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Ian Curtis’s Jiggly Boobs, the Cure Sell Out, and More From Peter Hook’s ‘Unknown Pleasures’

Peter Hook / Photo by Julien Lachaussée

The last quarter of 2012 brought an onslaught of music memoirs loaded with memorable revelations. Who can forget Rod Stewart’s cocaine confessions, Wyclef Jean’s romantic trysts, or Neil Young’s tireless proselytizing for high quality audio? After a post-New Year period of idleness, the memoir mill gets moving again with Peter Hook’s Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division (!t), out January 29.

The book covers only a thin slice of Hook’s long career, but it’s the most important one: his late-’70s and early ’80s time with massively influential post-punk icons Joy Division and their tragic frontman Ian Curtis. Except for some brief scene setting, there’s not much about the bassist’s childhood, and as the title implies, aside from passing nods, Unknown Pleasures eschews discussion of Joy Division’s triumphant reinvention as New Order — and subsequent, still-going feuding between Hook, now 56, and his former bandmates Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris.

As far as what the book does include though, these are juiciest parts:

A New Life
Growing up in the mid-’70s in Salford, England, the young Peter Hook was a skinhead. But it’s not what you think: “This was way before skinheads were associated with the [racialist] National Front [party],” he writes. “Back then it meant being into ska and reggae, ironically enough, and from that I discovered the Upsetters, the Pioneers, Desmond Dekker, Dave & Ansel Collins.”

If there are stand-up comedians who include jokes about English post-punk musicians in their sets, Peter Hook has gifted them some material: The world-famous bassist is tone-deaf. “I’ve never been able to tune,” he reveals. “I’m tone-deaf. [Sumner] always did it for me . . . I’m telling you, the best moment in my musical life was when they invented a portable guitar tuner foot pedal.”

Hook delivers the secret of the oft-imitated, magically ineffable Joy Division sound. Oddly, it was Curtis, the band’s lone non-instrumentalist, who deserves the credit. “[Curtis] said, ‘Oh, Hooky, when you play high [on the neck of the bass guitar], it sounds really good. We should work on that. Barney [Sumner], you play the bar chords. Hooky, you play high and Steve do some of them jungle drums . . . That was how we got it — the Joy Division sound.”

The book is filled out with pages of touring itineraries. Hook’s reminiscence of a 1978 gig with Manchester’s A Certain Ratio is a good example of how, um, insightful those data dumps are: “ACR had a guitarist whose hair was like a chunk of cheese. So we used to call him Cheesehead.”

A Means to an End
Hook goes into great detail about recording the band’s two landmark studio albums — 1979’s Unknown Pleasures and 1980’s Closer — both of which were produced by the legendarily eccentric Martin Hannett. You can’t argue with the results, but Hannett’s methods are another matter. Hook writes about running through ‘Disorder.’ “Is that all right, Martin?” he asked the producer, who responded, “No, didn’t like it. Try it slower but faster. Meaner but kinder.”

The band’s dark music and his suicide at the age of 23 led to Curtis being remembered as a perpetually troubled soul. Hook takes care to show that his singer wasn’t always enshrouded in gloom. A ‘lasting impression’ of Curtis was formed after a gig in France: “It’s of Ian, who liked to read Burroughs and Kafka and discuss art . . . asking this French guy where all the girls were. ‘Girls,’ he was saying. ‘Where are all the girls?’ Holding his arms to his chest and waving them up and down like a pair of jiggly boobs.”

Love Will Tear Us Apart
For the most part, Hook is generous to the bands that arose at the same time as Joy Division. He lets one famous group have it, though. “I don’t think the Cure liked us,” he writes, thinking about a 1979 show supporting the goth-rock standard-setters. “I think they resented us in some way, because we’d managed to stay cool, credible, and independent and they’d, well, sort of sold out a bit . . . I think they thought, Wish we were Joy Division.”

There was another, even more famous, band that according to Hook had a Joy Division fixation: U2. The bassist remembers running into them at a recording studio, where the Irishmen were discussing the possibility of Hannett’s producing their first single, ’11 O’Clock Tick Tock.” “Years later I got the shock of my life when [Factory Records co-founder] Tony [Wilson] told me one story about Bono,” Hooks writes. “It seems that after Ian had died Tony met Bono somewhere, and Bono was telling Tony not to worry because he would take over from where Ian left off.”

The Eternal
In the most painful part of the book, Hook works through his feelings of guilt over Curtis’s gradually all-encompassing depression and eventual suicide. “I can pinpoint moments where we should have said ‘enough is enough'” he writes about his inability to see warning signs. “But at the time he just carried on and so did we. Selfishness, stupidity, willful ignorance, and a refusal to accept what was going on right in front of our noses — we were all guilty of it, even Ian.”

Last Words
In case you were wondering, Hook puts any optimism about about his involvement in any future New Order projects to bed. In the book’s acknowledgements section, he writes “In memoriam, rest in peace . . . New Order.”