Joy, Division

k-punk on Joy Division:

It’s important to hold onto both of these Joy Divisions – the Joy Division of Pure Art, and the Joy Division who were ‘just a laff’ – at once. For if the truth of Joy Division is that they were Lads, then Joy Division must also be the truth of Laddism.

It’s a good artlcle, but there are another two Joy Divisions – is there a term for this particular rhetorical strategy, of splitting a thing into two antithetical versions, and then saying “hah! flipsides of the same coin!”? – anyway, there are Joy Division the Most Important Band Ever, the one that gets reverential Mojo issues and long theory-laden blog posts devoted to it, and there’s also Joy Division the Band Sad Teenagers Listened To In Their Bedrooms, the one fans will make self-deprecating jokes about (Smiths fans do this a lot too) concerning their spotty angst-ridden phase, the target of Ian Curtis jokes etc.

And (here comes the flipsides thing) they were a really good band but they also had some awful, stagey moments. I never liked “She’s Lost Control” and “Shadowplay” has that ridiculous line about assassins dancing on the floor.

In summary, when I first listened to my copy of Unknown Pleasures I misheard the opening line of ‘Disorder’ as “I’ve been waiting for a guy to come and take me by the hand”, making it much more like a Lou Reed song, and all the better for it.

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5 responses to “Joy, Division

  1. “the one fans will make self-deprecating jokes about (Smiths fans do this a lot too) concerning their spotty angst-ridden phase”

    You’re making good points. My enjoyment of the Smiths (as a spotty teenager – I was totally obsessed with them between about 16 and 20) was something experiential, where I related to the emotions expressed by the music.

    I’d still assert that Morrissey’s main strength as a songwriter is his ability to appeal to the lesser emotions that characterise utterly quotidian life, elevating them instead of the emotions of high drama: love, revenge, deep depression etc., as (almost) every other lyricist does.

    Whereas Joy Division were only something that I was vaguely aware of during high school and came to later, around about the same time as the heat of my Smiths-ardour was dying away, and although I enjoy their music quite a bit, it’s a totally forensic matter. It doesn’t really move me much, in fact I usually listen to it while I’m doing the chores.

    I agree with that bit of received wisdom about Martin Hannett deserving a huge proportion of the praise they garner, as well. Seems to be quite hard to replicate their method successfully, and it’s not as if the world’s short of people trying.

  2. I discovered JD in around 84/85 – when I was 14 or thereabouts, just after I’d come across Ballard in a council library. Because of this, I find their imagery less impressive now. I know all too well how the cosmic/historical/existential despair routine – like a Ballard character’s “failure to accept the basic conditions of our space-time continuum” or what-have-you – can function as a form of escapism, turning one’s personal (humiliatingly mundane, feeble, spotty) angst into something grand and bleak, and therefore less embarrassing.

    So when I hear Ian channelling the old atrocity exhibition on, say, ‘Dead Souls’ I’m more impressed by the music (including Hannett’s production) than the lyrics, which I found a bit forced even back then.

    But Morrissey still gets to me, because he doesn’t use that particular evasion tactic. “Oh, I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was terrible.”

  3. Could you clarify your last paragraph? I’m having trouble interpreting “gets to me” …

    Oddly enough, although the connections between JD and Ballard are quite clear, I don’t think JD match the Ballardian aesthetic much at all. Or the Gothic aesthetic (vast landscape as character, and so on) either, particularly, although that k-punk article mentions JD as being the genuine Goths of the post-punk era unlike The Cure, or Bauhaus.

    I’ve always quite liked Bauhaus — and I’m a little tired of people casually dismissing them — they were an innovative band despite being incredibly silly. The live collection “Press The Eject And Give Me The Tape” is a favourite record of mine, since the impact of their music isn’t as attenuated during those concert performances as it is on their studio recordings. Now if only they’d been produced by Hannett!

  4. I got into Joy Division in 1979 and saw them live and it’s weird how people have adopted them through time as some doom and gloom tragedy. That’s not what JD were about and that’s not what fans of the band were like at the time.

    JD were an exciting, new band who produced the most unique sounds which stood out from the indie crowd.

    Just because Ian Curtis died didn’t somehow immediately transform everything that had gone before and change the band. It just stopped things.

    JD were amazingly loud and brilliant to dance to. That’s what we all liked at the time. Hoots.

  5. Tom: by “gets to me”, I meant that I still find Morrissey’s lyrics moving – to an extent that I don’t with most of the lyrics of JD songs (with some exceptions – ‘Transmission’ for instance)

    I think that k-punk has his own, critical-theory / lit-crit inflected definition of what’s Goth or Not, and the closer something is to expressing some sort of metaphysical terror (a la Poe or Lovecraft) the purer he will think its Gothicity is.

    I can see what you mean about JD and Ballard, though; the lyrical connections are there but there are other bands which sound more Ballardian to me (early New Order; Kraftwerk, on occasion; Scattered Order and Severed Heads; even some shoegazer bands like Ride). Possibly for me the connection is biographical – two things I was obsessed with at the same time.

    Good on you for championing Bauhaus; I don’t know their stuff that well but it’s funny how (even more than the Cure) they’ve become the butt of ha-ha-Goth jokes.

    gravemaurice: first of all can I just say ENVY!!!! and yeah, my initial response when I first heard the opening bars of ‘Disorder’ was to bop around the room.

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