Hook – Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division

18 Apr

Unknown Pleasures Inside Joy Division

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook (2013)

This is a book that I was so excited about that I pre-ordered it twice (a drunken oversight as the book’s publication was backed out a few months).  Not only was there a new back-story to one of my all-time favorite bands, it was told by the band’s bassist.  Peter Hook, bassist of Joy Division and subsequently New Order, recalls his memories of his time spent in the quintessential post-punk band.

Hook, or “Hooky” as he likes to refer to himself, has a very casual and colloquial narrative voice; far from stilted, it’s as if you were hearing the tales told by a mate over a few pints.  Also, as a member of the band he is able to offer the sharpest insight (pun not necessarily intended) to date on Joy Division: the music, the production, the egos and some surprisingly hysterical anecdotes along the way.

Hook explains the conceptions of songs in depth like only a member of the band could:

“All four of us had ideas.  One of us would have been listening to Kraftwerk and suggest using that sound as the basis for a song.  We’d all chip in and by the time the song was finished, even though the seed of the song had been Kraftwerk, it wouldn’t sound like Kraftwerk at all.  That was the art.  It sounded like Joy Division.  In this particular case it sounded like ‘Digital,’ in fact.”

He elaborates on their musical influences, how they were shaped by other Manchester outfits that they played with and, of course, the studio time spent with the eccentric, hard-ass production genius Martin Hannett (think 24 Hour Party People).  The most interesting chapters in the book are track by track gl0sses of their two iconic albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer;  Hook encourages the reader to listen to the albums while reading these passages and it’s particularly effective.

Hook also humanizes a band that has been shrouded by an icy veil with his stories of their silly antics and petty squabbles.  Joy Division, a band with a gloomy anti-image, were notorious pranksters who developed elaborate schemes for laughs when they weren’t playing their dead serious music.  Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner, who went on to form New Order in the wake of singer Ian Curtis’ suicide, are constantly at odds with one another, so much so that I was surprised to learn that they are currently touring.  Most importantly, Hook finally gives a more balanced character study of the late Ian Curtis.

“What gets me sometimes about the deification of Ian is that it suggests a real division between Ian and the rest of the band that in reality wasn’t there.  I’ve no doubt he was different with us from how he was with Debbie [his wife] and Annik [his mistress], because that was the people pleaser in him.  The Ian that was with Debbie is the one she talks about in her book; he’s the one in Control, and you see the Annik-Ian there too.  But what you don’t see–and what’s really never come out–is the Ian we saw in the band.  That’s because it doesn’t fit neatly into the myth, which prefers the idea that Ian existed on another plan from the rest of us.”

The book also contains four timelines chronicling the band from their bright beginning to their tragic end.  The timelines are the most conventional aspect of the book and aren’t always terribly enthralling, but they do reveal how much Curtis was struggling with his debilitating epilepsy and plodding on in spite of the fact.  That being said, Hook paints a picture of Ian Curtis with a palette that isn’t exclusive to grays.

Peter Hook’s Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division is an engaging, down-to-Earth treatment of one of the most important bands of the post-punk movement and should be required reading for any Joy Division fan.

Rating: ****

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One Response to “Hook – Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division

  1. ghosts go boo April 19, 2013 at 12:44 am #

    I enjoyed Hooky’s in-depth look at “Unknown Pleasures” and “Closer.” Excellent book, overall!

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