Joy Division, An Oral History by Jon Savage

The story of Joy Division, the seminal English post-punk band, is the story of how light comes from darkness, how meaning gets created out of the dreadful meaninglessness, out of the grime, dirt, and hopelessness of post-industrial city life. It’s the story of searching without help or guidance, of blundering into greatness, of succeeding against the odds the society has stacked against you. It underscores the fact that most great culture does not come from the place of privilege, but out of struggle from the dreadful, suffocating periphery. Marginally, but importantly, especially for contemporary society dominated by cultural troglodytes, it’s a story of how great literature can be a respite, a refuge, and a catalyst for brilliant culture to come out of the unlikeliest of places.

That’s the story you get in This Searching Light, The Sun and Everything Else, the new book by the esteemed English music writer, Jon Savage. The book is billed as the oral history of Joy Division, and it is exactly that. Its 322 pages are comprised of unaltered and unadulterated reminiscences by the people who were in or surrounded Joy Division – Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Ian Curtis wife, Deborah, the prolific Factory Records and Hacienda co-founder Toni Wilson, the now-legendary art director Peter Saville, who designed that album cover that’s on that t-shirt you wear that you bought at Urban Outfitters even though maybe you haven’t listened to a single Joy Division song in your life, and many others.

What you make of the book will depend on how big of a Joy Division fan you are. Joy Division is a strange band, because its mythology looms infinitely larger than its actual life. This book undoubtedly trades on that fact. What really happened in those couple of years of its existence? What happened before? You get an account so detailed that I don’t think anyone but the bands most obsessive fans would have the patience to sit through minute details of the band’s short life. We get a lot of background on what a shitty city Manchester was, of how its very boredom and nothingness birthed worthwhile culture. We get the nods to Ian Curtis’s talent – and it’s true that there would be no Joy Division without his poetry, which is really what carried the band (love New Order all you want, but compared to Joy Division their lyrics are limp). We get a lot of detail about how crappy the recording equipment was back in the day and how that influenced the Joy Division sound. There is quite a bit on the all-important Sex Pistols show that inspired Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Ian Curtis in that “well, if they c an do it, so can we.” Funny, how we now have Auto-Tune and Garage Band for that.

Dieter Rams: Less and More

In the history of design Dieter Rams – age 86 – is already a deity. His famous Ten Principles of Design are the design world’s Ten Commandments. His precept “Less But Better” is or should be etched on every designer’s forehead. Actually, considering today’s concern for sustainability, they should be etched on every person’s forehead. Rams’s products for the German manufacturer Braun have inspired countless designers, including those of Bang & Olufsen, and of course, Apple. There is, of course, a documentary. And books. One of which, “Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams” originally published in 2015 by Gestalten, is now in reprint. The book serves a double duty as a catalog accompanying the eponymous museum exhibit that has been traveling the world since 2009, and is now on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  

Deborah Turbeville Comme des Garçons 1981

I first met the photographer Deborah Turbeville in 2011 when I profiled her for our second print volume. It turned out that Deborah was an avid Russophile, and our conversation ranged from her work to her love of Russian literature, cinema, music, and ballet. After Deborah passed away, it was the first article from our print editions that we shared online.

I kept in touch with people who managed Deborah’s estate, and early this year I finally went to see her archive, housed in an Upper East Side townhouse and to meet its co-director, Paul Sinclaire, who also was one of Deborah’s closest friends. While I was browsing the photos, like some kid in gothic Disneyland, I spotted a box titled “Comme des Garçons.” I went through it, and the ethereal, otherworldly photos in it were marked “1981.” Could it be that Deborah had shot the first collection Kawakubo presented in Paris? It very well could, though we did not know for sure. But what I did know was that given the May exhibition of Comme des Garçons at the Met these photos should be made into a book. I asked Paul what he thought about making a book, and he loved the idea.

Rick Owens: Furniture

This past December, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles put on an exhibit of Rick Owens’s furniture. If you missed the show, which closed on April 2nd, you can still get the belatedly released book that provides a glimpse into that part of Owens’s oeuvre

Iris van Herpen: Backstage

The intrepid Dutch designer Iris van Herpen, well known by now for pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, has released her third book, Iris van Herpen: Backstage. Unlike her two previous books and as evident from the title, this time we get a chance to peek into what’s going on backstage before van Herpen’s shows. The soft cover 144-page tome (EUR 29.50) with photos by Morgan O’Donovan is published by Wilteveen+Bos and is available on the designer’s website.