At the start of October I was enjoying the delights of Rod Stewart’s thoroughly entertaining yet unimaginatively titled, ‘Rod: The Autobiography.’ Full of humour and candour, Rod comes across as a genuinely lovely bloke who knows that he struck gold and that his career could have ended at any time. Blessed with that fine voice and a talent for pulling beautiful women, Rod Stewart also has enough humility to know that he has been one lucky son of a bitch! His relentless infidelities the only blot on an otherwise charming personality.
That said, Rod is not a hero of mine. He is a celebrity, a personality. His songs say nothing to me about my life. So when the unexpected news came of the imminent publication of the Morrissey memoir I knew I had to get a crack on with This Charming Rod for fear of missing the big reveal for myself. Morrissey has written a ‘Penguin Classic.’ And before you could say “there’s more to life than books you know,” the inadequately titled ‘Autobiography’ was in my hand.
Even before I’d read a word I’d already guffawed at the Peter Serafinowicz skit that was doing the rounds on Twitter. As funny as it was I didn’t actually think he was singing the first page of Morrissey’s Autobiography. Surely it was a wind up? But no. Morrissey’s childhood really was “streets upon streets upon streets upon streets. Streets to define you and streets to confine you.” This isn’t how your run of the mill rock expose usually starts. I must have read the first page about five times before I moved on. Each revisited read more enjoyable than the last. It was lyrical, it was artful. I even thought to myself, could this be the first biography that I’ll ever read more than once?
I know it’s gonna happen someday.
It soon becomes apparent, however, that this isn’t going to be an easy read. Moz just isn’t a fan of paragraphs. And as I turn the page I begin to get nervous. The senses begin to overload with desolate imagery, and without a pause to let it all sink in I am reminded of the nonsense that is Bob Dylan’s ‘Tarantula’ of which I couldn’t even comprehend a single sentence. Having just read the articulate and comforting Rod Stewart life story I know all to well that I’m going to have to engage my brain with this one. An image leaps from the page and my head suddenly stops swimming: “Birds abstain from song in post-war industrial Manchester.” Fucking hell. Here we go.
As if aware of the needed injection of light relief, Morrissey reveals that “naturally my birth almost kills my mother, for my head is too big.” And with that I am reminded of what brought me to be holding this book in the first place. I glance back at the cover. This really is Morrissey in his own words.
Further brushes with ‘death’ litter the recollections of Morrissey on his early stages of life. “My sister Jackie,” he says, “older by two years, is interrupted four times as she attempts to kill me, whether this be rivalry or visionary no one knows.” Soon after, his mother’s “almost-too-pretty younger sister” also has it in for him. “Jeane is asked to watch me one afternoon whilst everyone disappears to grapple with life’s grim duties, and she feeds me rice pudding for lunch with a spoon so large that it locks in my throat and I can’t pull it out. I panic, and run away from Jeane, who I am certain is trying to kill me.” Morrissey fares no better at school, either, wherein children “will faint due to a lack of food.”
School (and Morrissey’s hatred of it) is the growing pain of which there is no relief. “This is the Manchester school system of the 1960’s, where sadness is habit-forming, and where shame is cattle-prodded into kids who are in pursuit of bliss amid the unrelenting disapproval.” There are pages upon pages (like streets upon streets) where Mozzer berates his days at St. Wilfrid’s, and later at St. Mary’s. Attitudes, curriculum, ‘friends’, and sustenance are all remembered vividly by a vengeful Morrissey. “Putrid smells reduce me to a pitiful pile, and none are more vomitarian than school dinners.” Moz recalls. As for his teachers, is there a more bitchily succinct put down than “Miss Redmond is ageing, and will never marry, and will die smelling of attics”? As we find out later in the book, yes, there is actually…*gulp*
It is Television that allows for Master Morrissey to escape the realities of life. But even this form of escape is poisoned as “television is black and white, so therefore life itself is black and white.” “Whatever you see (on television) you will never forget” he explains, before getting side tracked by television’s allure and describing in detail a large number of his favourite childhood shows. This indulgence of waffle is an unfortunate trait that Moz repeats several times throughout the book, none more greatly unnecessary than the section where Moz feels the need to give us an in-depth analysis of his favourite poets. “How much of this am I gonna have to sift through before he meets Johnny Marr?” I think to myself. If the book was broken up into chapters, this section would be entitled ‘Nowhere Fast.’
What we want is anecdotes, and as we sift through the meaningless twaddle we uncover such wondrous gems such as the time that an 8-year-old Morrissey was taken to Old Trafford by his father to see the “apocalyptic disturber of the peace” that was George Best play a game of football. In a truly Morrissey fashion, he faints at the sight of Best and is dragged home by his vexed father, missing most of the game. It could only happen to Morrissey.
Another story involves Morrissey’s father intervening when his mild-mannered son has an early brush with a bully; “at Trafford Park Baths I had gone to watch my father swim. Whilst cheering from the sides, I am pushed into the deep end by a brutally sallow teenage boy, whom my father then neatly chinned.” If there was no longer anybody trying to kill Morrissey, there were still many who wanted to hurt him. But Morrissey learnt how to fend for himself, as he admits that “I do not know where my uppercuts come from, but there they are, an orbit of finishing blows rising from somewhere deep within.” As Morrissey later sang on the masterful Vauxhall and I – “used to be a sweet boy, holding so tightly to Daddy’s hand, but that was all in some distant land.”
