‘Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division’ by Peter Hook book review

Of all the accounts released about his tragic life and death, few were better placed in Ian Curtis’ life than his bandmate and friend, Peter Hook. As half of Joy Division they rose from the drudgery of working-class Lancashire to become probably the biggest alternative rock act in Britain; a fevered popularity that was set to cross the Atlantic until Ian tragically took his own life the night before they were to leave for their first tour of the States in 1980.

Hooky-Book

Now, over thirty years since Curtis’ death and following on from his ‘How Not To Run A Club’ book based around hallowed Manchester club the Hacienda, Hook has released an autobiographical account of his life through to the end of Joy Division; his scattered childhood, underachieving academic career and his first forays into the alternative lifestyle; the Sex Pistols gig in Manchester and the formation of a band by just about everyone in attendance there.

As much as it’s a story about the final years of an extremely talented young life, tragically cut short by physical and mental illness, it’s about brotherhood and kinship in a time where the whole country groaned under the weight of politics and culture clashes; about four lads and their mates doing what they want, when they want, just because they can. Hook provides many a great anecdote about the jokes they played on each other as well as many a telling observation about Joy Division’s place in music and art; their place in the world and in time.

It’s here, though, where Hook will then argue in the postscript that it’s his personal right as an observer at the time to make his account of those times known; having gone through the release of other books and films by those around him, Hook may have wished to set the record straight on some of the more unflattering portrayals. This he might well have accomplished, but in trying to do so he’s broke the cardinal rule set out by Tony Wilson himself in 24 Hour Party People (attributed to John Ford) – “If it’s a choice between the truth and the legend, print the legend.”

Particularly in the book’s postscript – which to be fair as a postscript, shouldn’t serve to alter my judgment of the book, only the man writing it – Hook follows up properly on all the little digs he’d served up throughout the text about his only wishing to pay respects to the music he made all those years ago by writing about it, and playing it live as a full-time project in the present day. Even before he’s argued the case, he points out that he’s only doing it to speak out against the “keyboard terrorists” who criticised his choice to break off from New Order and claim this as his own. And then he has another dig at New Order by adding RIP, when only a paragraph earlier he was decrying their decision to reform.

While the book does provide some great insight, it’s thrown off-kilter a little by his jumping the gun in defending its release. Of course the man should be allowed to speak up – but in so passive-aggressively stating his intentions he’s left himself open to even more of the keyboard terrorism he obviously fears.

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