Joy Division = Modern Art

Joy DivisionI had a recent conversation with some friends who were trying to convince me that modern art was, indeed, art. Instead of a realistic depiction of a material object, modern art represented emotions and themes, and it’s what you get from each piece – or what you bring to it while viewing it – that mattered.

Now I’m a simple guy when it comes to art. I like my pictures of flowers to actually look like flowers, people to look like people…you get the idea. I’ve never gotten modern art, with the exception of Claes Oldenburg, whom I liked because I had never seen really big hamburgers and giant saws sticking out of the ground – tee, hee!

I think I have the same approach to my music. I don’t want to study a piece of music to see what it represents, or what it doesn’t represent. I’m really not that big a fan of political songs anymore. I like songs that you can hum, songs that by the very chord structure, voicing and instrumentation can elicit emotion whether happiness, sadness or anger.

Which brings me to Joy Division.

Joy Division is one of those bands that I keep hearing about – a band that changed the face of music, one of the most important bands in the past 30 years, etc. In his fantastic book Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life, John Sellers recounts his obsession with Joy Division, observing the anniversary of lead singer Ian Curtis’ death and visiting the band’s hometown (Manchester, England). Countless books, documentaries and even tribute bands have surfaced.

According to the Music Guide argues that Joy Division “became the first band in the post-punk movement by…emphasizing not anger and energy but mood and expression, pointing ahead to the rise of melancholy alternative music in the ’80s” (Courtesy Wikipedia). Bands that can look to Joy Division as an influence include the Cure, Bauhaus, U2, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and New Order, which was formed after Curtis’ death.

So why don’t I like them?

The music is extremely somber; most people suggest not listening to a lot of Joy Division if you’re feeling down and depressed. Poor Ian Curtis sounds tone deaf at times, singing off-key with throaty vibrato. And I’m not hearing a lot of melody.

But I’m not going to give up. I’m going to try the modern art approach, reading about the band and getting some context. I’m going to listen to their albums several times to see if anything grows on me, and I’ll report back.

Who knows? I may learn something here. Maybe someday I’ll even like Led Zeppelin and the Doors.

Series NavigationJoy Division in Context >>

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