocals just nine months apart reveals defeated,
desperate slurring, made all the more unsettling by de
lay, which only accented the inaccuracies of his delivery.
The Unknown Pleasures recording of "She's Lost
Control" is far superior in its compact, tense drumming
and demented vocal effects, but neither studio version
captures the overwhelming volume of Bernard Sumner's
barre chord progression as it blared in concert. The
analog, muted treatment of the bass is also a problem,
as without the slight distortionor at least the trebly
ringof his live rig, Peter Hook's lead line is discon
nected, too isolated from the rest of the tracks. Though
it approaches in-concert intensity toward its end, Han
nett's production again defers to the electronic percus
sion elements and the subtly mixed but complex effects
on Ian Curtis's vocals.
For punk and heavy metal fans, "Shadowplay" was
the gateway track that sold them on Joy Division's jet-
black album. A swelling, churning industrial portrait
Morris even accents the beat with an electronic percus
sion hit that approximates gasping machine valves
opening and shuttingit's the one moment on Unknown
Pleasures where Bernard Sumner is given his due, al
lowed to dominate the song with two huge, deafening
tracks of guitar, ringing out over all else. "Shadowplay",
like "Interzone", was a more familiar, older track, and
as such the lyrics are notably less morose, appreciable for
their narrative beauty rather than any morbid revisionist
analysis. Still, "Shadowplay" hides one of Curtis's most
salient rst-person lyrics: "In a room with no window
in the corner, I found truth."
"Wilderness" shoulders the most overt use of Han
nett's digital delay, Stephen Morris's snare ricocheting
from speaker to speaker like a heavy dub reggae track.
A precursor to their later masterpiece "Dead Souls",
"Wilderness" is the weakest track on Unknown Pleasures,
with obvious religious lyrics based in fantasy and myth
ology, and a guitar progression that's too repetitive. But
it's quickly forgotten when the surprisingly traditional
rock rifng of "Interzone" starts up, a holdover from
the band's 1978 RCA session. For the Unknown Pleasures
version, Ian adds a second track in the right channel, a
spoken word counter to his surprisingly high-pitched,
smooth main verses. His uttering, whooping choral
yodel is still audible, but it's nowhere near as arresting
or up front as on the original RCA demo, whichfor
its raw performance and flat soundis of huge interest
to fans and was wisely included on Heart and Soul.
Following whatrelative to the surroundings
amounts to a lull, the album's nale serves as a devasta
ting rejoinder to the more easily absorbed, instant and
danceable pair of songs that precede it. "I Remember
Nothing" uses the same hollowed out template pre
viewed on "Candidate", ripping a hole in its own tense
fabric with the jarring sounds of breaking glass and
shrill electronic crashes, all disintegrating rapidly inside
Hannett's box. Like the earlier dirges on Unknown Plea
sures, "I Remember Nothing" props up Ian Curtis's
alternately timid and commanding voice, belting out
a message almost certainly aimed at his wife, cruelly
focusing on the line "We were strangers/ For way too
long." As with "Disorder", the very tide refers to his
afiction: epileptic seizures occur because of chemical
and/or neuron disruptions in the brain, sometimes re
ferred to as "electrical storms". As a result, sufferers
never remember them. The violence Curtis intimates
in his rasping, barked delivery is also tied to his seizures:
"Violent, more violent/ His hand cracks the chair/
Moves on reaction, then slumps in despair." His preg
nant wife tried to stie these attacks so that he wouldn't
hurt himself: the image is too painful to envision, but
with Ian's uninching use of his tumultuous home life
as a source of poetic inspiration, he left his spouse no
choice but to replay these incidents. Devastated, Debo
rah Curtis was forced to ask herself agonizing questions
about her husband's intentions, even at this early stage.
Her memoir Touching From A Distance is uncomfortably,
brutally honest in places, but owing to love, respect,
and her laudable awareness of its impact, she put more
than a decade of distance between her feelings and her
husband's emotionally devastating death before writing
about their life together. While his band mates and
producers heard drama, potent lyricism and mounting
vocal talent, the person closest to Ian Curtis heard the
actual words.
Unknown Pleasures sessions
Recorded April 1-17 1979 at Strawberry Studios,
Stockport. Produced by Martin Hannett [Un
known Pleasures released June 14 1979. "Autosug
gestion" and "From Safety to Where . . . ?"
released October 1979 as part of Earcom 2: Contra
diction (FAST Records). "Exercise One", "The
Kill", "The Only Mistake" and "Walked in Line"
released October 8 1981 as part of Still. "Auto
suggestion" and "From Safety to Where ... ?" re-
released June 1988 as part of Substance. The entire
session is included in the 1997 Heart and Soul
Day of the Lords
New Dawn Fades
She's Lost Control
I Remember Nothing
From Safety to Where ... ?
The Only Mistake
Exercise One
The Kill
Walked in Line
To this day, the surviving members of Joy Division
complain about Hannett's hand in the sound of Un
known Pleasures, which they immediately felt weakened
their deafening live sound. Of the recording process,
Bernard Sumner later recalled: "Martin didn't give a
fuck about making a pop record. All he wanted to do
was experiment; his attitude was that you get a load of
drugs, lock the door of the studio and you stay in there
all night and you see what you've got the next morning.
And you keep doing that until it's done. That's how all
our records were made. We were on speed, Martin was
into smack." Joy Division still identied with punk's
urgency, having seen every rst-wave British punk band
in person and performed with many of them. Hannett's
forward-thinking obsession with digital delay and the
distant, warehouse guitars he favored created a sound
too studio-processed, too close to the excesses their
generation was still burning at the stake. "She's Lost
Control" and "Insight" incorporated an electronic drum
pad from the beginning, but both songs were driven as
much by Bernard Sumner's overblown guitar and Peter
Hook's unforgettable treble bass riffs. Though all par
ties would come around to Hannett's approach and the
use of more ambient and electronic sounds, much of
Joy Division's music was, at this point, still in line with
punk rock's evolution. Bernard Sumner summarized his
and Hook's initial feelings in the Heart and Soul box
set: "We resented it, but Rob loved it, Wilson loved it,
and the press loved it, and the public loved it: we were
just the poor stupid musicians who wrote it! We swal
lowed our pride and went with it." Oddly, Stephen
Morris has never complained much about the produc
tion, considering his performance was the most affected
by Hannett's techniques.
