Sunday, February 27, 2011

wherefore Joy Division? or, why I am prepared to devote my life to writing about a band

The first time I ever heard Joy Division was in a tiny kitchen in a tiny apartment in Rome.  I was doing a study abroad at the time and my (very cool) room mate had just received a cd in the mail from a close friend back in Utah.  Back then we still listened to cds, and because supply was limited, we made each other lots of mixed cds. It was 2004 and not only was it the first time I'd heard Joy Division, it was also the first time I'd seen an ipod. I'm glad I lived at a time when acquiring music was so difficult and such a special event. I only brought about 10 discs with me, and I listened to theses over and over, so it was a huge treat to get more cds in the mail.  I remember my friend being very excited about these particular albums, and we all sat around the table listening to them one evening.  It was probably raining outside, and we were probably eating crepes with nutella.

The only song I recognized by Joy Division was "Love Will Tear Us Apart", but the rest was completely new to me.  My friend told us the story of Ian Curtis, how he had epilepsy and had killed himself when he was 23, and how the band had turned into New Order.  I didn't quite get Joy Division at the time, or why my friend was so moved by the songs and so excited about them, but I did know that there was something there, something worth further exploration. Apart from when my friend would play the cds in the kitchen, I didn't listen to Joy Division much until I came back from Rome and somehow acquired their entire discography, probably from my little sister.

Joy Division is a band that never stops giving.  I became really interested in punk in 2005; I listened to the Sex Pistols all of the time and I did my final project for a class on the carnivalesque in punk culture, and I remember when I realized that Joy Division had been a punk band called Warsaw before they were Joy Division, before they were New Order.  I'm telling you, this BLEW my mind.  How could New Order be so directly connected to punk?  What were all of the other connections to punk that I didn't know about?  It turns out, a lot.

In 2007 the film Control came out.  Control is a black and white biopic about Joy Division based on the book Ian Curtis's wife wrote.  I don't remember when or where I first watched it, but I remember crying and I remember how beautiful the film was.  In the October 2008 I was in bit of a car accident and my sister's friend wanted to buy me a movie to watch while I was home recovering.  I requested Control, which might not have been the best film to watch as I healed, since I was feeling quite down at the time, but it did help me, the beauty and the music and everything about it that I loved.

And so for the last few years I've been listening casually to Joy Division, loving their music and their story and their fascinating place in music history.  When I couldn't think of a topic to write about for my last class my professor directed me to the book Gothic which has articles about contemporary gothic in art, literature, music, etc.  In is there was an article about Goth music and culture in the 80s and the author wrote that Joy Division was what Goth could have become.  This really struck me, making it sound as if this band was something that could have happened, could have had a major impact on the world, but some how stopped.  Their understated and restrained style didn't fit in 100% with the Goth aesthetic and so it passed them up in the end.  Goth is never going away, and it used to be quite mainstream in the 80s and 90s, but it's gone a lot more underground recently, in my experience anyway.  But Joy Division has surged in popularity.  My friend in 2004 who loved them was not a Goth and was not unlike a lot of young people who were really in tune with what was happening musically.  This girl knew what was going on, and Joy Division was taking a very strong hold on my generation, 25 years after Ian Curtis killed himself. From what I know about popular culture, which I feel confident enough that I have a good idea of what's happening right now, Joy Division is what Goth has become, in a manner of speaking.  A working class, restrained melancholy, timeless music that influenced some of our huge indie bands in 21st century, a very cool and understated style that spoke to a  post 9/11 generation, in short everything that Joy Division embodied is what is happening right now.

And so I wrote my melancholy paper on Joy Division, on the myth surrounding them, and on the culture that influenced them and that exists now because of them.  I loved researching it, I loved writing it, and I'm going to turn it into a book, because I have so much more to say about it.

I turned the paper in last Thursday and I thought that I would just be sick of listening to their music since that's the only thing I've listened to in the last two weeks.  But I can't stop.  When I put on Unknown Pleasures I am just giddy and in awe and in love with every song and how it surges and the strange tones and sounds that come from it, and Ian Curtis's voice and words and it's just everything that I want in listening to an album.

Like I said, Joy Division is a band that keeps on giving.  I will continue to research them, continue to read about them, continue to listen to their music, and I know that I'll keep learning and loving them more and more as I do so.  I'll post a PDF of my paper soon if you're interested in reading it.  In the meantime, here are a couple of videos for you to enjoy. :)

(there are some F-words in this video)

When they were a punk band called Warsaw

getting back into the swing of things

It's been over two weeks since I last blogged, which is no good.  When I don't blog it means several things: I'm too busy, I'm too tired, and I'm not doing anything interesting.  This was all true in the last two weeks.  I had a paper due on the 24th so I basically checked out of the living world and set myself up a home in the BL (my very cool nickname for the British Library).  I didn't do anything but research.  I didn't take any interesting walks, I didn't go to to any museums or concerts.  I never hung out with any people.  In fact I went for least 4 days in a row without speaking to anyone but the librarians.

