“Now there’s a really good book…[by French economist] Jacques Attali wrote in the late [1970s] called ‘Noise: The Political Economy of Music’…and the main tenet of that book is that…music is the best form of prophecy that we have…so that working with music or sound is our best way of divining a future, and being able to show to ourselves what’s round the corner in that psychological, or even psychic sense” (writer and graphic designer Jon Wozencroft being interviewed for the 2007 film Joy Division)
As a poverty stricken teenager in the early 1980s, all of my minimal disposable income was spent on buying records, cassettes, and music magazines (and to be honest, 35 years later nothing much has changed except I now buy far too many CDs instead of cassettes). Unlike most of my friends at the time I refused to be pigeon holed as a new romantic, a punk, a mod, or a goth because I liked music from all those genres. In the early 1980s was as equally as likely to buy a record by Adam and the Ants and Bauhaus as I was to buy records by Secret Affair and The Clash. I was also into city music scenes with my favourites being the ‘Liverpool scene’ (Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, Wah! etc.), the ‘Sheffield scene’ (Human League, Heaven 17, Cabaret Voltaire, etc.), and the ‘Manchester scene’ (Magazine, Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, The Passage, etc.).
The Manchester music scene was incredibly buoyant although often portrayed by the music press at the time as psychologically and emotionally ‘miserablist’. My parents could never understand what I saw in the “depressing and alienating music” (as they saw it) of bands like Joy Division and The Smiths. But it was through these bands that I developed an interest in psychology and what could be described as ‘psychgeography of post-punk’. In the case of Joy Division, their geographical location in Manchester and its surrounding area (Salford, Macclesfield) was integral to their music. In fact, a number of commentators (such as Liz Naylor, the co-editor of City Fun fanzine) have asserted that Joy Division “relayed the aura of Manchester” in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
All of my information about Joy Division came from reading the NME, listening to the John Peel Show on Radio 1, and listening to their two studio LPs (Unknown Pleasures and Closer) and assorted singles (that I mainly taped off the radio as most of them were not widely available). I was too young to go to gigs and they rarely appeared on television. Of the four members of Joy Division – Ian Curtis (vocals), Peter Hook (bass guitar), Bernard ‘Barney’ Sumner (guitar), and Stephen Morris (drums) – it was Curtis that captivated my adolescent attention. It was through Curtis’ documented medical conditions that helped develop my interest in psychology. Curtis suffered from epilepsy (like one of musical heroes Jim Morrison of The Doors) and clinical depression. It has also been alleged that he suffered from bipolar disorder (i.e., what used to be called ‘manic depression’) although this was never formally diagnosed (and many of those close to Curtis claim that such a claim is speculative at best).
Descriptions of Curtis’ behaviour on first sight look like bipolar disorder given the reports by his wife and others of his severe mood swings (where on one day he could have feelings of happiness and elation but on the next day could have feelings of intense depression and despair). However, other members of the band claimed that the mood swings were caused by the epilepsy medication Curtis was taking. However, bipolar disorder is not uncommon among musicians given many other high profile rock and pop stars have suffered from it including Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Ray Davies (The Kinks), Sinéad O’Connor, Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), and Adam Ant (to name just a few). Curtis was never afraid to write about psychological and medical conditions and the song ‘She’s Lost Control’ is arguably the most insightful song ever written about epilepsy (based not on his own experiences, but his observations of a female epileptic client who died while he was an Assistant Disablement Resettlement Officer based at the Job Centre in Macclesfield).
As any Joy Division fan knows, as a result of his severe depression, Curtis committed suicide by hanging himself on May 18, 1980 (a date I always remember because it was my favourite gran’s birthday), just two days before Joy Division were due to go on their first US tour. Even as a 14-year old teenager, I remember going to my local library in Loughborough not long after his death to learn more about depression, epilepsy, suicide, and attempted suicide (as he had two previous attempts to commit suicide earlier that year). I’m not saying that this alone was responsible for my career choice but it certainly facilitated my growing interest in psychology and mental health issues.
It was also through Joy Division that I started to read history books (and still do) on various psychological and non-psychological aspects of Nazism (and is evidenced by my previous blogs on the personality of Adolf Hitler and Nazi fetishism). Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Joy Division were often accused of having Nazi tendencies. It didn’t help that their name came from the 1955 novella House of Dolls by Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor Yehiel De-Nu (writing under his pen name Ka-tzetnik 135633). The ‘Joy Division’ was the name given to a group of Jewish women in World War II concentration camps whose only purpose was to provide sexual pleasure to Nazi soldiers. I have to admit I’ve never read any of De-Nu’s books. According to an online article by David Mikies (‘Holocaust Pulp Fiction’), De-Nu’s writings were “often lurid novel-memoirs, works that shock the reader with grotesque scenes of torture, perverse sexuality, and cannibalism“. In the 2006 book Joy Division and the Making of Unknown Pleasures, Jake Kennedy asserted that “Curtis’ fascination with extremes would hint to anyone willing to look beyond the headlines that the choice of name was probably an old fashioned punk exercise, matter of old habits dying hard”.
