Friday, March 29, 2013

Unknown Pleasures

Chances are you are British if you saw Joy Division live. They had a tour of the US planned, but they never made it here, another short lived band-span (just like the Sex Pistols).  I don't even think the band existed for 3 years. 

Peter Hook's book (I had to say that), Unknown Pleasures does a great job of capturing the exciting, but limited time he lived as a member of Joy Division.  I felt like I had a bird eye's view of what it's like to be a 20 year old in a band gaining momentum in England in the late 70's.   Read this book to get insight into their recording process, the trials and tribulations of performing live (when a show wasn’t cancelled) and the dynamics of a band. 

Peter owns his behavior.   He lets his immature self shine through.  I think a lot of people forget just how young and inexperienced these musicians were.  It was interesting reading this book back to back with Rotten.  They occur in the same time period and they were the same age when starting their bands.  In the case of Joy Division, they had a manager who cared and got them an exceptional record deal even by today’s standards.  (The band’s royalty rate was 58% to Factory Records 42%.  The band didn’t get an advance, but retained financial and creative control.)   We all know that The Sex Pistols manager Malcolm MacLaren didn’t have a clue and no one saw any money.  Not that the members of Joy Division got rich from record sales.  Money came later. 

There is plenty in the book about Ian Curtis, the band’s lead singer who suffered from epileptic seizures and killed himself on the eve of the band’s US tour.  Ian underplayed his illness and band members went along with him.  They just wanted to play music to make enough money to quit their day jobs. 

Martin Hannett, their record producer believed for a record to have a lasting effect and impact it has to have clarity and separation.  Joy Division’s records certainly have that.  Originally Peter and Barney hated the sound of their album Unknown Pleasures.  They wanted it harder and harsher, sounding more punk, which was hitting its peak at that time.  Martin had an interesting way of recording the drums:  which was one drum at a time, meaning the snare drum part was recorded by itself, the bass drum part by itself, etc.  I can’t imagine the music having the same feel or a musician being able to play that way.  That being said, Martin definitely carved out a distinct sound for the band. 

There is a thread of humor in Unknown Pleasures.  Peter in a typical British way takes a piss on everything including himself.  Apparently Martin wasn’t a fan of his and he describes Martin’s feelings about being in the studio.  “He used to get pissed off with us, especially me and Barney; we were about as welcome as a dog at a bowling alley.”  It should be noted that Martin was an eccentric. 

There does seem to be many similar band experiences in 1970’s England (mainly in the Manchester area). This is what I’ve taken away from reading these memoirs. 
  1. Apparently no one properly drives a car in England.
  2. Practical jokes were constantly played on each other.  I read a lot of “let’s jape their room” or “jape their bus”.  Jape is archaic for an act of mischief.  We need to revive the word. 
  3. Bands experienced lots of cancelled shows, whether it was due to band reputation or circumstances.  I doubt that either Joy Division or The Sex Pistols put in their 10,000 hours.  There wasn’t enough time and venues were limited.
There is a lot of recap and redundancy in the book.  It almost reads like a self-help book in that each chapter has a timeline review.  It’s filler.  I could have done without it.  If you’re a die-hard fan of the band, you will love Peter for writing an anecdote on every song.    Peter put me in his shoes and I think that’s what made this book such a good read.  

On a packaging note:  If you are old enough to remember Joy Division when they were a band, you might get this reference.  The book looks like a 3/4" video tape. 

Friday, March 15, 2013