Here’s something notoriously depressing. I think we all know the story of Joy Division’s brief success and tragic ending. There have been movies about it. Tragedy obviously sells, and you can’t deny that it’s because of the tragedy that instead of being a blip on the radar of the crowded post-punk field Joy Division has had an afterlife that’s fueled the sales of a million t-shirts. At least their gloom was genuine, and people with their own gloom relate to that. Idolizing a troubled person may seem ghoulish, but if it helps other troubled people feel a little bit better, that’s about the best legacy anyone could ask for.
Depressing, but on point. The depressing aspect of it is quite overwhelming; it’s a song written and sung by a man who would commit suicide less than a year later. Thus cementing Joy Division as truly and authentically the saddest sad-sacks in the already mopey currents of New Wave. The sense of melancholy and despair was no pose, and the message not an encouraging one. The title and lyrics were a morbid joke, a take on Captain & Tennille’s unbearably chirpy Love Will Keep Us Together. For anyone who’s learned that love does no such thing, the relentless preponderance of sappy love songs is a nauseating insult to lived experience. Although there’s definitely an unhealthy aspect about relating too strongly to art produced by someone who suffered from and succumbed to suicidal depression, there’s is also a relief of recognition in hearing what Ian Curtis understood love to do to you. Joy Division’s small output has shown lasting power and continued relevance exactly because of that appeal. Because no good times go unpunished and love affairs are something we sign up for knowing that we’ll come out of them not better but more damaged.
And now for something genuinely depressing.
There are these magazines, which are entertaining but not of a very high journalistic standard. They’re aimed at the digital-ADD afflicted younger generation of readers. Those who prefer to ingest information in the form of very small sound bytes. These magazines used to flourish (they don’t anymore, not in this economy) by publishing scads of silly lists of the Top-50-[adjective]est-[plural noun]- that-ever-[verb] type. A popular theme being crazy things done by crazy-ass crazy rock stars. Admittedly, few things in this world are more entertaining than the exploits of crazy-ass crazy rock stars. However, I find that it’s in very poor taste (not that these things are held to very high standards of taste, mind you) to lump on such a list – alongside the merely flamboyant but basically sane (i.e. Elton John*) and the Iggys and Ozzys whose misbehavior stemmed from substance abuse and who turned out to be quite normal once they’d cleaned up – someone like Ian Curtis, who really had some very serious mental health issues and for god’s sakes hanged himself. That’s a tad bit offensive. There’s drug addled, and there’s eccentric, and then there’s honest-to-god suicidal.
Even minus the suicide, any band whose name purportedly refers to prostitution in the death camps is bound to take home the gold for depressing the hell out of their listeners. This song, whatever horrible thing it may be about (suicide, probably), is depressing to me because it reminds me of having the most absolutely unfestive Thanksgiving dinner of my life. That was fall 2010. I had Thanksgiving at work. Though the food was good, without a doubt, no one wants to have their Turkey Day turkey sitting on a bin of sugar in a windowless kitchen, surrounded by (much as I love ’em) coworkers who insist on wrapping everything in a tortilla before they’ll eat it, listening to Joy Division. I suppose I could’ve skipped the Joy Division, but somehow it felt like the perfect touch of death-icing on my gloom cake.
*Don’t try to tell me about Elton John’s suicide attempt. He left the gas on – and the window open. Don’t try to tell me he hasn’t got his self-preservation shit together.