This is positively meant, BTW, but I’m beginning to agree with Chris Roberts’ piece in The Quietus about the cultural overload with the band of late. Jon Savage — who admittedly has helped contribute to the overload, which he wouldn’t deny — does redress things a bit, though, with a piece that appeared a few days ago over in the UK, specifically talking about the literary interests of Mr. Curtis and company:
In the same way that Jim Morrison referenced Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night in the Doors’ moody masterpiece, “End of the Night”, Curtis dropped hints in song titles such as “Dead Souls”, “Colony” and “Atrocity Exhibition” that he had read writers as diverse as Gogol, Kafka and Ballard, while the lyrics reflected, in mood and approach, his interest in romantic and science-fiction literature.
This is not to legitimise Curtis’s lyrics as literature, but to make the point that, in the 60s and 70s, pop culture acted as a clearing house for information that was occult in the widest sense: esoteric, degraded, unpopular, underneath the literary radar. And there was a whole subculture and a market that supported these endeavours to go underground, to step outside.
It’s of general interest on a number of levels, but the end is of the most interest to me:
Nearly 30 years after his death, Joy Division have gone mass market: their music crops up in Coronation Street, or as a soundtrack for BBC sports coverage. I’m pleased the songs are receiving their due, but it’s also worth restating that the band, and its lyricist, were products of a particular time in cultural history, when there was an urge to read a certain sort of highbrow literature, and when intelligence was not a dirty word.
While this conclusion and the context of the story as a whole is UK-specific, there is something worth unpacking from this, which admittedly is a canard on the one hand (“these kids today with their texting; back then we were all reading Camus…”) but still is of potential interest for this now well-established century. More on this tomorrow, though.