Joy Division existed for three and a half years before it reached its tragic end in 1980, but its musical legacy still resonates strongly today. Within that limited period, four young lads from Manchester changed the direction of musicfirst, by pioneering what is now called post-punk, and inspiring countless other artists along the way, most notably U2, The Cure, Interpol and Editors. Formed by bassist Peter Hook
and guitarist Bernard Sumner after seeing the Sex Pistols play in Manchester in 1976, the group took shape when singer Ian Curtis responded to a "seeking singer" ad.
The band was a product of the bleaker parts of Manchester in the depressed late '70s, and its music echoed the emotional and psychological pain of life in a post-industrial wasteland. Two near-perfect and timeless records released during its active lifetimeUnknown Pleasures (Factory, 1979) and Closer (Factory, 1980)were masterpieces, introducing some of the most influential sounds of the era and changing rock music's aesthetic parameters.
While Curtis was a mesmerizing performer onstage and an enigma, he was struggling with depression, epilepsy and a failing marriage, dying by his own hand on the eve of Joy Division's first American tour, just as the band's best known single, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (1980) was released. Instead of plowing their old furrow, the remaining band members opted for a new kind of music aided by sequencers and drum machines; Joy Division became New Order.
New Order fused Joy Division's gloomy aesthetic to electronic dance Music, spawning a myriad of signature songs. The immortal pop dance track "Blue Monday," from Power, Corruption and Lies (Factory, 1983), is the biggest selling 12" of all time, celebrating its 30 anniversary in 2013. The band released the excellent Lost Sirens (Rhino, 2013) in January, with leftovers from Waiting for the Siren's Song (London, 2005), and is likely the last studio material to be released with Hook's involvement.
More than three decades laterand three years after leaving New OrderPeter Hook decided to commemorate the life of Ian Curtis by performing the band's music, but with a new group, The Light, and when New Order regrouped without him he decided to take the music of Joy Division on the road. He also wrote Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division (It Books, 2013), with his recollections of that tumultuous period. The book is a brilliant portrayal of an important moment in music history, including the life and times of a working band. In late January and early February 2013, he went on a 10-date book tour in US that also included an onstage conversation with noted journalists and authors. On March 21, 2013, Peter Hook and the Light performed a set of Joy Division songs in Zagreb, Croatia to ecstatic audiences, as part of its spring tour, and with tremendous fierceness and enthusiasm.
All About Jazz:What was the impetus behind writing Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division and what did you want to achieve with the book?
Peter Hook :Well, I suppose there were two main reasons. The main reason for writing the book was just that I was getting sick of reading lots of books about Joy Division that were written by people who were just not there at the time. There have been lots of books and stories about Joy Division but they are all told by people were never really there with us the whole time, so how could they know? So I decided to write the book so that people could have a firsthand account of the band, written by someone who was thereme. I suppose the second reason was that I was spurred on by the success of my first book, The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club (Simon & Schuster, 1999), which I wrote about the Manchester nightclub. It did really well and was more successful than I was expecting, so it made me more likely to write another book, this time about Joy Division.
AAJ: Was writing it a cathartic experience for you as, apart from telling the Joy Division's history, you touched sensitive issues?
PH:I really enjoyed writing the book because it brought back a lot of nice memories and reminded me of a lot of positive things. It helped me to remember the fun we had when we were recording music as Warsaw or Joy Division and it reminded me of the excellent chemistry that the four of us had as a groupthe songs just seemed to come to us quite easily at times. Obviously, within the story of Joy Division, there are some sensitive issues and at times it was quite difficult to write about them, but writing the book was mainly a very positive feeling.
AAJ: What is your assessment of all those books that were written about Joy Division, including (amongst others) Deborah Curtis' Touching from a Distance (Faber & Faber, 1995) and Paul Morley's Piece by Piece (Plexus Publishing, 2008)?
PH:Well, they are both great books in their own right but, like I said before, the majority of books that have been written about Joy Division were written by people who were not there, so are simply not able to know about the actual stories and issues; ok, Deborah was obviously there as she was Ian's wife, but she was not present at rehearsals or writing sessions or some of the gigs, so I think my own book can help to explain that side of the band a lot better. Paul Morley's book is an interesting one but, like I said, it's very difficult to write about something that you did not actually see. I feel like my book is a very honest and truthful account of what it was actually like to be in Joy Division.