Joy Division – “Disorder”

In the pantheon of misunderstood song lyrics, you have your popular favorites. Manfred Mann’s version of “Blinded By The Light” comes to mind. I feel like we can all agree at this point that he’s saying ‘wrapped up like a douche’ and just move on, right? But I digress.

For me the more nuanced and less mainstream classic is Joy Division’s “Disorder”. When you’re thirteen and hearing it for the first time, you don’t know what to make of:

“I’ve been waiting for a guy to come and take me by the hand
could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of another man…”

And the album is called “Unknown Pleasures”! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making apologies for an un-pc 13-year old self. In fact, it added to the further mystification of Ian Curtis for me. ‘He’s gay’- sure. Why not? Or maybe it wasn’t even a gay thing. Who cares? I couldn’t take anything for granted or expect anything too obvious with Joy Division. That was the appeal.
I think it took me at least a year to know that the lyric was:

“I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand
Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man”

That Mancunian accent makes the “normal” hard to make out. I think he’s talking about his epilepsy, but of course the best source for this stuff is the book written by his wife, Deborah Curtis, “Touching From a Distance” (contains all the lyrics in full). I recommend it if you really want to know what kind of tragic figure Curtis was- for himself and those around him.



Joy Division’s “Disorder” is also a more nuanced and less mainstream song in the pantheon of “Side 1 Track 1’s”. Immediately from that drumbeat there is something different going on- both literally and figuratively. For one thing, producer Martin Hannett is making those drums sound like no other drums on the planet. (I’m unclear on whether they did this on “Disorder”, but I know Hannett often had Stephen Morris play drum parts one by one so that he could record the drum parts independently).

The beat has a weirdly placed fill and in comes Hooky’s drunken clubbing, thudding, punching fake Rickenbacker bass. I bought a real Rickenbacker because of Hooky, only to find out again years later that he never played one- another misunderstood legend of the band.

Right off the bat, he’s going up high on the neck to where bass players never go. Do you know how inspiring and cool that is to hear when you’re also a 13-year old bass player? And when he crashes the notes all the way down during the choruses, I don’t know what he’s playing- is it even a real note that he lands on when he hits the bottom or is that fake-ass Rickenbacker so out of tune that it lands on something way out of the scale? I bet he couldn’t tell you. My favorite Hooky tidbit is the self-fulfilling prophecy of reading his interview in the ‘In Cold Sweat’ book. He shows up late and drunk to the interview, acts kinda like a clod and then talks about not wanting to meet your idols because they’ll disappoint you. And I thought that was fitting and all the interaction we would ever need.

Bernard is doing some weird little pattern where I think he’s playing two notes right next to each other but on different strings. And then the chorus- it just feels good. That’s the funny thing about Joy Division- I heard almost all their music before seeing any imagery or understanding any of the myth. And to me- they just sounded like a righteous rock band at times. Which I’m sure they were actually trying to be at times. They loved the Doors. The chorus of “Disorder” is rocking. “Digital” is rocking and upbeat, almost playful. I think the darkness not only came later, but was ascribed to the band through their legacy (perhaps naturally given circumstances) later. There’s even a quote from Bernard somewhere that they used to joke around a lot- that it wasn’t always gloom and doom. That seems obvious to me in the music, in this song in particular, but people always go to lyrics first. Just don’t mishear them then…

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