"I mean Martin did teach us a lothe taught us to
look at music and our songs and our sounds in a totally
different way. We had a very narrow vision of them,
we'd just turn our amps on and that was it. When
we got in the studio we couldn't understand why the
monitors didn't sound like our amps. He taught us to
make allowances for certain things like that," admitted
Peter Hook in Charles Neal's Tape Delay, but he also
complained that Hannett "took it right down"; one won
ders how their newer, slower tunes like "Candidate"
and the majestic "I Remember Nothing" could have
been "rocky," as he put it, even in concert. If not as
grievously tortured as the anthems they'd record for
Closer, they were romantic, bleak tunes. Bernard Sumner
has been humbly forthcoming about Curtis's central
role in Joy Division: "He was a catalyst for the rest of
us. We would write all the music, but Ian would direct
us. He'd say 'I like that bit of guitar, I like that bass
line, I like that drum riff' He brought our ideas together
in his own way, really."
As such, Curtis loved Unknown Pleasures. Hannett
had taken their dark rock and roll and infused it with
the kind of confrontational, novel soundscapes Ian so
admired in groups like Throbbing Gristle and Kraft-
werk. Hannett had made Joy Division's debut as formi
dable and unique as the records Curtis admired. It seems
clear that Joy Division was changing again, in Ian's mind
if not Hook's and Sumner's, and Hannett shepherded
that change at a speed that left the guitarists feeling the
record was taken away from them a bit. Which, in
one literal sense, it was: Hannett didn't want the band
members present while he mixed Unknown Pleasures,
and would head to Strawberry at all hours of the morn
ing hoping to avoid them. Peter Hook: "The scene was
stupid from the word go. Martin never understood that
he was working for us. We were paying him and so he
should have done the mixing when we said so ... he
should have done what we said at all times."
For his part, Hannett later claimed they ran out of
time at Strawberry and that he would have changed
some aspects of his mix if he had more time, and this
is backed up by the post-production recording and re
mixing of "Walked In Line" for Still in 1981. That
version was a little over the top in the midrangesso
much so that it would be released in its original state
for the Heart and Soul anthologybut even in the origi
nal mix from the Unknown Pleasures recordings, Hannett
used distorted electronic squeals to approximate
True to Hook's and Sumner's fears, the synthesizers,
electronic percussion and smashing glass would leave
the most immediate impression on critics and listeners,
though these effects only featured notably in the rst
and last songs on Unknown Pleasures. And the noises
themselves weren't Hannett's idea: the group were be
coming increasingly fascinated with Kraftwerk, whose
Trans-Europe Express and Autobahn LPs were always
around, and they'd also taken some cues from Roxy
Music and Brian Eno's solo work. But they were only
toying with keyboards and electronics at this stage, as
accents; it was down to Hannett's hollow mix and digital
delay box that the electronic and industrial noises had
such an impact, and changed the perception of Joy Divi
sion instantly.
Hannett's most extreme use of the nascent AMS
delay technology wouldn't even end up on Unknown
Pleasures: the six minute "Autosuggestion" was as close
to dub as Joy Division ever came on record, although
Hook later claimed that Hannett had done dub mixes
of "Digital" and "Glass" as a way of learning the device.
(In a rueful instance of neglect, Peter Hook's partner
in Suite Sixteenthey had purchased Cargo Studios
and renamed itsold all the master reels when he left,
including these dub mixes, at 50 pence each.) The
sprawling, experimental "Autosuggestion" would indi
cate Hannett had a sustained interest in dub production
techniques at the time, so we can only regret the loss
of those artifacts.
Something of a jam, "Autosuggestion" is nonetheless
engaginga slow, echoing anthem in the vein of "Day
of the Lords" and "New Dawn Fades", if somewhat
sparser. Unlike the more bleating tracks on Unknown
Pleasures, "Autosuggestion" bursts to a frenzied double-
time nale of rare and inspiring hope. Much like the
superlative single "Transmission" that would follow in
the album's wake, "Autosuggestion" appears to be a
work of self-reprimand, Curtis ghting his new fears
of unpredictable seizures and his much older habit of
living within his mind. He urges himself (and, more
universally, anyone) to "take a chance and step outside,"
to "lose some sleep and say you tried."
The upbeat "From Safety to Where ... ?" is decor
ated with brighdy ickering beams of delay and bril
liantif subtly mixedacoustic guitars. Though only
two slight minutes of liquid strings (and the earliest
precursor to New Order's sound), "From Safety to
Where ... ?" contains the most explicit, direct discus
sion of Curtis's sense of paralysis, debating his future
fame"I got this ticket to use"and the domestic
promise he'd made at eighteen: "Just passing through,
'til we reach the next stage/ But just to where, well it's
all been arranged/ Just passing through but the break
must be made/ Should we move on or stay safely away?"
With the exception of "Walked in Line", any of the
discarded tracks could have been released to acclaim,
but it's this pair that were made available to Scottish
new wave label FAST, who included "Autosuggestion"
and "From Safety To Where ... ?" on its Earcom 2:
Contradiction 12", released in October 1979.
"The Only Mistake" was unfortunately sequestered
in the vaultslike all but two of the April 1979 tracks
left off Unknown Pleasuresuntil the posthumous, May
1981 rarities collection Still. Alongside the band's most
haunting tracks"Atmosphere", "Heart and Soul", and
"The Eternal""The Only Mistake" is among the most
sonorous compositions the band ever recorded. Sum
ner's doubled guitar tracks are layered with an almost
breathing delay that calls the listener deeper into its
hypnotic, swirling gaze. Morris has a few drum lls to
break up the oppressive bass line, climbing the same
four notes over and over. Repetition, meditation and
atmosphere come together in a wintry, dening mo
ment of gothic austerity. Lyrically, the song is from the
rst spate of self-loathing that produced "Autosugges
tion" and "Transmission"; not yet resigned to his fate
or failure, Curtis condemns his selshness: "Made the
fatal mistake/ Like I did once before/ A tendency just
to take/ 'til the purpose turned sour."
