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

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