There is something peculiar about the fact that punk refuses to die even in the current pop culture landscape that has been thoroughly taken over by vapid commercial music that celebrates everything punk abhorred.
Covid-19 made a desert out of SoHo. Few people on the streets, anxiety in the air, a strangely eerie space. But space nonetheless.
We wanted to finish our book week with several shorter reviews in order to give you a wider range of books to peruse while in quarantine, or at least furnish our take on them.
Twenty years ago a hardcore band American Nightmare was formed in Boston. It changed the direction of hardcore into one that was more reflective, more musical, and more meditative and created a signature that was entirely its own. This was largely due to Wes Eisold’s, the band’s front man, fascination with post-punk, especially with the bands like Joy Division and the Smiths, whose lead singers were also genuine poets, as is Eisold.
From Richard Serra’s New York City hat trick this autumn at Gagosian, I have only seen the Chelsea sculpture shows, Reverse Curve and Forged Rounds (Triptychs and Diptychs are up at Madison Ave).
If you find yourself in Tokyo in the next month and don’t go to the expansive exhibit of Chiharu Shiota at the Mori Museum you will have no one to blame but yourself.
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.
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.
It should come as no surprise that Rick Owens has decided to collaborate with another musical artist on a joint art project, albeit this time around it will be a full fledged exhibition with the Estonian rapper Tommy Cash.
This selection of musical expressions has acted a vessel for settling my nerves and has on many occasions cured my anxiety while crossing continents.