New Order, Joy Division, surviving and moving on

I couldn’t tell you the last time I thought about Joy Division, and then one of my college classmates posted a story about a stash of Joy Division and early New Order master tapes showing up in the basement of a former bank, along with guns and gold (but presumably, no butter). Yes, the jokes write themselves.

Instead of talking about the contents of the tapes, the story talked about New Order going on tour. I was vaguely aware that Peter Hook quit the band, and another story on the site discussed that: New Order is back together without Peter Hook, and Peter Hook is planning on touring as himself and playing Joy Division songs. And he’s writing a book about his time in Joy Division.

As a guy who spent way too much time listening to Joy Division in college, and who for a time ran the largest Joy Division tribute site on the Web, yeah, I have some opinions on all that.

Peter Hook has been criticized for saying New Order without him isn’t New Order, especially since New Order soldiered on for a decade without Gillian Gilbert.

The thing is, the four members of Joy Division had an agreement that if anything ever happened to one of them, they’d continue on under another name. Those four members were Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner, and the late Ian Curtis. After Ian Curtis committed suicide, the surviving members recorded the last two songs they’d written together and started working on new material, trying to figure out who was going to do what. Since all of them found it difficult to play an instrument and sing at the same time, they brought in Gillian Gilbert to help out on keyboards and guitar. So she wasn’t in on the original agreement.

Evidently, Sumner and Morris disagree with Hook on whether the old Joy Division-era agreement applies to New Order today. I think in another story, they said they get votes too on whether New Order disintegrates or carries on. That’s a question for a British contract lawyer. Being neither a contract lawyer nor British, I can’t say anything meaningful about that.

Meanwhile, Peter Hook is writing about being in Joy Division and he’s playing the old songs. Having seen some of the footage on Youtube of New Order playing a few of the old songs, it’s clear that Hook really enjoyed revisiting that material. I think the most frequent question I ever got in the late 1990s was why New Order didn’t play Joy Division songs, or only did so very rarely. At the time, Sumner didn’t want to do it. Now Peter Hook is saying he’s proud of what Joy Division did in those three years and he’s tired of being the only person who can’t celebrate it, so now he’s going to celebrate it.

And you know what? Different people grieve in different ways. If Hook feels the need to go revisit 1977-1980 again, write a book, play the songs and tour the UK, that’s his business and I’m glad for him. That may be the best way for him to deal with it.

If the other members want to avoid it and spend the year revisiting 1980-1994 minus one man instead, that’s another way of dealing with it. One thing I paid a lot of money to learn was that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, except to not do it. I understand both approaches. I’ve used both approaches. I have a vague idea when my dad’s birthday was, and a vague idea of what day he died. The specifics are in my computer, if I ever need to look it up. But as either day approaches, I don’t know when it is, and the sad anniversary doesn’t ruin my day or my week. I miss my dad terribly, but above all else, Dad would want me to accomplish what I need to do when I need to do it. He would say above all else, we have to survive.

I also don’t blame Peter Hook for writing a book, nor do I think of him as a sellout for doing so. As a published author myself, I have a pretty good idea how much money he’ll make. If he ends up making 50 grand off the book, he should be happy. How fair that is depends on how many hours it takes for him to write it. It’s a pretty safe bet he’ll make more money touring than he’ll make off the book, and the touring probably will seem less like work to him. But, speaking again as an author, I can also say writing it all down will be therapeutic for him. I’ve seen the suggestions that he should just start a blog so everyone can read it for free, but that’s not fair to him. Maybe he needs the money and maybe he doesn’t. That’s none of my business. I’m going to assume that he does need it, and I won’t begrudge him for needing it. When he sees people infringing on Joy Division’s intellectual property, he makes them give money to epilepsy charities rather than making them pay him. So it’s not as if he never gives back. And you know what? Both he and the readers will benefit from him having an editor. That’s not a knock on his writing–everyone needs an editor.

Sure, I wish Hook, Sumner, and Morris could find a way to do what they want/need to do amicably. But even if they can’t, never say never. Brian Wilson reunited with the other surviving members of The Beach Boys. If that can happen, anything can happen.

In the end, I’m just a guy who listened to Joy Division too much, and spent a few years of my life overanalyzing everything they ever wrote and everything they ever did that was written down. Now people pay me to overanalyze and obsess over their computer security problems and I don’t have time to obsess over Joy Division anymore. What I have to say about Joy Division doesn’t matter a whole lot.

But I’m glad Peter Hook is doing what he’s doing. What he says in the interview is typical of someone who’s still grieving. It’s been 32 years, so it’s time for him to do whatever he needs to do in order to deal with it. He’s been grieving longer than he’d been alive when all of this happened. For his sake, I wish he’d been able to do this years ago.

And for the fans who get to see this material performed live by 25% of the band for the first time in 32 years, I hope they enjoy it, and I hope Peter Hook gets to see them enjoying it. That will be good for all of them.

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