The band perfected "Exercise One" with Hannett,
but except for its excellent guitar line and Curtis's
pointed lyrics, it never evolved beyond a single progres
sion. In many ways, it's a precursor to the more accom-
plished, impossibly honest "Passover" from Closer. "The
Kill" is barely recognizable in comparison to the War
saw tune of the same name, though some of the melodies
are similar enough. Dominated by keyboards, the song
is a frantic, coursing dart, overtly indebted to Siouxsie &
The Banshees. The song features one of Curtis's more
simple verses, its refrain "through it all I kept my eyes
on you" a potential nod to his possessiveness. Recycling
the title "The Kill" may have had nothing to do with
their earlier punk tune: for Ian Curtis's dramatic lyrics
and their powerful music, Joy Division usually paid little
attention to song titles. Later, Bernard Sumner would
reveal: "We did a concert in Berlin with Joy Division
in an old cinema, and in the dressing room there was
this old, old lm poster on the wall. And we stole it,
and took it back to our rehearsal room and it listed
every lm that was gonna be on for, like, the next ve
years at this German cinema. And every time we wanted
a title, we'd look at this lm poster and pick two or
three titles. Like 'The Eternal' came from a lm called
The Eternal Flame."
The famous Unknown Pleasures sleeve design of a
Fourier analysis on a black background was done by
Peter Saville. Bernard Sumner is reputed to have found
the image "100 consecutive pulses from the pulsar CP
1919" in a textbook, but in From Joy Division to New
Order: The Factory Story, author Mick Middles recalls
that, after he picked up the prints of the artwork for
Rob Gretton in exchange for one of the closely-guarded
promo copies, he asked Bernard where the cover image
came from. "Fucked if I know" was his response. What
ever the source, this framed industrial line drawing of
the sound of a dying star is perfectly emblematic of the
digitally precise, spiraling music inside.
The title Unknown Pleasures in all likelihood refers
to Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, a divisive, drawn-
out autobiography of the author's willful, self-absorbed
youth. While Remembrance of Things Past is widely con
sidered an embellishment if not egomaniacal revision
ism, the series invariably appeals to self-determinate
young men, who savor its unapologetic solipsism.
As personal and emotional as Curtis's lyrics were,
the sense of despair and frustration they conveyed had
broad implications in the England of the late 1970s,
where hopelessness was a very real sensation. The eco
nomic downturn resulted in labor strikes ranging from
garbage workers to nurses to gravediggers. The working
class boys in Joy Division found decent jobsand kept
them, never unrealistically leaping for the indentured
servitude of a major label advancebut Manchester was
in a state of economic stasis, andas in Londontower
block living and dole queues were a grim reality for
Adding to this stagnation, the promising re of punk
rock was almost totally consumed, and disco still ruled
the radio in its fourth straight year of saturation: Blond-
ie's "Heart of Glass" and Amii Stewart's remake of the
Eddie Floyd classic "Knock on Wood" were chart-
toppers while Joy Division recorded Unknown Pleasures.
As hope for real musical progress began to fade, the
Sex Pistols disintegrated into farce and pretention, while
many of their contemporaries became darker and
more distant.
Chapter 4.
His Very Flight is Presence in Disguise
Ian Curtis developed a lofty romantic idealism in his
youth, obsessed with the notion of dying young at the
height of public adoration, a la Jim Morrison (though
this particular hero didn't die in so grand a display).
Curtis took Bowie's "Rock and Roll Suicide" and "All
The Young Dudes" to heart. Bowie gave the latter song
to Mott the Hoople, who took it to No. 3 in the UK:
"Well Billy rapped all night about his suicide/ How he
kick it in the head when he was twenty-ve/ Speed jive
don't want to stay alive/ When you're twenty-ve." As
reenacted for 24 Hour Party People (and one of few
accurate exchanges in the lm), Curtis considered Bowie
a traitor to his art for outliving those lyrics (Bowie
performed the song in concert throughout the 70s). As
much fun as Ian had with his band mates, he was hanging
on to some dangerous absolutes and held himself ac
countable to what in most people's eyes were clearly
romantic fantasies.
In one sense it's foolish to discuss poets, as their art
is at once a biography of thought, albeit draped in veils
of dramatized emotion. Lyric poetry in particular tends
to reveal more of its author than perhaps is intended,
inviting simple, direct coupletsthis is especially so
when tied to pop music's basic four-bar structure. As
Joy Division's technical and compositional skill im
proved on the simple pace of punk rock over three years,
so too Ian Curtis transcended teenage contention in
his lyrics, whichlike the band's imageleapt from
simplistic postwar imagery to an existential dread argua
bly unparalleled in the history of their chosen fielda
eld ruled for the most part by pure ego and/or desire.
Lovingly referred to as the "dead y dance" (after
an NME quip), Curtis's famous stage presence is a dead
giveaway for the afiction that contributed so hugely
to his collapse. Paul Morley: "The rst time anyone
saw him do it there were only about four people there,
so he had the entire oor. He leapt off the stage and
was doing it all over the place. I thought it was cracking.
I didn't get any feedback that anyone thought it was
comical, because it was so obviously intense." Ian's
movements were always mechanically precise, snapping
on a beat; Deborah Curtis recalls, though, that he had
always danced with such quick motions, even at their
engagement party in 1975.
As much as the music drove Curtis to emotionally
agitated states, it also, in the later days, provided a means
of coping with the constant synaptic explosions he
couldn't control, allowing him to incorporate them into
his unique style of dance, using the structural guide of
the four-bar pop song. Playing guitar helped even more,
and in his later days his cream-colored Vox guitarsa
Phantom VI and a Teardropwere increasingly slung
over his shoulder, an anchor keeping him terrestrially
bound. This was never an overt consideration: the band
simply liked his sound, as Bernard Sumner recalled:
"He hated playing. We made him play. He played in
quite a bizarre way and that to us was interesting, be
cause no one else would play like Ian. He played in a
very manic way. We thought it was good."
In January 1979, Curtis started had started taking the
standard combination of Phenobarbital and Phenytoin
Sodium (brand name Dilantin). Dilantin is an accelera
torit increases and stabilizes Phenobarbital blood lev
elsbut notably, Curtis wasn't initially prescribed
Carbamazepine (Tegretol), which is a favored counter-
agent to the considerable side effects of Phenobarbital.
Only one contra-epileptic drug has been widely ac
cepted since the time of Curtis's diagnosis, the highly
touted Valproate (also known as Depakene). But Val
proate is not so dramatically superior to Phenobarbital
that we could reasonably assume Curtis would have
beneted right away (he did start taking it later in 1979);
though Bernard Sumner has consistently blamed the
barbiturates Ian was taking for the depression and con
fusion that ultimately led to his suicide, Ian Curtis suf
fered from such a serious case, his life would have been
ruled to obsolescence by his severe epilepsy without
such powerful medications.
