Pleasures and Wayward Distractions

After reading the biography about Ian Curtis by his widow Deborah, I still had a hunger for more Joy Division reading material. So I began in this book by Brian Edge, who follows a completely different course. No biographical details, but an outline of their musical career.

It does not end with Ian Curtis’ death, but there is also an Epilogue about New Order. The writing style of Edge is rather academic. Already on the first page you can read sentences like: “The Sex Pistols were therefore a godsend when, in 1976, they became the bellicose catalyst for youth’s latest social phenomenon, the punk genration, who revamped infectious, attractive independence and made it their central ethos. The outcome of this secondary manifestation was to provide stagnant popular culture with a long desired blood transfusion, while simultaneously causing the music industry behemoth to experience something akin to an enema.” Now here you have something to sink your teeth into.

Edge tries to focus solely on the music, something which the Joy Division members also preferred, they were never very grateful interview partners. Brian Edge criticizes music journalists: “There is a tendency in music critique, just as there is with art critique, to become over interested in finding out what really makes the artist(s) tick, pushing their work – now sadly relegated to a subordinate role – into the shadow of personality reportage.” So you won’t read anything about Ian Curtis’ troubled marriage, and his epileptic fits are only mentioned between the lines.

It’s a chronological account, with most of the attention for the records and less emphasis on the concerts. Hardly any stories about how the band came into existence or what difficulties they had to endure before obtaining succes. Edge gives his own opinion about the songs and the concerts, and he is at times critical, which is refreshing for a music book. Quite some performances are described as being disappointing, and various songs, especially the early ones of both Joy Division and New Order, are rather ‘crude’. Especially in his reviews of the two Joy Division albums, he demonstrates to be a passionate fan as well. He has quite some attention for the lyrics, from which he cites abundantly. He is also very critical about other bands ‘mimicking’ the style of Joy Division, about which he concludes: “Their music will be forgotten, but Joy Division will be as durable as the imposing classical architecture that their finest music so sensuously emulated”.

The book is rather compact, you can read it within two hours. At times I find it a little superficial. His reviews of records are detailed, but the story is rather global, especially in the New Order era. But a nice quote by Stephen Morris about Gilbert Gillian, who joined New Order in 1980: “Gillian was the only person whe knew who couldn’t play. We’d seen her play and she definitely couldn’t!” They did not want someone who could play because he would bring in his own style.

“Pleasures and Wayward Distractions” contains more than 100 photos, including some very nice material, most of them by photographer Kevin Cummins. They are all in black & white, and unfortunately not printed with very high quality. But it is to be praised that with all photos the date and place are added. The discography at the back is not very detailed. Throughout the book many quotes of bandmembers and other closely related people are used, but without any footnotes about the sources of these quotes. Nevertheless a handsome compact story about the musical career of Joy Division and an epilogue about New Order. My edition is from 1984, a newer revised edition has been published (in 1988), with added information about New Order.