Peter Hook taps into the Unknown: the extended Q&A + live appearance on WFNX.com Feb. 7 @ 5pm EST
Peter Hook is in a peculiar situation. The founding member and bassist of Joy Division and New Order is championing the legacy of the former while banished from the latter. Hook's 2006 fallout with New Order has dragged out in the press, in ongoing spats with Bernard Sumner and accusations that the remaining members of New Order have voted to reduce his band royalties to nothing. While New Order tour the world — this week releasing a rarities album, Lost Sirens, comprising sessions that included Hook circa 2003 — Hooky has been doing tours of his own, controversially performing the two iconic Joy Division albums in their entirety with his son and a new band, the Light.
He hits Boston this week to promote a new book, Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division (It Books), which details the band's early years in late-'70s Manchester and culminates with the suicide of iconic 23-year-old front man Ian Curtis in 1980.
Hooky will be co-hosting an hour with Michael Marotta live on WFNX.com today at 5pm EST, but a few weeks ago the WFNX music director caught up with him to discuss the "new" New Order, Curtis's legacy, and yeah, his latest book.
Michael Marotta: Hey Hooky, how's it going? Where are you at right now?
Peter Hook: I'm in Cheshire, England. Just outside Manchester.
How's the weather over there?
We just got two inches of snow. It's freezing, but the dog's been enjoying it.
My cat loves the snow, sometimes I take her out in it.
It freaks them out the first time
Indeed. But — congrats on the new book,Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. I was a big fan ofThe Hacienda: How Not To Run a Club from a few years ago. So what inspired you to tackle the early stages of Joy Division, and get into the first record?
The confidence I got from doing the Hacienda book was the biggest thing. And then, unfortunately, it's a kind of weird one, but I read one too many books on Joy Division by people who weren't there, Mick Middles and Lindsay Reade. So I've got that dubious honor, and I thought, "aww this is crap," do you know what I mean? It sort of concentrated too much, in my mind, on the sort of cold industrial north, and the deification of Ian Curtis, and the mystification of Joy Division, and it really just made me feel that it was the right time to tell the story from the inside, and it was as simple as that.
Do you feel you're carrying the torch, so to speak, and telling the story that Ian can't tell, at this point?
That's an interesting thing, but you could say you're carrying the torch for the story Bernard [Sumner] and Stephen [Morris] won't tell. That's a difficult one, the thing is... I was reading an interview, probably your country, in America, last week, with Gillian [Gilbert], and she said that I've "spoken ill of the dead." She said she read my book, and that I've "spoken ill of the dead." And I thought: is she reading my book, or is she reading somebody else's? And it just shows you the effects that it can have on the people that were closes to us.
Ultimately, you do things for yourself, and the interesting thing is that when I was in New Order, before we split in 2006, I wouldn't have done this. But once we split up and I was on the outside, it did strike me as how we played down Joy Division so much, and I must admit, we made the success of New Order just by doing that, because we concentrated wholly on New Order. Never looked back, and just went forward; it worked for us in the new group. I did feel that we didn't grieve properly, and I think that's something that gets important to you as you get older.
When you're younger you just bury your head in beer, don't ya? But as you get older you realize there is a value and respect and courtesy to grieve, and I think that definitely I would not have told that story had I still been in New Order.
I almost feel that, reading back on things, as someone too young to have been there, it's as if you just didn't have time to properly grieve or digest what was going on in 1980. The band was reborn so quickly that you just took the next step and a new era materialized nearly instantly.
We certainly couldn't digest it, the shock, and it was the first death I ever had to deal with in my life, and luckily, by that point. So the thing is, you are correct, but we just hid our grief and threw ourselves into New Order, literally starting back the Monday after; the inquest, I think, was on the Thursday. So we really did get back into it and start New Order, and that did become our hiding place, if you like. The way we played it down was unbelievable, the fact that you never read any reviews of Closer, never bothered about "Love Will Tear Us Apart" 's chart placing. We literally did bury the whole thing lock, stock, and bound.
Is there lingering guilt over that?
I think the guilt came back, by doing the book. I sort of convinced myself that Ian had gotten ill toward the end of Joy Division. Of course when I did the timeline, I realized that he got ill right at the start, which didn't make me feel good right off the bat. So I think that was something that I changed to make the guilt more palatable, shall we say. But yeah there always is guilt, I think suicide has that effect. I've lost a few friends to suicide over the years, and the guilt always stays with you. You always think "Oh why didn't I phone him more," or "Why didn't I see him more," and things like that. So the guilt always stays with you.
With the falling out with New Order, which has now been going on six, seven years, and doing your thing on your own, are you more proud of your Joy Division legacy than New Order's?