Joy Division started using white, constant lights for
shows, which the press considered "stark," "Teutonic"
and "gothic," when in reality the ashing and/or red
lights were the only epileptogenic aspect of concerts
they could readily remove. Curtis continued to drink,
smoke and stay up late, all contraindicated behaviors
in an epilepsy maintenance program. Doing what he
lovedpursuing the fame and drama he wanted out
of lifemade the seizures worse and more frequent.
Immediately after the birth of his daughter and the
completion of Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division set out
on weekly dates throughout England. The day after a
gig in Altrincham, at home with his wife, Curtis suffered
the most serious seizure of his life, on May 24th 1979.
A. status epilepticus grand mal is dened as any prolonged
tonic-clonic (rigid/lashing) seizure lasting upwards of
thirty minutes, and is considered a life-threatening
event. Curtis's violent, sequential attack lasted until un
consciousness, butafter only a week in the hospital
Joy Division pressed on.
Epilepsy is a notoriously unpredictable afiction, and
June 1979 proved to be an easy month at home and
with the band, though Joy Division were still laboring in
the doldrums as Unknown Pleasures trickled into stores,
their independent label doing its best to sell the album.
Peter Hook: "At the Good Mood Club in Halifax [June
22nd 1979], we had one person in the audience. And
he lasted two numbers. It felt like the end, like we were
just wasting our time, that nobody wanted to know
at all."
After abortive sessions at Central Sound Studios in
Manchester, Martin Hannett and Joy Division retreated
to the comfort of Strawberry Studios to record what
many consider their dening moment, "Transmission".
Certainly their most accessible song aside from "Love
Will Tear Us Apart", it was the rst indication of the
grand Joe Meek/Phil Spector sound Martin Hannett
had possibly imagined for Unknown Pleasures but never
completed. "Transmission", like the later "Atmo
sphere", denes the zenith at which Joy Division's
unique music and the incredible talents of Martin Han
nett as a producer meet. The snare is delayed in time
with the beat, so that the echo acts almost as a sympa
thetic second beat, reporting in the seemingly endless
distance. But the explosive wall of guitar that enters
exactly halfway through the song would redene "dis
tance" as it relates to the spacial limits of stereophonic
pop music. In many ways, it plays as a wizened "fuck-
you" from Hannett to Sumner and Hook, in response
to their public dissatisfaction with his guitar work on
Unknown Pleasures. The full-chord lead is, to this day,
without parallel in its beauty, resonance and terrifying
volume. Just seconds later, this astonishing moment is
outdone by Ian Curtis's most famous utterance: the
scream "And we could dance!" leading into the song's
nal, immemorial chorus of "Dance! Dance! Dance!
Dance! Dance to the radio!" Behind this refrain is an
indecipherable cacophony of twinkling, frantic key
boards and guitars screaming from miles away.
"Transmission" extended the shelf life of Unknown
Pleasures, which had stopped selling and was cluttering
the Factory ofce and co-founder Alan Erasmus's apart
ment: the album went on to sell out the initial 10,000
copies within weeks, and more in subsequent pressings,
generating roughly 50,000 profit for the label and the
artistto be, theoretically, split down the middle. But
Wilson would famously spend most of Joy Division and
New Order's profits on projects like The Haciendaas
well as the Factory ofces, and later the Dry Bar.
Unknown Pleasures continued to sell in the following
months, thanks to local adoration of "Transmission",
word of mouth fueled by critical praise, and their sing
er's increasing renown as a not-to-be-missed attraction:
"Live, he appears possessed by demons, dancing spas-
tically and with lightning speed, unwinding and winding
as the rigid metal music folds and unfolds over him,"
wrote Jon Savage in a July 1979 issue of Melody Maker.
The same month, Mick Middles wrote in Sounds, "Dur
ing the set's many 'peaks' Ian Curtis often loses control.
He'll suddenly jerk sideways, and, head in hands, he'll
transform into a twitching, epileptic-type mass of esh
and bone." It was so obvious, there was no other way
to describe it, but Curtis rarely fell into full-blown sei
zure at this stage. Things would change as 1979 wore on.
Curtis had two systemic patterns. In the most fa
mous, his right arm crosses his hips as the left swirls in
an arc past his face: this movement gives the impression
of a man swimming desperately for shore, trying to get
the leading edge of time itself behind him. The second
pattern is more disturbing to behold, a less-ordered
ailing at the elbows, like a child swatting at a swarm
of mosquitoes. It's not seen as frequently, but it appeared
intensely during a September 1979 BBC2 television
performance of "Transmission" during the program
Something Else. A third indication of pre-seizing activity
is subtler, documented in that same performance: as
Ian's head darts from side to side, like a spinning top,
you can see his eyes are staring straight ahead, locked
onto some object that kept him rooted in the moment.
In hindsight, with some knowledge of epilepsy, these
indicators are instantly apparent, but during the punk
rock years, all manner of outrageous behavior was en
couraged and acted out. In fact, on this occasion a num
ber of viewers called in complaining about the wild-
eyed, "drug-crazed" singer they'd just seen on television.
Bernard Sumner has always maintained that Curtis was
straight, and just "needed a couple of Carlings" to get
excited for the performance, but Deborah Curtis no
ticed Ian withdrawing into silence and irritability once
the press latched on to Unknown Pleasures. It seems a
grotesque assumption, but it's clear that Curtis felt his
home life was an embarrassmentat the least a hin
dranceto the lone wolf superstardom he'd fantasized
about his entire life, and was beginning to enjoy, albeit
on a small scale. He would later reveal his own embar
rassment and guilt for falling into this easy trap.
Wives were shunned and rock star self-absorption
was promoted: this has always been Deborah Curtis's
primary contention about the frantic last year of her
husband's lifebut Tony Wilson has explicitly denies
fostering this environment. Of course, he's also tired
of being asked to bear any responsibility for Curtis's
decision. Joy Division were the biggest band on his
label, and they made everything that Factory Records
accomplished possible, but they had their own manager,
their own wives, their own responsibilities, even at that
young age. As Peter Hook put it, "[Ian] had a lot of
responsibilities. I wouldn't count myself as any different
now .. . but youth is blind. We thought, 'Why doesn't
he just shut up and get on with it?' That's what you do
when you're young. You don't think about the ramica
tions." Wilson, until recendy, wouldn't answer the
"Why?" questions, and after prodding would say things
like, "People die. What, are you gonna blame me?"
But lately he has been more candid about the events
surrounding the death of Ian Curtis, as well as his
envyof Joy Division's music, and of Curtis's intensity.
