Last week, I announced the beginning of a new project: To start liking Joy Division (or at least figure out why people like them). So far, I’ve watched several documentaries on YouTube about them (they even have a full-length motion picture about them!) and read some biographical sketches, and I have realized something quite profound: I think I could like almost anyone given a good enough story and a scintillating “Behind the Music”-like documentary.
This happened last year with the Sex Pistols. I read England’s Dreaming, Revised Edition: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond, and then watched a couple of 30-minute bios on YouTube. Then I listened to Never Mind the Bullocks, the Sex Pistols’ first and only album, and I suddenly felt the energy and raw power that the band was known for. I got them. I even liked the music.
Joy Division seems to be similar. Ian Curtis, like Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, was a character out of control, clearly affected by epilepsy, drugs and marital problems; video footage of his manic, wide-eyed flailing at the microphone also shows someone despondent and just plain tired. Joy Division’s stark, industrial sound seems even more solemn when placed in the context of Curtis’ life and eventual suicide.
The band’s place in history as the creators of the post-punk/new-wave movement also help. As former manager Tony Wilson said in one of the documentaries I watched, “Punk used to say, ‘F*** off.’ Sooner or later, someone had to invent a way for it to say, ‘I’m f***ed.’ And that was Joy Division.”
So I appreciate them much more. If it weren’t for Joy Division, I might not have had the Cure to dance to. But as for the music: meh. Still not there. And Ian Curtis’ voice is still off-key. I’ll let you know if it sounds any better.