Before Murphy’s show in 2013, New Times had a nice long chat with the goth pioneer. Often called the "Godfather of Goth," he volunteered his view about Joy Division, one of several English postpunk bands from the 1970s often referred to by the music press as having a dark, so-called “gothic” sound.
Reflecting on the era when Bauhaus entered the British music scene in the late '70s, Murphy commented on Joy Division, unprompted. “We were not like Joy Division," he said. "We were and are the seminal moment in that time. Joy Division is not that. It's OK, but it's actually really trashy. It's not that well-done. It's all right, good songs."
The comment came out of the blue. Our follow-up question was simply: “Joy Division?” Murphy had more to say, this time referencing the quartet’s lead singer, Ian Curtis. "There's all this myth: the sacrosanct Joy Division. Why? Because he killed himself. He was our friend. Of course, it's good music. I'm just saying we were nothing like them. We were nothing like anybody. That was a very British thing at the time. Joy Division didn't want to identify with anybody else either."
Recently, New Times spoke with Peter Hook, Joy Division’s bassist, who is about to kick off his Southeastern U.S. tour, playing his former band’s seminal albums Unknown Pleasures and Closer on the 35th anniversary of Curtis’ passing. Hook had a look at the article that resulted from our conversation with Murphy. “The thing that strikes me in this world, as my mother used to say, if you can't blow your own trumpet,” he pauses to laugh, “then whose can you blow? So I suppose it's a way of stirring controversy.” Hook says Murphy simply has what he calls “lead singer syndrome.” He explains, “The thing is, lead singers have to be outspoken. It's their job. Bauhaus were a very interesting group. The great thing we have in common is that literally Bauhaus lasted almost as long as Joy Division, didn't they? It was a very short life before they split up. That's one thing they have in common.”
Though Murphy trivialized Joy Division as “trashy” and referred to Curtis’ suicide as a move that raised the band to the level of “the sacrosanct,” perhaps what he was trying to explain was there was no united, conscious goth scene at the time but individual bands who hated being pigeonholed by the media. Goth was one of those easy umbrella terms that music journalists like to use to group bands who may share some similarities at a particular period of time.
For his part, Hook has a different take on the divide between Joy Division and Bauhaus. “In England, we would say Bauhaus were a bit middle class, whereas Joy Division were very staunch and very obviously working class. The grittiness and grimness of England at the time was captured very, very much by Joy Division, whereas Bauhaus seemed a little bit separate from it. They seemed a bit gothy glam, so they didn't have the grittiness that Joy Division had, so maybe that's what rattled his cage. I don't know.” It’s unfortunate that Curtis’ decision to commit suicide on May 18, 1980, is something that is as much Joy Division’s legacy as its music. Hook and the surviving members of Joy Division, guitarist Bernard Sumner and drummer Stephen Morris, dropped the Joy Division name, hired Gillian Gilbert on keyboards, and became New Order later that year. Hook has long refused to romanticize Curtis’ suicide.
“You couldn't do anything for him,” he says of Curtis, who suffered from epilepsy and depression. “It was very, very frustrating. You have to remember that suicide is a hell of a step to take. It’s a very sort of severe final solution, isn’t it? And the aftermath that you leave for everybody behind, what you have to say for his wife, for his children, for his workmates, for his parents. It’s a very, very inconsiderate disease.”
Meanwhile, Hook says he knows Murphy pretty well and harbors no ill will over his statements about his old band. The Joy Division bassist instead offers a story about meeting the Bauhaus frontman when he was working as a bouncer at the Hacienda, the famous nightclub in Manchester owned by the same people who founded Joy Division’s record label, Factory Records.
"I actually threw him out of the Hacienda once,” he reveals. “I used to do security at the Hacienda as a part-time job. He was playing there with Bauhaus, and he didn't have a pass, and I was at the door, and he came up to me, and he said, 'Do you fucking know who I am?' and I thought, 'Wow!' That's one thing you should never say to people, and I said, 'Fine, now I do. Now fuck off,' and I threw him out because he didn't have a pass. But we did make up, and I actually DJ'ed for him at an aftershow party and apologized for throwing him out,” Hook adds with a laugh.
Peter Hook & the Light. Performing Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures and Closer. With special guest Arthur Baker, plus DJ 16 Bit. Presented by Poplife. 8 p.m. Friday, April 17, at Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-377-2277; grandcentralmiami.com. Tickets cost $25 to $30 plus fees via ticketfly.com. All ages.