Unknown Pleasures Reflection

Last night, I started to read the autobiographical account of Joy Division’s beginnings as written by the bass player for the band (as well as the subsequent version of the band, New Order), Peter “Hooky” Hook, Unknown Pleasures. It’s been enlightening, to say the least, as over the years I did nothing to correct the issue that comes from third-party accounts of the band, nor of the various rumors that formed part of the band’s mythos. I haven’t gotten to the point of the book where everything falls apart with Ian’s suicide, but it is an interesting read all the same.

If nothing else, I’ve confirmed my general dislike for Bernard Sumner, as everything Hook writes confirms my personal impressions I have of the guitarist, however miniscule they were relative to the amount of time we shared. I’m not saying that he’s a bad songwriter/guitarist, but I was so put off by Bernard the one time that I did meet him that I sat out for most of the show following our chance meeting.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The book itself might be a hard read for folks interested in Joy Division, as it is presented in a more conversational, rather than informational, tone. Hook’s storytelling is filled with side commentary, allusions and vulgarities, all of which he is very unapologetic about. It’s more like sitting down with someone in a pub and having them reel off their life story over several nights of pints than it is meant to be read as an autobiographical account. Hook’s only real disclaimer is that this is how he remembers things, and that your mileage may vary if you want the full story. Fuck off and ask Bernard, Debbie or Stephen if you want the story to be different.

And honestly, I think it’s a more compelling read because of it.

Although you know there is some bullshitting going on, it is friendly bullshitting, done with a wink and a smile. He isn’t so much exaggerating as he is adding color. And, growing up admiring one of my great uncles who was an expert bullshitter (yes, he really was a G-man before it became the FBI; yes, he was top used car salesman in his twilight years — mostly because people kept coming back because he knew where to draw the line on bullshit; yes, he decided to leave the FBI and go into raising cattle and turkeys because he was tired of being ignored by the agency, or something to that effect). There are times, sitting down with me over coffee (alas, no more pints), that I’ll fall into emulating my uncle and I was generally put in charge of promoting most of my own forays into music because no one else in the bands wanted to do the bullshitting required to get gigs.

So I can really relate to bullshitters. Most of the stories they tell are more accurate than those stories told by people who don’t know how to bullshit, largely because they want to avoid offending anyone. Hook doesn’t care if you’re offended, he wants to tell a good schmooze and try to be honest as hell about it. I can get behind that kind of autobiography.

I’m reading the ebook version of it and I’m finding myself highlighting a bunch of passages about the process of being in a band, mostly because I can relate. It would have been really encouraging to read about some of his thoughts about music back in the day, because we share a philosophy about the process and it would have been nice to feel like I had a like-minded person to look back to when we were flailing about, trying to make it work. The business has changed dramatically since the 70s and 80s. There were no how-tos (and if there were, you couldn’t trust them) about recording, sound engineering, managing a band, getting gigs, band promotion, etc. Everything was done by the seat of our pants and based more on luck than knowledge (which probably explains why we never “made it” as a band before imploding). Seeing his own trials and tribulations gave me more than a few head nods, and his attitude about music (coming from someone also self-taught) confirmed that he and I have some of the same suspicions about writing music from the cutting edge.

For instance, he rails for several pages against having too much musical knowledge as a musician. I agree, once I started learning theory instead of just making something work, I feel like my own efforts crashed into the ground in terms of creativity. Once I found out that what I was doing, from chord progressions to playing techniques, was considered “wrong” and tried to correct some of those mistakes, I lost a lot of the “weird” musical sound I was cultivating. If anything, having well-intentioned musicians telling me I was doing something wrong ended up ruining some of the edginess we/I were/was getting up to that point.

In many ways, I don’t know if the other musician I last played with in a folk duo is someone I can forgive for how much he destroyed my outlook on songwriting and lyrical efforts. To this day, I find it hard to break out of the “right” way of doing things — a way that makes everything I write seem so commonplace as to make me puke. While arthritis plays a role in my moving away from music, it is more the idea that I can’t get away from worrying about things that I never worried about in the past, which forms a bit of a block. There are other reasons we aren’t friends any longer, but this, perhaps is the main thing I cannot reconcile and forgive.

Tangents aside, I find myself nodding my head and relating to Hook’s accounts — many are so similar as to make me wonder yet again about the “stuck in a simulation” feel I have of late. No, I never was in a band that got locally famous, let alone internationally famous or considered a starting point for so many bands that it is uncountable — but we encountered many of the same trials and tribulations in our musical endeavors.

