If not for Galaxie 500’s version of “Ceremony,” I probably wouldn’t like that song all that much.
OK, so while the commenters busy themselves sharpening their claws and crayons to inform me that I’m an idiot who knows nothing of music and should immediately be fired, let’s talk about the song. “Ceremony” was an ill-starred entry into the later Joy Division catalog. No proper studio recording was ever made, so the version most fans know best is the live version on the posthumous JD release Still, from which about half the vocals are AWOL. A different version, culled from a rehearsal tape, appeared on the boxed set Heart & Soul. The vocals are all present, but are largely unintelligible, and there’d never be another chance to get it right, as the group’s singer Ian Curtis took his own life days after that tape was made. I’ve heard that another live version exists, a crummy bootleg of a soundcheck, but I’m aware of no extant version with Curtis’ vocals clear and complete. (If I’m wrong on that, for the love of all that matters in this shitsack world, post a link, PLEASE.)
Joy Division, ”Ceremony,” version from Still
Joy Division, ”Ceremony,” version from Heart and Soul
After Ian Curtis’ handwritten lyrics for Joy Division’s single most iconic song, “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” surfaced in a Joy Division/New Order exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, images of the wrinkled 35-year-old sheet of notebook paper have been making fairly brisk rounds of Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. It’s not hard to understand why. The single was released very shortly after Curtis’ suicide, which transformed the song into an instant self-elegy for both Curtis and the beloved band. The title, in fact, is literally Curtis’ epitaph.
But even if Curtis had decided not to end his life that day in 1980, and Joy Division had continued, doesn’t it seem likely that it would have remained their signature song anyway? It has an intrinsic and enduring melancholy beauty that surely resonates even with listeners who know nothing of the song’s tragic connections, and its lyrics, though highly literate, still touch the universal. From coffeehouses to arena stage, it’s easily Joy Division’s most covered song. Here’s a roundup of several artists trying their hand.
The lineup that the Tibet House US put together for the 24th Annual Tibet House US Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall two nights ago was the kind of collection of noteworthy musical talents that was guaranteed to make a certain kind of discerning fan of rock music quiver with excitement. The program promised the following enticements:
Matt Berning, Aaron Dessner, & Bryce Dessner of The National
Bernard Sumner, Phil Cunningham, & Tom Chapman of New Order
Patti Smith and her Band
With an invocation and closing by
Monks from the Drepung Gomang Monasteries
The evening would prove to have an impressive number of impromptu guests and collaborations not depicted here, including the surprise appearance of Sufjan Stevens, who sat in with The National; Nico Muhly playing together with Philip Glass; and a special gesture of tribute to recently departed Lou Reed from Patti Smith, who covered Reed’s classic “Perfect Day.”
But most exciting of all, perhaps, was Iggy Pop teaming up with three of the members of New Order (no Peter Hook, of course; Sumner was the only original member present) to play two of Joy Division’s most enduring songs, “Transmission” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” As all dedicated Joy Division fans know, when Ian Curtis hanged himself on May 18, 1980, Iggy’s 1977 album The Idiot was spinning on the turntable just a few feet away.
Perhaps you noticed a number of your friends posting—and then deleting—a “rare” cover version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” on their Facebook walls today. The track in question was supposedly recorded by David Bowie and members of New Order.
Here’s what it said on YouTube:
A chance meeting in 1983 had David Bowie, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook chatting away over beers in the Kings Arms in Salford. “...So we were all there just having a laugh and we joked that he should come n have a jam with us, then next minute - well, it was the next day actually, but i didn’t expect he’d definitely come by - and we were in the practice rooms and we were playing Love Will Tear Us Apart and i was like, f%$K we’re playing Love Will Tear Us Apart with David Bowie singing, this is crazy. We never released it - Bowie took a recording of it, and just layered some more vocals on for fun, sent it back to me…” - Bernard Sumner.
Was this the handiwork of Tim Heidecker?
Was Adam Buxton responsible, perhaps?
Until the perpetrator steps forward we may never know who was behind this clever prank, but Joy Division’s Peter Hook has weighed in on Twitter to say that… it’s a fake (as if that already wasn’t already totally obvious to anyone with ears, although I did appreciate the low-fi “bootleg” sound quality, which lent an air of authenticity to the proceedings. Extra points for that).