Curtis's death created legends of both the band and
Factory Records: the unassailable purveyors of pure will,
high art, ano commercial success, together at last. Those
things are predicated on mystery and allure, and in
general can't bear the weight of truth.
Ian Curtis's lyrics were crushingly honest: he relent
lessly drew from his own failures, never able to get out
from under them. In the last year of his life, he carefully
orchestrated his suicide, penning increasingly resigned,
morbid reflections on regret. It's perhaps too easytoo
romanticto view his death as design, since so many
of his lyrics seem to call back from the grave, but it's
certain that, in making his death as melodramatic and
emotionally volatile as possible, Curtis achieved immor
tality as the late twentieth century's version of Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe's infamous creation, Werther.
Heralded in his lifetimein his early twenties no
lessGoethe was a writer whose instinct for lyrical
beauty reigns for the most part unchallenged over the
Romantics who owered in his wake. Opinions vary on
his position in the literary canon: harsh critics consider
Goethe an indulgent, bourgeois diarist, but his most
passionate and perhaps lucid follower Ralph Waldo Em
erson defended his life as transubstantiation: "A man
exists for culture, not for what he can accomplish, but
for what can be accomplished in him."
Inasmuch as Curtis was a lyrical genius, he was cer
tainly ushered along by a wider admiration for that role,
and was recognized as such almost instantly by his peers
and by the press. Curtis never stumbled for his self-
awareness, because he believed utterly in art and ro
mance as ideals, the way only the very young can. He
was uncannily perceptive of the human condition. He
read famous and fashionable works of history, philoso
phy and ction, but was never an academic. His talent
was an innate empathy for the human condition, a stark
inability to look away from hypocrisy, failure and stagna
tion that allowed him to see in the shadowsyet he
couldn't bear the weight of the revelations he found
there. Increasingly blind to reality, Curtis saw the world
as an almost ordered if not decipherable collection of
signiers and fated occurrences, regarding humanity
itself as a single, evolving personality.
Goethe's chief worksthe partially autobiographical
The Sorrows of Young Werther and Elective Affinitiesare
in one sense morality plays, detailing the exasperated
passion of youth and the death of its unrestrained, crys
tallized feelings at the hand of marriage. Far from con
demning marriage, Goethe offers cautionary advice: in
the rst title, Werther commits suicide rather than live
without his married inspiration. The book is widely
considered a biting commentary on its main character's
selshness, a message from an older, somewhat wiser
Goethe to his more impulsive younger self. In many
ways a sequel to The Sorrows of Young Werther, Elective
Afnities deals more specically with temptation, and
contrasts the idyllic notion of marriage as a sacred insti
tution with the more immediate satisfaction of new ex
periences. The book was branded immoral when
published for suggesting love could be a chemical reac
tion, but the author's use of physiology as evidence of
destiny has, as science evolved, gained signicant favor
with Western literary audiences. The impassioned ram-
blings of Werther are replaced by a near mystic fatalism
that frequently borders on predetermination; written
much later in Goethe's life, this more longing, rueful
work looks down on its fated spouses from above in
measured tone, detailing their descent into emotional
Ian Curtis's adultery isat least to his most earnest
fansa distasteful topic to broach, but it's a massive
factor in his emotional collapse, which was not entirely
the result of epilepsy, preventative medication or his
ignoring medical advice. After refusing to discuss the
subject for two decades, Tony Wilson wrote about a
few poignant moments in the twilight affair that Curtis
began with a Belgian girl, Annik Honore. (You can read
these in his editorialized script for 24 Hour Party People,
wherein he phonetically refers to her as Aneek.) I'll
defer you to Wilson's loving recollections on that score,
butas detailed by Ian's widow Deborahinfidelity
was nothing new: like many young "alpha" type men,
Curtis was both possessive and extroverted. In Touching
From A Distance, she details a number of transgressions,
his impatient and often rude behavior, and even a few
uncomfortable moments of physical intimidation at
his hand.
Married at 18 and a father at 20, Curtis led a con
icted double-life. In the end, the reputation he so
longed forthe actualization of his fantasies about Jim
Morrison, Iggy Pop and David Bowiewon out. His
self-absorption and ego were spurred on by cheerlead-
ing followers"the raincoat brigade"and the under
standably excited members and managers of Joy
Division, all of whom were focused on the band's suc
cess. His advisors could only act on what Curtis told
them, and as Deborah Curtis put it, he "painted a bleak
picture of his home life." She feels that much of his
moaning about their life together was in aid of his desire
for attention, and in many warm moments she shares
with readers, it seems clear there was a serious case of
face and mask with Ian Curtis. More than willful, Curtis
was will in action, a manipulator of events generating
a storm of confusion and need all around him. When
with his mates, he was carefree and cool, even if he
occasionally lashed out; at home, he confronted the
reality that would await him when his empowering role
as the leader of a critically lauded, increasingly popular
band came to an endas he was quite certain all
things would.
Throughout July and August of 1979, his seizures
increased asin addition to his day jobheavy touring,
litde sleep, and the extended "Transmission" sessions
wore away at his stamina. By late August, Unknown
Pleasures had cemented its reputation as a critical favorite
for the year, and rave reviews for Joy Division's perfor
mance at the massive four night post-punk festival
held at the Prince Of Wales Conference Centre on
Tottenham Court Road in Londonran in Melody
Maker and the NME (one of their least impressionable
writers, Adrian Thrills, called the band "phenomenal").
Joy Division nally gave up their jobs and prepared for
a major tour in support of the Buzzcocks, trying to
break through to the largest audience possible. Owing
to the massive relief of leaving his job behind him,
Curtis suffered only one major attack during August
and September, before their farewell set to the Factory
nights at the Russell Club on September 28th. The gig
was remembered more for Peter Hook's row with a
group of skinheads, during which he snapped the neck
of his heavy Rickenbacker bass in two.
Joy Division dominated most reviews of the Buzz
cocks' October tour dates, upstaging the headliners in
print as they did in concert. During a mid-month break,
they capitalized on the chance to play at Plan K in
Brussels on October 16th, with the more experimental
Cabaret Voltaire, both groups supporting a reading
from idolized American author and poet William S.
Burroughs. (Ian was rebuffed by Burroughs, which hit
him hard as he was a great fan.) At Plan K, Ian either
met or reacquainted himself with Annik Honore; it's
debated whether they rst met at a secret, one-off Lon
don gig in late August played for only a few dozen
teenage German exchange students and never adver
tised. Whatever the case, from October forward, Ian
was seriously involved with Annik.
