As it seems, those bands capable of creating masterpieces often appear soul-possessed of and by their own music. In their live performances, we not only bask in their presence, but we share in the raw realization of their creative visions. Less often, the feeling is captured in audio or video recording, and even then not everyone sees (or misses) that beauty, or understands how deeply fulfilling the experience of direct resonance in a live performance can be. Conversely, not every band can meaningfully convey their creative experience or vision directly to an audience either.
Joy Division was firmly rooted in the former camp.
“Confusion in her eyes that says it all,
She’s lost control,
And she’s clinging to the nearest passer-by,
She’s lost control”
Formed in Salford, England in 1976, Joy Division was made up of enigmatic vocalist Ian Curtis, future frontman guitarist/keyboardist Bernard Sumner, iconic bassist Peter Hook, and drummer Stephen Morris. One of the pioneers of the post-punk movement, Sumner and Hook formed the band after attending a Sex Pistols concert together (seen as one of the most influential gigs of all time). Sumner described Pistols as a group who “destroyed the myth of being a pop star, of a musician being some kind of god that you had to worship.”
The band was originally named ‘Warsaw’ but later rebranded themselves ‘Joy Division’ after the prostitution wings of the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. A holocaust survivor’s book House of Dolls was the source of this offbeat name. (Oddly, Spandau Ballet’s name originated from World War I as a bleak description of the twitching done by shot-down Allied Forces in their last living moments when caught in barbwire after being chased and shot down by German planes using the Spandau machine gun, but I digress.) As the band’s popularity grew, Curtis’ health condition made it increasingly difficult for him to perform, occasionally experiencing seizures on stage. He died by suicide on the eve of what would have been the band’s first North American tour in May 1980, aged 23. The remaining band members would regroup under the moniker New Order and become successful throughout the next decade, blending post-punk with electronic and dance music influences. [wikipedia.org]
“And she gave away the secrets of her past,
And said, ‘I’ve lost control again’,
And heard a voice that told her when and where to act,
She said, ‘I’ve lost control again'”
“She’s Lost Control” released in 1979 on their debut album Unknown Pleasures draws primary lyrical inspiration from a young woman with whom Curtis had become acquainted through his employment as an Assistant Disablement Resettlement Officer. The woman had epilepsy and had been desperate to find employment, yet suffered seizures whenever she came to the exchange, which greatly disturbed Curtis. The song’s stark composition thereof centers upon Peter Hook’s bassline played high up on the guitar neck, and a mechanistic drum beat played by Stephen Morris. [wikipedia.org]
The main video is Officially Reimagined and despite some fans purist protestations, is of beautifully and thoroughly imaginative construction. The video portrays a young woman in a house experiencing an earthquake as she clearly becomes more and more unsettled to her husband’s dismay — an artistic allusion to an otherwise internal event (seizure). The second feature is for fans that may want to view Ian Curtis’s live performance with his modified vocal delivery and signature mechanistic dance movements that mimic and embody the epileptic’s experience (3:00) not in a derisive manner, but rather with jarringly edgy and empathetic feeling.
“And she screamed out kicking on her side,
And said, ‘I’ve lost control again’,
And seized up on the floor, I thought she’d died,
She said, ‘I’ve lost control again'”
Curtis would later relate to his wife he had been informed the woman had choked to death in her sleep as a result of an epileptic seizure. The woman’s unexpected death and Curtis’ subsequent awareness and experiences of stigma endured by individuals suffering from neurological impairments formed the lyrical inspiration for the song and consequently became one of Ian Curtis’ greatest fears. Due to this fear, he and his wife would establish a ritual whereby, upon evenings following a Joy Division gig in which Curtis did not experience an epileptic seizure, Ian would either sit in a chair and wait for an epileptic seizure to occur in his wife’s presence or lie in bed with his wife as both listened in silence, to await a change in his breathing rhythm (which would signal an impending seizure), in order that his wife could help him before he would sleep.
“And she expressed herself in many different ways,
Until she lost control again,
And walked upon the edge of no escape,
And laughed, ‘I’ve lost control again'”
5 thoughts on “Joy Division ~ She’s Lost Control ”
Ian Curtis was electrifying to watch! He had a delicate beauty, yet was almost feral in his vocal styling and physical movements.
That live video where he starts his awkward dance… I have to agree, I’ve never seen anything like it. Feral is a good description. Almost frightening but strangely beautiful too.
I listened to Joy Division so much in my teens & I still do now (I’ve reached the earlyish-30s age of listening to 99% of the things I did during my teens). I concur with your thoughts on how they convey such depth to their songs and lyrics, and they do it beautifully. The voice though, I could listen to that hauntingly provocative voice all day long.
She’s Lost Control is a favourite. Love Will Tear Us Apart is another, but it’s a double-love for me as it also featured on Donny Darko and I was obsessed with that film.
The name origin of both Joy Division & Spandau Ballet are pretty bleak and heavy, yet so few know how those names came about. I’d heard of the WW1 link for the latter but completely forgot until your post. It was Joy Division’s links to that book that caused controversy because some thought they were right-wing or were some kind of Nazi sympathisers.
As for Ian Curtis, his suicide was a painfully sad day for the music industry, let alone his family and friends. What a game-changer. And thank you for educating us on the neurological aspects here – to think of the stigma and the experience he went through back then is heartbreaking. He was only 23 when he died. A medical condition and depression are a toxic combination, even more so when the medications and awareness for such conditions were limited back then.
Thank you for this – it really made me smile and I’m pleased to have met a fellow fan!
Have you seen the movie, ‘Control’? If you haven’t, I think you’d enjoy it. It’s a very well-done biopic.
‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is a favorite as well as the movie Donnie Darko. The whole soundtrack from the film is art, but that’s my era.
A person close to me lost a newborn daughter due to epilepsy, well, due to the dosage of the drugs prescribed; so this hit a bit close. Sadly, this was before they had some proof that simple THC in small doses would’ve done a far better job of protecting her.
Anyway, the band is incredible. Though, TBH, I started with New Order and went forwards in reverse.
Nice to meet you as well, Caz.