Joy Division and Ian Curtis: Background information when reading Ghost Month

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Ghost Month

by Ed Lin

Ghost Month by Ed Lin X
Ghost Month by Ed Lin
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2014, 336 pages
    Jun 2015, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Linda Hitchcock
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About this Book

Joy Division and Ian Curtis

This article relates to Ghost Month

Print Review

Joy DivisionThe pairing of Ghost Month, a mesmerizing mystery set in contemporary Taiwan, with an introduction to the resolutely non-mainstream late seventies, post-punk English band Joy Division might seem unusual. However, Joy Division's gloomy, abjective music forms the weft interlaced throughout Ed Lin's fine novel. Despondent protagonist Jing-nan is obsessive about the band's music, whose lyrics were composed and performed by lead singer Ian Curtis.

Curtis — and his bandmates' — childhood in 1950s Manchester was bleak. Much of the city center had been heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe and had not yet been rebuilt. Buildings were grimy and tumbledown, the ancient sewer system was crumbling, and unemployment was rife with manufacturing factories closed and jobs at the port in steep decline. Habitually gray skies heightened the gloom and despair.

Fast forward to the '70s. Curtis and crew were just hitting their twenties.The emerging music reflected the tenor of anger and despondency. A musical sub-culture fomented by youthful rebellion and a rejection of mainstream spurred the growth of punk. Forerunners like The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Damned in England began as local garage bands. The Sex Pistols performance at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester on June 4, 1976 is credited with the immediate inception of two bands, The Buzzcocks and Joy Division. Not unlike four lads from Liverpool who formed a band sixteen years earlier, three young blokes were inspired to say, "Let's start a band." They were co-founders Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner, Ian Curtis (lead singer and songwriter), and Stephen Morris. The group caught the attention of influential Tony Wilson, a journalist, budding impresario, Manchester television host and co-founder of Factory Records. Wilson released their first full album Unknown Pleasures on his own independent label Factory Records in 1979 to critical acclaim. Their brief tour of the continent marked a turning point for the band.

An Ideal For Living coverThe name Joy Division was taken from a Holocaust novel House of Dolls about sex slaves in Concentration Camps. The band had a penchant for startling imagery: The controversial artwork on the cover of their self-produced album, An Ideal for Living, displays a Hitler Youth and another Nazi image on the inner sleeve. Their music video of Atmosphere has people attired in hooded Ku Klux Klan robes, one group clad in white, the other in black. But despite the fascist visual overtones, the band is not associated with the ideology. Ian Curtis was said to have been influenced in his writing by Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, and William S. Burroughs and in music by Jim Morrison, Lou Reed, David Bowie and Iggy Pop.

An Ideal For Living cover take 2Curtis was subject to mood swings and depression, worsened when adult onset severe epilepsy was diagnosed. He was prescribed a myriad of prescription drugs and cautioned to get adequate sleep, eat properly, avoid noise and flashing lights. He began to suffer grand mal seizures and some live sets were marred by their occurrence. On May 19, 1980, on the cusp of fame and the very eve of their first American tour, Ian Curtis hung himself in the flat he had shared with his wife and child.

Ian CurtisInterest in Joy Division soared and has continued to grow. Their final album Closer, with the hit single "Love Will Tear Us Apart," was released posthumously. For a band that made two albums and a handful of singles, a look at the extensive catalog listing of CDs, vinyl and digital music available of their recordings – subsequent remasterings and live recordings - staggers the imagination. Their music has been used in many film and television soundtracks as cited on IMDB, the internet movie database. There are several books about Ian and the band including Touching from a Distance (2007) by his widow Deborah Curtis, and Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division (2013), a foul mouthed and funny memoir by bassist Peter Hook.

Video clips of Ian Curtis and the band proliferate on You Tube and a plethora of films document the short life of the band. There are several fan-sourced websites devoted to the band.

Here is a video of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart":

Photograph of Joy Division (from left: Morris, Hook, Curtis, Sumner), courtesy of Opio
Joy Division's cover for "An Ideal For Living", courtesy of Stormwatch
In an effort to distance themselves from perceived Nazi overtones of the first album cover, a remake of Joy Division's cover for "An Ideal For Living", courtesy of Pmussler
Photograph of Ian Curtis, courtesy of Honeyed Heaven.

Filed under Music and the Arts

Article by Linda Hitchcock

This "beyond the book article" relates to Ghost Month. It originally ran in September 2014 and has been updated for the June 2015 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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