I have told the story many, many times of how I came to discover Joy Division: I was THAT GIRL in the 1990s, with the dyed hair, the heavy, heavy liquid black eye liner (this is WAY before Madam Winehouse brought this to current pop culture prominence), Doc Martins valiantly worn at every and all occasions, and thrift store finds the only thing to don my body.
This was when we would go to the places where you could buy clothes by the pound, where $20 would get you an entire new wardrobe.
There were actual record stores, people made mix tapes, carefully, carefully crafted mix tapes, and music was the glue that bound us all together.
When you are 18 or 19, someone who is 21 or 22 can seem insanely older. Maggie, my boss at the Coffee House (that was the name of the establishment: Coffee House) was a GRADUATE student, and therefore in my 19-year-old mind, a woman of the world. She was the one who brought the Pixies into my life, who let us blast Jane’s Addiction LOUDLY during the lunch hour.
She had MULTIPLE nose piercings in a way I had only seen previously in National Geographic. She must have been a Sociology or English major, because I can’t imagine any other area having someone so fucking cool and unique in a PhD program in those George Bush the First days. On second thought, maybe grad school was the only shelter from the heinously conservative days of that administration. But I digress.
Anyway, it was on an abandoned mix tapes at the Coffee House that I first heard Joy Division. It was one of those tapes where the songs had clearly been taped off the radio, some poor soul feverishly sitting by their cassette player waiting with anticipation for THEIR song to come on. The first lead in was marred by the presenters talking over it, and the end bit was faded into some other song (I think it was the Sisters of Mercy’s ‘More,’ a song which has its own set of insane memories attached to it, but that is another story altogether).
The song soured through the speakers of the Coffee House. That build up. That chorus. That voice. ‘Why is the bedroom so cold?’
Already I was known in the music circles around campus as the anglophile, the girl who would rather not eat and be able to buy the imports from the Holy land of England: The Charlatans, Gene, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. These were MY bands.
I turned to my guru. ‘Maggie, what IS this?’
‘THIS, Miss England, is Joy Division.’
You usually don’t know those pivotal moments until you look back. Then you see where things changed. It was one of those moments.
It is because of Joy Division that I have had the career that I now enjoy. Yes, I had an amazing and insane life before I moved to England working at record labels, music non-profits and start-ups. But it is when I made the brave move to leave everything behind in my homeland of California and come to England to get a PhD- a PhD on JOY DIVISION- that I could start being my true self- the self that felt happiest and most at home when listening to punk, post-punk, Brit pop and baggy from this little island (full disclosure: I also feel this way when listening to Fleetwood Mac and Hall and Oates, but that is another story as well). Writing and studying and sharing the power of this music with others at conferences, book signings and classrooms around the world has been more than I ever could have even hoped for. I am indebted to Ian Curtis, and to some small extent, Maggie of the Coffee House, for starting me on my path.
Ian has been gone for 37 years- almost as long as I have been alive. Yet his power, his importance is more potent today than ever. I hope 37 years from now, people are still asking me about how I first heard Joy Division, and are still celebrating the magic that was created by four lads from the North.