books, brooklyn, death, depression, DUMBO, epilepsy, grief, ian curtis, joy division, literature, live music, music, new order, peter hook, powerhouse arena, powerhouse books, suicide, unknown pleasures
Peter Hook at Powerhouse Arena talking Joy Division and Ian Curtis
“You drove the band everywhere, you were the guy who drove the van to all the shows … (a) how’d you’d become that guy and (b) what was that like?”
“It’s sh*t. There’s a cliché in rock and roll. Drummers are completely nuts, they’re eccentric. Guitarists are usually stuck up their own ass. The bass player drives the van.”
Last night Peter Hook – former bassist for Joy Division and New Order, DJ, author and van driver – spoke to a very large crowd at powerHouse Arena bookstore in DUMBO about his new book, Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. Hook, speaking with Pitchfork editor Brandon Stosuy, says he wrote the book (his second) because “I read one book about Joy Division too many … and I thought, they’re just doing the normal thing, dwelling on the normal things to do with Joy Division, a very easy way out, talking about the mysterious, the mystification of the things we lived through in the ‘70s. And I thought to myself, ‘This isn’t it. This isn’t what I went through.’ And it just pissed me off, that so many people would write about it that weren’t there, so I thought it would be nice if someone wrote about it that was there, and write something that was true.” I have yet to read the book (officially released today in the U.S.), but one review indicates that Hook succeeds in his goal (to that reviewers disappointment) as “Hook deflates the story of a band whose legend has grown into dark, depressive myth, turning it into the story of four Manchester lads who liked punk rock, practical jokes, and fighting. Perhaps that was Hook’s intention, to demystify the group—and particularly singer Ian Curtis, who ensured his own dark legacy by hanging himself on the eve of the band’s first American tour.” That this was Hook’s goal is clear from last night’s discussion. Hook presented the members of Joy Division – and particularly Curtis – as real people.
Unlike the mythical Ian Curtis, dark disturbed lead singer, Ian Curtis the man was a real person who could alternately be happy or sad, just like anyone else. We know now that it was Curtis’s disease which caused him to live at the extreme ends of that spectrum, ultimately leading to his tragic suicide. For Hook though, it was important to illustrate the happy side. In great detail he described the practical jokes that the band, including Curtis, loved to take part in, including a hilarious one involving shaving cream, jam, maggots and the Buzzcocks (don’t worry, it’s in the book). He explained how Curtis genuinely and desperately wanted to please people; he came off as amiable, not dark or depressed. Hook says that he didn’t realize that Curtis was ill from the outset, only discovering it at the tragic end, because Ian would always tell others that he was fine. He’d say whatever he thought the listener wanted to hear. The young band members didn’t know any better than to take Curtis at his word, even when Curtis shrugged off his two failed suicide attempts.
Of course, people who keep their troubles masked are often the ones least likely to get the help they desperately need. Hook grew somber while saying that if he’d only known that Curtis was ill … well, you know. Not surprisingly, the conversation took several melancholy turns – after all, this is Joy Division we’re talking about. No matter how much Peter Hook tries to steer the story, all Joy Division roads lead to darkness. Hook talked about the quick transition from Joy Division to New Order in the wake of the Curtis’s death, and how the band played on, rather than giving itself a chance to grieve. This decision – not only to fail to appropriately grieve the loss of Curtis, but that of Joy Division as well, which died with the singer – is one Hook clearly regrets. “When Ian died … that was the end. It really was the end. We locked it up in a box, for 28 years”. Hook states that the members of New Order never bothered reading reviews of Joy Division, never looked up the posthumously released songs on the chart rundowns (such as the great “Love Will Tear Us Apart”). New Order never played a single Joy Division song live. To Hook’s dismay, over 25 years passed without a single celebration of Joy Division, not a 10th anniversary, a 20th, a 25th. They concentrated exclusively on New Order and “It worked. It made New Order a very successful group.”
Having acquired wisdom with age, Hook (who comes off as very philosophical) now realizes the error of his youth. “As you get older, you realize what a wonderful process the grieving can be, because it shows respect for the person, it shows respect for the circumstances. It’s a big part of life, especially as you get older unfortunately. And we realize I think, now, that we should have grieved. We should have had some time off … but we watched Ian go … and we worked very hard, and that way we were able to block out the awfulness.” I wonder how many people in the audience fully appreciated Hook’s message. I don’t think it is possible to know the feeling of losing someone close unless you’ve actually lived through it. Unfortunately I have, and I could feel the pain that Hook still feels when remembering his friend and bandmate. Hook got choked up talking about someone who died over 30 years ago. Consider this for a moment: Hook and Curtis met in 1976 and Curtis died in 1980. Hook is 56 years old and spent only 4 of those 56 with Curtis, all more than 30 years ago. Yet because he never properly grieved, he still cannot talk about his friend without losing it, just a little.
Hook, the philosopher, is charming and funny and has a deep well of entertaining stories (and the story-teller’s knack to tell them), but as an audience member I was more drawn in by his somber tale. Hook’s wit cannot outweigh his grief, and so at least for this night he failed to lift the dark legacy that Joy Division left behind. I’m not sure that this was necessarily his intention though. Hook wants to leave us with a lasting image of Joy Division and of Curtis – this was a normal band, made of regular people, with typical aspirations – and not solely a symbol of darkness. He’s not looking to retell the story, merely to reshape it, so that we see Joy Division and Curtis as complete, rather than as symbols. “Demystify” really is the perfect word. All people must grieve their great losses, even legendary rock bands, and Peter Hook is now realizing that he and his bandmates are no exception. I may not have much in common with a bassist /DJ/author/van driver, but going through this most basic human experience is one thing that all of us, unfortunately, share. At the end of the day, as Hook endeavors to make clear, we are all just people.
 Curtis suffered from epilepsy and his medication made him prone to depression.