Stephen Morris: "Annik. Talk about getting deeper
into it. It didn't help at all. I think he just wanted to
change something about his life, but he didn't really
know what it was. I know he felt very guilty about it,
and we didn't help because we just gave him grief all
the time. She was a vegetarian, so we'd try to get him
to come for a kebab if she was around."
By the end of the Buzzcocks tour in early November,
audiences were requesting encores from the opening
act, booing when Joy Division left the stage after their
meager half hour timeslot, often wandering off immedi
ately after Joy Division's set, shell-shocked. Birming
ham on October 24th was an exception to this norm,
but Curtis goaded the cadre of bored Buzzcocks fans
with "Sorry we're not UK Subs." They were won over.
Critics, already intrigued and mostly converted were,
by late 1979, fawning over the band's power. Most were
mere witnesses to Ian Curtis's channeled stage presence.
He had a conviction and severity that few critics could
fend off, though Dave McCullogh tried after a frustrat
ing interview with the uncommunicative band: "No
amount of windmilling obscurity will convince me that
Joy Division's static, murky militancy is real... the mu
sic is too supercilious (like the people) to ring true." But
there was no question of the band's status: Buzzcocks
manager Richard Boon lmed their sets on both trium
phant nights at the Manchester Apollo in late October
(the footage was later compiled for the IKON/Factory
Communications Limited lm Here Are The Young
Once the tour was over, however, Joy Division, and
especially Ian Curtis, found themselves in dire nancial
straights. The winter was spent in almost abject poverty,
Ian drawing a bare minimum 15 wage from Factory
while Martin Hannett and Peter Saville entertained an
offer valued in excess of $1,000,000 from Warner Broth
ers' VP of A&R, Bob Krasnow (who went on to head
up Elektra/Asylumhome of The Doorsand signed
The Cure). At the time, "Transmission" was selling
fine5000 copiesthough considerably less than Fac
tory's unrealistic expectations. Unknown Pleasures was
approaching 15,000 in total sales, and the vast majority
of proceeds from all of this were split between less than
ten people. Joy Division, like New Order after them,
never saw a dime of the money they earned their backers,
and it's sad to think Warner Brothers' offerwhich far
exceeded what the band merited, having released just
one album and a pair of singles that hadn't even charted
in the UKwas rejected outright by Hannett, who idi
otically told Krasnow that they were only looking for
help distributing the album in America. Hannett pro
posed to Bob Krasnow, in all seriousness, that rather
than acquire his label's best property, Warner Brothers
should act as a distributor for Factory Records in
America. We must assume that Krasnow laughed in his
face. After realizing what an opportunity they'd missed,
Joy Division were scheduled to negotiate an even more
favorable offer in May 1980, but it wasn't to be. New
Order would eventually capitalize on Warner's loyal
interest, thanks to the intercession of Quincy Jones,
who signed them to his WEA imprint Qwest (Factory
would continue to suck the band dry in the UK).
After a long winter spent in near-poverty, and know
ing Curtis was pining for another woman and emotion
ally abusing his wife, Factory plotted a convenient
European Tour for January. Ian left in a hurry, without
saying goodbye to his wife, as he continued to tell his
band mates how horrible his married life was. However
selsh Curtis tried to be, he was still sidelined by epi
lepsy, and did not nd a sympathetic nursemaid in the
young, fashionable Annik Honore. She was uncomfort
able with his seizures and couldn't understand them;
according to soundman Terry Mason, she behaved cru
elly toward him in these moments of need. "That one
at the Moonlight... he was crushed and she didn't want
to know. He was gutted that night." Bernard Sumner
recalled of this concert, before which Ian had a serious
seizure, "We did some gigs that we shouldn't have fuck
ing done. He had a t... we did the Moonlight and he
was really ill and he did the gig. That was really stupid."
Curtis was pulled apart by the pressures he had taken
on. In love with a cold but crystallized "other self," he
was ignoring his wife and child both temporally and
emotionally, wishing he could simply start over. There's
no doubting Curtis's presence of mind during the affair,
nor his awareness of its impact. The songs he composed
in late 1979 and early 1980 lay his feelings bare. "Pass
over" is particularly succinct: "This is the crisis I knew
had to come/ Destroying the balance I'd kept."
It's no surprise that Ian Curtis wanted to commit
suicide, but it's stupefying that he actually managed to;
ignoring the lyrics he wrote, there wasas there usually
isa failed suicide attempt in February 1980. Immedi
ately upon returning from the January European tour,
Curtis downed a bottle of Pernod and slashed at the
Book of Revelations' passages about Jezebel. He made
cuts on his arms that could have been seen as incidental
given the ailing about. Stephen Morris explained Cur
tis's reaction: "He talked about it as though he'd gone
through some strange religious experience, where I'd
say he just got blind-drunk and cut himself up. The
way he told it, it was just one of those stories ... we
thought he was sorting it out."
After a few well received but noticeably darker, more
sedate gigs in February, Deborah Curtis found Annik
Honore's name in Ian's notebook, and confronted him.
Though he said he'd call things off, Annik and Ian were
rented separate quarters in London for the recording
of Closer at Pink Floyd's Britannia Row.
Stephen Morris: "Annik thought it was terrible. She
kept saying, 'It sounds like Genesis.' Ian was frantic, he
thought we were going to have to remix it all."
"I remember being at Britannia Row," recounts Ber
nard, "and asking Ian whether he was feeling alright
because he'd been acting strangely for days, and he said,
'It feels like I'm caught in a whirlpool and I'm being
dragged down and sucked under water.' I think... he
had dark thoughts about committing suicide, which he
never shared with us. It was like he felt this was his
Deborah Curtis, alienated, hadn't heard the morose
songs her husband had composed for Closer, and in the
ignorance imposed by Ian, she continued to believe his
lies. After calamitous Moonlight and Rainbow gigs in
London over the Easter weekend of 1980 marked by
repeated seizures, Curtis returned home on Easter
Monday, April 7th. His wife understood instantly from
his behavior why he'd stayed on an extra night, but
shamed him with silence. That evening, he came to
her and told her he'd overdosed on his Phenobarbital
tablets. She called an ambulance and Curtis had his
stomach pumped. He had left a suicide note.
The next morning, Alan Erasmus, Tony Wilson and
his wife Lindsay took Deborah to the hospital to see Ian,
who was judged t for release after a brief observation.