So much so that, while I never gave Peter Hook much thought (and Bernard even less), I am quickly becoming a fan and wishing that I had gotten over my trepidation about having one member of Joy Division coming to our fair city to play Joy Division covers at the local nightclub. Now I wish I had, and maybe stuck around to see if I could get backstage (which always seems easier for me than some people). I think we would have had a grand chat like those I had with Robert Smith (The Cure), Jon and Ken (The Posies) and Wayne Hussey (The Mission), among others.

But, you see, I was turned off by my experience with New Order back in the 80s and pretty much decided that they were all assholes.

As I get older, I forget the exact details of briefly meeting the band, but I was left feeling so unimpressed that I skipped out on most of their show when they played as support for Echo and the Bunnymen in the mid-80s. The lineup was: Gene Loves Jezebel, New Order, Bunnymen.

Quite a few of us showed up early (like noon) before an 8pm show in the hopes of rubbing elbows with the former members of Joy Division, GLJ and (the other) Ian from EatB. We never did see anyone from the Bunnymen, but Jay Aston came and hung out with us on the steps leading to the venue and even seemed to flirt with me a bit, though that was probably all for show. Then someone located the parking place for the tour bus that they thought was for the Bunnymen, so we rushed over (all 20 of us) and hung out, waiting for autographs.

It was nearing showtime when band members were escorted out of the bus and we discovered it was New Order and folks started clamouring for autographs. Bernard was in the lead. He kept his nose pointed to the sky and ignored everyone. The rest of the band at least waved. But no autographs would be forthcoming though plenty of people kept asking for them. It looked like a few were going to relent and sign a few programs, but then someone made the mistake of asking, “Do you think you’ll play any Joy Division songs tonight?”

Bernard switched from being aloof to glaring at the crowd. “Fuck off. Fuck Joy Division. We’re fucking New Order.” And like that, any chance of grabbing an autograph evaporated and Bernard picked up the pace and marched off, the rest of the band scurrying to keep up.

I think the words that came out of my mouth at that point was, “Fuck New Order.” I turned and walked away.

It was an innocent question from an obvious fan of both iterations of the band. It was probably the rudest display of disrespect to your fans as I’ve ever seen (Grant Hart from Husker Du was rude, but he didn’t know I knew who he was when he was rude, and definitely didn’t know I was a fan of his former band, so he was just being an asshole).

It took me a long time before I would listen to New Order after that, and I spent most of their portion of the show that night in the foyer in protest. I wasn’t the only one of the 20-odd folks who experienced that outburst standing in the foyer.

And, while reading Hook’s account, I realize that I was wrong. It wasn’t anyone but Bernard I should have railed against. And Bernard was just being Bernard (i.e. he’s always a jerk), based on what I’m reading so far. Sure, Peter always seemed hot under the color (kind of like Mick, from The Mission, turned out to be when I made a mistaken comment about football clubs in the UK and he near bit my head off for my innocent, alcohol-fueled mistake). But I can overlook hotheads before I can overlook someone being a royal twat. And I’m getting the impression that Bernard is often a royal twat.

What I’m getting from Unknown Pleasures is that I was perhaps a bit unfair in being so turned off by the surviving members of Joy Division based on a very brief encounter. I never stopped loving the music and, indeed, grew to appreciate the music even more in recent years as I’ve really dug down into the bands I grew up with in an attempt to unlock (at least in my head) what was just so appealing about them that I have a hard time enjoying modern music. I have a few ideas, these days what turns me off with today’s music, largely centering around production choices combined with it being too much like theoretically correct music (“it’s got too many notes”) as opposed to experimental and reaching for the stars like the music I grew up with. Once you realize just how inventive and innovative recording engineers and bands were because of the limitations largely overcome by the digital world, you realize that things never seems quite so raw and vibrant as they were in the past. Which is funny. It’s because of digital advances that I can still write music (though I haven’t posted any excerpts here).

Ultimately, my impressions about (some of) the band members have largely changed and I’m less than half-way through this book. I admire them even more than I did prior to reading what I have and kick myself in the butt for listening to well-meaning folks who made it hard to write something that might be technically “wrong”, but still captured some of the raw energy I had as a teenager with my music.

For the record, one of my top favorite albums was always Unknown Pleasures. It was one of the very first albums that I bought with my own money based solely on the face that someone said it was dark as hell. Yes, it is dark, but not nearly as dark as I had expected. I still listen to it regularly.

Originally posted on sceadugenga.com

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