On Findig Joy Division
One of my great regets in life is not appreciating the Clash in my teens. See I had this friend Sara and she had older siblings. Her older siblings caught on once that she was into “punk” as defined by kids from my town. They turned her on to the Clash and she in turn would make me mix tapes with Clash songs. Back then, I didn’t really get into it too much. I don’t think I really knew what to do with it and besides, like most teens, I was fairly narrow minded. So I never really pursued the only band that ever mattered until I was nearly out of College. Granted that was only a few short years, but I wonder how much different my life might have been had I headed the messages of Joe Strummer and Co. I might have dropped out of college like a smart person would have. But alas I didnt.
My experience with the Clash over the last ten years of my life has taught me there is a whole shit load of music I don’t know fucking dick about (Mission of Burma, Husker Du, Wire, Gang of Four come to mind) that influences a lot of the things that I listen to which, as a musician, I am ultimately influenced by. In fact two of my favorite muscians, John Fruciante and Mark Robinson are huge Joy Divison fans and I had never really gotten around to listening to this band.
To be honest, about three years ago I bought Substance 1977-1980. But the compilation was hard to swallow. The songs were so divergent and the sequencing was a mess (turns out the album is not chronological – which to me is herasy). I never really could get into the music. The genius that I have recently discovered was lost on me.
About three weeks ago I got 24 Hour Party People in my netflix cue. I didn’t really know what the hell the movie was about, I just read Manchester Scene and Music and that was enough for me. From this movie a light went on. I started listening to Substance a little more and more. I devoured all the knowledge I could about Joy Division that the internet would give me. I learned about “Ceremony” and New Order. I watched archived video, heard about the Biopic being made and went crazy (almost literally) trying to hunt down copies of Unknown Pleasures and Closer (which I finally found at the used record store where I didn’t have to shell out 50 bones for the reissues). Joy Division became my new obsession.
They were, simply, artists. They had a vision and an unrelenting desire to create. They weren’t going to let anyone stand in their way. Like their contemporary punks, they were raw and visceral, even at their most delicate, but they broke out of any kind of pre-dsiposed mold (like many English Bands from that era) and experimented with pop, synthisizers and melody. They had a central figue in the poet Ian Curtis (who’s death it appers has overshadowed the actual music) who spoke a language that was frigtening and personal. Even at his most primative in songs like “Digital” Curtis could work the inner anxiety of the human experience into blistering and poignant fury.
As the band continued on past the singles, they made two very dark, brooding albums. Apart from Curtis’s violent death at his own hands the bleak quality of Joy Division was unlike anything in rock’s relatively short history. It is a tone that has been envied, copied and longed for by many, with only a few really succeding in captturing the depth (Robert Smith of the Cure and Geoff Rickley of Thursday come to mind). Both Psychotic and Depressed, Joy Division is a fucking scary band. No death metal band I’ve ever heard has ever come close to the horrific emptiness of Joy Division in my opinion.
Despite all the despair and darkness though, the music is energizing. The late Martin Hannet must be commended on capturing this band on electromagnetic tape. He brings life to an aesthetic that could have easily been very bleak. The music breaths from the speakers in a way that music just doesn’t really do these days (because music is processed, and not recorded anymore). On “Novelty” for instance, you can hear the air being moved my the sticks agains the snare and the guitar presses through as it it’s in a hallway. It’s like your sitting on the kick drum and the rest of the band is outside, playing along. Knowing the little I know about Hannet that was probably the case. Today’s rock power cocks could learn something about how music is suppsed to sound by revisiting Joy Division.
Ultimately it’s clear I missed out for a long time by not having this music in my life. I mean in a way I have because of what I listened to. It’s been a discovery in a way bringing a great understanding to the music I listen to. I can’t help think that Sonic Youth was grooving on this music when they recorded their first EP, and I can see where Unrest got some of it’s cues (though from the sound of it New Order had a lot more direct influence on Mr. Robinson). At 30 years of age, coming across a classic band like this now has been even more of an eye opener for me, serving as a reminder that I must be open to everything and check out as much stuff as I possibly can.