Pain oozes from Joy Division band bio
Joy Division played only three years’ worth of gigs and released a whopping total of two studio albums.
Still, in that limited window of time, the four 20-somethings from Britain’s industrial north helped change the landscape of post-punk rock, exerting influence not only on contemporaries such as U2 and The Cure, but also playing a role in spurring the ’80s-era alternative rock movement.
The band was known for its dark, minimalist sound and the introspective, poetic lyrics of its enigmatic frontman, Ian Curtis, who committed suicide in May 1980, just as Joy Division was set to embark on its first tour of the United States, and two months ahead of the release of its second and final studio album, “Closer.”
The three remaining members of the group - guitarist Bernard Sumner, drummer Stephen Morris and bassist Peter Hook - carried on as New Order, which had greater chart success, thanks to synth-infused hits such as “True Faith,” “Blue Monday” and “Bizarre Love Triangle.”
Even as the trio found success without Curtis, though, his memory never was far from them.
And, now, three decades later, Hook has come forward with his recollections of that tumultuous period.
Yes, “Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division” provides a detailed history of the band, including its formation, members and early struggles - pretty much what you’d find in any music biography.
But what sets Hook’s memoir apart is its painful honesty and well-positioned focus on Curtis, who is, without a doubt, the star of the show (and the book).
“We were individuals, me, Steve and Bernard,” Hook writes. “The glue that held us together, the driving force of the band, was Ian.”
It may sound strange to read that, considering the critical and popular success the lads enjoyed following Curtis’ passing, but the pages of “Unknown Pleasures” are filled with equal parts reverence for him and regret over what could have been done to prevent his demise.
Reading Hook’s book is like watching James Cameron’s “Titanic.” Everyone knows the ship’s going down. It’s getting to that point that’s so gripping.
“This book is as much about him as it is me,” Hook writes of Curtis, who struggled through medical, financial and romantic upheaval throughout Joy Division’s lifespan.
The passages that detail the singer’s battle with epilepsy - Curtis’ band mates on several occasions dropped their instruments and rushed to his aid when he suffered a midshow seizure - are particularly stirring.
The book, which takes its title from the name of Joy Division’s 1979 debut studio album, is truly a pleasurable read, but the reasons are far from unknown.
For Joy Division purists, Hook doesn’t hold back. The pages ooze with tales of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, all told in the author’s plain-spoken, if not coarse, style.
“Unknown Pleasures” works on a completely different level, though. At its core, the book is more character study than band bio.
And for that, the pleasure is all ours.
“Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division”
Author: Peter Hook
Genre: Music biography
Publisher: It Books