May the 18th 1980 Ian Curtis the singer of Joy Division took his own life in the Kitchen of the house he lived in with his wife Debbie at 77 Barton Street.
Included with the Table are confirmation of authenticity from Natalie Curtis, Debbie Curtis, Marco from Joy Division Central and Vicky Morgan. Also there is a four page print from a web site with pics taken inside 77 Barton Street when it was a B and B and a picture of Dorothy Smith.
The bidding began with a reserve of £100. The current bid is at £6,900.00 and the bidding ends on November 13, 2013.
“Ian Curtis’ Kitchen Table” would make a good name for a band.
We usually do these type of posts as “Happy Birthday ___” but to do that for Ian Curtis, the lead singer with Joy Division, who would have been 57-years-old today, seemed a bit much. A fragile and beautiful talent, Curtis was only 23, when he took his own life, in May 1980. His death came just before Joy Division were about to tour the States. Talk about bad timing.
I can still recall the first time I saw Curtis on TV, with his awkward, uncoordinated dancing, and his strange, resonate voice filled with loss, longing.
“You can’t listen to something without being able to, hopefully, put a feeling into the song…
...I think some of the things come out of confusion..But I’m not too sure what…exactly what or why.
When Joy Division finished recording their defining album, Closer, Curtis wrote to the band’s manager, Rob Gretton, expressing his dislike for the record:
Judged purely on my own terms, and not to be interpreted as an opinion or reflection of mass media or public taste but a criticism of my own esoteric and elitist mind of which the mysteries of life are very few and beside which the grace of God has deemed to indicate in a vision the true nature of all things, plus the fact that everyone else are a sneaky, japing load of tossers, I decree that this LP is a disaster.
I K Curtis
He was wrong. Closer is a work of brilliance, which now stands as testament to Ian Curtis’s talents.
Bonus clip, plus rare interview with Curtis, after the jump…
The other day I wrote “Photoshop is the new surrealism.” It was one of those things that just popped into my head and sounded right at the time. But the more I thought about it the more it seemed to hold some truth. I try to imagine the fun Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp might have had with Adobe software. With all of the imagery available on the Internet, a dada collagist like Hannah Hoch would have thrived in the era of Google Images. The permutations and juxtapositions are infinite. The idea: take what’s there and create what’s not there.
Needless to say, not all Photoshop is art. But some of it, like art, lies to get at a bigger truth. Like the above picture of Michael Jackson wearing a Joy Division T-shirt. It’s fake but some of us wish it weren’t. The idea that Jackson was a Joy Division fan (even before Joy Division existed) is a thought that brings all kinds of groovy things to the fore—like the fact that pop culture is inherently a mash-up, that radio, iTunes and deejay mixes have made us grow accustomed to a world where everything collides, bounces off each other and often melds into a somewhat messy wholeness (This started for me a long time ago when I was 12 years old listening to a transistor radio transmitting a seamless stream of songs from artists whose only commonality was a good beat and a good hook. The Supremes melding into The Animals melding into Blue Cheer melding into Tom Jones).
In the collective consciousness of rock ‘n’ roll, the playlist that endures is immense, eternal, and like Michael Jackson wearing a Joy Division T-shirt, inclusive. The picture may be a lie, but the idea of it, what it suggests, is true. Rock music succeeds better than any other art form in the shattering of barriers, in bringing people together and in re-inventing reality. My world changed radically in 1963 when I first heard The Beatles on a jukebox in a pinball parlor in Southern France. I had no idea who they were, but for a moment time froze and I sensed a different future ahead of me than the one I thought I had been heading for.
When I initially discovered the photo of Jackson wearing Joy Division, I didn’t wonder “why?” I thought “why not?” It was a lie worth believing. I never came to rock ‘n’ roll for the facts. I came for the fantasy.
Chuck Berry interviewed by punk zine Jet Lag in 1980. Berry shares his thoughts about “what the kids are listening to these days.”
The Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen”:
What’s this guy so angry about anyway? Guitar work and progression is like mine. Good backbeat. Can’t understand most of the vocals. If you’re going to be mad at least let the people know what you’re mad about.
