By Jacqueline Howell with Photos by Dave MacIntyre
There is no other song in the world quite like “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. It is unquantifiable, except to say, you had to be there (on a night in a small room, decades ago, in another realm) or there (spinning records three thousand miles from something called Manchester, just a little too late) or even there, at a Peter Hook and the Light show, last week.
If you are over 40 and a certain kind of music obsessive, for whom music is intertwined with your rapid eye movements and synced to your heartbeat, you’ve listened to this song, and many others by JD & NO untold times in every possible scenario of your life. It’s special in a way that defies attempts at reduction, TV show faux-nostalgia mimicry, or commodification. It is a monument, indestructible, the remaining, shining, towering anthem of the end of our beautiful century; of rock and roll; of underground; of punk, and the end of youth of the last generation that still held any semblance of innocence into adulthood; before the square, interrogation-room bright leash of mobile devices. When we watched and heard everything in the moment, lived without a record or a public statement, of a time so beautiful not one picture of evidentiary value exists, except in our hearts.
At the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto, seeing Peter Hook and the Light play live for the fifth time since he mounted his ambitious solo departure from New Order, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” shines, swells, and rockets around the theatre like a firecracker. It spills over friends and strangers alike like an upturned cup of overpriced lager. It shakes, rattles and rolls inside the devout like we were told to expect from religion but the calling totally missed us – it never felt like this. It threatens to bruise like the grip of a girl on her devoted man’s upper arm, the bicep, the hard won grip of a thousand youthful tears, close shaves and real tragedies, as we 80s kids understand and feel more than ever what Ian Curtis was singing about in that heavy heart of his, so long ago. A songwriter, so young to be in so much pain, maybe never dreaming it would change the entire world, or fearing it would. Peter Hook, single-handedly, and despite what anyone else thought about his decision, has erected this monument personally as a labour of love, one he’s been fine-tuning for over five years. The show is a stunning two-for one, no opener, no time. We get, these days, a full New Order Substance, cut for cut, followed by an entire Joy Division show. This time, the crowd are first timers, more cohesive, the girls not just here to “up-down-turn-around” anymore. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is always the closer. A final stunner. It cracks open the despair of love. It is an artifact of the brilliant, shining, matter-of-fact Mancunian truth-telling knack. It lets us into the bedroom of a heartbreak that would never heal, that would instead, yawn into a chasm and just stay there forever. It’s an appeal, and a self-defensive motion at once; the passive-aggressive roller coaster of young lovers embroiled in pains they haven’t lived enough, yet, to master. Some never do. Things harder than romantic love. Illness. These tragedies abound us. These young people haunt us all. Maybe if I say it, I will break the curse. Maybe I’m wrong to be cynical. Maybe if I sing it. Maybe. Without doubt, the force of this song, and others, would have conquered America in 1980.
It is all this and more, and yet it’s entirely transformative. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” transforms itself, played live by its only creator who is now able to do so, so well, into the opposite of its bald fears and hopeless despair. It rallies, it asserts, by its towering originality, its impossible, unpredictable and unusual nature, its powerful truth, and the contradictory truth that emerged out of its creation and longevity: (This) Love / music will keep us together. Forever is real. We know all too well that the bedroom gets very cold. We know too much about love’s destruction. And yet here we are, enveloped in an unlikely anthem that was the only anthem possible out of our brilliant, misunderstood time (which is still our time, our music still ahead of its “industry”.)
What “Love Will Tear Us Apart” says and what it does is a beautiful contradiction that sums up all of us spilling out of that time we now call post-punk. We are standing here experiencing it all, – for not the first time – and not even the first time of this version of Peter Hook’s / New Order’s / Joy Division’s music, but there is still discovery. How could something so full of relatable despair from faraway and long ago written by a lost poet create something so transcendently powerful? Here, in 2018? Worldwide? Uplifting and healing and something that keeps our very hearts afloat? Our feet on the right side of ledges? It’s a beautiful mystery. It takes a lot to surprise me, to raise my brow. But I wait for it. I’ve been watching & listening forever.
It’s a mystery Peter Hook understands and carries with him as casually as a low-slung bass. He wears it gracefully, he sloughs off the shallow social media comments that once followed the New Order split, and as ever, rises above the nays, and the fray, he always has. He’s written essential books about his time, and now lets his work speak for itself, for he is one of the most interesting cats to ever walk on a stage, yet elusive, so that when he appeared right beside me once, on the fan side of the barrier at the best new festival in the U.K., Shiiine On Weekender, to watch a bit of someone else’s gig, looking right at me, I failed to process it and must have looked a right arse, forgetting my good manners to even nod in recognition before he went backstage again. To me, he had always been eight feet tall, on a video screen, in my shock, my imagination was stuck in a video loop of long ago.
