Ian Curtis and Werner Herzog almost seem like kindred spirits, both surrounded by a darkened hue of mystique. However, underneath it all, they are both very charming and personable. Tragically, when their paths did fatefully cross, it was under the saddest circumstances of all.
Ian Curtis’ life never seemed to be too far away from the grip of some sort of predestined fate. He was married at 19, catapulted Joy Division into the celestial realm and became post-punk’s brightest star by 22, and was dead by 23.
On the night of his suicide, May 18th 1980, Curtis had been drinking coffee and spirits. When his body was found hanging the next day, Iggy Pop’s The Idiot would also be found on his record player. On that record is the song ‘Tiny Girl’, a track that starts with the line, ‘Well the day begins, you don’t want to live, cause you can’t believe in the one you’re with.’
The dark kismet surrounding the fateful night stretches even further. Away from the tale of the last record that he heard was an equally eerie piece of prophetical cinema. The night before Curtis had watched Werner Herzog’s film Stroszek.
The movie documents the tale of an aspiring German musician hoping for a better life in Wisconsin. The musician eventually moves to America, only to end up committing suicide after he is betrayed by his girlfriend. With an impending American tour, that according to fellow Manchester musician Genesis P-Orridge Curtis was dreading, the weight of the world seemed to be descending upon him. Therefore, it is not too gratuitous to speculate that the damning footage of Stroszek may have provided the final push.
The tragic allegorical mirroring of the movie and the grim reality to follow is also furthered when you consider that one of the factors weighing on Curtis’ mental health was the burden of having begun what was claimed to be a purely platonic affair with Annik Honore. Regardless of whether it was sexual or not, the notion of a romantic betrayal was as disruptive to Curtis’ life as it was in the Herzog movie that seemed to prognosticate the future with harrowing realism.
Also, in the room where his body was found was a note penned to his wife. A neighbour, Kevin Wood, revealed that the note was a letter to Debbie Curtis, saying that when he got back from America he wanted to return to old ways and be part of a normal family again. Sadly, whatever the reason, that would never be the case.
The story of Ian Curtis is a tragic tale that illuminates the need for greater transparency when it comes to our approach to mental health. Much like Herzog the darkness of Joy Division’s work speaks of the battle to see the lightness in things. Although Curtis’ life met with a saddening fate, his art has helped plenty of others to overcome darker times and in songs like ‘Atmosphere’, he managed to transfigure his pain into something hymnally beautiful.