Dead musicians, eh? These figures that continue to dance around our lives, talking to us, playing on our screens – often they seem to be more in our thoughts than deceased friends and family members. Our continued interest in these characters and their art is positively encouraged by an industry built on re-packaging and selling their work to audiences old and new (imagine the raised eyebrows when you turn up to the pub in your ‘Mum – 1938-2000 – RIP’ t-shirt) but if it was just about fashion, it seems unlikely their stories would continue to reverberate quite so much.
Our relationship with dead artists is the topic of Jennifer Otter Bickerdike’s new book, Joy Devotion – The Importance of Ian Curtis and Fan Culture, a series of essays about Curtis and fandom that touch on “ideas of memory, death, technology, fandom and secular religion.” With a preface from Joy Division/New Order’s Stephen Morris and foreword from key documentarian of the Manchester scene Kevin Cummins, Joy Devotion is launched on what would have been Curtis’ 60th birthday with a special event in Shoreditch.
As a music fan – and a fan of fandom itself – it’s no surprise that Jennifer has picked out four of her favourite music-related titles for the latest in our Chapter & Verse series, throwing in a fifth as a kind of ‘bonus extra track’.
The Smiths and Beyond by Kevin Cummins
Hands down, my favourite photographer and the man who created the myth of Manchester during the heyday of the music that I love so much. This book has some of the most gorgeous pictures of the early days of The Smiths, including my favourite Cummins picture of all time, Morrissey standing by a sign that says ‘Penis Mightier than Sword.’
It is just a valentine to fandom, as you see Morrissey perpetuating his own idols by the shirts he wears and his mannerisms on stage; while Cummins simultaneously captures the adoration of the group’s audience. The book illustrates this history repeating itself, and shows via still images, the role that fandom plays in our lives.
Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azzerad
A must read for anyone who ever utters ‘DIY’ or claims to be a fan of ‘indie.’ Azerrad perfectly captures the moment where indie in the US was that: a network of college radio stations, small venues, fan-run zines and bands with a message. Azerrad does a fantastic job of showing how divergent the different areas of the US are – and how a band such as Black Flag or Mudhoney can mean so much to so many totally different people. A true portrait of the community of music pre-internet.
I Swear I Was There – The Gig That Changed the World by David Nolan
Of course, Nolan is talking about the legendary Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976, where every rock luminary from the Manchester scene happened to be – or claimed to be – at the fateful gig which shaped music history. Just the idea of Morrissey, the future members of Joy Division and Buzzcocks all under the same roof and coming away so inspired to create art gives me shivers – whether they were all actually really there or not.
Love & Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain by Max Wallace and Ian Halperin
OK, before you say that I am going heavy on the conspiracy theories, I want to remind everyone that these are two credible, award winning journalists, not some random hacks. This book literally lays out the facts of the weeks leading up to and including the discovery of the body of the Nirvana front man. It is like these two just plunk each individual piece of evidence on the picnic blanket, then allow the reader to ruminate over it. About ¾ of the way through, I was like ‘OK HE WAS MURDERED’ as the concrete truism and mishandled investigation is just too much to really think otherwise. Whether you believe that Cobain killed himself or was killed, a masterpiece in investigative journalism, as well as an expose on the power of celebrity and press.
Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs
I always say The Awakening by Kate Chopin is my favourite book in interviews; it is one of my go-tos, but honestly more from a theoretical sense than from an actual ‘what book I have read the most often’ stance. I literally have read Magical Thinking cover to cover well over 100 times. I give it as a gift to loved ones, and I use it as a barometer for if someone has as twisted a sense of humor as I do.
Burroughs is famous for Running with Scissors, which I think sadly overshadows the brilliance of this book. Each chapter is a short vignette of a day in the life of Burroughs. From midget house keepers to dates with undertakers, Burroughs’ sarcastic, matter of fact un-PC style makes me howl with laughter every time I read it.
Dr Jennifer Otter Bickerdike is a Senior Lecturer and former American music industry executive. She has written and presented extensively on fandom and media, authored books about fan cultures and delivering the exhibition ‘Joy Devotion: A Year In The Life Of A Rock Shrine At The Ian Curtis Memorial Stone’. Joy Devotion is available in limited hardback and paperback editions direct from publishers Headpress.