It’s often said that life imitates art, and that theory certainly rings true where Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control is concerned. Though never released as a single A-side in its own right, this stark post-punk classic has long since taken its place among the best Joy Division songs, and it still has the power to startle: its metronomic backdrop immediately draws the listener in, providing the bedrock for Ian Curtis to lay his soul bare with lyrics which were all too personal.
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“That must have been terrifying for Ian to discover”
“Ian was apparently moved to write the lyric after an incident at his work [as a civil servant] with the Macclesfield employment exchange,” bassist Peter Hook wrote in his memoir Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. “It’s about a young lady with epilepsy who was having problems finding and keeping a job who Ian had been helping. She eventually died after suffering a seizure. That must have been terrifying for Ian to discover.”
Curtis was, indeed, shaken by his client’s death – not least because the Joy Division vocalist had himself been diagnosed with epilepsy. For many sufferers, the condition can develop early in life, but for Curtis it didn’t afflict him until he was 22. As Anton Corbijn’s biopic Joy Division biopic, Control, all too realistically depicts, Curtis suffered a violent seizure when Joy Division were returning to Manchester from their first London gig, in December 1978 – and, from then on, epilepsy dogged him until his death in May 1980.
In the short term, however, these two painful events inspired something transcendent. The young woman’s unexpected passing, and Curtis’ subsequent awareness and experiences of the stigma endured by himself and other individuals suffering from similar neurological impairments, inspired his heartfelt lyrics for She’s Lost Control.