Joy Division guitarist recounts rocky road
Iconic post-punk English quartet Joy Division, best known for the moody single “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” didn’t write songs about surfing and sunshine. Not only was the band from a suburb of freezing, industrial Manchester, but frontman Ian Curtis, an epileptic who had seizures onstage, hanged himself at the height of the group’s popularity, days before its first American tour. Surviving members went on to found New Order, best known for the moody single “Blue Monday,” but things were never the same.
“It was hard to write songs without Ian because the spot we looked to for help was empty,” writes bassist Peter Hook in his memoir Unknown Pleasures. After New Order’s manager died in 1999, that band drifted as well. “It’s been downhill ever since – until, at the time of this writing, it’s as bad as it could possibly be,” Hook writes. “Joy Division and then New Order were ships that needed captains, but our captains kept dying on us.”
Parts of Hook’s tale of woe have been told better before. The Manchester scene was memorialized not long ago in two lauded films, 24 Hour Party People (2002) and Control (2007). The bassist’s memories of practical jokes he played on the Buzzcocks while on tour in ’79 don’t add much to these. Also, Hook unleashes a barrage of Northern England slang and loves to talk about his gear – readers will need to know that “scousers” are inhabitants of Liverpool and that Hondo guitars are the Chevy Caprices of the music world.
Still, in Unknown Pleasures Hook wrestles with Joy Division’s failure to recognize the obvious: that the sick young man singing songs center stage about death was actually ready to die. It’s compelling.
“I suppose in the end it’s almost too easy to look back and say what you should have done, how you might have changed things,” Hook writes. “What’s harder – what’s much, much harder – is to accept what you actually did do.”