One of the bands earliest songs ‘Warsaw’ (which was also their band name prior to becoming Joy Division) is arguably a lyrical biography of Hitler’s deputy Führer Rudolf Hess. The song even begins with the lyric “3 5 0 1 2 5 Go!” (Hess’ prisoner of war serial number after he was captured after flying to the UK in 1941). Another of their early songs ‘No Love Lost’ features a spoken word section with a complete paragraph from The House of Dolls. A 2008 article by music writer Jon Savage in The Guardian newspaper noted that Curtis’ songs “such as ‘Novelty’, ‘Leaders of Men’ and ‘Warsaw’ were barely digested regurgitations of their sources: lumpy screeds of frustration, failure, and anger with militaristic and totalitarian overtones”.
Deborah Curtis (Ian’s wife) also remembered that her husband had a book by John Heartfield that included photomontages of the Nazi Period and that graphically documented the spread of Hitler’s ideals. The cover artwork of the band’s first record, the ‘An Ideal For Living’ EP, also featured a boy member the Hitler Youth drawn by guitarist Barney Sumner banging on a drum. Much of the flirtation with Nazi symbolism was arguably juvenile fascination and playful naivety. It’s also been noted that Joy Division’s early music concentrated on the nihilistic provocations of industrial music’s pioneers Throbbing Gristle (whose music I also examined at length in a previous blog). An interesting 2010 article by Mateo on the A View From The Annex website defended Joy Division’s use of Nazi imagery and lyrics:
“The Labour government´s betrayal of the working class during the 1970s and the rise of Thatcherism at the end of the 1970s heralded a future of mass unemployment, government repression and decaying industry. The perspective taken by Ian Curtis, the band´s sole lyricist, towards this growing authoritarianism and despair is crucial to understand if one is to place the references to fascism found in the band´s album art in the context intended by the artist, that is, a despairing anti-Nazism…Punk at that time was a unique music scene in which battles between anti-racists and neo-nazis were being thrashed out at concerts as the skinheads tried to appropriate the punk aesthetic and hijack the following of alienated, disillusioned working class youth who gravitated towards such a sub-culture in places like Manchester at the beginning of the 1980s…The lyrics of Ian Curtis made it clear that this was a presence suffered and feared as opposed to tolerated or toyed with by the band…Joy Division feared fascism, they did not flirt with it and the artwork and lyrics in ‘An Ideal for Living’ serves as a warning of growing fascistic tendencies in British society…For this, Curtis and his bandmates should be lauded for tackling such a controversial issue and expressing such a well-grounded fear and hostility towards such a veritable enemy of the working class during a swift turn to the right in Britain”.
By all accounts, Curtis was a voracious reader and read books by William Burroughs, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche, Nikolai Gogol, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hermann Hesse and J.G. Ballard, many of which made their way into various Joy Division songs (an obvious example being their song ‘Interzone’ taken directly from a collection of short stories by William Burroughs). As Jon Savage noted:
“Curtis’s great lyrical achievement was to capture the underlying reality of a society in turmoil, and to make it both universal and personal. Distilled emotion is the essence of pop music and, just as Joy Division are perfectly poised between white light and dark despair, so Curtis’s lyrics oscillate between hopelessness and the possibility, if not need, for human connection. At bottom is the fear of losing the ability to feel”.
J.G. Ballard was a particular inspiration to Curtis (particularly the books High Rise and Crash, the latter of which was about the suffering of car accident victims and sexual arousal, and which I wrote about in a previous blog on symphorophilia). One of Joy Division’s best known songs (the opening ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ from their second LP Closer) took its’ name from Ballard’s collection of ‘condensed novels’ (and given its focus on mental asylums is of great psychological interest). So distinct is Ballard’s work that it gave rise to a new adjective (‘Ballardian’) and defined by the Collins English Dictionary as “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J.G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments”. Given this definition, many of Joy Division’s songs are clearly Ballardian as they examine the emotional and psychological effects of everything around them (including personal relationships on songs such as their most well known and most covered song, and only British hit ‘Love Will tear Us Apart’).
