Friday, May 02, 2008

Inhabiting the Space of a Song

There are few bands in the history of rock about which one could say, "they were one of a kind." For me, Joy Division is one of those bands. Their story is the stuff of legend, and I won't repeat it here - it's easy enough to find for those who are interested. Their sound was unique - Ian Curtis' voice combined with the sounds of Hook, Morris and Sumner to create something that, to this day, doesn't sound much like anything else. It was not easy; it was not simple. It could be a painful journey. There were only two albums, and their influence far outpaced their sales. And of course, the haunting single, "Love Will Tear Us Apart," one of the singular records of the past 50 years.

Today at lunch I made one of my periodic sojourns to The Beat in downtown Sacramento, something not quite as easy to do now as it was when I worked downtown, just a few short blocks away. Now, with my office on the other side of the river in West Sacramento, it's a drive, albeit a short one. It's always worth it.

The Best of Joy Division quickly caught my eye - the packaging looked new, and since all of my Joy Division is on vinyl, I snapped it up (for $11.98; great price). The packaging is spare - no history of the band; no track listing with instrumentation noted; just one simple picture on the cover, with the band in the distance. For all I know, it could have been staged.

But inside, a unique set of liner notes, titled Answers: Some answers to some questions. And over the course of 13 pages, the answers tell the story. Not all of it makes immediate sense; some of it seems wordy; but all of it is fun to read, even stimulating and dare I say it, poetic.
Some examples:

because Ian sang as though he'd already written the words down, on lined paper, in a cheap exercise book, with a wonderful, ragged right hard margin, keen to get it all out before the ruin, and something was giving him the heebie-jeebies

because of the connection between the order of things and the strange intersection of events in the world

because life is a means of extracting fiction

because each life makes its myths

and my favorite:

because [producer Martin] Hannett emptied the space of a song in order to let the listener inhabit it

To find one's way through a Joy Division record, that's the secret - inhabit the songs.

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