UNKNOWN PLEASURES by Peter Hook (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

joyPop-pickers of a certain age and diehard hipsters out there surely won’t have missed that the title of yesterday’s post on Ricky Gervais’ ‘Afterlife’ featured a quote from the Joy Division song ‘Heart And Soul’.

This track, from their second and final album ‘Closer’, includes the tortured lines: “Existence, well what does it matter? I exist on the best terms I can. The past is now part of my future. The present is well out of hand”.

Anyone pausing to reflect on such lyrics would probably conclude that the author was either a) deeply troubled or (b) that he had been reading a little too much outsider fiction. Both of these were true of the band’s tortured lead singer Ian Curtis who hung himself on 18th May, 1980.
This inside story of Joy Division is seen from the no frills perspective of their bassist, Peter Hook. ‘Hooky’ admits that they were aware that Curtis was mentally and physically sick but were blind to the possibly of this having such tragic consequences. The title of this post is what the writer himself says would have made a good alternative title to his memoir.

Hook’s account is a highly entertaining warts and all view from the frontline that begins inauspiciously with the band playing to (literally) empty rooms and continues by enduring countless shit venues before slowly but surely they managed to build a name for themselves.

He is unashamedly subjective and opinionated although he is the first to admit that he may have got some of the details wrong (“maybe I’m talking out of my arse again”). He’s not one for deep analysis but in speaking so plainly about the bleak reality of life on the road he gives a real insight into the sheer bloody-minded perseverance and good fortune needed to make it big.

At the same time there’s no false modesty; he knows that the band were miles ahead of their peers although had no inkling at the time that Martin Hannett’s distinctive production job would contribute to their continued popularity and influence.
Hook doesn’t gloss over the feud between him and guitarist Bernard Sumner; on the contrary he adds quite a bit of salt to the wounds. For instance, he says early on that Sumner always hated the nickname Barney (after The Flintstones’ Barney Rubble) but then proceeds to call him just this throughout the book.

Like so many bands in 1976, Joy Division formed after witnessing the filth and fury of Sex Pistols first hand. In other words, they were initially fired more by attitude than talent. Ian Curtis was first seen a clubs wearing a long overcoat with the word HATE written by hand on the back. He, like all true punks, knew more what he was against than what he stood for.

Curtis, of course, proved to be Manchester group’s catalyst and Hook makes no secret of the fact that he thought of himself as the brawn to his brains. He knew Curtis’ vocals sounded cool although didn’t pay too much attention to what he was actually singing about and didn’t understand why he was so immersed in writers like William S. Burroughs, Franz Kafka and JG Ballard.

With hindsight, he and the rest of the band’s entourage could have been more clued in and attentive to Curtis’s distress but the singer was clearly an accident waiting to happen and it’s doubtful if they could have saved him.

Thankfully, this book doesn’t try to mythologize him or set him on a pedestal. Instead, it presents an honest snapshot of an era and gives a refreshingly down to earth summary of how this extraordinary band came into being.