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The Works: How Joy Division Explains the All-Star Starters

Feb 2, 2011 – 1:53 PM
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Today in The Works: Joy Division and the All-Star Game, a match made where time stops moving.

Discography 101

Over at, the illustrious Kevin Love has a blog entitled "Love Will Tear Us Apart". That's a reference to the mega-gloomy Manchester outfit whose genius lead singer Ian Curtis killed himself at the height of their powers. On the surface, nothing to do with basketball, right? Except Kevin Love himself really likes that title, which got us thinking: What if we picked a Joy Division song that represented each player in this year's All-Star starting line-ups? Might we not learn something new about these players, this music, and ourselves? And most importantly, would we have so much fun that we would never, ever die, especially not by our own hand?


Dwight Howard -- "Passover": Howard might be the NBA player least likely to listen to Joy Division -- his album proved he's more into decade-old pop songs -- but that doesn't mean the songs have nothing to do with his situation. By most accounts, Howard is still reasonably happy in Orlando, but he seems more willing than ever to admit that the Magic might not have what it takes to win a championship. If that's the case, he could leave, an outcome that always seemed possible even if he never wanted to admit it. It's a feeling also espoused in the first few lines of "Passover" -- "This is a crisis I knew had to come/ Destroying the balance I'd kept." Otis Smith continues to remake the team in the hopes of finding a championship contender, but holes remain no matter what he does. As Curtis sings, "Can I go on with this train of events?/ Disturbing and purging my mind/ Back out of my duties, when all's said and done/ I know that I'll lose every time" -- lines that match up with Howard's feeling that Orlando's regular chance has only caused them to come up short of the final prize in new and disappointing ways. This song is for people coming around to the necessity of a relationship's end but not yet able to go through with it. In other words, it presages a nasty breakup to come. (EF)

LeBron James -- "Candidate": "Candidate" is so sparse as to feel oppressively depressing even for Joy Division, a band that didn't exactly built its reputation on tales of hope and love. In that way, it's a poor fit for the current LeBron, who still finds some joy in seeing the Cavs reel and tweets about karma as if he's above punishment. Imagine LeBron as a failure in Miami, though, and "Candidate" serves as a sort of Ghost of All-Star Weekend Future for the one-time king of Cleveland. For one thing, it's a song about an appointed savior unable to fulfill unreal expectations -- just check out these lines for proof: "Oh, I don't know what made me/ What gave me the right/ To mess with your values/ And change wrong to right." As Curtis explains repeatedly, this figure was put in this position through little choice of his own, except at his lowest point that same public that raised him up brought him down and blamed him for their failings. Right now, LeBron still thinks the public loves him, even if opinion is slowly shifting. But in a few years things could get very ugly, leading to resentment from LeBron. Curtis again: "We're living by your rules/ That's all that we know." LeBron isn't actually nothing more than a victim of a fickle public, but it's the kind of opinion that a depressed LeBron could easily proclaim a few years from now. It's a sad future, but possible nonetheless. (EF)

Derrick Rose -- "Ice Age": I know, this song is bleak and awful, and handily turns the fantasy of an Ice Age lifestyle into something akin to being buried alive ... and then pretty much being buried alive as the only means of survival. Go Bulls! But if any player is about cool taken past the point of no return and transformed into mortal blankness, it's Rose. There is great tumult and upheaval, and yet, the terrain is barren, the flame, absent instead of low and menacing (see Durant, Kevin). Also, Eric says he can imagine Rose having grown up in a household where nothing but Joy Division was heard, even though that's about as culturally unlikely as my having been played Schooly D by my parents. This is not wholly insulting, though, just as "Ice Age" is one of the few Joy Division songs that can rightfully be called exhilarating, even if all that means is that terror becomes a fight-or-flight dilemma, rather than existential doom. Of course, there's nowhere to flee to in an Ice Age, and humanity becomes its own prison. But whatever! Check out this passage ... totally Derrick Rose: "Nothing will hold/ Nothing will fit/ Into the cold/ No smile on your lips". You can keep your "force of nature" players. Rose is downright elemental. (BS)

Amar'e Stoudemire -- "She's Lost Control": No, I am not calling Amar'e Stoudemire a woman, or feminizing him in the manner favored by conservative NBA commentators. This selection was made because, when last I was in the habit of going to hipster dance nights in Brooklyn, this was the Joy Division song you were most likely to hear. Amar'e, being something of a blipster himself (at least by athlete standards), and having cultivated a certain fancy-boho vibe about him as he took the city by storm, might well be the next Bill Murray-randomly showing up at weeknight DJ nights. Except unlike Bill Murray, he would be there to spread love, not act the crank. What's more, "She's Lost Control" does capture the double-edged sword that is Amar'e, and the D'Antoni Knicks, in general. Live by that bitch, die by it. They're at their best when flirting with the dark side, but need to have that conscience, that sense of remorse, that reminds them there's such a thing as going too far. Otherwise, they will end up like that lady in the song, "screaming and kicking on her side". And the rest of the league, who insist that they "live a little better with the myths and the lies", will be right, and Shaq will come out of retirement to trade himself for Danilo Gallinari. (BS)

