Posts tagged: Post-Punk

Remembering Ian Curtis

By , May 18, 2010

I attended public school until the end of junior high, but once I hit the 9th grade, my parents enrolled me into the nearest Catholic high school. I found myself thrust into a brand new school, populated mainly by children from wealthy families, nearly all of whom had grown up together and gone through the same private school system since preschool. I was a 13-year old kid, already feeling the uncertainty and disorientation that comes with that age and the leap to high school, and I was completely out of my element. I was surrounded by kids from an utterly different background, all of whom were ensconced in long-formed cliques. I had little in common with anyone at the school, and as the school was an hour’s bus ride from my home, I didn’t even have any friends in the area to whom I could turn. I could not have been any more lost or alone.

Had my life been a Hollywood teen film, I would have accidentally befriended a popular and wealthy student who would have been enamored of my lower-class upbringing. After some humorous early false-starts, our friendship would have cemented over some exciting incident, and by the final reel, he would have introduced me into high society and I would have spent my remaining high school years enjoying friendship and popularity. I’d like to think I would have dated a cheerleader. However, as I actually dwell in the real world, I made no such friend. Instead, I drifted from one awkward false start to the next, and didn’t form close bonds with anyone; I was too athletic and tough to be a geek, but too poor and punk rock to be popular. I ended up a loner.

I cut class one day early in the school year, and ended up at a nearby record shop. At the shop, I purchased Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division’s first album. I was mesmerized by its iconic Peter Saville pulsar cover; that somber image summed up my mood so precisely that I bought the record without even being fully aware of who the band were. I carted the record around town with me for the remainder of the day, not quite sure what I had, but hoping it would live up to its promise. How could it not? Those stark, white lines radiating from the all-black background promised something foreboding and otherworldly; that night at home, I was at last able to play the record. From the opening line, I was entranced.

I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand.

I played the record over and over that night; as soon as side B finished I would flip it back over and play it from the beginning. In the voice of Ian Curtis, I had found poetry that spoke directly to my sense of isolation, and thus began a long-lasting fascination with not only the band’s music, but the singer and his life. When I learned shortly thereafter that Ian Curtis had committed suicide, the bond only grew tighter. Perhaps paradoxically, even though his lyrics were so often grim, and spoke of fear, disillusionment, and helplessness, I found something life-affirming in them. This man, who had felt so deeply the sorrows about which had sung that he had killed himself, somehow came to represent hopefulness to me. My fascination with Curtis and his music lasted well past my awkward adolescent years; just look at the title I chose for my blog.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ death. In the three decades since his departure, his influence and legend have only grown. Joy Division, a band virtually unknown when I was in high school, today enjoys huge popularity. Movies have been made about the band, and about Curtis’ life, and it would not be a stretch to say that the band today enjoys more popularity than ever before. Yet to me, Ian Curtis and Joy Division remain a very personal facet of my life. When I had nothing of substance, Ian Curtis gave me something of depth in which to immerse myself, and offered a beacon of hopeful light at the end of what had once been Stygian emptiness.

Oh, I’ve walked on water, run through fire
Can’t seem to feel it anymore
It was me, waiting for me
Hoping for something more
Me, seeing me this time, hoping for something else.

Ian Curtis
Ian Curtis (15 July 1956 – 18 May 1980)
Love Will Tear Us Apart

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Music Saves

By , June 28, 2005

I’ve been through many times when I thought I might lose it
The only thing to save me has always been music

– Mike D

At one point in time it would have been difficult to imagine a Beastie Boy lyric being used as the epigram for any bit of serious prose, but there you have it. Today I turn to Michael Diamond for inspiration. The above couplet resonated with me when I first heard it, and it has never rang true so clearly as of late. A while back, a groom’s request of Fifty Cent prompted me to write in semi-jest about the power of music, but in all seriousness– music has always been integral to my life (which I’m sure it is to many people’s lives), and a never-ending source of solace when circumstance deals an unexpected or difficult blow.

