I’ve been reading Unknown Pleasures, an autobiography by Peter Hook, the bass player for Joy Division and New Order. I ended up finishing it this evening and I have to say that it is somewhat anticlimactic, although I did “enjoy” reading it all the same. I’m not sure enjoy is the correct word, but I felt I got some insights that I didn’t previously have about the band and their tragic lead singer, Ian Curtis.
It was somewhat reassuring to discover most of the rumors and stories I’d heard over the years that I considered suspect and unreliable were amazingly lacking in mendacity, and they were spot on with a number of the facts surrounding Ian’s suicide and those events leading up to it.
Whether or not Ian suffered from seizures prior to joining Bernard, Stephen and Peter is not something “Hooky” was privy to. By the sounds of it, Ian’s wife may have not been aware of any epileptic episodes prior to the increasing frequency of his seizures — it might of been a deeply held secret with Ian’s family that she was not clued in on, or she might have been part of the secret keeping cabal herself. We may never know.
It’s important to focus somewhat on this element in Ian’s death, because it may have played an out-sized role in his suicide. Between the medication and the japes of the light crews, as well as the stress of being the married member who had an infant daughter, marrying young and meeting someone else he grew to have feelings for (I’m not excusing his infidelity, though Hooky swears it may have been impossible due to medications to do anything to consummate that affair), and an apparent desire to be a people-pleaser… These factors all probably played an increased factor in the multiple uncontrolled epileptic seizures he had.
I’d heard over the years that some of the light guys got a kick out of flashing strobes on Ian when he was performing and Hook confirmed that had been the case. His impending divorce seemed to have played a significant role as well, seeing as Hook confirmed that rumor as well. I don’t know how large a role his daughter being kept from him played, but that seems to have been exaggerated somewhat in the rumors I’d heard. Hanging himself while Iggy Pop’s The Idiot played on repeat seems to have also been true as well.
I was not aware of Ian’s leanings towards self-harm near the end, but I’m not surprised. I’ve been in those kinds of dark places myself and I can relate, although my own did not progress to the point where I had to make excuses for any marks. It’s hard to understand unless you’ve been to that place, and the only way I can explain it is to to say that sometimes physical pain is preferable to the mental anguish you find at the bottom of the abyss. It somehow makes you feel alive instead of numb. I understand Ian more than I probably should admit.
And while Hook is retrospectively apologetic for not doing something about Ian that he saw/did-not-see at the time, it is really easy to second-guess after the fact what you should have done. Ian kept saying he was fine, no problems, and Hook trusted those assertions at the time (while feeling they were off). The thing about extreme depression is that you don’t want anyone to know just how bad it is, so you put on an act until you can tear off your mask as soon as they are out of eyesight. You don’t want to inconvenience your mates, so everything is great! But it usually isn’t.
Thing about depression is that those of us you suffer from it most try to hide it from our friends and family, because we don’t want to “put them out.”
His mates were super excited for a US tour, he didn’t want to let them down because of his depression, his epilepsy, his marital problems, his inability to sexually function, his likely alcohol abuse, etc. So he put on a good, however flawed, face and said everything was marvey when it patently was not. And everyone wanted to believe him because they were living the dream, although Hook said he saw cracks in the facade.
No one stepped in and anyone who might have would be sent packing. “Everything is fine!”
In ways, I think Hook feels some survivor’s guilt. As time has passed, he seems to be trying to make up for whatever blame he puts on himself. I suppose the self-reflection is good, but I don’t know that feeling responsible solves anything.
Reading Unknown Pleasures makes me want to get around to watching Control, a dramatized version of the history of Joy Division, maybe read Deborah’s Touching From a Distance as well, to get her side of the story. I’d always avoided reading her account, as it felt inauthentic, but I may have misjudged and I’m curious as to what Hook might have left out about the infidelities Ian had with with his mistress that his wife may had more knowledge about. From the sounds of it, Ian wore a number of masks and Peter may have never seen the mask he wore for his wife.
What surprises me most is the ways in which their story has analogs to my life, many more than I expected before reading the book. I found myself nodding in agreement far more often than I expected.
I don’t recommend the book to anyone who isn’t a pretty big fan or interested in the things that bands of all levels of fame experience. But, if you’re a fan of Joy Division, it wouldn’t hurt you to get a different perspective outside of the news media’s and fan-base’s anecdotal oral history.