Haha, that's an interesting one, that one. The thing is that over the past year, I've been very, shall we say, ashamed of everything that New Order have ever done. Because of the battle, which has been absolutely ridiculous and sometimes I do hate myself from playing my part in it. But the only thing that made it again palatable was listening to the music on [new rarities New Order record] Lost Sirens. I listen to it and think, "Oh my god, some of these tracks are great." And my first thought was, "Why did we leave them off the LP?" And then my second thought, was, "Well we did do a lot of very good things together." And it made me feel better about the whole past 33 years than I have over the past year to be honest.
I'm equally proud of both, and I think that by playing Movement and Power, Corruption and Lies as I did last week; being very, very happy with the way it turned out. The boys did me really proud, and it was nice to get the songs back. The past year something had been taken from me, and without my consent, shall we say. So it was nice to play the songs and feel it coming back to you a little bit.
Can you envision any reconciliation with Bernard Sumner?
Well, no. I was reading his latest interview which I found to be absolutely disgusting, in Spinner, which I'm doing a big answer to at the moment, because he's so wrong, there's so many mistakes in there, and its absolutely insulting. In a way I suppose I should be flattered that I'm still worthy of such attention. Where really he's got his fame back, he's got his group back, he's doing supposedly exactly what he wants to do. And you know, I was reading a paragraph where he says how great and how happy everyone is backstage, intimating that it was only me that ruined everything. Which I thought was hilarious! And it reminded me of those interviews that actors do, when they sit on the couch, and go "What's it like working on Peyton Place" or whatever? – "Oh we're just one big happy family!" And then you sit there thinking what a bunch of shit.
You can't stand each other, you know! I thought that was so ridiculous. We're grown men, 57 as he is now. To act like that is pathetic. And I hate myself for playing up to it. But we're all just human.
Do you look at them now, touring, and say "That's not New Order! Those are my basslines!" I mean, they've got a guy from Marion up there, for fuck's sake.
I'm in a sort of funny position anyway, in that my son plays my bass lines in my Joy Division celebration, and [ringer Tom Chapman] plays my bass lines in the New Order celebration. So again, I should be flattered, and the only one who wants to play it, which is me, doesn't get to play in either! It's bloody ridiculous!
But no, to my mind they will never be New Order. They are as much New Order as we are Joy Division, and the fact that Bernard refuses to admit it, which is that it's just [former band] Bad Lieutenant with Gillian, is the thing that I find very. . . . You know, there's an image that I'm trying to stop them, which is not true. The only thing that I'm fighting is the business side that they granted me without my knowledge or consent.
You were telling me about it last time you were in Boston, how they all met to recalculate all the two bands' royalties, and voted you a very minor percentage of everything. . . .
And they still refuse to acknowledge that I'm worth any more, and I don't know . . . you do have to fight, don't you? You do have to fight.
Well it's your legacy!
It's such an insult, but again, I guess I should be flattered that even a year on, they've entered into these slagging matches, which amaze me.
Are you tired of these questions, what you think of New Order?
We are tied together, forever, and in a funny way all of us have to admit that, and maybe once you admit that, you can sit down and say, "Well, we don't want to do this," "You want to do that," "We don't want you to do that, lets sort it out." Once you are a little grown up about it, then I'm sure everything will become easier, but at the moment, there seems to be no sensible person. I guess you have to say Bernard and I are very much alike, very stubborn, very emotional, passionate, and when you do get two people fighting like that I suppose everyone gets on in their own way.
Shifting to the book and its subjects, it was really fascinating to read about your first records, and what went on to shape the sound and feel of Unknown Pleasures, and I think it was in theJoy Division documentary where Factory Records owner Tony Wilson said punk was all about "fuck you," whereas post-punk declared, "We're fucked." Was it this perfect storm of what was going on socially, politically, economically in late-'70s Manchester that really led to this sound that has now lasted more than 30 years?
There's nobody more surprised than me the fact that how much Joy Division is an inspiration still, and it's a great compliment to the chemistry between the four of us, I have to say, musically. Whether it comes down to being on an independent label or on a major label, whether you had a great manager or a bad manager, thing is it still comes down to the songs. And it's the songs — the fact that the four of us had the skill to write them is the thing that lasted, and [producer] Martin Hannett really did put the icing on the cake, you have to say.
But it is an odd thing, first of all when we started making music with Ian, our dream was to get out. And here I am, 35 years later, quite happily still here. So I do get indulged, by coming to travel everywhere, but you still find that Manchester, for all its bleakness that you wanted to escape from in 1977, still has a hold over you, that nowhere else in the world does.
And it's a global phenomenon. There's a romanticism, people growing up in America, elsewhere, have for Manchester culture and music.
