No More Risk Taking: My Minimalist Review of Unknown Pleasures (Inside Joy Division) by Peter Hook

It’s like reading a transcript with the journalist removed. Peter Hook (bassist from Joy Division and New Order), sharing, talking, engaging in a conversation with you, the reader, resulting in a strange sort of memoir, travelogue, that works well for the material at hand, somehow managing to demystify without demystifying how exactly the band formed, made their music, and managed to change the world, if only for a short time in presence and in great excess in absence.

Joy Division is one of those gods of men formation achieved by leaving before they could burn out. Many an individual cut their musical teeth listening. Often distant from common audience engagement, in Unknown Pleasures Joy Division becomes human, present, and precious—for it’s really dumb luck the whole thing came about, as with most considerations.

“It’s one of the strange things about writing a book like this, actually. You start seeing your life as a series of chance happenings that somehow came together to make you what you are.” –Peter Hook

I can’t say I know Joy Division. Awareness came more from friends and friends of friends. As a result my listening has always been labored with such responsibility. They were a group of kids, making a go, and bridging the gaps of culture and character.

Peter Hook is very much aware of their gains and losses. Surrounding the conversation is a balance of amateur and professionalism, not only between writer and reader but in conference with the material produced. Endlessly highlighting what was unknown in the beginning and how that led to a more engaged, aware process with New Order; there is also nostalgia for what was achieved in the unknown. How the experimentation that was allowed due to being dumb and without clue helped forge a sound that changed the music scene.

“The more proficient you become at writing music the fewer chances you take because you become aware of all the rules and theories that may well be the proper way to do things but end up constricting you, throttling all the creativity out of what you’ve got. No more risk taking.” –Peter Hook

Careful not to forget, and in fact endlessly highlight, hammer on, engage, is the work of their producer Martin Hannett who took charge and developed that sound out of his own interests and engagements in the studio. “There was a lot of space in [Joy Division’s] sound. They were a gift to a producer, because they didn’t have a clue. They didn’t argue.”* Often recounting hatred at the original, Hook sees what was going on: “Now, of course, I can see the error of my ways. Now I can see that what Martin gave us, which was the greatest gift any producer can give any band. He gave us timelessness.” He was a kid. They were a punk band (or at least wanted to be one), and the sound didn’t suit those purposes. Why couldn’t the record sound like they did live? Because it wouldn’t change the world seems to be what Hook comes to agree.

Not a book to sugar coat or too overly driven by nostalgia, it’s completely aware of its narrator and does not make the leap often more professional memoirs do that thrive on love fest with a past that may never have been. In ways, it’s like a basement tape compared to the more often produced (highly produced) glamour rod. Peter Hook’s responsible, in one way or another, and it’s most clear recounting the death.

He recognizes the part played in his fearless leader’s demise; turning a boat without anchor into somewhat of an endless embrace of what once was while concomitantly transforming into a force that might never have suited the first act to begin with but was only possible as a result of it. He’s saddened by New Order’s necessity and conflicted about what may have saved Ian but destroyed the band before it got going. In age he should have done something—the whole band should have done something—to stop what was going on, but as kids, there was nothing to be done. Nothing they could see but the shining light at the end of a long tunnel.

It’s quite an achievement buried in the paces of his expose and something worth experiencing, whether you know the band or not.

*Martin Hannett

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