"Love Will Tear Us Apart" is perhaps the most well known song from British post-punk band Joy Division. Front man Ian Curtis wrote the song sometime in September of 1979. It is believed that the song's lyrical content captures Ian's marital problems and general state of mind leading into his suicide in May of 1980.
The song became the band's highest charting single following Curtis' death - peaking at #13 on the U.K. charts (and it likely would have charted higher had it not been for the chaos in the British music industry at the time) and debuting at #1 in New Zealand a little over one year following Ian's death. It has been re-released numerous times over the years and was named the best single of all-time according to the magazine NME. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song at #179 in their countdown of the Top 500 Songs of All Time. The song has been used in countless television programs and movies such as 2001's Donnie Darko. A myriad of bands ranging from The Cure, Swans, Fall Out Boy, Jose Gonzales, U2, Arcade Fire, Squarepusher, Simple Minds, Nick Cave, and Paul Young have covered the song.
The song's lyrics cover many of the trials and tribulations that Curtis was suffering through prior to his suicide. Curtis came up with the song's title as a sarcastic response to Captain & Tennille's hit "Love Will Keep Us Together." But the song obviously grew into something deeply personal for him. The song's primary focus is his troubled relationship with his wife, his teenage love, Debbie. Curtis was not faithful to his wife while touring with Joy Division. Debbie remained at home with their child and Ian had an affair with a Belgian woman by the name of Annik Honore. Ian fell in love with Annik and the affair weighed heavily on him.
The lyrics describe a love that was once strong but has undergone some deep and apparently irreconcilable divisions. There is some speculation that the verse, "Get a taste in my mouth as desperation takes hold" is a reference to the epileptic seizures that Curtis was also suffering with at the time. Seizure sufferers commonly experience an odd taste in their mouth prior to an episode.
The story of Ian and Debbie Curtis is captured in the 2007 movie, "Control," a film about Ian's life. Debbie Curtis had the words "Love Will Tear Us Apart" inscribed on Ian's gravestone.
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