Sunday, October 21, 2007

Control -- a Movie About Joy Division's Ian Curtis


A depressive friend of mine in college (she should be cropping up in one of my Retro-Journal entries in about four weeks) once disturbed me by saying she didn’t think there was anything particularly unhappy-sounding about one of her then-favorite bands, Joy Division. I think most people would agree that Joy Division sounds exactly like a band whose lead singer, Ian Curtis, would go on to hang himself.

Indeed, when I first heard their comparatively upbeat-sounding song “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” I remember thinking that it sounded a lot like the depressive Marvin the Paranoid Android from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (I’ve always been too nerdy to be in danger of going goth — and I should note that every second of the old TV and radio versions of Hitchhiker’s is funnier than a minute of the recent movie). Since then, I’ve heard the contrast between some of the first Joy Division songs recorded, more bouncy and punk than the dirges they’re best known for, and it’s about as painful to then hear the more depressed-sounding later tracks as it is to realize that you overlooked comments that, in retrospect, were signs of a friend being suicidally depressed. Joy Division sounds heavy, in much the same way that the guitar in Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” does — and we know how Kurt Cobain ended up (that’s my favorite Nirvana song — but I’m not depressed).

On a brighter note, Control is a very good movie — and looks and feels very authentic, probably because it was directed by the man responsible for one of Joy Division’s only videos (like the film, starkly black and white and often still like a photograph) and was based on the autobiography of Curtis’s widow. She suggests that Curtis’s suicide was caused in large part by his being unable to figure out any resolution to being torn between two women — his wife and Belgian amateur rock reporter Annik Honore. He also appears to have been worried that he was a bad, often absent father to his young daughter; to have suffered increasingly severe seizures; and to have been plagued by money worries after leaving a job at a placement agency for clients that included the retarded and fellow seizure victims. Add to all that a Cobain-like ambivalence about fame and the fact that the poor man was only twenty-three when he killed himself, and it’s admirable he held up as well as he did.

It’s also admirable, in a way, that he felt so deeply conflicted about the love triangle — it seems almost quaint three decades later, when rock stars go through wives faster than they put out albums. A pity he didn’t find a better way to deal with it all, though. Much as some people love New Order (that poor dog!), the peppier and dancier band that rose from Joy Division’s ashes, I would love to know what later Joy Division albums would have sounded like — they were arguably the first “postpunk” band, even though they were contemporaries of the Sex Pistols and other early punk bands, taking punk sounds but adding a great deal of maturity to them that makes clear the songs aren’t relying solely on noise, energy, or the element of surprise to impress us.

Like U2 or the Smiths, they can be appreciated even by an oldster like me who rarely summons the energy to pogo anymore and wants to be able to hear all the lyrics (and speaking of the Smiths: on a less-glum glumrock note, Drudge linked this week to an article about the Smiths/Electronic/Modest Mouse guitar player Johnny Marr becoming a professor — maybe he’ll be inspired to write more songs about boys’ schools).

P.S. A more spirited alternative-rocker, Tibbie X, also attended Control last night and notes that her relatively new band, Kissy Kamikaze, will perform on Nov. 1 at Galapogos Art Space along with other bands containing roller derby girls. Nothing glum about that.

P.P.S. And lest it sound like this entry is all punk and no conservative, let me add that Brown alum and free-marketeer Bobbby Jindal has won the election today for governor of Louisiana by enough to avoid a run-off election — and like John Stossel, he can be trusted not to blame post-Katrina problems there on global warming.


jenny said...

you’re probably going to expect this from me, but what’s particularly admirable about being conflicted about a love triangle? seems more like a waste of time and lack of communication. oh, yeah – and an unfortunate side-effect of buying into the one-size-fits-all monogamy ethos.

Todd Seavey said...

I’m not suggesting angst is necessarily better than a hypothetical scenario where all three of them lived in non-monogamous harmony, but clearly both Curtis and his wife intended (and she definitely wanted) a monogamous vow when they got married, and taking one’s promises seriously, even when it’s not easy, is admirable.

Brain said...

The movie 24 Hour Party People was an account of the Manchester music scene that spawned Joy Division. It took a rather flip view of Curtis’ suicide, in keeping with the general tone of the film. What is remarkable about the 24 Hour Party People film is that the actor Steve Coogan’s portrayal of Tony Wilson, the scene impresario and movie’s hero, reminded me and and the missus strongly and instantly of Todd.

Redepressed said...

Want to hear something really depressing? You can buy all three of the new double-CD reissues of the complete Joy Division catalogue being released by the Rhino label, and still not get a studio version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” It’s posthumous and all, but you think the label would’ve found somewhere to cram it in there.

Todd Seavey said...

If I really were running the Manchester music business, I would take care of that problem for you.

Jacob T. Levy said...

I’ve already shown this to Jenny, but Todd will appreciate it too:

Todd Seavey said...

While I think of it: more surprising in a way than Joy Division’s transformation into New Order is the contrast between most of New Order’s work and their two albums from this century, with tracks like “Rock the Shack” that sound almost as youthful and rough as Harvey Danger, quite a contrast with the stately dance-synth of yore. It’s like they aged backwards, probably a good marketing move.

jenny said...

yes. and that’s an excellent comic.

and just to clutter up todd’s comments, jacob – have you seen this?

Todd Seavey said... does not mind being a cultural exchange hub.

Billy said...

Does anyone have info about the suicide itself? I’ve heard stories about how it happenned, very bizzare stories.