Thursday, April 17, 2008

Heart and Soul

Film: Control (2007)
Directed by: Anton Corbijn

Anton Corbijn’s riveting movie Control brings it all back.

Like how Joy Division meant everything to us back in '79 - '80.

We ardent young lovers of culture were painfully earnest about our music, and Joy Division's dark romanticism suited us down to the ground.

Progeny of Burroughs, Ballard, Lou Reed and The Doors, their records were the perfect existential soundtrack for the dreary Thatcher years.

But the suicide of singer Ian Curtis woke us from our indulgent stupor. Shocked into the cold light of day, we saw how we had failed to apprehend our idol. Just as we were too callow to grasp the tragedy unfolding before us, Curtis was too emotionally shattered to survive it.

Projecting our mad, post-adolescent angst onto a confused, sensitive young musician, we foolishly imagined he represented us. The truth was that, trapped in a profound personal crisis, he could barely represent himself.

Though Curtis insisted that Joy Division’s music had no message, the meaning and impact of their art are inseparable from his own tragic fate. Joy Division were compelling chiefly because of the way their frontman confronted his psychosis.

The most miraculous part of the Joy Division story is how four scallies from the darkest north managed to weave such eerie magic. Peter Hook’s plaintive bass, Bernard Sumner’s stark, minimal guitar and Steven Morris’ robotic percussion perfectly framed Curtis’ poetry of crisis and despair.

If that wasn’t remarkable enough, producer Martin Hannett veered the band’s sound sharply away from punk’s sonic conservatism, sculpting an austere tribalism which elevated Joy Division’s music to another dimension - an alien, emotionally strangled interzone.

Even today a sense of disturbance comes over me whenever I hear Joy Division. It feels almost voyeuristic to listen to music of such fragile beauty. Each song is a shocking, visceral jewel delicately balanced on the abyss.

The triumph - if there is one - lies in the music's uncompromising confrontation with the human condition. Frightening in its beauty, it bequeathes a cruel epiphany, like a dying star which shines all too briefly before consuming itself with blinding intensity.

VIDEO: Joy Division "She's Lost Control"