The overriding psychology and underlying philosophy of both Ian Curtis and Joy Division are both contradictory and complex but ultimately the band members were a product of the environment they were brought up in and the sum of their musical and literary influences. At the age of 24 years, Curtis’ suicide was undoubtedly tragic and like many other literary and musical ‘artists’, his death has been somewhat romanticized by the mass media. Although he didn’t quite make it into the infamous ‘27 Club’ of ‘rock martyr’ musicians that died when they were 27 years (e.g., Dave Alexander [The Stooges], Chris Bell [Big Star], Kurt Cobain [Nirvana], Richey Edwards [Manic Street Preachers], Pete Ham [Badfinger], Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Brian Jones [Rolling Sones], Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison [The Doors], Amy Winehouse) he is surely a candidate for being a prime honorary member (along with Jeff Buckley). Retrospectively looking at his lyrics (“In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more” from ‘Shadowplay’, you can’t help but wonder (given that many of them were autobiographical) whether Curtis’ death could have been prevented by those closest to him.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Curtis, D. (1995). Touching From A Distance. London: Faber and Faber.
Curtis, I., Savage, J. & Curtis, D. (2015). So This Is Permanence: Joy Division Lyrics and Notebooks. London: Faber and Faber.
Gleason. P. (2015). This Is the Way: “So This Is Permanence” by Ian Curtis. Located at: http://stereoembersmagazine.com/way-permanence-ian-curtis/
Hook, P. (2013). Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. London: Simon and Schuster.
Kennedy, J. (2006). Joy Division and the Making of Unknown Pleasures. London: Omnibus.
Mikies, D. (2012). Holocaust pulp fiction. The Tablet, April 19. Located at: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/97160/ka-tzetnik?all=1
Morley, P. (2007). Joy Division: Piece by Piece: Writing About Joy Division 1977-2007. London: Plexus Publishing.
Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.
Savage, J. (2008). Controlled chaos. The Guardian, May 10. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/may/10/popandrock.joydivision
Today’s blog is an intersection of my academic passion (gambling) and my personal passion (popular music). In my academic career I have published three papers examining the impact of music on gambling behaviour (and I’ll cover that topic in a future blog). However, today’s blog is about gambling content in music rather than something more academic. Although I had been collating material to write this blog for well over a year, it was a tweet I received the other day from Ian Peel (editor of Classic Pop magazine) in response to a blog I wrote about my Art of Noise obsession that provided the impetus I needed to actually write this article.
One of the problems I had in putting this article together was trying to decide what the precise focus should be. Should it cover the topic of gambling in music in its entirety or be very specific and focus on a particular type of gambling. For instance, some of my readers are aware that I did my PhD thesis on fruit machine playing. To my knowledge, at least five artists have released a song with the title ‘Fruit Machine’ (The Ting Tings, Paul Lekakis, The Fades, Fat and Frantic, Lissat and Voltaxx, and Homelife) and at least two albums have been released with the same title (LPs by Jens Buchert and L.A. Deluxe). However, apart from The Ting Ting’s song, I know little about the other releases so writing something very specific was probably not the best option.
Ian Peel’s tweet suggested I should write an article on “gambling/music crossover next, [for example] Alan Parsons Project’s ToaFC”. As a massive fan of The Beatles, I know of Alan Parsons’ engineering and production work on Abbey Road and Let It Be (as well as some solo Paul McCartney LPs) as well as his role as engineer on Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon. However, I don’t own any albums by the Alan Parsons Project including The Turn of a Friendly Card (ToaFC).
ToaFC is probably the only concept album about gambling. (In fact the only concept album that has any crossover with my academic research is The Who’s LP Tommy (i.e., ‘The Pinball Wizard’), as I published a paper on pinball addiction in the journal Psychological Reports back in 1992 – see ‘Further Reading’ below). ToaFC was a progressive rock LP released back in 1980 and was the fifth album by the band (reaching the UK Top 40 albums chart and the Top 20 albums in the US). As the Wikipedia entry on the LP notes:
“[The album] focuses on gambling, and loosely tells the tale of a middle-aged man who grows restless and takes a chance by going to a casino and betting all he has, only to lose it all. The album has a 16-minute title piece, which was broken up into five tracks…with the five sub-tracks listed as sub-sections. The Turn of a Friendly Card spawned the moderate hits ‘Games People Play’ and ‘Time’.”.
There are lots of other albums that feature nothing but songs about gambling but these are all gambling-themed ‘various artists’ albums. What’s interesting about all these albums is that they all feature music made from the 1920s to the early 1970s and mainly from the genres of blues, folk, soul, and/or country and includes such LPs as Gambling Blues and Sinners, Loaded Dice – Vintage Gambling Songs, Life Is Like A Card Game (US Gambling Songs 1920s-1950s), Lady Luck – Classic Gambling Songs, and Bet You Haven’t Heard This – Poker, Casino and Gambling Songs. That’s not to say that there weren’t songs from other genres such as rock ‘n’ roll (Viva Las Vegas, Elvis Presley), ska (Long Shot [Kick De Bucket], The Pioneers), jazz (Blackjack, Ray Charles), lounge/swing (Luck Be A Lady, Frank Sinatra), and easy listening (The Lottery Song, Harry Nilsson) but the other genres appear to have far more songs about gambling.