A few things about the BL. After being in there every day you start noticing the regulars.  One is a man dressed all in black with a black fedora and a spaghetti mustache (I'm sure they're not called that, but you know what I mean).  He has a very elaborate set up and even finds a big black office chair from somewhere.  On some days he has stacks of books about guitars, and on other days he has stacks of books about the mafia.  I think he's the official historian for the mafia, but that doesn't really explain the guitars.

My favorite librarian is a very tall, thin man with long grey hair, a funny little accent and an amused grin on his face at all times.  He's Dracula.  Count Dracula made it to England, set himself up and works at the British Library. He's my favorite librarian.

Also, there's another J. Stokes in the library and I keep getting their books.  I wonder if they get mine and what they think of me when they have to send back 21st Century Goths and Famous Suicides.  

I'm going to make a separate blog post about the research I've been doing lately, but I will say it has been incredibly fun.  I have yet to find a topic that is so engrossing for me, and I'm considering expanding my last essay into the larger project I have due at the end of summer.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

under slate-gray Victorian sky, here you'll find my heart and I

I haven't been feeling my best these last few days, emotionally or physically. I still managed to get some nice walks in, despite the lack of sleep and the moping. I seriously have been mopey, like wandering in the rain listening to Morrissey kind of mopey. It's ok, you can laugh at me. I know I'm dramatic.  I almost feel compelled to walk now, especially knowing how hard my sister is working to get ready for our long hike this summer.  I feel my best when I'm walking, even if it is gloomy walking in the rain, it feels better than sitting at home feeling gloomy.

London is the best place for gloomy walks, too.  Yesterday I walked north, not knowing what I'd expect to find.  The area, Camden and St. Pancras, is relatively new compared to the places I had been walking in the City earlier this week.  The buildings are all newer, and the oldest ones I saw where Victorian.  I walked past this great, very old, mortuary: Leverton & Sons, since 1782, it said on the window.  That's right when burying people became a viable business.  A lot of people began to be buried outside of church yards in the late 18th century because of overcrowding.  There's a Georgian cemetery by my house that I've blogged about before that was the first cemetery in London not in a church yard.  It took a lot of years for people to get used to the idea since their ancestors had been buried next to, or under, a church for the last thousand years.  Also, the Victorians really loved a show when it came to funerals, so these "funeral directors" were quite important and ended up making a lot of money.

Speaking of cemeteries and church yards, I discovered the loveliest little church on my walk.  It's the Old St. Pancras church and has been there since around 300 AD, or at least some form of the building.  It was set quite far outside the city in a lovely little field next to the River Fleet, which the Victorians filled up and made into a road.  Those Victorians really drive me crazy.  They had their meddling little fingers in everything.

Anyway, the most interesting part of the church was the cemetery and the most interesting part of the cemetery is what they call the Hardy Tree.  The novelist and poet Thomas Hardy didn't become a writer until late in his life, and when he was a young man he worked for an architectural firm.  They were putting in the railway that would lead to St. Pancras train station, and needed to go through part of the St. Pancras church yard, so Hardy was given the task of exhuming and reburying all of the bodies in the church yard.  This was a lot of bodies.  I don't think people realize how full church yards got.  They would literally be overfilled with bodies, there were more people than dirt, and this is why they started trying to promote cemeteries outside the city in the last 18th century.  There just wasn't enough space.  So, Hardy was in charge of moving all these bodies, and then he had all of the head stones to contend with, which because of the lovely English weather had been corroded beyond recognition.  There was no point in trying to keep them with the bodies, so he stacked them around this tree.

You can see the Old St. Pancras church behind the Hardy Tree.  It's tiny.  I just loved this little area, and I was surprised at how large the church yard still is. You can definitely imagine what it would have been like out in a field by a rushing river.  Just beautiful, and the perfect gloomy walk.

btw, the title of my post comes from the deliciously melancholic song called "Come Back to Camden" which I just love listening to when walking through Camden.  You must watch this video.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

the wall

The history geek in me took over my body today and spent three hours tracing the ancient Roman wall of Londinium.  I love the word Londinium. It sounds like I made it up, but I didn't.  That's what the Romans called it.  They came here in 43 AD and stuck around until 400 AD or so, and they didn't even build a wall until around 200 AD.  Some say that they don't really know why the Romans decided that they needed to build a wall.  I think it must have been that they were Romans and Romans need to build massive things.

It was originally 20 feet high and 2 miles in length, and it did end up being useful to raise money since most of the gates were tolled gates.  Most of the wall is gone now, except for little bits, but it didn't get torn down until the 17th and 18th centuries, and a lot of it simply got absorbed into buildings, or used as foundation, and in most spots it's buried 15 feet under the road.  After the blitz in 1940 a lot of the west side of the wall became visible, and all of the awful rebuilding they did in the 1960s (Barbican...ugh) was done around the exposed wall.  I bet they just loved building super modern ugly buildings next to those ancient ruins.  I bet they thought it was a really powerful contrast.  It's kind of funny now that some of those areas seem to be falling themselves into a bit of a ruinous state.

