“What is your favorite song?” That is one of the most common go-to questions for a person who is in the process of getting to know someone new. It is also a question dancers and party-goers often pose to the DJ. I’m not only a social person, I’m a DJ; this means I hear that question all the time.
It is a very difficult question for me to answer, but I can narrow it down to three songs. If pressed, I’ll say “Disco 2000″ by Pulp is my single favorite song, but whenever possible I respond with a three-way tie between that song, “The Drowners” by Suede, and this song:
First, a quick music history lesson. Joy Division, though not very well-known today, was one of the bigger bands in the post-punk era. Though they only existed for about four years, their influence on today’s music is massive; they are without doubt one of the most influential bands of the modern era. They disbanded after the suicide of Ian Curtis, the lead singer. The remaining three members mourned, then reformed as New Order.
When the routine bites hard
And ambitions are low
And the 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
The lyrics evoke desperation, loss, pain, defeat– all the things Joy Division has since come to represent. It is impossible for me to separate the tragedy portrayed in the song from the tragedy that ensued, and maybe that is as it ought to be. Ian Curtis left his suicide note for the entire world to hear over the strains of an upbeat, impossibly catchy synth-pop song.
Why is the bedroom so cold
Turned away on your side?
Is my timing that flawed,
Our respect run so dry?
Yet there’s still this appeal
That we’ve kept through our lives
Love, love will tear us apart again
As great as they were, and as impeccable as their body of work is, “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” their final single, reminds the listener that Joy Division had yet to peak as a band. Their best was almost certainly yet to come, and Curtis’ tragic death robbed the world of whatever that music would have been.
In retrospect, the song is obviously autobiographical. The lyrics reflect the marital strife between Curtis and his wife and, sadly again retrospectively, offer up a plea for help from a man on the verge of his demise. It is that demise that imbues this song with the off-the-charts level of pain it continues to arouse in listeners more than two decades later. Curtis’ pain was real, not contrived in an attempt to sell records. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is his enduring legacy; it is inscribed on the headstone at his grave.
As an aside, although they are well-known among musicians and fans of post-punk new wave music, hardly anyone in the ‘mainstream’ knows about Joy Division; meanwhile, nearly everyone in that same ‘mainstream’ is aware of their later incarnation, New Order. When I first began DJing parties, I tried to incorporate Joy Division into my sets. Amazingly, at least to me, it nearly always clears the dance floor. Meanwhile, New Order songs like “Bizarre Love Triangle” elevate everyone to a state of dance-happy frenzy. While I should expect and accept that the masses are oblivious to what at least I consider to be the better of the two bands, I can’t help but be bothered by this fact.
Curiosity has the better of me– quick show of hands, who here is familiar with which band? Try to do more than chime in with a “me,” and instead let me know if you are know only Joy Division, only New Order, or both.
Do you cry out in your sleep
All my failings expose?
Get a taste in my mouth
As desperation takes hold
Is it something so good
Just can’t function no more?
When love, love will tear us apart again