I think it was also Mike D. who rapped:

Life ain’t nothing but a good groove
A good mix tape can put you in the right mood

Of course, mix tapes gave way to the mix CD, which has in turn been replaced by the iTunes playlist. I’ve concocted a fair number of playlists since the advent of the mp3, and lately I’ve put together a new one. At the risk of appearing old-fashioned, I will confess that mp3 playlists always feel more than a little bit sterile to me. I’m not a hardcore vinyl purist, but I still prefer whenever possible to listen to an actual record. I often consider selling my vinyl collection– after all, most of it is languishing in storage– but I reconsider whenever I play one. A song feels so much more alive on vinyl, whether it be from the physical act of dropping the needle into the groove, or the faint crackle of dust in the background… Tangent aside, I’m here to talk playlists. The title of this one says it all– Melancholy. And before anyone chimes in with a comment advising me to avoid playing sad songs when I’m sad, let me offer this bit of, well, for a lack of a better word, wisdom.

There seems to be two general ways that one can deal with great sorrow– either hide from it, i.e. bottle it up, push it deep down inside of yourself, and try to forget about it, or embrace it and let it take you places within your psyche that you would otherwise never dare go. I am a big proponent of the latter method. It has always been the saddest times in my life that have taught me who I really am, and allowed me opportunities to improve myself. Often it seems that only by listening to my darkest emotions and visiting the farthest reaches of my soul can I get to the bottom of what ails me. Sure, my method is not a happy one. You’ll visit dark places, and you’ll suffer, but when you emerge from mourning, you are a better person for the experience. Conversely, I think the people who ignore or bury the sad feelings find those feelings cropping up to haunt them later in life, usually in altered, unrecognizable forms which take years of therapy to identify and conquer.

What does this all mean? It means that lately I’ve been listening to a lot of sad songs. This trend has not been the result of a conscious effort; I haven’t trawled my iTunes folders on a quest for unhappiness. It was more of an organic process, but the resultant playlist, which I’ll share below, definitely has a consistent vibe to it, hence the aforementioned name I assigned to it. For me, music and poetry have long been my main access points to my inner self. I frequently find myself aware of an attitude or emotion I didn’t realize I had, or at least had been unable to crystallize into coherent thought, after hearing a similar sentiment expressed in a song.

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The Cure – Pictures of You

By , August 21, 2004

Lucubration often fosters the most random, yet poignant, thoughts. Combine the deep thoughts of a late hour with a melancholy song, and you have all the ingredients for… something. I sort of lost steam there. What I believe I mean to say is, although I have a very happy life, and a positive demeanor in general, it is sometimes nice to listen to a particularly well-written sad song, and step for a moment into the persona of the singer. It’s almost enough to make me wish I were melancholy, at least for a night, just so I could better relate to the powerful sentiment the singer is expressing.

The Cure - Pictures of You

If only I’d thought of the right words
I could have held on to your heart
If only I’d thought of the right words
I wouldn’t be breaking apart
All my pictures of you

Actually, I take that back. I want to be sad so I could write a song like this, not just relate to it.

Currently Playing: The Cure – Pictures of You

You can click the artist or title to hear the song, but for those who have their speakers turned off, here are some more lyrics:

Looking so long at these pictures of you
But I never hold on to your heart
Looking so long for the words to be true
But always just breaking apart
My pictures of you

If you know me at all, you know I am a massive fan of The Smiths; which means, I am supposed to dislike Robert Smith and The Cure. I’m not that sort of music fan. There are plenty of songs by The Cure that I adore, and this one is probably my favorite of the bunch. If pressed, I’ll say I think their overall body of work is uneven, but that is a blog for a different day.

There was nothing in the world
That I ever wanted more
Than to feel you deep in my heart
There was nothing in the world
That I ever wanted more
Than to never feel the breaking apart
All my pictures of you

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Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart

By , June 10, 2003

“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:

Currently Playing: Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart

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

Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart

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

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