The Tears of a Clown

Now if there's a smile upon my face…

Joy Division – The Documentary

Just recently, I visited the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham to see Joy Division – The Documentary, currently on release. To state that I enjoyed it would simply be not doing the experience justice.

Much of the live footage was spliced around interviews with the surviving members of the band, guitarist Bernard Sumner, bass player Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris and lead singer, Ian Curtis’ former lover, Annik Honoré. Of course the tragic death of Curtis will always be what people remember primarily about Joy Division but this was dealt with without any sense of mawkishness or false sentiment by the contributors. The sub theme of Ian’s story was of course always prevalent but never allowed to overwhelm the band’s story.

The other members of the band radiated as very down to earth and pleasingly ordinary people, they share their amazing story story well and there are some fascinating, humorous and touching anecdotes such as the first terrifying occasion that Ian Curtis suffered a Gran Mal seizure.

Of course, the live footage is amazing. Joy Division in spite of some clever and imaginative studio production always seemed to grow in stature playing live. The thundering and insistent ‘lead bass’ of Peter Hook intertwining with Sumner’s subtle etchings on guitar, the clean sound of Morris’s drumming. The sight of Ian Curtis once more, on stage, trance-like – in another place and that dance – like no other, was overpowering in it’s weight and gravity. The huge energy of the band has easily lasted the thirty years since those sensational post-punk beginnings.

After all these years I was looking at the band in a somehow different way. Like I knew them but somehow didn’t know them at all. For all they could have been formed this year so fresh do they still sound. Some see the band’s work as dark and perhaps slightly depressive. Fair arguments maybe but there is a far wider depth of emotions in a Joy Division track than can be heard in a scant listen. This music still induces deep, deep feelings in me. It would be easy and cliched to refer to Ian Curtis as ‘troubled’ but certainly his mental anguish could not be lost on anyone listening to his lyrics closely. That same anguish guided Joy Divison in part to what they became, and it is still hard not to feel empathetic towards his struggle.

As the film slowly, inexorably closed to the highly emotional strains of Atmosphere it was almost as if a chill had fallen over the auditorium. It was hard to contain a lump in the throat at the great and sad story of Ian Curtis and Joy Division. The screen deadened with a jolt and as we picked our way out of the cinema I can only describe it as a bewildered silence, perhaps at something lost I’m not sure. Something we’ve all lost in that thirty years. The sound of a pin dropping would not have gone unnoticed, there was an eery and uneasy quiet.

Since last week when I saw the film, I was downloading a selection of mainly New Wave material from the same era for a younger relative. Listening again to what I’d considered (and still do) some great songs by such as The Buzzcocks, The Jam, The Clash etc, I couldn’t help but feel how inconsequential they all sounded compared to the Joy Division tracks I’ve been playing and replaying for the past seven days. I never expected to feel that. I realised that this music is never going to die, ever.

“The emotionaI impact of their music was shattering and irreversible, their records an icy collision of romance and alienation. Between 1977 and 1980, they recorded the two most affecting and influential albums of their generation – and on May 18, 1980 the lifetime of both the band and their lead singer Ian Curtis was tragically cut short by suicide, an appalling end to one of Britain’s greatest groups.”

James Oldham, NME

Joy Divison – Atmosphere

You may also be interested in reading: Love Will Tear Us Apart


May 20, 2008 - Posted by | I CAN HEAR MUSIC | , , ,


  1. I would have loved to have seen that – I don’t know Joy Division that well (Q is still prizing me out of the 80s rut that I am stuck in) but that is one group that I think were rather cool. God knows what I was listening to in those days – I really dread to think.

    Comment by zed | May 28, 2008

  2. Hi Zoe

    I think Joy division remain something of an enigma even for those of us who were following music at the time. Post-punk with all the energy that entails but also defintiely of their own ‘art’. Just unique.

    If you get to thinking what you were listening at the time, let me know! There’s a good chance it wasn’t a boy-band at that time of day. 🙂

    Comment by Stuart | May 29, 2008

  3. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Pectinous!

    Comment by Pectinous | June 20, 2008

  4. Thanks and please call back any time!

    Comment by Stuart | June 24, 2008

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