Dwyane Wade -- "Interzone":
Hey, do you want to hear Joy Divison sounding particular New Wave-y, fairly anticipating New Order, while also sprinkling in touches of riff-driven classic rock straight from Thin Lizzy? Then "Interzone" is the song for you. Like Miami's Big Three, it's bold, bossy, unexpected, and throws everything you thought you knew about them into a tailspin. It could also correspond to Wade's ongoing makeover, which began slowly when hired a stylist tasked with making him look like a demented heir to a mineral fortune, and has continued through his days as a newly single playboy. But underneath it all, there is unease, even desperation. In "Interzone," the landscape is miserable and forbidding, if ostensibly the model of urban civilization. That would be the Heat before this summer, a team whose only relevance came, other than Wade, from the fact that South Beach gave them a decent shot at any free agent who wasn't a total shut-in loser. Or was, maybe, in the case of Chris Bosh. The narrator "had no time to waste" and "is looking for some friends of mine." Could that possibly refer to Wade's desire to get another ring, and the need to play with those he trusts? Does the darkness of this song, as much about this impulse as the context that inspires it, bode ill for human attachment-as-priority? Don't ask me, I ate all the barbecue. (BS)


Carmelo Anthony -- "Means to an End": Carmelo Anthony is now seen as a villain for wanting out of Denver, but he has legitimate reasons for his feelings. "A Means to an End" is a story of love and friendship at its end, a moment when unfulfilled promises and hopes breed resentment and pain. In better days, Melo and the Nuggets had a "vision [to touch] the sky," but all that's left now is shattered dreams and a dark path to a life of middling playoff berths with no sign of championship glory. Like Curtis, Melo asks his former beloved "Is this your goal, your final needs/ Where dogs and vultures eat?" It's a mediocre existence rather than what any great player shoots for. As the endlessly repeated refrain says, "I put my trust in you," except, in a cruel twist, that same cutting line could be thrown from Denver fans to Melo, too. Sadly, the song is so gloomy that the next destination appears no sunnier than the current one. In the opening lines, Curtis sings "A legacy, so far removed/ One day will be improved." Could it be that Denver is the best home Anthony will ever know, and he'll be forced to look back and wonder if he made the right choice? The true horror of the situation, though, is that no city can bring him what he wants. Maybe the fault is his own. (EF)

Kobe Bryant -- "Isolation": Like most Joy Division songs, "Isolation" is about the trouble of being alone in the world, although in this case the exile is at least partially self-imposed. That self-loathing is not typically associated with Kobe, but the track is far less ambivalent -- or at least ironic -- about a solitary life. For instance, take a look at these lines: "Surrendered to self preservation/ From others who care for themselves/ A blindness that touches perfection/ But hurts just like anything else." The isolation of the title isn't only a personal decision, but an admission that everyone in some way is isolated, so the singer has simply embraced the truth of the world and focused on helping himself. Occasionally, that state even breeds something nice -- "a blindness [to others] that touches perfection" -- that mirrors some of Kobe's greatest individual successes on the court. If Curtis ultimately feels that his isolation is incomplete, then Kobe realized the same before he teamed with Pau Gasol to become a champion again. Adding to the vagueness of the song's intent here is the fact that the tune is relatively peppy for Joy Division, even featuring an enjoyable synth melody that stands out in the otherwise murky tones of "Closer." (EF)

Kevin Durant -- "Day Of The Lords": You might consider this entry a cop-out, but before listening, read this excerpt form "Day Of The Lords" and tell me that it doesn't work great as an anthem for Durant, the Thunder, and maybe an acknowledgment of the uneasiness that comes with a future so filled with possibility:

These are your friends from childhood, through youth,
Who goaded you on, demanded more proof,
Withdrawal pain is hard, it can do you right in,
So distorted and thin, distorted and thin.

Where will it end? Where will it end?
Where will it end? Where will it end?

This is the car at the edge of the road,
There's nothing disturbed, all the windows are closed,
I guess you were right, when we talked in the heat,
There's no room for the weak, no room for the weak

Now listen and see if maybe, just maybe, we aren't right, and all Joy Division songs secretly are about sports. (BS)

Yao Ming -- "Atmosphere": As suggested by the song's title, the sound here is hazy, awash in uncertainty. It's a song about staying with those you love even when they're in great pain, a state Yao just happens to find himself in right now as he rehabs from various foot injuries and wonders if he'll ever play again. For most of his career, Yao has been loved by the Chinese and American fans alike for his winning personality and unselfish play. But what will happen when he can no longer play? Will the government that worked him during countless summers -- possibly shortening his NBA career -- keep him in the spotlight? Will the NBA keep him on hand as a cultural ambassador? Curtis implores throughout that his friends "Don't walk away, in silence," showing his need for love. Yao is a kind soul, but things could turn dark if he can't play again. Don't forget about him, because he needs you as much as you need him. (EF)

Chris Paul -- "Digital": One of the many Joy Division songs whose title seems to have been chosen by pulling a single random, imposing term out of a big black magician's hat that contains the abyss itself, "Digital" is also their most insistent, and claustrophobic, joint. It almost sounds like the Buzzcocks at times, but then again, this is early on, so maybe they were still working out the kinks, so to speak. Paul draws constant attention on the court; even at the top of the key, the entire defense hovers, keeping one eye on him. Once he moves toward the basket, the collapse begins; if it's a penetrate-and-kick situation, an obvious staple of the Hornets offense, there's nothing to stop five men from rushing toward him. Off the court, it's only a matter of time before he will have to make a decision about his future in New Orleans. "They're closing in", indeed. The franchises who covet him. The reporters wanting answers. The city that tugs at his conscience. The shady operators who want to help broker his deal. If "Digital" sounds strangely distant at times, it's because we're left wondering whether, in fact, this is really happening, or is merely a paranoid fantasy of sorts. If it "fades" away, he's jumping the gun. Paul, too, might prefer to think this is all already happening, now, than spent his life on tenterhooks. (BS)


The Works is written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Eric Freeman (@freemaneric), who also contributes regularly to Ball Don't Lie. Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is now available.
Filed under: Sports