Behind the Lyrics: Joy Division’s ‘She’s Lost Control’

Behind the Lyrics: Joy Division’s ‘She’s Lost Control’

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Joy Division, 1979. Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images.

We’re delving into the story behind Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control, from their genre-defining 1979 debut LP, Unknown Pleasures. 

While the members of Joy Division may have been inspired to start a band after attending a Sex Pistols concert in 1976, their sound was quite the opposite of the nihilistic three-chord thrashes of their punk peers. Led by the pensive lyrics of singer Ian Curtis, they forged a post-punk sound that was controlled and crafted, and far more foreboding for it.

At first, She’s Lost Control seems to depict a woman’s wild lifestyle spinning out of control, however, the real story was one closer to Curtis’ heart. The lyrics were inspired by his encounter with a young woman who he met while working as an Assistant Disablement Resettlement Officer in Manchester. The woman suffered from epilepsy and often had seizures whenever she came to the exchange, greatly disturbing Curtis. When she ceased attending her appointments at the centre, he initially assumed she had found a job, but later found out she had died in her sleep as a result of an epileptic seizure.

Curtis perhaps considered this a chilling premonition when, soon after, he himself was diagnosed with epilepsy; developing a paralyzing fear of dying in his sleep in the same way. 

The deep, echoing vocals, unyielding mechanical drums and clipped, chugging guitar riff mirror that sense of impending doom, while the hypnotic melody of Peter Hook’s descending bassline delivers a dreamy atmosphere, feeling much like a vision of another’s nightmare. When Curtis performed the song, his wild dancing seemed to take on the appearance of a man literally out of control, only adding another layer of panic to the song.

Watch Joy Division deliver a menacing rendition, live on the BBC’s Something Else Show in October 1979.

Joy Division | She's Lost Control [Something Else Show, 1979] 


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