Monday, June 30, 2008

The Other Shlubs

I've been going through a DVD exploration of Joy Division, who never spoke to me. I'd have to be made of stone to miss "Love Will Tear Us Apart," but in the band's moment, its tormented nature simply sounded gloomy to me. Later attempts to connect to the band failed because Martin Hannett's pins the records to the late 1970s as permanently and fatally as a butterfly on a corkboard.

Anton Corbijn's Control (Weinstein) at least did the job of getting me interested in Ian Curtis. The scenes of Curtis as a young Bowie fan are beautifully awkward and reveal an influence I'd missed the first time around. Control also depicts the low rent nature of the music business - such as it was - in England at that point. After a no-fun-to-watch stretch setting up Curtis' relationships with his wife and girlfriend Annik, Sam Riley brings Curtis' anguish to life.

After that, Joy Division (Weinstein) balances Control as a look back at Joy Division because it focuses on the other three members - Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris. Besides reinforcing Corbijn's depiction of the early days and their relative lack of glamor, the DVD also echoes Corbijn's treatment of them as the other shlubs in the band, guys who wanted to play, but who'd probably have been just as happy playing their favorite covers for beer money if that's the direction the singer would have wanted to go. You get the same sense of the Sex Pistols' Paul Cook and Steve Jones reading histories of the band, and we'd probably find that of many members of famous bands. For many, the desire to play outweighed the importance of what they played.

They weren't just along for the ride; they were normal people who happened to connect with someone who had a distinctive musical voice. That normalcy is underscored by New Order's Live in Glascow (Warner/Rhino). Admittedly, it shows Hook, Sumner and Morris almost 30 years later, and 30 years will normalize anyone, but you know almost all you need to know when Sumner walks onstage wearing an untucked black polo shirt. With short, graying hair and a little middle-aged paunch, he really looks like someone's dad, and only Morris' T-shirt prevents him from looking like a middle manager. Hook's face shows some years of drinking and good living. Still, you can see some charisma. He's someone you might run into in a pub who'd have some good stories to tell and would tell them all night long.

Perhaps its no surprise that I got New Order; it was a pop band, even when "pop" meant long, dance songs. There was no central personality obviously reflected in the material - no solos, no persona, just catchy songs with a far more moderate sense of melancholy than mustered by Joy Division. For that reason, Live in Glasgow is reliably entertaining, but the only memorable moment was Sumner's "dancing" during "Bizarre Love Triangle," which only furthered the impression that he's your friend's uncool dad.

Through this period of contemplation, my disinterest in Joy Division has softened some. I'll chalk it up to familiarity and a handful of chances to find a connection to the material though, because when I listened to Closer recently, I still found my attention waned after three or four songs. The pre-Goth, dour austerity only reaches me in small doses, but I believe its me. I've never had much of a drama streak and I haven't been prone to depression, so the lyrical and musical stance simply isn't very resonant for me.

Bottom line: I've spent hours figuring out that Joy Division isn't for me, though I'm not as down on the band as I was, and the research was reasonably pleasurable.

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