There is something about Joy Division that is impossible to apprehend or even hope to comprehend. Is that because they beget a caterwaul of emotions when you listen to them, and these emotions turn to be the ones we want to keep our distance from yet at the same time the ones we want to have as a permanent fixture within our lives?
The band formed in Manchester in the year 1977. Its members were singer and occasional guitar player Ian Curtis, drummer Steven Morris, guitarist Bernard Albrecht and bass player Peter Hook. They were going to release one EP and two full albums, as their career was to be truncated by Curtis’ suicide in late 1979. He suffered from epileptic seizures, but his lyrics made it clear there was so much more going on, that his frail health was the tip a devastating inner conflict. And the real tragedy is that maybe what happened could have been avoided – the band members readily admitted they never paid his lyrics any heed, and after that fateful day whenever they listened to the old songs something always clicked.
They moved onwards as best as they could, recruiting a keyboards player (Gillian Gilbert) and becoming New Order, a very distinguished exponent of early electronic music.
But they could never, ever escape the shadow of their first band. Because New Order is one of those bands that one is always certain must exist someplace – one is aware there must be people who are battling anguish and remorse in the most genuine way of all, with a veil of silence over their hearts, and a muttered conviction that everything will go away, that one day upon waking up the storm will have passed. Until one day upon awakening they find that the only way for the storm to pass is to leave this existence, and go somewhere storms are not felt any longer. A place where one becomes the storm itself.
I have looked for a way to try and explain what it is this band does so harrowingly, and the one and only way in which that could be explained without resorting to a video (you will find one at the end) is by telling you what I feel when I look into Curtis’ eyes. A wave of dread. A wave of inquietude. I have never in my life felt fear when watching a music video. But I am scared when watching Joy Division playing live. They do not swear, or do anything intimidating. That is the problem. Just as in real life those who are always putting a belligerent front are nothing but cowards and those who keep to themselves are harboring more venom you could imagine, Joy Division is harboring something which is too voluminous too bear. Their story was to be tragic by definition. And their definition is something so tragic that it might be comprehended and it might even be apprehended. But I doubt there is a person brave enough to truly get to the bottom of it all.