Aside from all the fighting, the television and episodes embarrassing his father, Morrissey thankfully found time to fall in love with music, and he falls in love with gusto to the extent that “it is considered odd that a boy so young should care so much.” When goaded by a “young and patronizing” priest at St. Mary’s, Morrissey’s resolve is so strong that it fails to induce intended laughter from his classmates – “And what do YOU like in life?” (the priest) asks me. “Mott the Hoople,” I answer truthfully. “Oh, I see,” he smirks, greater and grander than us all, “most boys like girls – he likes Mott the Hoople.”
The subject of girls is brought up, but it is of no import. The New York Dolls, gig-going, poetry and even riding bicycles is more fulfilling to our hero. And it is here, at this point, that sort of sums up how Morrissey is just so different from your average human being. What we find fascinating, Morrissey finds dull. And he spends little time dwelling on such fanciful matters such as meeting Johnny Marr or writing songs. What plagues Morrissey is the fact that The Smith’s record label (Rough Trade) were so inept that they couldn’t engineer a number 1 single for the band, that they (led by Rough Trade CO Geoff Travis) didn’t appreciate how good The Smiths were, and that they couldn’t even reproduce the artwork properly! We flicker between the odd teacher or priest that Morrissey doesn’t like but it’s not until we are introduced to Geoff Travis that we learn that Morrissey has an agenda. He has a Kill List, and first against the wall is Geoff Travis. Mozzer slates the press for being so lazy that they perpetually taint him with the ‘misery’ brush, but he does himself few favours. It is disheartening to me that Morrissey recalls his time with The Smiths with so much unhappiness. We know that the court case is coming, and if the good times were supposedly this bad, then bloody hell, where is this book going?
It certainly changes tact. Gone are the literary flushes and whimsical distractions (for now), for now it is time for the nitty-gritty ‘truth’. And the simple truth is this; Morrissey quite likes Chrissie Hynde, Kirsty MacColl, Kirk Douglas and himself. Morrissey quite likes himself a lot. Morrissey does not, however, like any of the following people or publications; Geoff Travis, Mike Joyce, Siouxsie Sioux, Sandie Shaw, Circuit Judge John Weeks, Mr Nigel Davis QC for Mike Joyce, the NME (not to be confused with the New Musical Express), John Peel or ‘The Duchess of Nothing’ that is Sarah Ferguson.
Tellingly, a large portion of Autobiography is dedicated to the infamous court case that has tainted The Smiths legacy for all involved. And in these pages Morrissey paints a convincingly compelling conspiracy, one which rivals that of Jim Garrison’s On the Trail of the Assassins denouncing Lee Harvey Oswald as a lone gunman. Moz’s arguments are obviously one-sided, but if his ‘evidence’ is true (which actually doesn’t seem unthinkable) then you can understand why Morrissey still bares more grudges than all those lonely high court Judges. Even so, it seems clear that from his birth to the present day, Steven Patrick Morrissey has never accepted any wrong doing for anything. Just as he sings on Used to be a Sweet Boy; “something went wrong and I know I’m not to blame.” These words could just as easily have been the title for this book.
I accept that at this stage Autobiography seems like a bleak read, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. Morrissey isn’t so black and white that he only feels love and hate. You see, he doesn’t really mind Stephen Street, he doesn’t actually say that he hates Johnny Marr, just that he’s frustrated by his actions (or lack of) – and he doesn’t even get that mad at the New York Dolls for not being nice to him despite his involvement in resurrecting their career in the mid-noughties. All in all, he is pretty content with his lot. Despite an endless list of people dying around him, life still goes on. He quite likes his backing band and he is a major success (on the live circuit) in America and Central Europe. He is loved and he loves being loved, whether American radio or the English press realise it or not. “Jesus, I am loved.” he concludes. “Having never found love from one, I instead find it from thousands – at the same time, in the same room.”
Pre-release hype sees fans given the chance to design alternative front covers:
Whether Autobiography is a Penguin Classic is neither here nor there. That title was just a gimmick to get people talking about it. It is an ambitious book, confused even, but still a worthy addition to any Smiths fans book-shelf along side Simon Goddard’s Songs that Saved your Life and Johnny Rogan’s The Severed Alliance. I am glad to have read it, but it could have been so much more. It feels rushed to me and unedited. In parts it feels false, like Morrissey’s just being nasty for the sake of being nasty. And I still don’t feel like I know the real Morrissey, as some cards are kept too close to his chest. Fair enough, it succeeds (in my eyes) to put an end to the ever-burning question of a Smiths reunion, (It’s not gonna happen people), but he still could have got that message across and talked of his time as a Smith with a little more affection. He recalls his youth with such fluency and care, but that’s not why we love him. He knows where he is from but does he know who is?
I’ll finish proceedings by collecting some of the more poignant quotes from Morrissey’s Autobiography, but I could have just saved you all the time and posted a live video of Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourselves instead.
Viva Morrissey! Thanks for reading x
“Isn’t sex the one and only reason why all of us are actually alive?”
“In what could be termed sheer panic I buy a drum kit, and suddenly I am in mortal danger of doing something productive.”
“Surely it is true that everything in the imagination seems worse than it actually is – especially when one is alone and horizontal.”
“The fact that you do not look like a pop-star-in-waiting should not dishearten you because your oddness could become the deciding wind of change for others.”
“I am surely a secretive part of some scientific experiment of endurance, or a prank played by God.”
“I ponder on how I could possibly be considered a bad influence, since I am neither bad nor remotely influential.”
“Undernourished and growing out of the wrong soil, I knew at this time that a lot of people found me hard to take.”
“Somewhere deep within, my only pleasure was to out-endure people’s patience.”
“Death always wins.”