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If you are a fan of 80’s bands from England, there is some real  pleasure in reading this book. 

I knew about New Order way before I knew of Joy Division.  I was a huge fan of bands like New Order, Depeche Mode, etc.  I know it’s retro these days to listen to 80’s bands, but for me, it’s just nostalgia. 

Peter Hook, author of “Unknown Pleasures:  Inside Joy Division” (Harper Collins), tells the story of the genesis of Joy Division and the subsequent formation of New Order, in the aftermath of lead singer Ian’s suicide.  Hook’s writing is personable and casual, and makes you feel as if he is just telling you stories at the local pub.  Hook takes an obviously fond look back at the formation of two wildly important bands and their musical legacy. 

Hook details the minutia of life in a struggling band, before the band hits it big.  The members of the band struggle to get gigs; they make mistakes and they envy other bands that were big at the time– most notably the Buzzcocks & The Sex Pistols.  Just when Joy Division gets going, though, they suffer a tragedy.  Just as they were gearing up for their first American tour, Ian Curtis kills himself.

There is a note of guilt in Peter Hook’s writing when talking of Ian and his seizures; he says the band members buried their heads in the sand, didn’t want to acknowledge what was going on with Ian, and just kept going.  The signs were all there, obviously, but as often happens, the signs were minimized so as to seem smaller, more manageable. 

In the wake of Ian’s death, New Order was born, as was a new sound.  New Order were more successful than Joy Division, but both bands were hugely influential in many music genres, such as dance and techno.  I’ve never tired of listening to New Order, not after over 20 years.

This is the first memoir I’ve read written by a musician, and I have to say, my feelings are mixed.  I love Hook’s dialect, humor, his directness, but I do wonder at times who he thinks is reading this book.  It’s super difficult for me, at times, to read something without being critical of mechanics and grammatical things.  Again, if you think of this book as the author talking to you at your local pub over beers, then it’s very enjoyable.  Hook digresses at times, and the chronology is hard to follow, but the stories are good.  Some of the stories are quite amazing, coming from the perspective of musical history. 

One more thing about this book that I find amazing:  Hook mentions one of my all-time favorite 80’s movies, one that I never see on the teevee:  Letter to Brezhnev.  I’m not usually one to be impressed by any name-dropping, but when he mentions that he knew Margi Clark from the film, I was impressed.  80’s cold-war cinema?  Oh, hell yes.

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The title of my blog “searching for an afflated orgasm of the heart” comes from the David Foster Wallace novel Infinite Jest. It has taken me many, many months to finish this novel, but it was worth it. There is genius on every single page.

There is comedy; there is tragedy. There is knowledge, precision. Not only can DFW craft a perfect sentence, his wealth of knowledge on multiple subjects is amazing. And as much as I enjoyed reading about tennis and wheelchair assassins, it is his writing on depression and isolation that really floors me.

The first chapter of Infinite Jest is actually the last. “Year of Glad” is, to me, by far the most brilliant and telling chapter.  This is the one chapter in the book which I have read & reread.  “Year of Glad” introduces us to Hal as he is at the end of the novel:  inside he believes he is perfectly normal and sane; on the outside, those around him cannot understand his words, nor can they decipher his behavior.  “I am in here”  he keeps saying to them; they only react with horror.  Hal is very much isolated in his own mind.  His ability to communicate has all but disappeared.

I am in here. I can’t say how many times I’ve thought that to myself.  Trying to communicate what’s in your head to someone who can’t understand you is frustrating, and a bit scary.  We never really know what has happened to Hal;  the only clue is a clump of mold he ate as a child.

Every character in Infinite Jest has some sort of flaw, be it visible or of the character type.  But it’s the fun that DFW makes of us as humans that’s the real joke:  our addictions and our shallowness.  Our love of acronyms and of money.  The absolute ridiculousness of the things we deem as “entertainment.”

DFW’s powers of description came through best when describing certain emotional states; he was able to describe depression and anxiety in a way that only those who have suffered through them can.  He knows, among a gazillion other things, what these things feel and look like and how they are treated.  There are at least 4 suicides in the novel, one being a main character that we never see, as he has already suicided before the novel begins.  He knows all about AA and related programs.  He even added a few groups for those with deformities, U.H.I.D. for example.  We do love a good exclusive group, don’t we?

This is not a short read, nor is it always an easy one.  There are multiple story lines, all meeting at some point; there are extensive footnotes, totaling nearly 100 pages.  There are words you will have to look up; there are tennis facts you will have to take at his word.  But you will read every sentence with joy, and wish to god DFW was still around and still writing.

 

 

PS:  here is my review on Powell’s Daily Dose:  http://www.powells.com/Comments/View/Jennifer%20Hensley

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