BY JOHN B. MOORE
Given the touchstone that the band Joy Division has become to humorless Goths around the world and the tragic nature with which front man Ian Curtis died, you’d expect Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division (It Books) – former bassist Peter Hook’s memoir of his time with the group – to be a macabre collection of woeful remembrances. Thankfully it’s not.
While Joy Division’s sound may have been cold and dark, Hook’s retelling of events is anything but. The bass player, who would go on to co-found New Order from the ashes of Joy Division, is surprisingly funny and honest without resorting to whitewashed schmaltz when it comes to Curtis’ legacy. Though books about the band, and Curtis in particular, have been tackled before (his widow’s Touching From a Distance was made into the movie Control), this is the first book from one of his bandmates that manages to cover the group from its beginnings, pre-Curtis, up to their very last day. And, it turns out, the lads were far from being the humorless bunch doing little more than reading poetry in ancient cemeteries that history has made them out to be.
Unknown Pleasures vacillates between being a first-person memoir, telling in often humorous detail about just one of a handful of Manchester bands that was launched after seeing a Sex Pistols show, and being a fan obsessive’s catalogue of every song played at just about every live show Joy Division ever performed (some of which is colored in thanks to contributions from online fan Web sites). And yes, Hook does describe getting that call saying that Curtis had hanged himself just days before the band was to embark on their first U.S. tour.
But that is hardly the focus of the book. Rather it’s a sweet, personal and I dare say fun look at one of the most influential bands to ever come out of Northern England. (It also happens to be an ideal companion to the just released Smiths book A Light That Never Goes Out.) Given Hook’s other endeavors of late – his earlier book about life in the Factory Records family (The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club); his current solo band The Light, which tours and performs classic Joy Division material; and his well-publicized estrangement from the other members of New Order – it’s likely that Unknown Pleasures is only one component of the musician’s ongoing efforts to add to the historical record.