Posted by:on March 4th, 2014
386 pages, perfectbound
IT / Harper Collins
I came into this book being predisposed to dislike Peter Hook, or “Hooky” as he is known, based solely on the portrayal of him in the movie Control, notably the scene where he’s dissecting the Buzzcocks name. He addresses that very same scene in his book, annoyed that they made up something dumb that he would never say, only to find out that Ian Curtis’s girlfriend Annik Honoré had him on audio tape saying those very words. Hooky humbly accepts it, as if chalking it up to dumb things you do and say when you’re young. It’s a recurring theme in the book, and he’s not afraid to point out when he or anyone else in the Joy Division/Factory Records/Manchester punk scene acted like a “right twat.” It’s endearing actually. The book is mostly written in conversational tones, without a lot of pretension. Although he does seem full of himself at times, he’s always got a sense of humor about it.
It’s one thing to read a biography about a band written by someone who wasn’t with them at the time, you take it with a grain of salt, always wondering how much is true, and how did the author know. Straight from the horse’s mouth is always better, especially if the horse is trying to be honest. Sure, there are autobiographies that read more like press releases or canonizations, but this isn’t one of them. Hook seems to be pretty much telling it like it is, even when the it’s not flattering. Part of the charm of the book is that he tells you what he thinks about various portrayals of Joy Division and Ian Curtis in movies like Control and 24 Hour Party People, as well as Deborah Curtis’ book “Touching from a Distance.” When I watch movies like that (both excellent, by the way) I’m always curious about what the real person thinks about the dramatization.
Although usually glib in his retelling, you can tell this was a cathartic experience for Hook. It seems as though he as two main points he wants the world to know about Ian Curtis. First, that Ian was multifaceted, and many things to many people. He was a brooding, intelectual artist to some. He was a very career driven performer. He was a husband and a father. He was a happy, fun loving guy who enjoyed normal “laddish” pleasures, like practical jokes and oggling girls. The second, equally important point he makes is just how emotionally inept the band was when it came to dealing with success, Ian’s condition, and ultimately his passing. It’s as if they just didn’t have the capacity to do any of it, and so they just ignored all of it for the most part. It’s amazing how clueless he admits to being. That’s not to say that he makes excuses for anybody, but Hook’s perspective is very humanistic.
There are a few things that are awkward about his writing style. There are passages quoted from sources that aren’t apparent, and a somewhat disruptive timeline. At times he hints to things that you like him to elaborate on, but most of them are gossipy type items. At times he’s a little pompous despite all the self deprecation. He comes off very likable even with a checkered past. I suspect he’s one of those people that a lot of people like and enjoy, while others may find him to be a bit of an ass, but hey, I’m pretty much like that as well. As long as we’re speaking of me… (it’s my web site you know…) one thing that immediately drew me to “Hooky” was his recounting of being bitterly disappointed and angry when hearing Unknown Pleasures mixed for the first time, and for a long while afterwards. It seems he and his bandmates wanted to sound like Iggy and the Stooges while Martin Hannett was intent on using synthesizers, echos and delays to give them a moodier, more spacious sound. Joy Division came to be directly as a result of seeing the Sex Pistols, and they wanted to be punk! If you listen to a lot of their live performances, it’s obvious Hook’s not just paying it lip service. Fast forward to the early 80’s, and I’m in high school, enjoying Joy Division but almost more like tolerating them. I’m in my mid teens and they aren’t quite “punk” enough for me… but better than most of what the suburban Midwest had to offer. At least we can learn from our youthful, uninformed opinions!
Peter Hook must be somewhat of a packrat, he manages to locate all kinds of minor ephemera out for the small selection of photographs in the book, including tour schedules, ticket stubs and rental/equipment receipts. What about New Order? Hook limits his New Order tales to situations where he applied lessons learned or friends made during Joy Division. Thankfully, New Order is a tale for another book.
Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division is well worth the read if you enjoy Joy Divison to any degree, regardless of your present knowledge about the band. It stands on it’s own, but makes a great companion to 24 Hour Party People and Control. It’s an enlightening and often heavy (emotional) read at times, more so for everyone’s complete failure at coping than for the part that you know is coming at the end. Even if you aren’t a huge Joy Division fan, it should be valuable to anyone who has the inclination to read about music instead of just listen to it.
More Print reviews