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Tributes to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis

Getty Images / Rob Verhorst

Tributes to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis

With his brooding lyrics and distinctive voice, Ian Curtis (1956 - 1980) was an essential part of Joy Division as they moved beyond punk and helped establish the Manchester scene in the late 1970s. Tragically, he took his own life May 18, 1980, just as the band stood on the cusp of widespread success. But Curtis cast a long shadow, leaving behind classic songs like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Transmission,” and influencing alternative music of the 1980s and beyond. No one has felt his influence as much as other musicians and artists, and he lives on in their works. We remember Curtis with a look at some of the songs he inspired.

New Order – “Elegia”

The members of Joy Division carried on after Ian Curtis’ death, though, in a nod to their frontman’s importance, under a new name, New Order. Their 1985 album, Low-Life, featured “Elegia,” dedicated to Curtis and as an instrumental, emphasizing his absence. Many heard the song in the movie “Pretty in Pink,” having no idea that it paid tribute to Curtis.

U2 – “A Day Without Me”

Bono has been effusive in his praise of Ian Curtis, describing his voice as “holy” and calling him the best frontman of his generation. Bono wrote “A Day Without Me” upon hearing the news of Curtis’ death, and it was released just months later. Some fans, unaware of its origins, were alarmed that Bono himself might have been suicidal.

The Durutti Column – “The Missing Boy”

Fellow Mancusians and Factory Records label-mates with Joy Division, the Durutti Column paid tribute to him with “The Missing Boy” on their 1981 album, LC. A friend of Curtis, the band’s Vini Reilly sang simple but poignant lines like, “There was a boy, I almost knew him.”

Psychic TV – “I.C. Water"

Performance artist and key Psychic TV member Genesis P-Orridge considered Ian Curtis his best friend, and spoke to him on the telephone the evening that he died. “I.C. Water” was written in Curtis’ memory and released in 1990 on the 10th anniversary of his death. The cover of the single featured a drawing of Curtis, and the song includes samples of Curtis’ voice.

New Order and the Chemical Brothers– “Here To Stay”

In 2002, New Order released “Here To Stay,” produced by the Chemical Brothers, and dedicated it to the memory of their former bandmate, Ian Curtis, as well as to producer Martin Hannett, who died in 1991, and manager Rob Gretton, who died in 1999. The song was featured in the movie 24 Hour Party People, which portrayed the Manchester/Factory Records scene.

Thursday – “Ian Curtis”

The post-hardcore/emo band Thursday released “Ian Curtis” on their first album, Waiting, in 1999. The lyrics discuss listening to Joy Division and reference Curtis lyrics from songs like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Heart and Soul.”

Beyond Music

Other artists have recognized Ian Curtis’ influence as well. The first volume of James O’Barr’s graphic novel The Crow was dedicated to Curtis, as were paintings by Turner Prize-nominated painter Glenn Brown. Curtis was portrayed by Sean Harris in the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People and by Sam Riley in the 2007 biopic Control, which was based on Touching From a Distance, a memoir by Ian Curtis’ widow, Deborah Curtis.