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New Order's Bernard Sumner Talks About His New Book,… Just Not With Us

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Peter Hook reading Bernard Sumner’s bio

Bernard Sumner, founder member of Joy Division and lead vocalist and guitarist of New Order, has written his autobiography ‘Chapter and Verse – New Order, Joy Division and Me’, in which he apparently makes a lot of revelations. What would be a biography without revelations? He gave an interview to The Guardian on Monday, and discussed some of the personal disclosures he is sharing in his book, which should have been called ‘Private Parts’, according to what he told the Guardian! Wasn’t this title already taken by Howard Stern?

Anyway, I was curious about these revelations, as any of you of course. The first one is about hypnotism:

‘Gosh. I’ve got to be careful not to sound like a lunatic here’ says Sumner. ‘I first read about hypnotism at school and I used to do tricks like getting a really skinny guy to arm wrestle the local bully. Much later, when we were in Joy Division, I read a book on hypnotic regression and how it could be used for therapy. I first hypnotized Ian at our rehearsal room. He remembered nothing, but when we did it again exactly the same memories came up, about him being a mercenary in the hundred years war. I recorded it and when I played it back to him he was astounded. It was my feeble attempt to try and shake him out of a death wish he seemed to have. He’d already tried to commit suicide. I’ve never listened to the tape since because it was too tender, but I decided to have it transcribed and put it in the book. Otherwise it would be lost forever.’

Here we have it, a transcript of a hypnotized Ian Curtis talking about his involvement in the hundred years war! Only for this everyone should be eager to read the book, except that I don’t buy any of these supposedly regression through hypnotism, and past lives? Give me a break! But he did it in the good intention to make Curtis forget about his death wish… although it didn’t work.

Sumner also talks about his childhood, a very tough one in the very violent neighborhood of Salford, controlled by armed gangs. Since his single mother had cerebral palsy, he was raised by his grandparents, and his stepfather died in front of him,… and ‘Yes, there’s more, but people will have to read the book.’

And you would never guess what triggered Sumner to form a band: seeing the Sex Pistols play their first Manchester gig in 1976 and spaghetti western films: ‘Before that, we’d had all these corny John Wayne films where the Indians were bad and the cowboys were good. Suddenly you had these weird, spectacularly shot Italian western films where everyone was bad. No one was the good guy. They all had these emotionally stirring Ennio Morricone soundtracks and that flicked a switch in me.’

He also reveals that they had to redo ‘Blue Monday’ because the first recording had a load of white noise but ‘the original was better. It was funkier.’ However the best story concerns a bag of vomit at the airport after a whole night out in New York:

‘I ended up in Harlem at 8.30am, absolutely wrecked. I had to go straight to the airport, but was throwing up into this bag. The security guy was looking at my eyes, which were so bloodshot I looked like some crazy acid casualty. I thought I was for it, but I put this bag of puke on the conveyor belt and he was concentrating so much on searching me that he didn’t notice that a bag of sick had just gone through the machine. I picked it up on the other side.’

Inevitably, there is also question of Ian Curtis’ sad suicide: ‘I was really angry at Ian that he’d bailed out. But at the same time I felt very deeply sorry that he felt the need to take his own life. I understood why he did it’, as well as question of the band facing the aftermath of Curtis’ death: ‘Rob [Gretton, manager] said that we couldn’t play any Joy Division songs, because everyone would think that we were propagating our career off them. We didn’t play any Joy Division songs for 10 years after the start of New Order, which was a very honorable thing to do even if it meant shooting ourselves in the foot.’

Ten years really? So why is there a 1985 bootleg with ‘She’s Lost Control’? and it took me a few seconds to find it… so I imagine there are many more. Should this let me think that you have to take everything Sumner says with a grain of salt?

Of course now that Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner are in very bad terms and that everyone wants to have a piece of New Order and Joy Division, things are different and everyone is playing Joy Division… As a matter of fact, Hook, who has himself written a book about his time with Joy Division, didn’t really appreciate Sumner’s new book: ‘It is a shame, not just for us and the fans, but maybe also for the bookstores who won’t know whether to file this under fantasy or tragedy’… ouch!

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