The college I went to has a required course called Music Humanities, but everyone calls it “Music Hum,” so that’s what I’m going to call my occasional music posts. Hopefully, my alma mater won’t try to sue my ass as a result! You know how uptight peeps are these days! If they want to sue me, they can go to the back of the line, because I owe money to a cast of thousands.
Anyway, I just saw a screening of Control, a biopic about Ian Curtis, the singer and songwriter for the band Joy Division. Joy Division was one of many great British bands formed between 1975 and 1977. The Manchester music scene that the band was part of has already been the subject of the 2002 movie 24 Hour Party People. Control is much more serious than 24HPP: Ian struggled with depression and worsening epilepsy (he even had seizures on stage) and hanged himself in May 1980, shortly before his 24th birthday and right before the band’s first U.S. tour was due to begin. The band released only one album, Unknown Pleasures, during Ian’s lifetime. The second album, Closer, came out shortly after his death and included “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” which sounds as fresh today as it did back then (click here for a sample of the song).
Sam Riley, who plays Ian in Control, looks remarkably like the real thing, and the always-stellar Samantha Morton makes the most of the always-thankless role of the long-suffering wife. (Deborah Curtis, who married Ian when both were teenagers, wrote the book the movie is based on and is a producer.) And Toby Kebbell, who plays band manager Rob Gretton, is a highlight.
Here’s the trailer. In the movie, I loved the long shot of Ian looking professional in a jacket, walking to his day job helping disabled people find employment…all very serious until you see the word “Hate” is painted on the back of the jacket. How punk! You can see a few frames of that here.
Joy Division is on iTunes. If you’re going to go for a whole album, I suggest Permanent, which is a good “best of” type of experience. But check out this page for a what-to-buy guide. Joy Division continued without Ian under the name New Order, and they’re on iTunes too. You MUST own “Blue Monday” by New Order if you don’t already.
Here’s a clip of Joy Division performing “Transmission” and “She’s Lost Control” in 1979, and you can get some of idea of Ian’s unusual, almost seizure-like dancing style. I thought Sam Riley captured it really well in the movie.
And here are some Ian Curtis/Joy Division/New Order links for your reading/viewing pleasure, presented in no meaningful order. There will be a test later. There’s always a test in Music Hum!
- Joy Division Central, which I linked to elsewhere in this post.
- Chronicles of Joy Division is a blog where you can find an interview with Ian’s daughter, Natalie Curtis. It’s also got a page of links to Joy Division on YouTube.
- Another Natalie story, and yet another.
- A newspaper interview with the bandmates.
- A newspaper interview with wife Deborah. (Their relationship reminds me of John and Cynthia Lennon.)
- The Guardian’s opinion of Sam Riley’s performance.
- Another Guardian story on making the movie. And one marking the 25th anniversary of Ian’s suicide by a writer who attended a concert at which Ian collapsed onstage.
- A newspaper article by the photographer who worked with the band, and who says they were more fun and less serious than portrayed in the film (which puts into context Ian’s bandmates’ having repeatedly said that they didn’t pay much attention to his lyrics till after his death). The story also captures how different and expensive photography was before digital cameras.
- A Times of London interview with photographer Kevin Cummins, who provides the band manager’s reaction to Ian’s suicide: “That daft cunt killed himself.”
- Good, funny memories from band members here.
- An interview with Annick Honore, Ian’s girlfriend. In Control, there’s a particularly devastating scene where Ian, who has told Debbie that he and Annik are over, tries to kill himself by overdosing and leaves a note to Debbie that says “Give my love to Annik.”
- Another Joy Division/New Order site with interesting links and recent news on band member.
- Joy Division – The Eternal.
- The movie website and the Times of London story on the movie.
- CBC story on the movie.
- Wikipedia’s Joy Division entry.
- A Reuters TV story on the film with film clips and a few words from Sam Riley, the director and Stephen Morris of Joy Division/New Order.
- Tribute video. This uses a song by Radiohead and has a good selection of photos and video clips, including footage of that unusual dancing style.
- A TV news story from 1995, featuring a good dancing clip; interviews with Deborah, Tony Wilson and Peter Hook; and an unintentionally hilarious segue out of the story to a gardening feature.
- The complete 1978 Shadowplay performance, glimpsed in the 1995 clip above.
And this is where I planned to list all the great punk and post-punk bands from Joy Division’s era, but since this is quite long, I’ll do it in another post.
Well, I lied. I am unable to resist mentioning one other group from a later era. At the time I was taking that Music Hum class I told you about, my friends’ friend was in a band called Fahrenheit 451. (Hi Jim Begala! Hi Matt Morgan! Hi Fahrenheit singer Athan Maroulis! Yes, apparently Athan IS the brother of American Idol’s Constantine.) The band played CBGB‘s, as I recall. I had every song memorized. I think Athan’s voice has a bit of that deep, spooky Ian Curtis sound. You can find the song “Strangers” (which I knew as “Strangers on a Train”) on iTunes. More songs are here. Below, the photo that was on the EP I had, back in the vinyl days.
Photo from athanmaroulis.com