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.

Ray Gun: The Bible of Music & Style

How I missed the existence of RAYGUN magazine during my formative years is beyond me. The California-based music and style periodical was launched in 1992, the same year I immigrated to the United States and began immersing myself in American pop culture. It covered every great rock act under the sun – from Iggy Pop to Sonic Youth, from Morrissey to Marilyn Manson, from R.E.M. to Nine Inch Nails, and so on. 

Looking at the new compendium tome from Rizzoli, RAYGUN: The Bible of Music and Style, put together by Marvin Scott Jarret, the magazine’s founder, fills me both with hope and dread for the state of the print magazine industry. Because RAYGUN was as forward-thinking in its visual representation as it was in its content. No magazine I can think of took the adage “the medium is the message” as seriously as RAYGUN did. Its innovative treatment of fonts, graphics, page layout, format is truly peerless. None of this can be replicated on the Internet. 

Andrey Tarkovsky: Life and Work

Decades after his death, with only seven feature films under his belt, Andrey Tarkovsky remains the greatest film maker Russia has produced, under Soviet Union and thereafter, both in the collective critical film imagination, and probably in fact. His films were so multifaceted – from the stunning cinematography to the philosophical dialogue that always centered on the same question – what it means to be human – that to unpack their sheer elegiac sweep of his films requires a book.

Paolo Roversi at the Pace/MacGill Gallery

Paolo Roversi is one of those photographers that tends to frustrate you not because he is bad, but because he is do damn good. Roversi has been responsible for some of the most iconic imagery from Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto, and more than a few memorable portraits and fashion editorials. Along with Sarah Moon and Deborah Turbeville, he has managed to make fashion photography transporting, taking you to a place that’s quieter, more contemplative, more intimate. The frustration comes from the lack of avenues to experience his sensual, touching work. There are few books that capture his output, and there are few exhibits. In 2005, when I was just starting to write and I scarcely new his work I had a chance to review his Studio book, published by Steidl. I passed on it, and I still kick myself for it. You can now get it on Amazon, for $600.