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A surviving member of cult band writes stirring memoir

I remember the first time I heard the band Joy Division. I was clerking in a record store. We stocked imports, records shipped over from England. We received an album called “Unknown Pleasures” by this group called Joy Division.

We popped the record onto the turntable (remember those?). We had never heard anything like it. This music was atmospheric and dirge-like. It was hard to make out the lyrics. The band’s singer was Ian Curtis. He had a haunting, hypnotizing voice. The instrumentation was dark and churning and brooding.

In 1980, with just that one album released, Joy Division was about to come to the United States on concert tour. Then we heard shocking news; their singer had taken his own life. Just like that, Joy Division was no more. (The band’s second proper album, “Closer,” was released later that year.) Over the past 30-plus years their brief tragic history has rendered them almost iconic cult status.

We wondered what really happened? Why did Ian Curtis do it? The band’s bassist Peter Hook has published a memoir; “Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division.” Hook, or “Hooky,” as he was known to his bandmates looks back and illuminates the figurative darkness that foreshadows this band from Manchester, England.

Hook will be in Ohio to sign books Monday in Cincinnati. (See the “how to go” box for details.)

Joy Division fans will anticipate that tragedy that haunts this influential band’s brief existence, knowing how this story will end. It is still an enthralling read. The author’s own personal memoir serves as a prelude to the timeline that delineates the band’s formation, performances and recording sessions.

Hook met Bernard Sumner, their future guitarist, in grammar school. After Joy Division ended they formed another influential band, called New Order. Hook describes how they returned to their old school for a photo session for a music magazine. Their musical fame didn’t impress the headmaster, their former geography teacher. He ran them off campus.

This book is a smorgasbord of anecdotes and revelations. The band recorded in sessions supervised by a music promoter named Martin Hannett. He had his own singular vision of the sound he wanted to capture for posterity. Hannett usually excluded the band from the mixing and editing process.

Sumner and Hook were used to being shunted aside. They were also deterred from doing many interviews. This actually enhanced the mystique of the band. At the time they were not pleased with Hannett’s production of their songs. They wanted a heavier, punkier sound. Now Hook admits that the late Hannett was a visionary and his musical intuitions were inspired.

Joy Division was constantly touring. Hook usually drove the band to gigs in his van. He got stuck loading the equipment. His resentments over this still feel raw. He was also a relentless prankster. Some of the practical jokes that they pulled on other bands were utterly juvenile but hilarious nevertheless.

A tour of Europe exacerbated the problems that their singer was experiencing. Curtis was suffering from epilepsy. During some performances he had epileptic fits on stage. Strobe lights were a particular hazard. But the band soldiered on. In retrospect Hook realizes that the constant grind ultimately drove Ian Curtis to end it all.

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