Most people probably wouldn’t think of William S. Burroughs and Joy Division as living in the same worlds as one another, but connections like this can be more surprising than one might expect. However, I personally don’t find the crossover of the beat generation literary icon and the post-punk band all that unexpected.
Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, was an avid reader, often referencing literature in his songwriting. Even the band’s name was taken from a novel (which is a whole other story for another time). He was a fan of Kafka, Gogol, J.G. Ballard, the existentialists, and William S. Burroughs. In fact, ‘Interzone’ is a direct Burroughs reference.
But what do they always say? Never meet your heroes. Or else, they might tell you to fuck off (or maybe not, but there will be rumours about it regardless).
The night Joy Division and William S. Burroughs actually met, was Brussels, Belgium, in 1979. It was their first-ever gig outside of the UK, and they were to play at Plan K, alongside performances from the avant-garde theatre troupe that shared the space, and opening for none other than Burroughs himself. It was a multimedia event, with film screenings, music, readings, and cabaret performances.
Ian Curtis wanted to meet his literary inspiration, and the exact remark of the situation has long been the stuff of legend, but it’s always good to have a bit of a recap. As the story goes, according to Reality Studio, Ian Curtis approached Burroughs to introduce himself, and Burroughs allegedly told him to fuck off. These are the core events that remain consistent in every version of the story, as there are plenty of others that seem to ad-lib additional details.
However, even this is subject to question, as it doesn’t exactly make sense that William S. Burroughs would be so rude or cold for no reason (or even if given a reason, for that matter). He was known to be extremely kind and well-mannered, so the story is perplexing, to say the least.
What we can glean from the events that (we think, at least) we know is that something more likely went down between them. Either this or the entire story is a rumour that spent a little too much time getting passed around like a game of telephone.
What we can say for sure is that the two did meet, they played the same show together, and that Ian Curtis was certainly inspired by his literary hero.