As you can guess, I am a huge Joy Division fan. The title of this blog even stems from the film Control, a biographical account of the life and death of Ian Curtis, lead singer of the band.
I used to listen to a lot of vinyl records with a good friend of mine. He was the one who introduced me to Joy Division. We were about thirteen or fourteen at the time. His family had a huge collection of records, ranging from the obscurest jazz recording to Bob Dylan to Public Enemy. And in the middle of those oak shelves was this giant poster of the album cover to Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division’s first album. The artwork of jagged lines producing waves, the black and white lettering, the gloominess of it all. I fell in love. My friend saw my entranced gazing at the poster and popped that album on to the player. The first drums hit. There was a dance vibe to it. The bass line. The guitar. And then the voice. That voice. “I’ve been waiting for a guy to come/ And take me by the hand”. I was hooked. Do me a favor, if you will. Listen to that record.
But this post isn’t about Unknown Pleasures. It’s about Closer. The second and final studio album by the band. Recorded over a period of two weeks in March 1980, Closer brings the full fledged sound of the band and amplifies it tenfold. The opener “Atrocity Exhibition” hits you with this almost tribal like drumming that persists throughout. The guitar sounds like it’s been twisted over and over again, giving this atmosphere of dread. Ian Curtis croons, “This is the way step inside…/this is the way step inside…”. It gets to the point where it becomes uncomfortable, but you are trapped. You can’t seem to turn off the record. It keeps going, taking you to a dark and demented and torturous room. A room that has no windows, no doors. No lights and no others around. You’re trapped in this room and no matter how much you bang on those walls, they won’t fall over.
Closer makes you feel alone. Truly and utterly alone. The gloomful lyrics juxtaposed to the almost dance like synths give the insight of a man who felt as if he had nothing. The gothic inspired sounds with the crushing voice of Ian Curtis. His lyrics decay you. Ian was suffering from bouts of depression and epilepsy. It got to the point where he had seizures while playing shows, having to be carried out mid-song sometimes. He didn’t have control of his body. He felt like he wasn’t living his life. Somebody else was pretending to be him. I can’t begin to imagine what that must feel like. To not know when the next attack would happen. To question if that night might be your last, every single day. It will take a toll on any person.
Ian hung himself on May 18th, 1980. He was 23 years old.
Of all the artists and musicians, whose work I’ve admired and cared about, Ian Curtis is the one I have most connected with. It has had a profound influence on me. From the rest of my music taste, to my own writing, to my outlook on life. Whenever I have those days (and believe me I have a lot of those days), I put on Joy Division. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s the cathartic release. Maybe it’s their look. Their style. But Joy Division has truly been a rock I cling onto.
The rest of Joy Division reformed as New Order (whose music I’m also a fan of). Maybe I’ll talk about them in another post in the future. For now I’ll just settle to be in that dark room again.
I’ve linked some of my favorite songs by Joy Division, specifically from Closer.