Manchester does hold such an unusual place, like in America you have Seattle, and New York, and these places that were influential at a time. And Manchester does seem to have held it longer than any city — please correct me if I'm wrong — in the world. The people of Manchester are what helped shape it and what helped make it last, and I must admit that I'm very proud to be an ambassador for Manchester, and to travel around, I'm very proud of our heritage, and what we achieved.
It always used to make me laugh when Bernard would say, "Oh you're so melancholy." As if it was a fault, and I thought, "Oh you don't cry at sad films?" I am mightily proud and when I finished the book there was still a sense of guilt over Ian and losing a great friend and colleague, someone you'd grown so close to and so quickly, because you were so passionate and enthusiastic about the same things. The book sort of closed a chapter, but it did make me an expert, I must admit [laughs] by playing the music, on all things Joy Division.
These characters: Martin Hannett, Tony Wilson, Ian Curtis, Joy Division manager Rob Gretton; there are almost mythological figures to those who weren't there. I mean, where would Ian Curtis fit in here in 2013, were he alive today?
That's is one question I would love to know the answer to more than anything, because toward the end of the book it was one thing I started to realize: what a great life I have because of Joy Division. And the eternal frustration would be someone like Ian, who helped you so much, and has become such an icon, since his death, is not here to enjoy the stupid things like walking a dog in the snow in the park, taking your kids for a walk, driving your car, speeding down the motorway. Things like that we all take for granted because we're alive, and you know you live with every day.
I have a picture of Tony on my desk, and every morning I sit down at my desk and go, "This is all your fault!" [laughs] And you know what? He always smiles in the picture. Rob Gretton is such a huge character, and when I think when Rob came to manage us, he was the same age as my son is now. He was 23, and my son is the same age as I was when I was in Joy Division at this time, it's a bit freaky.
But when you think that Rob Gretton stormed into our lives, came into our rehearsal room and said "Alright I'm managing you now, we're gonna sort this out" -- and we looked at him like he was the authority figure. But he was such a huge character, and Tony Wilson and Martin Hannett. And it makes you think that music today is lacking these figures, people like that, whose first raison d'etre isn't money, it's about pride, and about belief and enthusiasm for music.
You know Tony Wilson's great regret, as he was dying from his illness, was he said, "You know I wish I had bothered about the money more." But he just wasn't that interested. There were so many other things about what we were doing that interested him, business was the last. If you didn't get on with Tony, you had to at least respect what he created and what he accomplished in his career. . . His outlook on life was all about life, and he didn't let things like money or success spoil what he believed in. And I think that was the most refreshing thing as a member of the group — that you weren't on that treadmill that artists do get on when they sign normal record deals with normal record companies.
The previous few trips to America have been performing Joy Division albums, but now you're touring a book. How do you prepare mentally for a book tour as opposed to playing live?
The nice thing is that I am able to recognize that it's all part of the same thing and talking to people and identifying with them. The great thing about writing the book is that people do come across and tell you how important that timeline you had written was to their lives. The Hacienda in particular, 16 years people went there; got married, had children, got divorced, and then their children started going, and it was quite humbling and quite awe inspiring what a huge part you played in people's lives. And it's the same thing about doing the book. It's all about inspiration.
I went to see Led Zeppelin about two weeks before I went to see the Sex Pistols, and I didn't look at Led Zeppelin and think "I could do that!" But I looked at the Sex Pistols and thought "I could do that!" So if one person reads my book and goes, "I can do that, I could have a go of that," then to me it's all worthwhile because to me Rob Gretton and Tony always used to say: "You should always try to give something back. Manchester made you, you need to help Manchester." And that's part of the reason why I did the club to save the Factory building, because I was so annoyed when the Hacienda building went [converted into condominiums]. You can keep things going, you can put on band nights, using the legacy, all to help the future.
You also once told me that this book is all part of larger vision, and you will tour all the New Order albums. Is this book another step in that plan? Will there be a book on Closer, Movement, Power Corruption and Lies? Or maybe just a tell-all on New Order?
There is going to be a New Order book, and in my mind I've started it. And I wasn't going to do it, because the great thing is that it isn't sullied by what we can say. Joy Division were not sullied by sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Unfortunately New Order were. The New Order book will be a very different book.
To be honest, if they haven't done what they done to me at the start I wouldn't have written it, because I don't think any of us are going to come out of it shiny, the way people came out of the Joy Division book. Shall we say, the New Order one will certainly show the darker side of all our natures.
And it'll have another heartbreaking ending.
It will have a heartbreaking ending as well.
PETER HOOK :: Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard St, Brookline :: February 7 @ 7 pm :: 617.566.6660 or brooklinebooksmith.com :: Porter Square Books, 25 White St, Cambridge :: February 8 @ 7pm :: Free :: 617.491.2220 or portersquarebooks.com