Simon & Schuster (2012), 318 pages
Connolly Bookshop, €7
Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division is bassist Peter Hook’s memoir of the life and tragic death of one of the England’s greatest bands. The book is fascinating for its content but also when read in comparison to Morrissey’s Autobiography. Both books cover approximately the same time period in Manchester (although Hook is from Salford originally) during the immediate punk and post-punk era. Hook is a completely different character from Morrissey. Whereas Morrissey is a shy and introverted intellectual, Hook is an extroverted likely lad. Hook isn’t a violent person as such but he doesn’t shy away from physical confrontation when he feels it’s necessary to stand his ground. Hook successfully captures the excitement of starting a band in the middle of the punk explosion. He describes the famous Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall (which Tony Wilson, Mark E. Smith, and Mick Hucknall also attended) and the impetus it gave him and Bernard Sumner to start the band that would eventually become Joy Division (and later New Order).
Unknown Pleasures strengths are its ability to capture the details of life in a band in the late 1970s. When Joy Division started all the band members continued to work day jobs and money (or the lack of it) was a constant issue. Hook had to sell the bass amp he used on the Unknown Pleasures album to pay a gas bill. There is a constant fear that they won’t have the money to pay for petrol for driving to gigs. Unlike The Smiths Hook gives the impression that Joy Division’s ascent was much slower. Hook is great on the details of recording the albums. There are nice track by track guides to the Unknown Pleasures and Closer albums. Unlike Morrissey, Hook is conscious that he is only giving his point of view, he might not actually be right in everything he says. While he is willing to criticise he is also willing to see the good side of even people who he doesn’t get on with. The style does sometimes have the feel of reading an interview without seeing the questions (something which Hook sort of confirms in a GQ article) but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are also a number of timelines which are interesting to read but do slightly feel like padding and could possibly have been integrated into the body of the text.
The hardest part of any Joy Division story is their tragic implosion following the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis. Hook now recognises that, as a group, they should have done more to look after Curtis. The lead singer’s, at times, debilitating epilepsy combined with the effects of his medication, his dissolving relationship with his wife and his romantic entanglement with another woman created a deadly cocktail of circumstances which led to him hanging himself on the eve of Joy Division’s first US tour. It’s easy now to attribute blame but the band’s incredible work rate combined with alcohol and drugs didn’t help Curtis’ state of mind. But Curtis, on some level, chose to carry on. He was reluctant to rest after epileptic fits (sometimes on stage) and wanted to keep working. Hopefully, over thirty years later, with a better understanding of epilepsy and depression such a an event would be less likely to happen. All we know for sure is that the world lost an astonishing musician and lyricist.