The Clash’s “Complete Control”:
Sounds like the first one. The rhythm and chording work well together. Did this guy have a sore throat when he sang the vocals?
The Ramones’ “Sheena is a Punk Rocker”:
A good little jump number. These guys remind me of myself when I first started, I only knew three chords too.
The Romantics’ “What I Like About You”:
Finally something you can dance to. Sounds a lot like the sixties with some of my riffs thrown in for good measure. You say this is new? I’ve heard this stuff plenty of times. I can’t understand the big fuss.
Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”:
A funky little number, that’s for sure. I like the bass a lot. Good mixture and a real good flow. The singer sounds like he has a bad case of stage fright.
Wire’s “I Am the Fly” and Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures:
So this is the so-called new stuff. It’s nothing I ain’t heard before. It sounds like an old blues jam that BB and Muddy would carry on backstage at the old amphitheatre in Chicago. The instruments may be different but the experiment’s the same.
You may remember a few months ago I posted about Joyce D’Vision, the world’s first drag queen tribute band to Joy Division (of which I am a member) and our adventures on UK primetime TV with the comedian Harry Hill.
Well, we have finally managed to wrangle Joyce herself into the studio to record some vocals, and the first fruits of this labor are cover versions of “She’s Lost Control” and “Isolation.” Both are iconic, classic tracks, that have been covered before (by Siobhán Fahey, Grace Jones and Wino & Conny Ochs, as featured in yesterday’s Roadburn post) but I like to think we have put our own unique spin on them.
While some people find the idea of Joyce D’Vision highly offensive, to me it’s as Northern English as Eccles cakes and Boddington’s bitter. People in Manchester have a sly, sometimes wicked sense of humor, and they are not above taking the complete mickey out of themselves and the stultifying, retro-based “Madchester” culture industry that seems to have a stranglehold on this town (check the blog Fuc251 for proof.) Unfortunately Joy Division are very much a part of this frozen-in-amber, Manchester music-heritage industry, which goes against the iconoclasm inherent in the band, and is ironic as they were sorely under-appreciated in this town when they did exist.
And that’s where we come in. It’s all in the best possible taste, darling, with hints of Vic & Bob, The League of Gentlemen, Kenny Everett and Frank Sidebottom (a legendary Manc comic who famously covered “Love Will Tear Us Apart” on a Casio). We’re not doing this because we hate Joy Division, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Joy Division have helped us get through as much teen angst as the next wrist cutter, but the band’s hallowed status doesn’t mean they are above a bit of fun poking. Every religion needs its satirists. Because let’s face it, if what we’re doing is somehow ruining your teen dreams or memories of a JD goth paradise, then those dreams and memories were not very solid in the first place.
I am well aware of Ian Curtis’ mental health problems (duh!) and I’m 100% convinced he had that same sly, piss-taking, Manc sense of humor as everyone else who grew up within the city’s grey-and-redbrick confines. I think he would have had a giggle or two at a bearded drag queen singing his songs.
Joyce D’Vision with Harry Hill on the set of TV Burp
But more to the actual point, I wonder what Peter Hook thinks?
If you’re not aware, original JD/New Order bassist Hook has formed a new band with jobbing Manchester musicians called The Light, whose purpose is to cover the work of Joy Division. He’s the only original member, and now the band are embarking on a tour playing “Unknown Pleasures” in full.
Originally Hooky himself was on vocal duties, but after he shamefully forgot the words at an infamous Manchester show a couple of years ago, he has brought in Rowetta (ex-Happy Mondays and Britain’s Got Talent) to sing instead. Not to mention some of his celebrity-fan pals when they have the chance - The Light have performed JD tracks with Billy Corgan, Moby and Perry Farrell on vocals, among others. They sing from a lyrics book open at the front of the stage.
So is what we are doing with Joyce D’Vision really any worse than what Peter Hook is doing with The Light? In a sense, both are karaoke, but only one has an actual on-stage lyrics sheet. And it’s not the band with the drag queens. Which of the two acts, Joyce D’Vision or The Light, are going to do more to shatter your teen-goth memories of Joy Division?
