Autobiography by Morrissey
Sorry – couldn’t resist the title of this post. I wrote about my initial reaction to the opening pages of Moz’s memoir here. There, I questioned whether I could stand to read a whole 457 pages of his purple prose.
Well, reader – I finished it. Contrary to my expectations, I enjoyed a good amount of it too, but, if ever there was a book to which the term ‘curate’s egg’ could apply – this is it! Famously unedited, it is at least one hundred pages too long. This is primarily because, (as I at once surmised), he uses double the amount of words that he needs to.
I suspect that, as his sense of humour is entirely on a different plane to that of the general public, he didn’t set out to make anyone laugh – but laugh I did in quite a few places. Let me share some of those with you before getting serious:
Naturally my birth almost kills my mother, for my head is too big, … (p5)
England calls with an offer of a role on Eastenders, as the son (so far unmentioned) of the character Dot Cotton. I would arrive unexpectedly in Albert Square and cause births, deaths and factory fires every time I opened my mouth – numb to shame throughout. (p353)
The cast (of Friends) is friendly, and I am immediately taken aside by the scriptwriters and asked if I’d jump in on a newly jumbled plot-line where I appear with the character Phoebe in the Central Perk diner, where I am requested to sing in ‘a really depressing voice.’ Within seconds of the proposal, I wind down the fire-escape like a serpent, and it’s goodbye to Hollywood yet again. (p368)
A Manc-accented Nick Cotton in Eastenders – I don’t think so. At least he has the sense to recognise that he probably can’t act, but it would have been wonderful to see him send himself up in Friends, but ever Narcissus, he can’t.
Morrissey is famous for being vegetarian; later walking out of many restaurant meetings when someone at his table orders meat. This was even so in his childhood, and his description of school dinners could turn you off most food for life.
Putrid smells reduce me to a pitiful pile, and none are more vomitarian than school dinners. All foods of miasmic fragrance disturb me, and the mere hint of garlic induces the shakes, as fish cooked or uncooked causes gut-wrenching panic. This boy of 1971 has an abnormally limited palate – a working-class host of relentless toast, and the inability to expand beyond the spartan.
What was nice was that although he hated school, outside, he developed a love for poetry, starting off with the wit of Hillaire Belloc, and Wilde, then Dorothy Parker before moving on to Stevie Smith, WH Auden, Herrick and Housman.
It is page 141 before he meets Johnny Marr, shortly after discovering he has “a chest voice of light baritone,” and an initial flirtation with performing in public as The Nosebleeds (not a band name of his choosing). He and Marr hit it off, and the rest, as they say is history.
The years with The Smiths, before it all fell to pieces are fascinating. Like all tyro bands faced with their first record contract, they gaily sign. They have hit records but never reach the number one spot, something that really irks Morrissey. All the way through his memoir, whether with The Smiths or solo, he is obsessed with chart positions, seeing the inability to get a single to the top spot as a failure of the record company. It is hard to see how a song called ‘Shoplifters of the world unite‘ could have got the airplay he thinks it deserves. The albums chart higher though, and live audiences bear out their popularity, but you sense he is really aggrieved at never having had a No 1 single.
On p175, he talks about why he calls himself Morrissey…
My own name has now become synonymous with the word ‘miserable’ in the press, so Johhny putters with ‘misery’ and playfully arrives at ‘misery mozzery‘, which truncates to Moz, and I am classified ever after. I had originally decided to use only my surname because I couldn’t think of anyone else in the music that had done so – although, or course, many had been known by just one name, but it hadn’t been their surname. Only classical composers were known by just their surnames, and that suited my mudlark temperament quite nicely.
Comparing himself to a classical composer – he’s having a laugh, isn’t he?
Where I got bogged down with this memoir was the section post-Smiths when Morrissey was sued by the Smiths’ bassist and drummer, whom Morrissey insists had been signed on for 10% (himself and Marr as the songwriters getting 40% each), asking for their full 25% – years after the event. Morrissey is full of vitriol at them, and as it goes on and on for about fifty pages, I got more and more bored.
Things get a little more interesting again when Morrissey moves to LA, meets various celebs and has strange conversations. He also has relationships which are still kept very private. They get boring again when he goes on tour – and we get night after night of a new city and audience sizes.
So – a mixed bag of too much information, too little information. Occasions of too much purple prose – “even though his expressionist jargon often swamped logic in far too much existentialism” – I can’t even begin to assimilate that phrase. I have no idea of the veracity of his writing – Stuart Maconie and Julie Burchill give different accounts of meetings for instance, but it is his own (narcissistic) account. Morrissey shouldn’t have been allowed to become the first living author to be published in Penguin Classics – but it was a great marketing coup.
To sum it up, when talking about family, friends, poetry, The Smiths’ creative peak, Morrissey was happy – and I was happy reading about it too; when whining about record companies, court cases, the NME, never getting to no 1, endless gigs, being a Misery Moz – I thought ‘Heaven knows I’m miserable now’. (7/10)
So I shall leave you with a promo video for Girlfriend in a Coma, and links to Morrissey’s appearance on Desert Island Discs which was fascinating plus a couple of press reviews of his book – one funny, one more balanced: Craig Brown in the Daily Mail; and Stuart Maconie in the Guardian.
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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Autobiography by Morrissey, Penguin Classics, October 2013, 457 pages