Monday, February 4, 2013

Peter Hook's Joy Division book 'Unknown Pleasures' + U.S. signings

Peter Hook's book came out last week in America. He is currently doing a brief run of author events across the country (see info below). My review of the title and overview of last Friday's LA appearance follows...

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division
It Books
Hardcover, 386 pgs.
[Also available as eBook from HarperCollins]

Joy Division emerged from the late ‘70s post-punk era and over the next decade, heavily influenced what would become known as alternative music.

Together for just a few years, the Manchester, England band put out two entrancing studio albums featuring songs of alienation while still a touring entity.

Here in America, many people first became aware of the quartet’s music via college radio and the 1980 single “Love Will Tear Us Apart” - released in the aftermath of singer Ian Curtis’ tragic suicide.

Now founding bassist Peter Hook (formerly of New Order) has traced the band’s brief history in a compelling new book, Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. It is the follow up to his acclaimed, UK-only 2009 publication, The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club.

pictured: Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Ian Curtis
The black cover is designed to mirror the original namesake album's pulsar line artwork.

Pictures of old ticket stubs (including the infamous June 4, 1976 concert in Manchester by the Sex Pistols that prompted the Joy Division members and countless others to form their own bands), handwritten notes, lyric sheets, contracts, posters, instruments and various archival snapshots are placed throughout the book. There’s even a handy index.

Divided into five parts and 31 chapters, Hook provides specific timelines, where he goes into greater detail about events like recording sessions and gigs (complete with setlists from later tours).

On the first page, he writes “this book is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…as I remember it.” Everything starts off with an anecdote about Joy Division’s first gig under that name (having ditched the Stiff Kittens and Warsaw moniker from 1977 tours) in January ‘78 before 30 people at Pips Discotheque in Manchester. The bassist struggled to prevent a string from popping out as he played and a fight ensued. Offenders were thrown out and the musicians ended up finishing the set to an empty room.

Keeping with Hook’s usual sense of humor, the chapter headings include memorable quotes: “The twats were flicking the V’s up at us,” “I told him exactly where he could stick his vibrators,” “It was like The X Factor for punks,” “He thought we were pricks and how right he was” and plenty more.

Despite Joy Division’s reputation as gloom merchants, Hook partially dispels that notion by revealing that the twentysomething males also had fun times (practical jokes on The Buzzcocks, hijinks with roadies, a William Burroughs author signing, winding up each other and producer Martin Hannett) and uncovers how he came up with that distinctive bass guitar sound.

The recollections are rife with a sense of bravado that is distinctly Hooky: at different points, he tells what some people were really like early in their career (Midge Ure and Factory label mates OMD were nice guys; The Cure? Apparently not).

While playing a 1979 show with Robert Smith & Co., he says they probably “resented us in some way because we’d managed to stay cool, credible and independent and they’d sort of sold out a bit…I think they thought, ‘wish we were Joy Division.’”

That one paragraph has recently drawn attention by international music media, as has the fact that current members of New Order have predictably denounced the book.

Longtime enthusiasts should revel in the detailed track by track guide to Unknown Pleasures and Closer, which Hook suggests reading as the albums are played. Although I’d interviewed Hook twice in the past, even I was fascinated by some details.

For example, on “She’s Lost Control,” an aerosol can was used for some drum effects and Hannett recorded a flight case being kicked around. Before recording “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Factory Records head Tony Wilson encouraged Curtis to sing like Frank Sinatra.

Hook writes that he regrets missing signs of Curtis’ downward spiral, yet attributes some of it to youthful ignorance. Plus whenever the singer was asked, he always said everything was fine.

All told, Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division is a must-read for fans. 

* * * *

Peter Hook appeared at Skylight Books in Los Angeles on 
Feb. 1 to promote his book.

At least a couple hundred people packed into the small store to watch the former Joy Division/New Order bassist chat with British music journalist/author Simon Reynolds for an hour and take a few questions from the audience. 

They discussed how it was a testament to the influence of Joy Division - not exactly a commercial success during its run - that it was portrayed in two feature films ("24 Hour Party People," "Control"), while mega groups like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd had not. 

Hook said "24 Hour" director Michael Winterbottom was going for a more comedic aesthetic in the manner of the old British “Carry On” films, while Anton Corbijn sought authenticity with "Control." 

Corbijn prepped the actors more, instructing them, “Ian wouldn’t do that.” Hook joked that he thought Sam Riley was too good-looking to play Curtis in "Control," but the portrayal of Curtis in "24 Hour" seemed true to form.

A macabre moment in the talk came while Hook was discussing Curtis and one of the bookstore’s light fixtures suddenly came crashing down and the bassist inferred it was Curtis giving us a sign. Fortunately nobody was hurt.

Hook said he and Bernard Sumner didn’t have an inkling about starting a band until they saw the infamous Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976. 

“We were into heavy metal bands like Deep Purple and Santana.”

Once the pair was blown away by the sheer din of the Pistols and impressed by the opening act, they knew they had to start a band. But Hook didn’t even know what a bass guitar was.

“I went to the instrument shop and said ‘give me a bass.’ The guy said, ‘which one’ and I said, ‘that will do.’”

A funny anecdote found Hook describing a tour-ending prank directed at The Buzzcocks where Joy Division gathered maggots, shaving crème and mice to unleash on them.

Once the Skylight program was opened up to fans’ questions, Hook relayed that his all-time fave New Order album was "Technique" (“I don’t know how we even managed to finish it”) and that he listened to New Order's just released "Lost Sirens" album of outtakes and was pleased about how good it sounded.

Likewise, Hook found a fresh appreciation for the first two New Order albums while preparing them for a tour with his own band The Light (he plans on touring the US in the fall). 

Hook said that Ian Curtis was so simpatico with Joy Division producer Martin Hannett that after Curtis died, the remaining members didn’t really know what to do in the studio at first.

“There was no one around to say this or that was a good bit, so we’d play for 20 minutes, listen back on tape and figure it out.”

Curtis turned the guys onto a lot of cool music they’d never heard like Iggy & the Stooges, The Doors and Velvet Underground.

“Ian would come over and say, ‘Listen to this album’…people used to say we sounded like The Doors and I was like, ‘Who?’ Later, we’d play ‘Riders on the Storm’ live and nobody noticed!”

After a question about early Joy Division sessions with Martin Rushent (Human League), Hook said he thought he and Sumner were the best producers of their own material.

Touching upon Joy Division’s unique sound, the bassist said Hannett was a master at creating space in the songs. 

And finally, will the current sour relationship with remaining members of New Order and attendant legal issues with them ever be resolved? 

"It’s like you’re divorcing the wife, then she’s taking the scissors to all your clothes and someone asks, ‘do you think you’ll get back together?’”. 

Upcoming Peter Hook author appearances:

Tuesday, Feb. 5 | 6 PM 
Museum of Contemporary Art 
220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 

Wednesday, Feb. 6 | 7 PM
Book Revue 
313 New York Ave., Huntington, NY 

Thursday, Feb. 7 | 7 PM
Brookline Booksmith 
279 Harvard St., Brookline, MA

Friday, Feb. 8 | 7 PM
Porter Square Books 
25 White St., Porter Square Shopping Center, Cambridge, MA 

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