As reporters of the burgeoning renaissance of OUR music (the best of the best of the best artists who still remain) this magazine has happily attended a number of life-changing events that cross-cut time and make decades disappear like sinking ships* in the last three years. But this one is different. We directionless teenagers learned something from Peter Hook, faraway, long ago, impossibly grand on our floor model TV sets in suburbia. Then, it was a detached cool, a uniqueness, a devil-may-care anti-fashion that was better than any bespoke suit. We have so much to learn even now. People who don’t know the difference might miss that what occurs on stage with actual legends is quieter, with no pyro, with no razzle dazzle needed but the sound. Peter Hook, looking twenty years fitter than most of the room, leads by example not just musicianship & hard graft but about shaking shit off, overcoming, adjusting, mourning, celebrating, preserving, and the most careful budgeting of (other people’s) nostalgia that is also transformed by the artist so that it isn’t nostalgia at all, but relevant and real and alive. Seeing “Factory Records” on a page at a current day box office creates strange, powerful feelings in me that only the most romantic souls would understand. Many of them stand in the room with me. One of them towers just a little above us, way too close to believe, fully reining in what could easily fill the Pyramid Stage right now, and aren’t we lucky? We who stood at the back of some concrete piles on top of plastic folding chairs at the bizarre setting of a roller coaster park in what used to be a nowhere north of this city to see shapes that were said to be New Order, once? Where bands used to play, where cameras had to be dashed into shrubbery to be forgotten later, where beer was elusive and so we poured whatever money we had on Republic t-shirts.
The weird, scary, wooden roller coaster, rising out of nothing, taunted us and landmarked road trips north, once. It’s now all expensive suburbia of a Toronto that is endless, that has mostly turned away from music, from self, from the fire in our young bellies. That roller coaster, that park, when it came, finally made us feel a little more American, which we thought meant cool, fun and daring. But it became something better: a place for 80s kids to see British bands we loved with all our hearts, planning our summers around their visits, like our parents would for relatives, all of us saving up middling minimum wage money. We never understood why they came down from our TV screens, which hardly ever played the best music except for late at night, once a week, and came to our Wonderland and didn’t just pass us by. Toronto had the biggest inferiority complex, then, and so did all of us born into it. Between artists and us was a sea, literal and figurative. We got music late then, by boat. We had to seek it out, on whiteboards written by someone who closely read the bible, NME, in one specific store downtown. I had one particular friend that would call the store, who would go and haunt that board, who kept us all organized, and so made sure we caught one of the only five copies of Select Magazine, which, although they never gave us the free tapes promised on the cover, we would happily shred to death; reading, sharing, discussing, in suburban basements.
The trajectory, worthiness, or current status of the music of Peter Hook-Joy Division-New Order is not something I debate with anyone. It’s like Jesus, or Shakespeare, or chocolate. Either you know, or share in this love, or you don’t. It’s beyond moot to me. In the bad divorces of beloved bands, the heartbreak and unlikelihood of long careers and the many short lives that pile up around all of us still here, in the fractured current non-culture that is screaming in pain everyday calmed only by gifs of doggies and kittens as our inner toddlers come to the fore, the fact of Peter Hook and the Light building this new show, this band, and working tirelessly around the world since 2012 could only be good prima facie, you know, if it was even okay. But it’s not okay. It’s epic. We’ve watched it grow here, and even in the U.K., traveling far and wide ourselves for music love at last, in little ‘ol Toronto and the unreal digital space that we never knew was important to the world of music at all, frail & precious things and places we must fight to defend with only our fists. What Peter Hook and the Light’s efforts have been are something monumental like the nostalgists would have you believe can only happen at a time you must have surely missed. In black and white, in another place. Wrong. Forget ’em. Listen to me.
We journalist / fans have been lucky and also smart to be there for the new and brightest era of Peter Hook, the man who now bends and folds time, who once reinvented the bass and made it a lead instrument / almost vocal like no one else has ever done and only ever plagiarizes. Hooky’s deep notes and basslines carried forth into New Order a mystical thread of Ians’s own singular voice, a subtle dirge for the lost young artist and man. New Order, after Ian’s death, went 180 degrees from Joy Division, of course they did, they had to, pivoting into synth and dance music, pioneering that also, by digging deep into scenes on two continents to keep moving, stay alive, and save their worthy dream. Ian Curtis is still a touchy subject, and now, so is New Order. But none of that is up for debate, anymore, in my circle. This music needs to be played and be heard; it is important and special and much needed today. Because, among the other reasons we all know, something in the new millennium is about willful forgetting. A tendency toward consumption, hoarding; an ultimately unromantic world of “storage” and “content” and compression and minimization. People who miss it need to see this music played live by Hooky, where it can be appreciated, and where, now, their own music-oriented kids can learn from the experience. In Toronto, A bass player friend who’s in five different local bands appears in the crowd from somewhere, he knows our usual spot; front, left. He’s here to see us, to “Woo!” Canadian-style, (we’ve slowly grown bolder over time) and he’s here for a closer look at the bass playing; the ratio matters not to us. We make room, our laughter childlike, unrecognizable, unrestrained. We’re all part of this transmission. From darkness to light.
Peter Hook and the Light is less than halfway through a 30-city North American tour. Then on to the UK, Ireland, Spain & Australia. Incredibly, you can still be there, in 2018. It’ s biblical. Find your way.
*The Killers, Dustland Fairytale.