The silence when doors open wide
Where people could pay to see inside
For entertainment they watch
his body twist
Behind his eyes he says I still exist
This is the way, step inside
And with these lyrics, Joy Division begins their album, Closer. The song? “Atrocity Exhibition.” The aural impact? INFINITE.
Released 2 months after Ian Curtis’ suicide, and recorded just before his neurological dysfunctions reached the height of their horrors, this album is nothing short of brutally brilliant. And it is brutal, make no mistake about it. Emotionally, aurally, sensually, and erotically brutal. Whether it is Curtis’ plaintive but angry voice growling, “I put my trust in you,” or the dark and dingy basslines that make you feel like you’re existing in a chasm of nothing but pure, unadulterated shadow that has been physically manifested, this collection of songs is the unintentional culmination of a band that no one has seen the likes of since. Fuck the Interpol comparisons. One good, PROPER listen to Closer, and your world will be forever changed. But it has to be at the right time.
A while back, I was having drinks with an old friend, and we hadn’t seen each other in a while. We were catching up over beers and such, and discussing things we had seen or were currently working on. Both being media academic-types, that was the primary focus of much of our conversation. However there was one key part of our conversation having had its origins in an online encounter (great term- online encounter- Sounds almost naughty, doesn’t it?) from a day or two previous. This was not your run-of-the-mill critical theory conversation (although I suppose that that is not quite “run of the mill” bar chat for most of the world, but I digress…). Oh no. This was a discussion of the most masterful YouTube video that I had seen in a very long time, which I had recently posted on my Facebook, and had illicited quite a response from a few choice people I knew. A clip I will now submit for your own viewing enjoyment.
At any rate, while we lamented the fact that not everyone seemed to enjoy the video as much as we had, I mentioned that, for me, it was quite possibly one of the most intelligent pieces of YouTube-ist fare around today, primarily, because the video had used the song “She’s Lost Control,” one of my favorite Joy Division songs.
While he agreed that it was indeed a good song, he seemed to feel that there was better work in the Joy Division oeuvre. In my defense, as I related to my companion, this song has always had a special meaning to me, as Curtis wrote it about a girl having a seizure and I, myself, have seizures. Thus, “She’s Lost Control,” has, in effect, been “my jam” since I first heard it, in college. However, as we continued our conversation, I thought about it more intensely. In fact, I took this opportunity to re-exam my relationship with Joy Division, Ian Curtis, and my seizures with a much more discerning eye. The results of my contemplations and my residual experiments were almost as intense as the music itself.
When did I fall in love with that song? What made me do it? And why that song over all other Joy Division work? Why did I want to play THAT song over and over, negating the possibility of me appreciating or learning about the breadth and depth of their work? Surely the simple fact that I had a seizure disorder (which was so very minor at the time, and did not ACTUALLY become a real issue until the most recent few years) wouldn’t have affected my critical judgement? The conclusion that I came to was that it very well might have.
See, having epilepsy isn’t fun. I remember my first seizure (well, not the actual seizing part) as clear as day, and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I was 13 or so years old, brushing my teeth before bed. As most teenage girls of that age do, I had locked the bathroom door. When my parents heard loud banging sounds, they had to break the door down. I was wearing underwear and my Max Headroom t-shirt. I miss that shirt. My life as I knew it, as a normal kid, ended that night. From that point on, my life has always involved MRIs, blood tests, sleep deprivation tests, and a whole slew of different neurological meds…and this was before I could even DRIVE.
This was also when they told me it was probably going to go away, and I would probably be off medication by me early 20’s.
“You don’t have epilepsy,” they reassured me while prescribing me Phenobarbitol, a drug that turned me into a early 90’s metal-head version of Linda Blair from The Exorcist, minus the cross-fucking (hey-I’m Jewish!) and head-spinning. Needless to say, not only did I get off that medication pretty quickly, when it became perfectly clear that a barbiturate was NOT good for a highly emotionally raw and sensitive 13-14 year old, but I believed them and felt confident that by my 20’s, I would be a normal kid. Just like my friends.
Never once did they explain to me what seizures were. How they worked. What was fucking wrong with me. So when I continued to have them in a highly muted form (ie not doing the dying fish routine with my body, aka grand mal seizures), I never told anyone. Hey- I wasn’t talking to my parents anyway- just one MORE thing not to tell them. Not once did I realize how bad all this was. Until they got worse. And I had a few more. But then they found a good medication after a few failed attempts (one they had to take me off immediately, as it was killing people by anemia, ooo fun!) and I was safe at last. Seizure free. Basically.
It was approximately at this point that I found myself living in Santa Cruz, and that I found Joy Division.
Let me preface this by saying, I have never been “cool” or up on things the way I would like to have been, except perhaps in the worlds of literature and film. I may have read/seen some stuff ahead of other folks in that particular area. Other than that, I spent a good long time trying to play “catch up,” mostly because all of my friends were a great deal older than I was. They were probably drinking beer and singing TV Party while I was still getting through the Narnia books. At any rate, I had heard Joy Division, never got “into” them, but knew that a lot of people I liked really liked them. So the day that my housemate who worked at the corporate record store downtown next to the Santa Cruz 9 (was it the Wherehouse?) brought home the 4-disc collection, Heart and Soul in order to sell it to the other record store in town (he’d stuffed the box set down his pants on his way out the door), I knew it had to be mine instead. And it was.
Unfortunately, what this prevented was the first cohesive aural experience of a Joy Division album. True, I did get 4 discs of pure, unadulterated amazing music, but I did not get an album.
See, here’s the problem with that. In this day and age, albums do not carry a whole lot of currency for most people, or so it seems. However, with the musics that I happen to love, albums mean a whole lot. Sure, you can listen to “Pinball Wizard,” from Tommy, and it’s a great song on its own, but without the context of the album it loses a great deal of its power. The same goes for most of my favorite albums, to be honest. They are albums.
But within this context, having only really had intimate familiarity with “Love Will Tear Us Apart Again” (as anyone who has spent ANY time within 50 feet of a goth or goth club does), I was immediately drawn to “She’s Lost Control.” Once I read about the background story….even more so.
Sure, it was ego. I wanted to find myself in there. I was that girl. Because also, at that time, I was in my late teens/early 20’s (aka Second Adolescence, only gotta pay your own way this time ’round!), and so many other things seemed…out of control. In fact, the only thing that was not out of control was what I was studying, because I had fallen so deeply, madly and passionately in love with film and media studies that every pore in my body, every hair on my head, every beat of my heart seemed to exude it. I lived for it. But that song……
Confusion in her eyes that says it all.
She’s lost control.
And she’s clinging to the nearest passer by,
She’s lost control.
And she gave away the secrets of her past,
And said I’ve lost control again,
And a voice that told her when and where to act,
She said I’ve lost control again.
I must have listened to that song 10,000 times. It was kinda like the song “Swamp Thing,” by the Chameleons, UK. I heard it and I simply. Could. Not. Get. Enough.
And that was it. My story. That was how I met Joy Division.
Things have changed now. But that’s another story for another time. Part 2.
But I wonder if my world would have altered had I been introduced to a full album instead. Was my musical maturity level at the time up to par? Could I have understood it? Would it have done anything for me? More inportantly, does it mean I am less of a fan because I have done my listening in such compartmentalized doses that were so separated? And what is fan-ness of this individuated and personalized genre anyway?
To me, this song meant a great deal. Little did I know how much the band and its singer would come to mean when my own illness became more advanced, 10 years in the future. Stayed tuned, true believers, that part comes up next…