Jon Savage Interview 2014

Lee McFadden poses some questions to Jon Savage regarding the recently published "So this is Permanence" - a collection of Ian Curtis's lyrics and writing.
So This is Permanence: our review

This is a big 274 page 28 x 21cm hardback which is big on content. We'd hoped this would be packed with unpublished images of Ian's notebooks and we're not disappointed.

Focussing on his lyrics there's an initial section with the finished songs featuring the handwritten version on one page and the typed up version opposite. This is followed by a large section with handwritten lyrics to unfinished songs, early versions and other prose. Finally there's a section with other items from Ian's archive - book covers, letters from fans, pages from fanzines etc.

This is clearly a labour of love and Jon Savage explains in the intro how they selected the images for the book - generally the most complete version in Ian's notebooks.

"His lyrics tell much more than a conversation with him ever could" - Deborah Curtis

Highly recommended
Jon Savage Interview

Preface by Jon Savage:

Neither Deborah or I did any textual criticism on the notebooks, preferring to leave the reader to come to their own conclusions. Our prime purpose was to simply present the existing material in as clear and attractive a format as possible.

What was the deciding factor that encouraged Debbie to bring Ian’s notebooks into the public arena?

Faber & Faber editor Lee Brackstone heard about the notebooks and asked her whether there was a book there. F&F of course published Deborah's "Touching From A Distance" way back in 1995 and there have been another couple of editions since then.

You mention “Conditioned” and “Crime Against The Innocents” in your intro as “’77 songs”. Were these played during the Warsaw years and do any recordings of them exist?

The only Warsaw live tape I've heard is the Middlesbrough one. I haven't studied it in detail - the version that was available was poor quality - so I don't know whether they're on there
[they are not included - JD Central]. I suspect they were moving very quickly away from the thrash material. Bernard Sumner's account of that period in the "Joy Division" documentary is hilarious.

Were many of the “Warsaw” tracks written by Hooky? “Novelty” is mentioned in the book as being a Peter Hook lyric, and he has claimed authorship of “At A Later Date” , but other songs of the period are missing from the book - – “You’re No Good For Me”, “Inside The Line”, “The Kill (Version 1)”, “Tension”, “Lost”, “Reaction” – plus the song only ever featured in Hooky’s book, “Bleedin’ Ell”. Could these have all been Hooky lyrics or were some of these Ian’s which ended up lost?

It's hard to say. You'd have to ask Hooky. Certainly there are lyrics that are missing, but the early years are quite well covered in the notebooks that still exist.

Re “Novelty” - on page 212 there is a verse written by Ian that appears in the unreleased first studio version of the song – so some of the above could have been collaborations?

It's quite possible.

On Page 136 – could this be an early set list? What were “Waves”, “Win” and “Visions”? Was “End Of Time” ever fully formed as a song?

It might just have been a list of existing songs and future ideas. The group did change titles, often quite late in the process, as you know. There is a fascinating list on p164 that could be possible titles for the album that would be known Unknown Pleasures - the phrase is in there amongst all the others.

Was the Burroughs method of cut ups influential in his writings? There are several examples of lines of lyrics being transported from one song to another (eg – “the path that’s been buried for years” moved from an early draft of “Komakino” to the 1980 versions of “Atrocity Exhibition”).

I haven't studied the lyrics in a forensic amount of detail. That's up to the reader. There have already been some fascinating conclusions drawn from the material that Deborah and I had never thought of. Ian was constantly jotting down ideas and phrases and that - as lyricists do - he drew from the well when he needed to complete a lyric. Bernard Sumner has said that Ian told him that he struggled to complete his lyrics until the sessions for Closer, so he may well have gone into his notebooks looking for a particular word, phrase or mood to finish off his songs in 1979.

Obviously he was influenced by Burroughs, but I always thought Burroughs was about pace and mood as well as the actual cut-up. His prose was accelerated - and obviously dystopian - which was the mood of the time. The cut-up idea was inserted into popular culture by David Bowie: there was a famous interview in Rolling Stone from February 1974 where Bowie met Burroughs and discussed the technique. It was a bit of a non-event but the idea was what mattered.

Is there a possibility that the lyrics of “Ceremony” and “In A Lonely Place” were taken by the police for evidence along with Ian’s last letter to Debbie? If its true that the final rehearsal for “In A Lonely Place” was recorded a matter of days before his death – and was to all intents still unfinished – it seems odd that he may have given the lyrics away. The original drafts of the song – the “Misplaced” lyrics if you will – are also missing.

It's clear that he either gave them away or left them somewhere. He was in turmoil at the time.

Having known Ian – did the notebooks reveal sides of him that you may not have recognised during your friendship with him?

I have to say that I could not consider myself a friend of Ian's, more of a passing acquaintance. The band were always quite self-contained. Hooky was the most outgoing one at that point, at least as far as I was concerned. I was friendly with Tony Wilson, Martin Hannett, Rob Gretton. Rob was my age, Tony and Martin were a bit older than me, and I was two to three years older than Joy Division - which matters in your early/mid 20's.

What the notebooks revealed to me was that he was a serious writer. He obviously wrote compulsively, which is what writers do - they write - and you can see from all the false starts and jotted down couplets that he reworked various ideas and phrases into his songs. Also, he was very young, I think that's what struck me the most. He was only 23, and all the survivors from that period are now pushing 60 - or over in my case. That gives you some perspective.

Is the book the definitive statement on Ian and Joy Division – and should the marketing of the band cease here?

Joy Division are a gold plated group now. I think this one will run and run as new generations discover them. Personally, and I know I'm involved, as long as the products are to a high standard and add something to the understanding of the group, I don't have a problem with any possible future JD releases. You're always free not to buy them.
Many thanks to Jon Savage for agreeing to the interview – and to him and Deborah Curtis for producing the book - Lee McFadden November 2014