Rock and Roll Book Club: Peter Hook's 'Substance: Inside New Order'

Peter Hook's 'Substance: Inside New Order'
Peter Hook's 'Substance: Inside New Order' (Jay Gabler/MPR)

Peter Hook's Substance covers the bassist's 27-year history with New Order. That's a lot of history — which is why it takes him 752 pages.

It's the third music memoir Hook has written, making his bibliography one of the most detailed personal chronicles among artists of his generation. First came a 2010 book about his role in running legendary Manchester club the Hacienda, then a 2012 book about his experiences in the storied post-punk band Joy Division. Now comes Substance: Inside New Order, Hook's book about the band that the regrouped Joy Division members formed after singer Ian Curtis's 1980 suicide.

Substance opens with a scene from 1986. The members of New Order are at the premiere of John Hughes's Pretty in Pink, since they have music on the soundtrack. They fuel up with cocaine for the afterparty, at which Hook's potential conversation with Molly Ringwald is interrupted by the band's producer John Robie smashing a mushroom pastry into Hook's face. Hook chases Robie and punches him. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark go running, and Suzanne Vega bursts into tears. Welcome to the '80s!

The book is full of scene after scene like that: unlike many music memoirs, it's worth reading if only for the sheer entertainment value. There are stories about Erasure calling for help with a synthesizer ("We heard you got the Emulator I to work by hitting it with a hammer. Where did you hit it, exactly?"), about a bootleg Sunkist ad (the beverage company ran with a leaked version of Bernard Sumner's vocal, which he couldn't sing straight even with someone holding up a card reading "$350,000," the amount the band stood to make), and about Hook being escorted from an industry panel "for your own safety" after he made a joke about an absent Ice Cube having "melted."

Of course, Hook's not necessarily a perfectly reliable narrator — as might be expected from a member of a band whose tour rider included seven kinds of alcohol, "a plentiful supply of glasses, ice and openers," and just a single line for miscellaneous "snacks and sweets." Writing about a First Avenue show in 1983, Hook remembers:

We are asked by the manager of the club if we want to go to the club owner's house after the show and maybe jam in his home studio. "He supports young musicians. It's called Paisley Park. Everything's purple!" he explained. "Tell the old pervert to f--- off," we said.

Some version of this doubtless happened — Prince would certainly have known about New Order, and at that time he did live in a purple house with a home studio — but Paisley Park wasn't built until 1987 (though the name was used earlier to refer to a warehouse facility Prince owned in Eden Prairie), and it's hard to imagine Steve McClellan erroneously referring to Prince as the club owner. Ah, well. It makes a good story.

The book is stuffed with detailed lists of New Order shows, track-by-track album recaps, "geek alert" boxes with detailed information for gear heads, and subjective definitions of music standbys like gaffer tape. "From tying down a cable or tying up a miserable lead singer, to holding up backdrops or holding up p---ed drummers (I have seen more than one taped to his seat), as well as being used for the bandaging of open wounds and the decoration of a consenting groupie, this is a truly miracle product."

Hook left New Order in 2007 — almost 20 years, in Hook's accounting, after Sumner's influence grew dominant and the band ceased to be interesting. With seemingly no thought of a potential reunion (or no concern that frank revelations would get in the way of such a thing if the price was right), Hook tells us what he really thinks about his former bandmates. Sumner published his own memoir in 2014, and Hook judged that "bookstores won't know whether to file it under fantasy or tragedy."

Now Hook's own version of events is out there, and you can make of it what you will. Even if you're totally committed to Team Sumner, though, it's hard not to be amused by stories like the one about England's soccer team visiting the recording sessions for New Order's 1990 World Cup anthem. Looking over at a mixing board after downing three bottles of champagne, midfielder Paul Gascoigne said, "Whey aye, man, that's the biggest organ I've ever f---en' seen!"

The Current's Substance Giveaway

Use this form to enter The Current's Substance giveaway between 8 a.m. CT on Wednesday, March 15, 2017 and 11:59 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, March 21, 2017.

One (1) winner will receive one (1) hardcover copy of Substance: Inside New Order by Peter Hook. Three (3) back up names will be drawn.

Prize retail value: $35

We will contact the winners on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Winner must accept by 10 a.m. CT on Thursday, March 23, 2017.

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