BY MARK DIBONA
We listen to music for only one reason. To show how much we know one specific artist. People don’t listen to Led Zeppelin because of the musicianship, domineering sound, and archaic lyrics. They do it so people know they know Led Zeppelin. And, if they’re lucky, someone will say, “Hey, you know Led Zeppelin. Nice man, they kick ass!” and now that person is feeling a little less lonely than they did beforehand. We certainly don’t listen to music because we enjoy the actual sounds. Except, of course, that that is the exact reason we do (or at least should) listen to music.
So a couple of weeks ago while flipping to the VMAs during the commercial breaks of Breaking Bad, I was very surprised and slightly angered to see one of the members of One Direction (the one who kind of looks like Jorah Mormont from Game of Thrones and definitely looks way to old to be in a boy band) wearing a “Love Will Tear Us Apart” shirt while accepting an award for “Song of the Summer.”
(And by the way, who are the VMAs think they’re kidding calling “Best Song Ever” the song of the summer? That song didn’t even receive a tenth of the airplay of “Blurred Lines” or “Get Lucky,” let alone the fact it wasn’t released until well after the summer was half over.)
But back to why I was surprised. The shirt in question has that quote with that specific image and can only be referencing one thing: the post-punk band Joy Division. A band, I assume, that there’s no way anyone in One Direction listens to. Because there is no way they could listen to this type of stuff regularly enough to justify wearing a t-shirt in in tribute.
Let me go out of the way to say I am not offended because I am some huge Joy Division fan. I think lead signer Ian Curtis’ voice came off as laughably bad in the song “Transmission” as it did absolutely perfect in “Disorder.” I will be the first to admit New Order, the band formed by the remaining members after the suicide of said lead singer, is far superior. I am offended because so few people are huge Joy Division fans, and yet the t-shirts that feature their ubiquitous Unknown Pleasures album cover is the highest selling band t-shirt on Amazon (that would be ahead of other heavy shirt-seller acts like Bruce Springsteen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Led Zeppelin).
I’ve seen this specific shirt three times on campus already this year. And while Joy Division may be a very well known band, that isn’t the same thing as being a very popular one. Go ahead, name three Joy Division songs other than the ones I’ve named in this article without looking them up. If you’re a particularly big Killers fan, you might’ve said “Shadowplay,” as they had previously done a cover of it. If you’re a particularly big music fan, you may have been able to name one of their more well-known songs like “Dead Souls” or “Heart and Soul.” But, unless you count the band among your favorites, I doubt you could name enough. After all, if shirt sales were a reflection of the band’s popularity, shouldn’t New Order be on top of the best sellers list, too? As I said before, they share most of the members and New Order had five hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and countless on the dance charts, while Joy Division had a total of zero on that list and their music is near impossible to dance to.
Despite all of this, there is not a single New Order shirt on Amazon’s top 100 best selling band t-shirts list. But if you want hard evidence, just take a look at some of the highest-rated reviews of the Unknown Pleasures shirt. Would you care to guess how many of them mention the band at all? If you guessed one, you can pat yourself on the back because you are 100% correct. Most of them talk about how great it looks, how comfortable it feels, how perfect the screening is, but the highest rated review really sums it all up:
“I am immensely satisfied with my Joy Division T-Shirt. Professional screen printing on a high quality pre shrunk Anvil shirt. Also—when you wear this, people will complement you. It is a really cool looking shirt”
There you go: “when you wear this, people will complement you.” Why wouldn’t you want to wear a Joy Division shirt? I’m not saying if you’re a huge Joy Division fan and choose to wear a shirt to show your love of them that you’re acting wrongly. I’m saying you don’t exist. I wear a ton of band shirts. In fact, besides my “Life is Good” shirts and those showing my pride in Boston sports teams, they’re the only t-shirts I wear. But, with the exception of a Beatles shirt I received for Christmas years ago, I have seen every one of the bands featured on my shirts live (and in some cases twice or more), even those with oldies like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. And unless you were around Britain in the late 70s, you haven’t seen Joy Division live. When buying a band t-shirt, you should only ask yourself how good it looks if you’re comparing it to another shirt for the same band being sold next to it at the concert venue.