This Day in Music History – Jon Hancuff on Ian Curtis

It was on this day in 1980 that Ian Curtis, lead singer and lyricist of the British group Joy Division, committed suicide. The biggest  Joy Division fan we know is local comedian Jon Hancuff (perhaps proving the old adage that all comedians are tortured souls inside?) so we asked him to write about what Curtis meant to him.

I didn’t learn about Joy Division or Ian Curtis until several years after his death on May 18, 1980. I grew up in farm country outside of South Bend, Indiana and attended what, at best, you could refer to as a “rural” high school. The summer after my junior year (1987), my best friend starting watching (and taping) 120 Minutes on MTV every Sunday night. On Mondays I’d go to his house to watch the tape. That was my first exposure to the kind of music that pretty much ruled my life for the next 10 years. At that point it was just starting to be called “alternative.” All I knew was that I identified with what those bands and singers were saying in a way that I didn’t know was possible when I was listening to Poison, Bobby Brown, Peter Cetera and the rest of the dreck that clogged the airwaves at that time.

I was immediately drawn to The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Pixies, New Order and about a hundred other bands that didn’t get played on the radio where I was raised. We’d watch 120 Minutes and the following weekend head down to the mall to try to track down albums by the bands we’d seen.

We’d heard of Joy Division, knew of their connection to New Order, but it was several months before one of their videos was aired—Anton Corbijn’s vision of “Atomosphere.” After hearing the relative slickness of New Order, Joy Division was a shock—not bouncy or poppy—Ian’s vocals were dirge-like, the drums muffled, the bass thick. But there was a claustrophobia, introspection and yearning that I instantly recognized.

I bought Substance the next weekend and didn’t stop listening to it for weeks. At that point in my life it was the right mix of gloomy, angry, arty and raw. I included “Love Will Tear Us Apart” on an embarrassing number of mix tapes, shouted along with “Warsaw” and “Transmission” when I wanted to piss off my parents, tried to decipher “Autosuggestion” and wallowed in the hopelessness of “She’s Lost Control.” And yes, like any other “depressed” teen, I was fascinated by Ian’s suicide.

Since then I’ve dug deeper into their catalogue, seen the movies and documentaries and read countless articles. His lyrics could be pretentious and he probably wasn’t a model husband and father—but the 17-year-old in me still reveres him for helping me through high school and the 41-year-old I am now is eternally grateful for having had Joy Division to turn to for the last 24 years.

Jon Hancuff is a Bloomington, IN based stand-up comedian and actually has an Ian Curtis joke – we recommend you check him out in the 3rd Annual Bloomington Comedy Festival, June 1st at The Comedy Attic.  Below are his favorite Joy Division videos from ye olde YouTube.

3 Comments to “This Day in Music History – Jon Hancuff on Ian Curtis”

  1. Good article. I become aware of Joy Division in high school too. I was browsing my local record store when an intense college student randomly came up to me and urged me to buy “Unknown Pleasures.”

  2. I wonder how many of us were changed by exposure to 120 Minutes. When my family finally got cable in ’91 or so, it quickly became my go-to source for music. I fully blame seeing the Judybats “Native Son” on the first episode I ever watched with my current musical predlections.

  3. I just wanted to also chime in that very similarly, I had to watch 120 Minutes the following week on VHS tape, from my friend who lived in the city and actually had cable. He would tape Headbanger’s Ball and 120 Minutes and slowly I moved from looking forward to the HB segments and being confused by the 120M ones, to fast forwarding through HB to get to the 120M parts. And hell yes on the Judybats!

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