This excellent book was put together by Jon Savage, one of Britain's preeminent music authors. His 2002 book England’s Dreaming is one of the best books on the U.K. Punk scene. This book, being an oral history, does not showcase Savage’s writing, but instead his savvy interviews with the subjects. He asks the right questions and gets surprisingly in depth answers from all involved. Savage is not interested in the ‘myth’ of Joy Division, but in what really happened.
Sadly, many of the crucial figures in the book are no longer with us. Of course singer Ian Curtis’ suicide effectively ended the band. Other key people associated with Joy Division have passed, including manager Rob Gretton, genius producer Martin Hannett, and Factory Records owner Tony Wilson. Luckily, Savage conducted a number of earlier interviews that he can take from to flesh out the book.
I won’t give everything away, but here are my brief takeaways from the book. One, the band Joy Division was not interested in being rock stars or even being famous. The band was just something they had to do, a way to escape the grim cityscapes of 1970’s Salford and Manchester. In this way, Joy Division, as a band was much, much more than the sum of its parts.
Next, producer Martin Hannett really was a genius, making the band’s noisy, angry punk into true sonic artwork (check out our Joy Division Podcast at tinyurl.com/zubjoy). His contributions can not be diminished, neither can the artwork done by Peter Saville, both LP covers done before he heard the music.
Joy Division built a reputation very fast, according to all in the book, their shows were mesmerizing without any typical rock artifice. Shortly after the release of Unknown Pleasures they were opening for the Buzzcocks on a 30 date U.K. tour, and most of the audience came to see Joy Division, leaving early, every night.
Ian Curtis was getting sicker and sicker, having grand mal epiliptic seizures, often on stage. The rock and roll lifestyle was not good for him. He left his wife, Deborah (excerpts from her fine book, Touching From A Distance, are included here) after she gave birth to their first child, and took up with a Beligian woman, Annik. Between the band, the illness, the child, the women, and a looming American tour it’s not too hard to see what would happen. As there was no ‘adult’ in the organization’ to help, Ian would tell everyone what they wanted to hear. The people in the band were all in their early 20’s and all agree they were clueless.
This book is extremely well put together, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It does cut through the bullshit. Jon Savage has taken the myth and brought it to reality.