cover image This Searing Light, the Sun and Everything Else: Joy Division: The Oral History

This Searing Light, the Sun and Everything Else: Joy Division: The Oral History

Jon Savage. Faber & Faber, $26.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-571-34537-3

In this excellent oral history, Savage (England’s Dreaming) chronicles the short life of Joy Division, the band that married punk’s anger with hypnotic bleakness. Joy Division was born of northern English postindustrial stoic despair; Manchester, where the band was formed, had fallen from industrial might to blighted “concrete gulags,” Savage writes. The dozens of interviews with band members, friends, family, and hangers-on tells how singer Ian Curtis, bassist Peter Hook, guitarist Bernard Sumner, and drummer Stephen Morris were inspired by the Sex Pistols’ infamous 1976 Manchester show (“learn three chords, write a song, form a group, that’s it,” Sumner says). While Joy Division’s performances were characterized by the crowd’s punk energy and Curtis’ possessed dancing, his haunting lyrics—inspired by atrocity-laden military texts, J.G. Ballard, and William S. Burroughs—made them stand out in the British music scene. Savage doesn’t shy from the band’s obsession with Nazism (the band’s name was taken from a brothel at a Nazi concentration camp, and according to music writer Bob Dickinson, “they were haunted by the ghosts of Nazism and by what it did to Europe”). Just as the group achieved notice, Curtis’s epileptic seizures worsened, and he killed himself in 1980. His widow Deborah Curtis notes, “People admired him for the things that were destroying him.” Savage wonderfully captures the spirit of the band and an era. [em](Apr.) [/em]