Touching from a Distance
written by Andy N (email@example.com)
© 2003 Originally published by 'Angry Left Wing Mofo' http:/uk.geocities.com/alwm2003/
Over the past 40 years or so, Rock Culture has seemed to attract the image of the tortured artist, to fast to live, too young to die. This has been reflected in the movie industry with the death of James Dean, shortly after completing his final film 'Giant' and in the music industry with the death of people like Jim Morrison from the Doors or Bon Scott from Ac/Dc. Books have been written about all three, portraying their lives as wild, exciting and thrilling. Stories about Morrison been arrested live on stage or Scott dying from his own vomit have been quoted over and over again as the ultimate in Rock Culture.
Like Kurt Cobain in the 1990's, Ian Curtis of Joy Division (who later became New Order after his death) have been lumped into this category of Rock Culture victims who died too young perhaps unfairly. Curtis's music like Cobain's death 25 years later is based around just a short catalogue of music (1979's Unknown Pleasures and 1980's Closer) of which certainly were overshadowed by his death (A fact that is proved by the fact it took New Order over 20 years to actually start featuring Joy Division in their live set) - of which stood out at their time and undoubtedly changed the face of music forever.
"Unknown Pleasures" (1979) came out in the Punk Era and took Punk further than had been previously explored. Songs like 'I remember nothing' or the chilling 'New Dawn Fades' took Punk that stage further and used that anger inwards instead out of outwards. So when Curtis would scream "A loaded gun won't set you free, so you say" - you would feel in contrast in The Sex Pistols of "F*** You" would be a scream outwards, their anger would be aimed much more deeper and much more inward.
Considering the band at the time were listing their influences as T-Rex / Marc Bolan and Early Bowie, "Unknown Pleasures" is a much more starker piece, with the Bass in places pushed to the forefront with drums that beat often like a heartbeat (It was said Martin Hannett, their production engineer once spent three days getting the drummer to record in a specific way). It was almost like the Nietzsche saying, "All instincts that do not discharge themselves outwards turn inwards." And in the process as Peter Hook, the bass player through the prompting of Hannett encouraged to hold back that little bit more and in the process released twice as much tension and power. A technique seen more recently perhaps in some of the starker works of say Nine Inch Nails.
Their second and final album "Closer" (1980) was a very different affair. Songs like 'Isolation', 'Decades' and the truly beautiful 'The Eternal' show a very different side to what was previously a very hard rocking post Punk band - instead improbably using keyboards and synths to show a much more softer, and in the case of 'The Eternal' an almost dream-like, thoughtful side to the band where Curtis would describe the passing of child-hood and adult-hood before ultimately to death.. Other lyrics like 'Isolation' and '24 Hours' certainly show a band whose inward tension through the use of the synths to some degree to show the anger and the fear that was growing to an almost unbearable climax.
Sadly Curtis killed himself shortly after the compilation of "Closer" and the single 'Love will tear us apart'. It has been debated like with Cobain over the years about the meaning to his lyrics. Like with Cobain, one can speculate forever about Ian Curtis's lyrics and the ambiguous suicidal references, but no one can know the truth. It is without doubt like 25 years later, Curtis wrote dark, broody lyrics but whether he wrote these lyrics are out of mental agony and torture (which he was un-doubtlely going through - read his Widow's story 'Touching from a Distance' by Deborah Curtis which explores this in more horrific detail) or he was capable of such enormous empathy is open to debate.
The reality behind Joy Division was like what would surface with the flood of American hardcore acts in the late 1980's like Nirvana, Mudhoney, Nine Inch Nails which would then be reflected in more day alternative rock (Take your Green Day, Radiohead etc) - at the time of "Unknown Pleasures", Curtis like the rest of Joy Division was skint, desperate and confused - a perfect combination. "Unknown Pleasures" was, unlike "Closer" was recorded in a state of considerable self-doubt, uncertainty and mounting desperation. If Joy Division had had the money say from a major record label, the magic would have been considerably diluted. They would have probably never worked with Martin Hannett, the man acclaimed their sound. The pressures that Curtis, like with Cobain could have never happened. He could have made albums well into the 1990s.
He could have played Live Aid, jammed with Bowie or The Stones or perhaps wrote songs with Morrissery, but perhaps some things are perhaps best left un-said and unspoken.
"Closer" which followed "Unknown Pleasures" was written with a very different kind of crisis in mind,
"This is the crisis I knew I had to come
Destroying the balance I'd kept.
Doubting, unsettling and turning around"
(Passover - Joy Division)
as Deborah Curtis herself said in her book "while he lived, they were equivocal, but with hindsight all was disclosed when it was too late for anything to be done. Such a sensitive composition could not have happened by accident. For me, Closer was Ian's valediction. He cajoled us, nurtured us with his promises of success. After showing us what it looked like he offered us a mere slip before he abandoned us on the precipice."
And left us wondering always, almost cut off in mid sentence.
That was the beauty with Joy Division.
Visit Joy Division at http://www.myspace.com/joydivision