Peter Hook believes that the truth about Joy Division, the legendary post-punk band he formed, remains unknown. Much has been written about the band and their influence on English music culture, but Hooky has now followed up his popular history of The Haçienda club with a new book focusing entirely on the life and death of Joy Division.
The book is an intimate account of how the band formed in 1976, worked with Factory Records to produce two near-perfect albums up to the point at which lead singer Ian Curtis took his own life in 1980. The loss of Curtis eventually led to the band reforming as New Order, but in this book Hooky focuses only on the story of Joy Division.
The Manchester punk scene - especially Buzzcocks - was the catalyst for Joy Division, but their dark moody sound is a world away from the brash punk anthems of the time. I asked Hooky how the band evolved that more complex sound: "That is the art. It's a combination of talent, skill, chemistry, and luck. There really are so many things that define you. The three of us would play with Ian picking out the bits that sounded great. We relied on him, like the conductor of an orchestra, to tell us what sounded good. This was one of the problems once we became New Order, because we lost him as the arbiter."
It was Curtis who encouraged Hooky to play his bass guitar high, in a distinctive style that led to the bass being the lead instrument for much of their music. Since his death, Curtis has become a revered figure, his black and white image now a shorthand for youth angst and despair, but in the book he is just one of the lads - a young man making music and touring with the band. Hooky explains his fear of describing Curtis as just a normal guy: "I was afraid of pricking too many balloons, spoiling hopes and aspirations, but the mythical and iconic side of Ian's deification has been literally done to death. What really happened was that I read one book too many about Joy Division and I thought that it's time for someone who was there all the time to write about it. I felt that I was in a position where I could relax and tell this fantastic story."
He went on to suggest that he plans to continue the story: "I wasn't going to do a New Order book, because it would be quite ordinary in the way that a Mötley Crüe book would be, dirty secrets, sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll. I really didn't want to do that, but when they reformed without me, in the way that they did, I literally did think fuck 'em!"
But Curtis was always special, even though his epilepsy meant that the band often had to pray they could get through a gig without the singer collapsing on stage. Hardly the kind of frontman who would succeed in the modern X-Factor style TV talent shows: "When we started the band it was all about belief. You had to believe that you were the best thing and Ian Curtis was wonderful at that. He was great at instilling in you that you are great and he would instill the same thoughts in others about how great you are. It was you against the world. Now, what would Simon Cowell have said to Ian Curtis? Something along the lines of 'don't give up your day job'. They [TV talent shows] don't see the heart and soul, they only see the topcoat, the veneer. It's not about song-writing, it's just about appearing to have a perfect technique and following the right fashion."
The bitterness Hooky feels about New Order reforming without him is evident when talking to him, but is mostly absent from the book. The reader is transported to 1970s Manchester where a young band can be selling thousands of records, touring constantly, and yet still be endlessly broke.
But the bitterness is never far away. Just last week, New Order frontman Bernard Sumner took a swipe at Hooky, claiming he was more interested in being a DJ than continuing with New Order. Responding to that Huffington Post article, Hooky said: "My God, that guy is going to some lengths to assassinate my character! It's the compliment of the year - like this is going to discredit me?"
Sticks and stones. But despite Hooky and Bernard's ongoing argument via the music press it is clear that Hooky believes New Order is finished. In the acknowledgements to his book, Hooky lists New Order alongside friends who have passed away with a message to Rest In Peace.
He said: "I do feel that that side of my life is now over. I don't recognise them as New Order in the same way as Peter Hook and the Light are not Joy Division. They can pretend and do whatever they like, but they are just another band celebrating something that was wonderful. It's dead for me."
Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division is published in the UK by Simon & Schuster and in the USA by It Books. It was published in hardback in the UK last September and is available from today in the USA.
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