I don’t doubt that The Light has got something to do with New Order reforming recently without Hook and his iconic bass sound, a massive “fuck you” statement in his general direction. A lot of people in Manchester are happy they did this, but there’s also many people wondering if New Order can properly function without Hook on bass. I’m not sure, but either way, I do wonder now what Barney and Steve (original JD members, remember) and Gillian (a HUGE drag inspiration for our band) make of Joyce D’Vision?
Time will tell. For now, here are our first two tracks:
It’s been described as one of the most important gigs of all time, one that saw hundreds, even thousands of people claim they were there. In truth only around 30-40 people saw The Sex Pistols perform at the Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall on June 4, 1976. But of those who did, most went onto form a generation of legendary bands - The Fall, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths.
Also, allegedly in the audience were such future ambassadors of taste as Anthony H. Wilson, who would co-found Factory Records and the Hacienda nightclub, and nascent journalist/writer Paul Morley.
Culturally, it was an event akin to the storming of the Bastille, for it unleashed a revolution.
I Swear I Was There tells the story of that now legendary night, and talks to the people whose lives were changed by The Sex Pistols.
Before they recorded their classic 1983 album Power Corruption And Lies, New Order made an extended trip to New York and absorbed some of the city’s sound into their own world-weary music. Latin salsa, 12” remix culture and the beats they heard in nightclubs like Danceteria and the Roxy were obvious inspirations for the music they would soon come to make.
But at the time this was videotaped, New Order were still largely Joy Division minus Ian Curtis, a post punk band, not the electronic dance quartet they would soon become. This is a fascinating document of the group during perhaps the least documented era of their long career. As I would personally chose Movement over anything else in their catalog, this was a real treat to watch.
Recorded live at The Ukranian National Home in New York’s East Village on November 18 1981. Low lights, the musicians saying nearly nothing to the audience, a concert held in a hot sweaty dance hall—there’s an extremely underground quality to this show,
Inspired by the iconic sleeve of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album, this Waves Mickey Mouse Tee incorporates Mickey’s image within the graphic of the pulse of a star. That’s appropriate given few stars have made bigger waves than Mickey!
No, this is not merely another lame meme, this is something that is actually manufactured and sold by the Walt Disney Corporation! Reedonkulous. Buy yours at the Disney store...
So, dear readers, this is one of the things I do when I am not busy scribbling and posting here on DM - I am part of a Joy Division tribute act called Joyce D’Vision. As the name would suggest, it’s not just any run-of-the-mill tribute act - it’s a drag queen tribute, fusing those two quintessentially Northern English traits of woe-is-me miserableism and end-of-the-pier transvestitism.
Before you ask, no, I am not Joyce D’Vision herself, but rather Noel Order, keyboard whizz extraordinaire and Bontempi aficionado. Joyce is played by the very talented Joe Spencer, and we are often joined on stage by other queens such as Sheela Blige, Kurt Dirt and Sahara Dolce. Joyce has been lucky enough to share the stage with British queer performance legends like David Hoyle (The Divine David) and Scottee Scottee (Eat Your Heart Out), but those were just warm-ups for what happened last week…
A few months ago Joe took part in a reality competition show May The Best House Win, where Joyce and friends had a cameo near the end. The program was finally broadcast last Tuesday, and seen by the comedian Harry Hill, himself a fan of Joy Division. Harry hosts a show called TV Burp, which looks over the best bits of the last week’s telly, and he invited Joyce and her friends to London to sing live on the show. Joyce performed as the final segment on the final show of the series, which was broadcast right before X Factor. Meaning that this went out on a Saturday evening, just after dinner time when everyone’s getting ready to watch the biggest show of the week. Seriously - that’s prime fucking time.
The reaction since (mostly gauged through Twitter) has been interesting - some people really get it, while others have stated that Ian Curtis would be rolling in his grave. I like to think Curtis would have seen the funny side, as would Tony Wilson I’m sure, and we have heard through the grapevine that there are even Joyce fans in the New Order camp.
Joyce D’Vision is not done out of hatred of the band or the man, but rather from love - and a simple desire to deflate the pomposity that surrounds JD and their legend, as perpetuated by magazines like NME and high street stores like Primark (currently selling an Ian Curtis t-shirt). So while the idea (and sight) of a fat, bearded man in a wig singing a boss nova version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is definitely going to rub some people up the wrong way, I’m pretty sure our readers here at DM can handle it: