Joy Division went to great lengths to keep the public in the dark during their brief career as a band. The influential goth rock band from Manchester, U.K., trafficked in album artwork that never featured their name, much less the faces of members, and on the rare occasions they granted interviews, their answers were usually evasive or flippant. The only thing for listeners to go on was the music, similarly dark, mysterious and cold. Bassist Peter Hook wants to change all of that with his new book, “Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division” (It Books).
“I was a little bit wary of debunking all the myths,” admits Hook. “I just got sick of reading books about Joy Division by people who weren’t there, and they always seem to focus on the dark and mysterious intensity of Joy Division, which is something that whilst I appreciate, I can’t say that I recognize it completely.”
“Unknown Pleasures” is rife with demystifying tales of a young band on tour for the first time. At one point singer Ian Curtis, whose brooding image would later feature heavily into goth iconography, is giggling at glimpsing a female changing backstage. The band constantly played practical jokes on one another and on other bands — Curtis calls his bandmates “sneaky, japing tossers.” But while Hook’s book revels in fun memories and rides the narrative arc of a band finding their unique identity, the author also comes to terms with signs he should have picked up on that Curtis was in trouble. On a roller-coaster of prescription drugs to treat his epilepsy, Curtis killed himself on a Saturday night when the band were about to embark on their first U.S. tour that Monday.
“He must have gotten to the point on Saturday night, for some reason that none of us will ever know, that he decided that couldn’t cope anymore,” says Hook. “I was with him on Friday and he was absolutely f—ing fine. But that was the thing in Joy Division; it wasn’t as if he was laying in the corner, whimpering, begging for help. He was actually quite normal.”
Insight at a later date
Hook remarks on page 314 of “Unknown Pleasures” that he should have called the memoir, “He Said He Was All Right So We Carried On,” because whenever the band questioned Ian Curtis about his well-being, he would rebuff them and insist they play whatever gig was next.
“He was literally going up and down like a bride’s nightie,” says Hook. “They took Ian’s prescriptions for his drugs to a modern day epilepsy specialist, and the specialist looked at the prescriptions and said, ‘This was guaranteed to kill him.’”