Wilson, in an effort to assuage Deborah Curtis, sug-
gested she might want to start looking for another
manand while that sounds instantly reprehensible,
Deborah later realized that Wilson was discounting Ian
as a deserving investment of her time. His problems,
as well as his confusion, were the result of his childish
desire to rediscover rst love and artistic synchronicity
with Annik Honore.
While at Ian Curtis's bedside, Lindsay Reade made
perhaps the most touching gesture of anyone in the
midst of this agonizing situation, inscribing a brief
sketch with a passage by the British playwright David
Hare: "There is no comfort. Our lives dismay us. We
have dreams of leaving and it is the same for everyone
I know." Within the pages of Hare's play Skylight lies
a powerful summary of Deborah Curtis's predicament,
spoken by the female lead: "You don't value happiness.
You don't even realize because you always want more.
I love you, for God's sake ... but I'll never trust you,
after what happened. There's no peace in you. I know
this. For me there is no comfort. The energy's wonder
ful, but with the energy comes the restlessness. And I
can't live in that way."
Deborah Curtis led for divorce in April of 1980.
Ian Curtis committed suicide on May 18th 1980.
Chapter 5.
The Helena
"Digital", "She's Lost Control", "Transmission",
"Atmosphere", "Love Will Tear Us Apart" ... it would
seem difcult to locate a turning point in a career of
such extraordinary and sustained creative growth. But
if any point in Joy Division's history can be seen as the
moment they crossed over from their intense, boyish
bravado to the monolithic austerity and grave, poetic
romanticism they're remembered for, it's the Sordide
Sentimental single Licht und Blindheit (Light and Blind
ness), recorded in late October/early November 1979.
From the moment Joy Division recorded "Atmosphere"
and "Dead Souls", Ian Curtis had tapped into some
thingthere's no other word for iteternal. His voice
had recently improved after technical examinations
(urged by Tony Wilson) of Scott Walker and Frank
Sinatra, andcoupled with this improved expressive
nesshe turned his ever-increasing fatalism and self-
loathing into poetry as economic, evocative and har
rowing as anything in the history of pop music. Paul
Morley once referred to "Atmosphere" as "the end of
pop," and he was correct. Aside from its inherent beauty,
the song turns its back on ego, succumbing to the de
feated realization that success holds shallow rewards.
Curtis could see that the long-awaited audience he now
enjoyed could no longer empower him; he'd lost the
strength required to sustain their embrace, or to convert
further masses. Each accomplishment was a disappoint
ment for Ian Curtis, as reality could never approach his
fantasies. His resignation in "Atmosphere"^ is audible,
and to this day it's overwhelming to behold.
The record was released in a gothic gatefold sleeve,
containing a melodramatic essay byJean-Pierre Turmel.
If not for this essaywith its overreaching, awkward
prose, and its somewhat embarrassing effort to insert
Joy Division into a philosophical tradition including
everyone from De La Croix to the Marquis de Sade
the single is awless. The music is powerful enough to
withstand or validate the lofty scripture, depending on
your view; unsheathed, Licht und Blindheit is easily one
of the most expressive pieces of vinyl ever released.
"Atmosphere" employs the ghosts of American rock and
roll, specically Phil Spector's wall of sound singles and
the hearty baritone of the Righteous Brothers. The
song seamlessly integrates these nostalgic echoes with
modern electronic chimes; the result is an unsettling,
monastic anthem that ushers the most despondent lyrics
Ian Curtis would ever pen. It is impossible to abbrevi
ate them.
Walk in silence
Don V walk away, in silence
See the danger
Always danger
Endless talking
Life rebuilding
Don't walk away
Walk in silence
Don't turn away, in silence
Your confusion
My illusion
Worn like a mask of self hate
Confronts and then dies
Don't walk away
People like you nd it easy
Naked to see
Walking on air
Hunting by the rivers, through the streets, every corner
abandoned too soon
Set down with due care
Don V walk away in silence
Don V walk away
Martin Hannett's glistening treble and subtle, watery
torn delay lap perfectly beneath Curtis's voice. The ca
thedral organs of its chorus crest in sympathy, each a
perceptible wave of memory and time breaking over
you in breathtaking slow motion. "Dead Souls" is less
polishedan intentionally raw, screeching dirge from
which the caterwaul "They keep calling me!" rises again
and again. The lyrics, overt in their politico-religious
condemnation, draw from Curtis's young fascination
with "eternals," a proposition Nazis used to defend the
rise of the Aryan race. Bernard Sumner had once hypno
tized Ian, who spoke of dying in a previous life, and
Curtis often told his wife he felt he'd lived before. "Dead
Souls" is the only clear indication that Ian may have
literally believed he had lived before. At the very least,
the song documents a commonplace fantasy, but when
delivered with such shrill, barking certainty, it's hard
to argue with. Curtis reincarnates history for three
minutes, dancing with ghosts and shadows. Eleanor
would have knighted him.
Sordide Sentimental session
Recorded in late October/early November 1979
at Cargo Studios, Rochdale. Produced by Martin
Hannett ["Atmosphere" and "Dead Souls" re
leased as Licht und Blindheit in a March 1980 run
of 1578 numbered copies. "Ice Age" released Oc
tober 8 1981 as part oi Still and on the 1997 Heart
and Soul anthology.]
Dead Souls
Ice Age
In March of 1980, four months after recording Licht
und Blindheit and a number of radio sessionsincluding
a second Peel Session previewing the classic "Love Will
Tear Us Apart" in a more urgent, drum-driven state
Joy Division completed their last three sessions with
Martin Hannett. The rst two were for "Love Will
Tear Us Apart", as smooth and universally accessible a
song as the band ever produced, and one of their only
recordings to employ acoustic guitars. Like the 12" ver
sion of "She's Lost Control" recorded at the same time,
its subdued, medication-affected midrange is eerily dis-
placed when compared with the rest of the band's
Immediately after completing those sessions, the
band moved to the state-of-the-art Britannia Row,
which was to Pink Floyd what the lesser-equipped
Strawberry Studios were to Joy Division. Martin Han
nett, at the urging of the band, radically changed his
production approach for Closer, tempering digital shapes
with more live echo in the form of playback from speak
ers in other parts of the studio. The drum tracks and
guitars benet from this more analog treatment,
andin contrast to Unknown Pleasuressubjugate the
electronic ourishes, which are more subtly layered.
