Book Review: Unknown Pleasures by Peter Hook

Peter Hook, Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division
Talk, Q&A and book signing at Rough Trade East, 11th December.

A few weeks ago I had the unique pleasure of meeting Peter Hook, co-founder of both Joy Division and New Order. He gave me a copy of his recently published book: Unknown Pleasures. I thought the least I could do was write a review of it.

When I saw he was doing an interview and book signing at Rough Trade, just off Brick Lane, I thought I might as well try and see if I could pop in and say hello, although I couldn’t afford to buy a copy of his book. While I waited in the café at the front of the record shop, I had a brief chat with Emma Warren, who was hosting the talk that evening. I ordered a cup of tea and it was then that Peter Hook walked in. There was no stir whatsoever from the small crowd gathered there. He stood around for a while then walked past me, I just sat there staring at him, not really sure how to acknowledge his being there. Our eyes met and I gave him a faint smile. I sipped my tea, Peter Hook standing right behind me.

The point of that evening’s event was to promote his new book, Unknown Pleasures, which tells the story of how Joy Division came to be (I’m still unsure whether the title suits this story perfectly, or whether it’s an unoriginal choice made out of sheer idleness). Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division is part biography, part memoir. Peter Hook describes the forming of the band, their musical development and the brief period (roughly six months) in which the band was, to a certain extent, “professional”. But aside from all the facts, we are given a whole new insight into what it really meant to be part of the band, which Hooky describes as (and can’t seem to underline enough) “just a bunch of lads”. The rough van trips, the fights and fall-outs, the booze and the banter.

Unknown Pleasures is not particularly well written. In fact, it’s hardly a good piece of literature, but doesn’t need to be. Having first heard Peter talk about the band’s history during the interview, as I read the book I felt as if I were still sat in front of him, listening to him reminisce the stories from his youth. The conversational tone of the book suits the story just fine. So what is the story behind Joy Division? Two boys from working class Salford decide to form a band after seeing the Sex Pistols play Lesser Free Trade Hall. Peter Hook decides to buy a bass and walks into an electrical shop: “‘Well, what kind do you want, son?’ said the bloke behind the counter. ‘A bass one?’ ‘Well, how about this one?’ ‘Is that a bass guitar?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘That’ll do.’”  The rest, as they say, is history. From the first pages of the book, all we get is pure, unimpaired honesty. Hook and Sumner chose to form a band because they wanted to tell everyone to Fuck Off, just as the Sex Pistols did that night, and because of the image that came with it. Hook turned out to become the legendary bassist he is today, because Bernard Sumner had just been given a guitar for Christmas. Later on, they come across Ian Curtis and Steven Morris, and, in 1977, went on to form Warsaw.

Inevitably, Ian Curtis’s presence looms over the book from the very beginning and throughout, as we all know how the story ends. But in the talk that day and in Unknown Pleasures, Peter Hook intends to portray Ian as he saw him, minus the intellectual, tortured-soul aura that comes with premature death. Here’s an example of how he is described in the book:

“…this is one of my lasting impressions of Ian – an image I have in my head of him, like the image of him chasing the drum down the motorway or pissing in the ashtray. It’s of Ian, who liked to read Burroughs and Kafka and discuss art with Annik, asking this French guy where the girls were. ‘Girls,’ he was saying. ‘Where are the girls?’ Holding his arms to his chest and waving them up and down like a pair of jiggly boobs. ‘Where are all the girls?’”

I get the impression that the reasons for which Peter Hook has chosen to write this biography are, first of all, a desire to offer fans a different, more realistic account of Joy Division’s history, without the poetic air attributed to them after Ian’s suicide. On a more intimate level, Unknown Pleasures seems to be a personal reflection on the choices made by four young men, on the way they reacted – or, in the naivety of youth, failed to react – to a friend’s struggles and illness. Throughout the book, there’s certainly a sense of regret, made quite evident by numerous ‘what if’s. This is a biography in which one man looks back with a slight sense of surprise at the way certain events unfolded, and how things can unexpectedly work out for the best, and at other times still tries to make sense of it all. The beauty of this book is its pure honesty, its down-to-earth descriptions of the band’s songs and the simple yet thoughtful way in which it’s written.

Unknown Pleasures is certainly worth the read. It’s a rare view into what it really meant to be a part of Joy Division and a bittersweet recollection of the brief journey of one of Britain’s most influential bands. And above all, it’s wholeheartedly entertaining.

Joy Division by Kevin Cummins

Joy Division by Kevin Cummins

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook. Published by Simon & Schuster UK, first edition September 2012

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