Rock history is jammed with messy, stupid, and tragic ends to promising starts– plane crashes, overdoses, gunshots— but Ian Curtis’ death is still striking. Sometime early on the morning of May 18, 1980, Ian Curtis, at the age of 23, watched Werner Herzog’s Stroszek, played Iggy Pop’s The Idiot, and hung himself in the kitchen.
It’s easy to say, in retrospect, that people should have seen it coming. His marriage was falling apart, his epilepsy was worsening, and at their most uplifting, his band’s lyrics set new benchmarks for melodrama, paranoia, and depression. “This is the way, step inside,” intones Curtis at the start of the group’s posthumous sophomore release Closer, an album title whose double meaning imparts almost as much menace as the fact that Curtis already sounds like he’s singing from beyond the grave on the sepulchral lead track “Atrocity Exhibition”.
On the other hand, Joy Division’s popularity was on the rise. The group was about to embark on a U.S. tour with the Buzzcocks. A month after Curtis’ death, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” would become the group’s first hit. And unlike such dead-before-their-time predecessors as Nick Drake and Chris Bell, Ian Curtis was a bona fide star in the making whose impact was already being felt throughout the underground, and whose presence was being picked up on by such prescient mimics as Bono… read more >