In the midst of a personal breakdown (though not
necessarily demonstrative about it during the sessions),
Ian Curtis unloaded months of self-torture in the al
bum's lyrics. The pallor cast over the proceedings is
only audible in retrospect, as the sessions barely lasted
more than a week and were as much a retreat for Ian
and Annik as they were anything else. No one had any
time to process what was ending up on tape, nor were
they operating as the unied troupe that blared in unison
from concert stages. Nobody was thinking about Closer
as the last album they would ever record because, in
only a month, Joy Division were set to take on America,
the dream of every British teenager who ever picked
up a guitar. Ian had been busily buying new clothes for
the trip with Deborah. Heads were spinning.
Immediately after recording Closer, on April 4th
1980, Joy Division played at the Rainbow Theater in
London, at a benet for The Stranglers' singer Hugh
Cornwell, who was in jail for drug charges. Though Joy
Division generally had the house lights up during their
performances to prevent Curtis from lapsing into sei
zure, the Rainbow used strobes and turned them on
toward the end of the set. Curtis spun completely out
of control and crashed headlong into the drum set.
He recovered from the episode, but was devastated by
Annik's embarrassed inability to cope with his afiction.
Tony Wilson decided that the best solution would
be a Joy Division concert with a rotating cast of singers,
so that Ian Curtis could rest and avoid the stress of
singing the more energetic numbers. It sounded as ridic
ulous then as it does now, but Wilson called Alan Hemp-
sail, singer for Joy Division imitators Crispy Ambulance
(Hempsall had also interviewed Joy Division for a fan
zine in January). Wilson asked Joy Division to build a
set around the songs whose lyrics Hempsall knew best.
The April 8th gig at Derby Hall in Bury dissolved into
a full-on riot during a laborious run through "Sister
Ray" with Hempsall on vocals. Peter Hook and manager
Rob Gretton both brawled with outraged audience
members, who had been egged on by a few obnox
ious skinheads.
Weeping uncontrollably at the sight of this mayhem,
feeling responsible for it, and having attempted suicide
barely hours earlier, Curtis in all likelihood crossed a
boundary on the night of April 8 th from which he never
returned. Though Joy Division played three more gigs
without incident, both band and label realized they
needed to take a break before leaving for America, for
their singer's sake. Their last show, on May 2nd at
Birmingham University, was recorded for posterity by
Martin Hannett, and would eventually be released as
half of the memorial 1981 double album Still. It was
the only time Joy Division ever performed "Ceremony"
in concert.
"Ceremony" and "In a Lonely Place" segue into New
Order's catalog, and were the rst two songs recorded
by Sumner, Hook and Morris once they decided to
carry on without Curtis. They were the last two songs
Curtis completed with Joy Division, and both play as
postcards from the grave, the lyrics a series of statuesque
images with detached, departed refrains. "Ceremony"
culminates with "Avenues all lined with trees/ Picture
me and then you start watching/ Watching forever,"
while "In a Lonely Place" more desperately pines "How
I wish you were here with me now." As with almost
everything Curtis wrote from Unknown Pleasures for
ward, his state of mind is all too clear in retrospect.
The last months of Ian Curtis's life were as melodra
matic and horrifying as "Twenty Four Hours", the most
brutal and unyieldingly morbid song Joy Division ever
recorded. Curtis describes the futility hanging over him
in its third verse:
/ never realized the lengths Td have to go
All the darkest corners of a sense I didn't know
Just for one moment I heard somebody call
Looked beyond the day in handthere's nothing there at all
Looked beyond the day in handthere's nothing there at all
Yet he counters this fatalism with a nal verse:
Now that I've realized how it's all gone wrong
Got to find some therapythis treatment takes too long
Deep in the heart of where sympathy held sway
Got to nd my destiny before it gets too late
"The Eternal" and "Decades"the back-to-back dirges
at the end of Closerare restrained, forgone conclusions
in which Curtis has accepted his situation, and seems
resigned to ending it sooner rather than later. It's only
in "Passover", "A Means to an End" and "Twenty Four
Hours" that he shows any desire to ght his circum-
stance. But, as concert breakdowns mounted, and as the
drugs stopped working (or worked too well), Ian Curtis
faded away, weathering his nal days with dazed resolve,
observing the world with a pitiful eye.
As with all suicides, it's easy to say the departed "gave
up" or "quit". Surely it's fairer in this case to say that
Ian Curtis lost. He lost to a disease no doctor could
cureone that kept him from living the life he had
dreamed about. That he considered those dreams more
important than the people who loved him betrays his
youth and naivety. His epilepsy took a huge physical
toll on him, and he felt shame at leading such an indul
gent life, while his affair with Annik became less a ro
mance than a monument to his dashed idealism. The
poetry that Curtis created from his obstinate observa
tions and idyllic dreams all but validates his conviction,
making it hard for those as passionate about music as he
was not to deify this confused genius. However casually,
critically or romantically we approach Joy Division's
music, we can only mourn the overwhelming, frustrated
agony that Ian Curtis could not bear.
At the close of his spiraling memoir Nothing, Paul
Morleywithout a doubt the most significant person
in this story who was not directly involved with Joy
Division or Factory Records in the late 1970soffered
a brief soundtrack to his labor of love. In tribute, here
is a list of music I listened to regularly while writing
this book:
Before ... but Longer by The Czars
"Sparkwood and Twentyone" by Aix Em Klemm
LC and Another Setting by The Durutti Column
Whatfunlifewas by Bedhead
Sweat ln' Soul: Anthology by Sam & Dave
Three Imaginary Boys by The Cure
Fight Songs by The For Carnation
On Fire by Galaxie 500
Lustwandel by Roedelius
Marquee Moon by Television
"Second Dark Age" by The Fall
Minor Shadows by 1 Mile North
Barely Real by Codeine
Monday at the Hug and Pint by Arab Strap
Slattery For Ungdom by Alva
"Pur" by Cocteau Twins
Boom in the Night by Bush Tetras
"Walk on Water" by Ride
Constantines by The Constantines
"Spangle" by Seefeel
The Final Cut by Pink Floyd
Live at KROQ by Morrissey
The Good Earth by The Feelies
"Final Solution" by Pere Ubu
A Different Kind of Tension by Buzzcocks
"Loose Fit" by Happy Mondays
II by The Sonora Pine
"Jealous of Youth" by The The
Come on Die Young by Mogwai
"Trem Two" by Mission of Burma
"Get The Message" by Electronic
Dummy by Portishead
Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk
154 by Wire
"Love Spreads" by The Stone Roses
"Discreet Music" by Brian Eno