Based on the research I did for this article I have come to the conclusion – and I may well be wrong – that there have been far more songs written about gambling up until the end of the 1960s than post-1970. If this is true, it may well be that back in the first half of the twentieth century, the number of leisure activities that were available for adults to participate in was significantly less than the latter half of the twentieth century. People wrote about what they did for pleasure before the rise of television and video games, and gambling was one of those activities that may have been more prominent in people’s leisure lives. As Jon Dennis writing in The Guardian noted:
“There’ve been songs about gambling since cavemen first found themselves feeling wreckless with too much time on their hands. It’s been a favourite theme of singers and songwriters, many of whom making the connection with life’s cruel throws of the dice…If you’ve ever wondered why Lonnie Donegan was one of the most influential figures in British music, listen to his version of Woody Guthrie‘s Gamblin’ Man. It has the furious, youthful energy of the best rock ‘n’ roll, and a manic dedication to the repeated refrain that would do Mark E Smith proud. Speaking of whom, the Fall’s Dice Man is based…(and Smith acknowledges on the sleeve of 1979 album Dragnet) on Luke Rhinehart‘s book ‘about a man whose life choices are decided on a dice roll’. It’s an uncharacteristically revealing song about Smith’s working methods…No shortage of slot junkies in Las Vegas, of course. Emmylou Harris first sang ‘Ooh Las Vegas’ as a duet with Gram Parsons on Parsons’ Grievous Angel album. The song notes the relationship between booze and gambling, and the gambler’s fallacy (that a series of losses boosts the chances of an imminent win): ‘Third time I lose I drink anything/’Cos I think I’m gonna win’…The fact that gambling’s been a much-used metaphor lends [Amy Winehouse’s] Love Is a Losing Game a timeless quality”.
There are many songs that use gambling analogies as a way of expressing and talking about human relationships. Whether it’s the Rolling Stones’ ‘Tumbling Dice’ or Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’, the language of gambling has almost become a clichéd rhetorical device for expressing human emotion. That’s not to say it can’t be done well. My own personal favourite from a lyrical perspective is Sting’s ‘The Shape Of My Heart’, my favourite couplets being:
“He deals the cards as a meditation/And those he plays never suspect/He doesn’t play for the money he wins/He don’t play for respect/He deals the cards to find the answer/The sacred geometry of chance/The hidden law of a probable outcome/The numbers lead a dance”.
Finally, I am always asked by my friends that know I love music what my favourite song about gambling is – and it can change from day to day (but it will never ever be ‘The Gambler’ by Kenny Rogers – even though I mentioned this in the very first journal paper I ever published in a 1989 issue of the Journal of Gambling Behavior). From a purely visceral viewpoint, it has to be Motorhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’ but I also like The Animals’ definitive version of ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’, and an obscure 1988 song called ‘Chance’ by the duo Act (formed by ex-Propaganda singer Claudia Brucken and Scottish musician Thomas Leer) from their great ZTT album Laughter, Tears and Rage.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Dennis, J. (2011). Readers recommend: Gambling songs – results. The Guardian, September 15. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/sep/15/readers-recommend-gambling-songs-results
Dixon. L., Trigg, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). An empirical investigation of music and gambling behaviour. International Gambling Studies, 7, 297-308.
Ekberg, A. (2009). 25 great gambling songs. Yahoo.com, April 30. Located at: http://voices.yahoo.com/25-great-gambling-songs-3228884.html?cat=33
Griffiths, M.D. (1989). Gambling in children and adolescents. Journal of Gambling Behavior, 5, 66-83.
Griffiths, M.D. (1992). Pinball wizard: A case study of a pinball addict. Psychological Reports, 71, 160-162.
Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2005). The psychology of music in gambling environments: An observational research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 13. Located at: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue13/jgi_13_griffiths_2.html.
Music Jay (2013). Ten famous songs inspired by gambling. ZME Music, June 3. Located at: http://www.zmemusic.com/other/singles/ten-famous-songs-inspired-by-gambling/
Spenwyn, J., Barrett, D.K.R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of lights and music in gambling behavior: An empirical pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 107-118.
Votaw, L. (2013). 13 awesome songs about Las Vegas. Billboard.com, May 17. Located at: http://www.billboard.com/articles/events/bbma-2013/1562827/13-awesome-songs-about-las-vegas