When routine bites hard
and ambitions are low
and resentment rides high
but emotions won't grow
and we're changing our ways
taking different roads
then love, love will tear us apart again
love, love will tear us apart again
Joy Division. Divided happiness. Unknown pleasures. The greatest band that never was. The soundtrack to a million lonely teenage years in the 1980s. Existential punks with a minimalist, electronic sound. If you want all the facts, search google for them. There are some great fan sites out there so there is no need to node it all.
This is a crisis I knew had to come
Destroying the balance I'd kept
Doubting unsettling and turning around
wondering what will come next
They started playing as Warsaw, after David Bowie's Warszawa, but soon changed to a name taken from the book "House of Dolls, a pulp nightmare diary of Nazi terror."
The name Joy Division refers to the young females that the Nazis spared the gas chamber in exchange for sex-slavery. That is not ironic, but apt. Even if it was an unintentional reference, which it wasn't, there still wouldn't be any actual irony.
Where are the young men, the weight on their shoulders?
We knocked on the doors of hell's darkest chambers
Pushed to the limit we dragged ourselves in
The group was apparently inspired by hearing Punk legends the Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks play in Manchester. I don't see it. Joy division were neither extroverted nor aggressive.
The guitars snarl in foreshadowings of metal and grunge, but the basslines are bouncy and tight, the drums sound programmed, and there's even a bit of smooth synth in there. And then Ian's voice. Sad and empty. Haunted. Lyrically, he couldn't be further from the Sex Pistols. It is likely that they were inspired not only by the musical style, but by all that raw punk energy, by the notion that you didn’t have to be a rockstar to get up on stage and tell it like it is. To do what you had to.
Mother I tried please believe me
I'm doing the best that I can
I'm ashamed of the things I've been put through
I'm ashamed of the person I am
Isolation, Isolation, Isolation
But if you could just see the beauty
these things I could never describe
Joy Division were formed in Manchester around 1978, with a lineup of Ian Curtis (singer), Bernard (Barney) Sumner (AKA Bernard Dicken, Bernard Albrecht) (guitars), Peter Hook (bass), and Stephen Morris (drums).
At the beginning, Ian Curtis is still, singing as if with infinite patience. Then, as the group hit the instrumental break, it's as though a switch has been flipped: the stillness suddenly cracks into violent movement. The running joke is that he does the 'dead fly' dance – the leg and arm spasms of a dying insect – but he is more controlled than that. As the limbs start flying in semicircular, hypnotic curve you can’t take your eyes off him for a moment.
Then you realise: he's trying to get out of his skin, out of all of this, and he's trying harder than anyone you’ve ever seen. This is extraordinary: most performers keep a reserve while they're on stage: only giving a part of themselves away. Ian Curtis is holding nothing back: with the musicians behind him every inch of the way, he's jumping off the cliff.
Ian Curtis was diagnosed as an epileptic in January 1979. His fits could be brought on by the strobe lighting used in clubs. Legend says that he had fits on stage and no one noticed, because he danced like that anyway. Other sources merely say that he had a fit on stage in early April 1980.
They put him on heavy tranquilisers: the doctor told him the only way he could minimise the risk was by leading a normal regular life, which by that time wasn't something that he wanted to do. He liked to jump around on stage, and to get pissed; it was one of the reasons he got into the band in the first place.
Confusion in her eyes that says it all
She's lost control
And she's clinging to the nearest passer-by
She's lost control
And she screamed out, kicking on her side and said
I've lost control again
And seized up on the floor - I thought she'd die - she said
I've lost control again
On the brink of great success, a few months after recording their finest work, Love will tear us apart, with his marriage failing, uncertain if he would be able to continue to perform on stage, on the eve of the band's first American tour, on May 18, 1980, at 23 years of age, Ian Curtis hanged himself.
Existence well what does it matter
I exist on the best terms I can
the past is now part of my future
The present is well out of hand
The agreement in the band was that if anyone left it, the band would not continue with the same name. The other band members formed the group New Order.
Unknown pleasures: 1979
Substance (1977-1980) (double CD compilation)
The Peel Sessions Recorded 1979, released 1980
Permanent: 1995 This was a retrospective compilation cashing in on the movie The Crow, which included a cover of Dead Souls by Nine Inch Nails. It sports an ugly bright yellow and green sleeve.
Heart and soul: 4 CD boxed set 1997
And many bootlegs and live recordings.
http://www.warren.org.uk/music/joyd.html, the booklet that comes with the Heart and Soul boxed set and my misspent youth.
Lyrics by Ian Curtis.