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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 170
Wed. June 26, 2012

“Ceremony”
New Order
1981

“♫ […] Oh, I’ll break
them down, no mercy
shown/ Heaven knows,
it’s got to be this time/
avenues all lined with
trees/ picture me & then
you start watching/ watching
forever/ Forever, watching
love grow/ Forever, letting me
go/ Forever
[…] ♫”

Bernard Sumner, former guitarist of Joy Division and lead vocalist of New Order once told Melody Maker, talking about the suicide of former friend and front man Ian Curtis, during their first interview as New Order—
I will never be able to cope. Ian’s death will affect me for now, and forever, I will never be able to forget it. Personally, as a friend… it means so much to me…regardless of the group… as a friend.”

Thirty-two years later, you can still feel it in Sumner’s voice, the way he talks about his old friend; the agony is still seething underneath. I imagine it’s an anger that’s tinged with endless waves of sadness. I can’t imagine what Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Sumner and his band mates are still dealing with, after all these years; the memory of their fallen Joy Division leader still haunts them.

Even though, “True Faith” was the first New Order song I heard—“Ceremony” is the New Order song that resonates with me the most. Did you know that Hook, Morris and Sumner composed “Ceremony” to help cheer up Curtis? Sumner explained in this very emotional and touching interview with former Happy Mondays and Manchester maracas shaking legend Bez when he said—

We actually wrote “Ceremony” in Joy Division. It was a horrible time because Ian [Curtis] had just tried to commit suicide and failed. He was in a hospital and came out of the hospital. And we had a riot at a gig because Ian couldn’t handle it. So Ian kept going back to hospitals so we wrote two songs—“Ceremony” and “In a Lonely Place” to try to cheer him up. But I don’t think the songs cheered anyone up. But we just thought we’d write a brilliant track and get his mind off it, to get his mind on music. Unfortunately it didn’t work. Did you know “Ceremony” and it’s flip-side “In a Lonely Place” where originally Joy Division compositions. But New Order decided to record them as a tribute to their deceased leader. Sumner discussed this with Bez when he explained—

We played “Ceremony” at our last gig [as Joy Division] in Birmingham. It was the last gig we played but the sound was terrible. We had a few rehearsal recordings but we couldn’t really hear the lyrics. So we took the Birmingham gig and the rehearsal and we EQ’d it—trying to get what Ian’s lyrics where because the song wasn’t finished. So we worked out, after Ian died, what the lyrics where and we took it to Orange, New Jersey in America with [Joy Division and New Order producer] Martin Hannett. The reason we did it there was because we wrote a few songs, this is we started again as New Order, and we didn’t want to do it in the glare of the public eye— so we went to do a small tour of the Eastern Seaboard of America. And during the process we went into the studio and recorded “Ceremony” and “In a Lonely Place.””Unbeknownst to most—“Ceremony” was the literal musical bridge between Joy Division and New Order. You can hear symbolically the lyrical torch symbolically being passed from Curtis to Sumner on the hauntingly beautiful “Ceremony.”

There are some that dismiss “Ceremony” as just a Joy Division cover by New Order. But Joy Division never properly recorded a studio version of “Ceremony.” “Ceremony” is homage to the legacy of Curtis. Without “Ceremony” New Order couldn’t have survived. “Ceremony” is New Order’s way of musically paying respects to their departed comrade and is one of their best songs over.

Paul Morley, Joy Division scribe, once called New Order’s “Ceremony—” “The Best Song Ever Written.” Morley waxed philosophical on the greatness of “Ceremony” when he said—
I remember telling Howard Devoto that I thought this was the greatest song ever written. He couldn’t understand what I was talking about, what I was thinking of. He thought I was deadly wrong. Ten years later, or whatever it is, I think I was much closer to being right than he was. You know, I really did use to say that New Order were immersing themselves in the intimate certainty of their talents, that they started from nowhere with nothing on their mind and ended up with corrosive, volatile beauty. And some people or other used to say, oh come on, they’re just little working boys who found something to do and who one day will be found out. I now estimate the truth to be on an amazing line stretched between the two extremes. The greatest group of all time.”

Is “Ceremony” the best song of all time? Maybe—but think about this, how many bands can lose a legendary lead singer like Ian Curtis, start over and still be successful by overcoming the greatness of their former Joy Division selves? I can’t think of many—Led Zeppelin broke up when their dynamic drummer John Bonham died. But not Hook, Morris and Sumner. They actually carried on as New Order.

Joy Division died when Ian Curtis took his own life. The kind of success of New Order have achieved post-Curtis, rarely occurs in music. Most bands break up naturally. Even though the current members of New Order are in limbo. Hook and Sumner have a rift that hopefully can be mended before New Order takes the stage at the closing ceremonies of London’s 2012 Olympics.

“Ceremony” is the song that was born from the ashes of Joy Division and resurrected by Hook, Morris, Gilbert and Sumner for Ian Curtis. Thirty two years later New Order are still and will always be dealing with the emotional scars from losing their best friend Ian Curtis. What would Curtis think of New Order’s version? Legend has it that, before he passed, Curtis was the one trying to convince his Joy Division band mates that this electronic noise from the German synth band Kraftwerk was the future of music. Curtis would be proud to know that New Order has flourished with Ian’s rhythmic prognostication.

“Ceremony” is the first flame of the sound that New Order made famous. Hook, Morris, Gilbert and Sumner gave human emotion to electronic music. You know somewhere Curtis is listening, grinning with pride. Honor Curtis, Joy Division and New Order by spinning “Ceremony;” All it takes is that legendary opening guitar riff and this timeless gem—what is it about “Ceremony?” It’s more than a song. It’s an emotionally honest tribute with a shadow like beauty that will always resonate deep inside of me.

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