Thursday, October 08, 2015

“We couldn’t. It was too hard.”

In an interview with music magazine Mojo Bernard Sumner, guitarist for Joy Division and lead singer for New Order, is asked about his recently released autobiography and how Sumner felt about “revisiting your memories of Joy Division and Ian [Curtis, JD lead singer]?”

What was different about us was that we really didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know how to write songs, therefore we wrote songs in different ways. Most bands learned by copying other bands’ records. We couldn’t. It was too hard. So we learned to play by not being able to play.

A common bit of advice for novice artists (painters, musicians, poets, etc.) is how you’re first to get down the received forms, copy the masters, right? Once you can make a competent sonnet or can produce a life-like drawing, you are free to (allowed to?) go off in experimental, strange, abstract, incompetent-seeming directions. But first you need that base in the conventional.

The Sumner quote reminds me of something similar I read about Gertrude Stein. Supposedly Stein tried to write conventionally, failed at it, then went off in those strange, abstract, incompetent-seeming directions for which she became famous, and sometimes even read.

There are a lot of ways to go about it, really. The Bad Thing is to prescribe the One Right Way and believe what you’re saying is Good.

source: Mojo issue 262, September 2015

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