The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Baker's Dozen

Beauty From Trauma: Paul Mendez' Favourite Music
Paul Flynn , October 7th, 2020 08:40

Pop is all over Rainbow Milk, the Gordon Burn Prize-nominated debut novel by Paul Mendez. Here he tells Paul Flynn how a love of Marvin Gaye, Beyonce, Solange, Joy Division and Missy Elliott gave him a clearer understanding of his sexuality and racial identity


Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures
Ian Curtis had great empathy. The concept behind empathy is gone. People prefer to sympathise, because it shows they are in a position to look down. Whereas Ian Curtis has empathy that is real. You can hear that in his voice. He wasn’t trained but he had this pure, clear tone.

I got into Joy Division before New Order. When I lived in Tunbridge Wells, the summer of 2003, I had a friend who gave me a CD with a burned bit of ‘Heart And Soul’, disc two, the Closer side and a bit of Aphex Twin. The CD got fucked up so all I could listen to was ‘Isolation’, ‘Means To An End’ and ‘The Eternal’. ‘The Eternal’ I found difficult at that age – I was into R&B and a bit of synth pop – but ‘Isolation’ I was down with from the get-go. It has this incredible rhythm section. It’s quite hard, which I loved.

A couple of years later, I came to London and thought, OK, I can listen to whatever music I want now. Jesse does it with sex in the book. I did it with music, bought New Order’s Substance and played those songs back to back. Then in 2006 I was dating this guy who lived in rural Northamptonshire. We were at his friend’s house one day and he had the boxset of Heart And Soul which I burnt to a disc and took away with me.

The first time I played the first disc on my speakers, it was ‘Disorder’. I’d never heard anything like it. The drums! Woah. The wall of sound. This is just amazing. I wrote it into the book for Jesse to have this eureka moment, to be brought back to life. I wanted to pay tribute to Joy Division, and to Unknown Pleasures in particular, while showing Jesse in a moment coming out of despair, his first inklings of being able to create a path for himself that doesn’t necessarily rely on Jehovah’s Witnesses anymore. In which he can live his truth without self-destructing.

It’s great that Joy Division are from Manchester and are the Manchester sound. But I always maintain that it is the music closest to how my childhood sounded. Walking up a street called Gas Street on my way home from school, a pedestrianised road with a gas tank and a fence. The wind would blow through the fence, creating a fluting sound, circle around the gas tank and you’d hear flaps of some kind blowing inside the derelict buildings that once were foundries. There was this spacey, echoey sound you heard all the time. Joy Division was the first time I heard that on a record. It might be from Manchester. But for me, it is West Bromwich.