It was a bit tricky to find all the parts of it.  I had to use a walking tour podcast that I didn't really care too much for because it took way too long to do, and a lot of times the guy just read off the plaques that were right in front of me.  But, now I know where to go to find the wall, and I hope I can show other people because it really is a neat thing to see.

Now, ruins trouble me a bit.  I remember when I first saw the Forum in Rome and hating it.  I couldn't see the point a bone yard in a beautiful vibrant living city.  I've since learned that the hot, empty boneyard of the Forum used to be a mosquito infested swamp with some grassy areas where cows lived.  And the horrid bare Colosseum was up until the late 19th century covered in hundreds of plants that weren't found any where else in Italy and had likely been transported there by all of the wild animals they brought from throughout the empire to slaughter.  It used to be a place where poets and lovers would wander and explore and bring picnics.  It's a shame those ruins don't have the same wildness to them anymore.

Another reason why ruins trouble me is because I think I always just took them for granted.  They were there in and of themselves.  I never thought of them actually becoming ruinous, or if I did it was in a romantic sort of decay.  It bothers me when I find out their actual histories.  Rome's Colosseum and Forum became stone quarries, the Parthenon was blown up by accident in the 17th century, the Roman wall in London was fully intact until the 19th century, when they decided to just tear it all down to make room for more buildings.

Although discovering these facts bothers me a little, in reality, I love that cities adapt, get rid of the things they don't need, recycle and reuse building materials.  That's a living city, and I think that's why I found the Forum in Rome so bothersome.  The bone yard, the sepulcher, is out of place there.

I'm glad I went out today to look at this. It is a fun walk, but my favorite part was not actually the wall. I promise to blog about that tomorrow.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

nice day for a walk in the dark

Lord Nelson and Big Ben
I love to walk. (I've blogged about it before) Well, I have more of a love/hate relationship with walking, similar to that of my love/hate relationship with reading.  In both cases I hate how annoyingly slow it is; isn't better to watch a movie or fly down the road?  I guess in many ways it is, but I think being forced to take things slowly opens up a whole world of thought, introspection, and experiences that you never would have thought you could have.  That's why, even though I hate it, I'll spend two or three weeks reading a novel or force myself to walk a couple of miles when it would be infinitely easier to get on the tube.

On my way to the British Library the other day the sun was out and the sky was a remarkable blue, especially with the red brick against it.  
Walking forces me to look at things, not just glance at them.  I think I like glancing at things.  That's how I go to museums, I walk quickly through them and feel an odd sense of accomplishment if I've only spent an hour or so and seen all there was to see. (This is why I really need to visit museums more than once).
I went to the National Gallery the other day and took this picture before they yelled at me.  I loved the entrance and the little dome. 
I also like to do that when I shop; I size up the store, have an idea of what's in it, and then go back to the things I want to look  at.  When I am forced to look at things they start to become more interesting.  They aren't just shapes and colors.

I walked past the Burlington Arcade by Piccadilly Circus last night after it closed and it was so ghostly to see it empty with all the lights still on. 
Walking forces me to spend more time with me.  I love listening to books on tape when I walk because walking focuses my mind, but I also like to just spend time with me.  I think about who I am and what I want and where I want to go.  I address issues or insecurities I've been having.

I walk past these buildings on Marchmont Street every day.
So I've made a huge decision.  I'm going to keep walking, but I'm going to take it to a bit of an extreme.  I have a goal to go on two long distance walks this summer.  One is the Coleridge Way in Exmoor where he used to wander about.  It's 36 miles long, but you do it it 4 days.  I'm trying to get my sister to come with me. I think it will be magical.  The other walk is 70 miles through the Scotland Highlands.  Maybe this is madness, but I know that it would be an experience of a life time, plus I don't want to visit Scotland and just stay in the cities. If I go up there I want to be outdoors and hiking across mountains.  I love living in London, but I don't really want to visit cities anymore.  I don't care about museums and buildings.  I want sky and rocks.

So, in order to get ready for these trips I'm going to save my money as best as I can (and good news this week I got the rest of my loan so I actually have a little bit right now) and start doing long distance walks around London.  There are actually a few "trails" set up called The Big Seven and I'm making it a goal to do all of them.  One is actually 150 miles in total, but you take it by 8 miles or so in 24 increments, and it loops around the whole of London metropolis.  It's actually called LOOP (London Outer Orbital Path)

I'm really excited about this. I'm excited to walk and see everything. My first long walk will be a 6 mile walk through London tracing the  routes outlined in Virginia Woolf's novel Night and Day which I just finished reading.  Walking is a major theme in that novel, and most of the events happen when the characters are walking by the river.  I've been to most of the places in the novel, but I think it would be good to make a morning of it and stop by the Tate Britain since I haven't been since last week.

 St. Martins-in-the-Fields by Trafalgar Square.  

Friday, February 4, 2011

Emil Alzamora's Stretched Figures

I love these sculptures by Emil Alzamora, seen on Beautiful/Decay Cult of the Creative Arts. I love how they stretch and manipulate the human form to create such beautiful, and disturbing, shapes. And I love how with each one, no matter how odd the manipulation may be, the beauty of the human form shines through.