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Joy Division Bassist Peter Hook Discusses New Book, ‘Unknown Pleasures,’ in New York City

Peter Hook
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

There’s more to Joy Division than the 1980 suicide of singer Ian Curtis, the defining moment in the influential British band’s brief history. As bassist Peter Hook explained Tuesday night (Jan. 29) at the Strand Book Store in New York City, where he talked with New Yorker rock critic Sasha Frere-Jones about his new book, ‘Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division,’ theirs was a story of four Manchester kids who took the message of the Sex Pistols — you can do this — and created one of the more enduring sounds of the post-punk era.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, Hook told a packed house, but it wasn’t always easy. By his own admission, he and guitarist Bernard Sumner were untutored musicians, and Northern English audiences in those days were a loutish lot, prone to spitting, chucking bottles and starting riots.

“It was about pledging to fight through everything,” Hook said, explaining that Curtis, despite his image as mopey existential poet, was wonderful at rallying the troops. “It was always Ian that was the one to pick you up by the scruff of your neck and say, ‘Come on, lads.’”

Hook spoke several times about the late frontman, telling Frere-Jones that Curtis differed quite a bit from the legend he left behind.

“Ian was quite a down-to-earth guy,” Hook said. “I felt it was a part of his character that wasn’t celebrated.”

That, he said, was the reason for writing ‘Unknown Pleasures,’ which takes its name from Joy Division’s classic 1979 debut album. He’d grown tired of reading accounts by authors who weren’t actually there, and having already penned one book — ‘The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club,’ all about the influential Manchester disco he co-founded in the ’80s, after he and the remaining Joy Division players had formed New Order — he felt ready to tell his stories.

One of the more memorable he shared Tuesday involves his protective, at times physical nature — something that would come out onstage, especially when fans dared to throw things at Curtis. Hook would often use his instrument as a weapon, and during one gig, he told Frere-Jones, he swung his knockoff Rickenbacker bass with particular efficiency, beating back nearly a dozen unruly punters.

“I got 10 in one night,” Hook said proudly. “You’ve got to fight for what you believe in. That’s my singer!”

That sense of unpredictability, he said, is lacking in today’s music scene, as he was reminded at a recent Killers gig in Manchester, where an ailing Brandon Flowers was forced to stop the show after two songs.

“I thought, ‘Oh, f—ing greatl,’ they’re gonna rip this place apart,” he said. “They’re gonna be burning the seats. They just all went home. They were going, ‘I do hope Brandon is alright.’ It’s amazing how middle class, or refined, if you’re going to put it another way, audiences have become.”

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