“Ian was mesmerising to watch… jerking and flailing his arms like a demon possessed, like a man out of place, drowning and waving, in the smoke-filled air.” Joy Division’s Ian Curtis died 40 years ago today…

“Existence well what does it matter?
I exist on the best terms I can
The past is now part of my future
The present is well out of hand….”

Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, took his own life on this day 40 years ago (18 May 1980), leaving behind a musical legacy that resonates to this day.

The Stretford native was just 23 at the time, but through albums like Unknown Pleasures and Closer, he had become one of the most enigmatic frontmen in popular music, with lyrics that spoke not of the anger and energy of punk, but of introspectiveness, loneliness and detachment.

Today will see the broadcast of a special three-hour set recorded by Peter Hook & The Light in May 2015, dubbed #SoThisIsPermanent, which runs through every Joy Division song over an approx three-hour period. Starting at 12pm, donations to the UK Epilepsy Society are encouraged.

A live stream to the gig can be found by clicking here.

A few years back, to mark the 30th anniversary of Curtis’ death, the Louder Than War blog published a chapter from John Robb’s excellent The North Will Rise Again Manchester Music City 1976-1996; an oral history of how Joy Division (previously known as Warsaw) emerged out of the musical melting pot of the time.

As Factory Records boss Tony Wilson put it, “The first time I ever saw Ian Curtis he came up to me at Rafters [one of the next wave of post punk Manchester venues, with gigs initially promoted by Rob Gretton] and said, “F*ck you. You’re the bastard off the TV, you c*nt.” I asked him why he said that and he said it was because I had never put them on the telly. He was really nasty, really confrontational. And this was when they were a completely unknown band.

“It worked. I put them on pretty soon afterwards. I never saw him like that again in the three to four years that I knew him, he was this thoughtful schoolboy, an emotionally quite deep thoughtful schoolboy.”

Elsewhere, Gina Sobers of indie group The Liggers describes Curtis’ presence on stage.

“Ian WAS mesmerising to watch […] , jerking and flailing his arms like a demon possessed, like a man out of place, drowning and waving, in the smoke-filled air.

“Course it’s easy to see with hindsight, that he was both expressive of a generation and cursed with a dystopian introspection. I don’t think many people knew he was epileptic at the time. They probably thought it was part of the show, a larger-than-life projection.”

The full chapter makes for excellent reading, and can be found here. Alternatively, to purchase The North Will Rise Again, click here.

[Main picture: Wikimedia Commons/Ras]

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