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Music

Johnny Marr and Morrisey once discussed the problem with Joy Divison

@SamWKemp

Sometimes an artist becomes so iconic that they end up being invulnerable to criticism. Think, perhaps, about the last time you heard a bad thing said about Beyonce… it just doesn’t happen. It’s as though there’s some Orwellian secret police force out there patrolling the streets, waiting for the moment that some poor unsuspecting music fan mumbles: “You know, I didn’t even think ‘Lemonade’ was that good”. Before the words have even had time to sit on the air, these poor souls are quickly shunted into a blacked-out van and driven to a secret compound in the backwaters of rural Wales, never to be seen again. Like Beyonce, Joy Division are so revered that, at times, they seem practically immune to reappraisal. Today, they are consistently held up as an example of British musical innovation and originality – coming to embody the minimalist angst of the late 1970s Manchester post-punk scene. Anyone who says otherwise is a non-believer and must be dealt with accordingly.

But there have always been those who have felt the deification of Joy Division to be damaging. Back in the 1980s, for example, Johnny Marr and Morrisey were asked to share their thoughts on the legacy of the then-disbanded Manchester group. The answer given by the two The Smiths musicians gave was not, I imagine, the one that the interviewer was expecting.

Rather than singing their praises, Marr began by noting: “I wasn’t too bothered by what Joy Division were doing”/ He went on to vent his frustration with being constantly compared to the band just because of the Manchester connection: “It seems like wherever we go and whenever we stray from Manchester, people seem to associate Joy Division with ‘The Manchester Sound’. I don’t really think there’s a specific Manchester sound unless it’s, well, you’ve either got guitar groups or you’ve got non-guitar groups. I think the one thing in common between The Smiths and Joy Division was the line-up really.”

Marr’s bandmate, Morrisey, also worried about the legacy of Joy Division. But, for him, the issue lay in the music industry’s fascination with tragedy and suicide: “Obviously people get very affectionate about groups that are no longer with us, and it seemed like the death of Joy Division seemed to throw so many lights on Joy Division that were never there when they existed,” he said. “So, I’m personally quite sceptical. It’s like the way we feel about film stars that are dead: suddenly they’re wonderful and it’s such a shame, yet when they’re around, nobody really seems to care. It’s like this whole thing about death – it’s quite interesting. It’s fascinating; it’s perhaps more fascinating than life sometimes. So many people mourn The Beatles, so many people mourn The Doors. I mean who actually cared about The Doors when they actually existed? I don’t think they even had hit singles.”

Harsh words indeed. See the clip, below.