Substance: Inside New Order
Dey Street Books
When former New Order bassist Peter Hook announced the release of his book, Hacienda: How Not To Run A Club, he let it be known that it was the first in a trilogy of memoirs, with forthcoming volumes detailing his life with Joy Division and New Order. Substance, his autobiography of his years with New Order, concludes the trilogy, and does so in a very heavy, detailed way. Clocking in at over eight hundred pages, this is not light reading, as Hook has lived quite a life in the years since frontman Ian Curtis took his life in May 1980, bringing the up-and-coming band Joy Division to a screeching, tragic halt. Yet his death marked only the beginning of Hook’s wild, decades-long career. Hook once remarked to the audience at a tribute concert to the late Martin Hannett as his band Revenge prepared to launch into a version of “Dreams Never End,” “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family!” Substance is the warts-and-all story of one of pop musics more interesting dysfunctional families—one readers might not be aware of, considering how the band managed to cultivate an anonymous, faceless persona throughout the majority of its decades-long run.
Hook isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty, and he’s most certainly not afraid of turning the knife on himself. He’s a man who knows his flaws and owns up to them, often to great discomfort to the reader—such as his horrible sexual harassment of poor Tanya Donelly when she rejects his advances. (“You fucker,” I told myself, angry at the story—I had to walk away from the book for a little bit after reading that, not sure I wanted to read more!) But Hook is penitent for his actions here and throughout the remaining twenty-seven years in New Order, and as unpleasant as that and other stories may be, one can’t help but like the rogue, especially as Substance makes clear that his bragging and his transgressive behavior came at a price, and he mans up for his actions. Thankfully, Substance never does so in a way that feels so hackneyed and moralistic, as wild-child-gone-straight biographies tend to do.
The enmity between Hook and New Order in general and Bernard Sumner in particular can make for occasionally dreary reading, but in so doing, a truth develops. One gets the feeling that Hook’s anger and resentment towards his former bandmates is one that comes from pure love; after all, what Hook, Sumner, and Morris experienced with Joy Division and the sudden death of Ian Curtis only solidified the already familial bond that comes from being a touring band. Soldiering on in the face of such a loss was surprising enough; that they eclipsed Joy Division makes the story even more poignant. Hook’s anger is real, yet should not be dismissed as bitterness; he has a right to his feelings, and though at eight hundred pages we’re only getting one side of the story, he explicitly lays out why he feels that way and how the actions of others have affected him. It’s to Hook’s credit that he ends Substance when he leaves New Order; he doesn’t get caught up in trashing them for what they’ve done since he’s left.
And that is what gives Substance a glimmer of hope. Hook clearly loved his band, and though he’s hurt and angry with Sumner, one leaves the Substance experience with a feeling that all is not lost, considering their intense history together. After all, one doesn’t publish an eight hundred page tome about something one doesn’t care about, and that’s the point, isn’t it? Underneath the drug stories, the embarrassing moments of being a total jerk, the money woes, and the hard work required of one of the biggest bands of the era, one cannot help but notice that Substance is, in essence, a love story. Sure, it’s of a love that went wrong, but it’s a love story nonetheless.
One wonders what would happen if the two were to sit down amicably, have the difficult conversation Substance certainly engenders, and then move on. A full-on reunion? Maybe, but don’t count on it. A reconciliation, in private, between family members, that although never produces the four of them on stage once again, results in hard feelings being put aside and the familial love, respect, and joy being healed? If such a result meant that New Order would never perform or record again, then so be it! I could live with that, and so should you. They’ve given the world plenty of music to enjoy; their happiness is so much more important. Whatever may happen next, it won’t detract from the fact that Substance is a powerful, potent insight into one helluva history of one of the most beloved bands of the Eighties.