Book Review: Autobiography, By Morrissey
“It’s time the tale were told,” sang Morrissey on The Smiths’ “Reel Around The Fountain”, and almost 30 years later he has finally done it in a mammoth memoir that, on account of appearing as a Penguin Classic, has caused a commotion well before publication. Few could really be surprised; this is typical Morrissey hubris, similar to the time that he insisted his solo records go out on EMI’s HMV imprint, which then dealt exclusively in classical music.
The real problem lies in the heightened expectations that come with the word “classic”, which, in the event, are dashed by a work from a once-brilliant lyricist that has its amusing, poignant and, on occasion, poetic moments but also suffers from self-conscious stylistic tics, vertigo-inducing longueurs, and statements of outrageous pomposity. Not for nothing has a game emerged online inviting readers to guess whether the author of such statements as “Naturally my birth almost kills my mother, for my head is too big” originate from Morrissey or Alan Partridge.
Autobiography begins with an account of his childhood in Stretford and his desperately unhappy school days. Here Morrissey largely forgoes the use of paragraphs, instead railing against the iniquities of Seventies state education and the disenfranchised north in one exhausting breath. These are sad tales delivered stodgily.
The Smithsian sparkle appears later, however, as Morrissey discovers poetry and music, and recalls that “these were times when ... a personal music collection read as private medical records.” There is winning humour, too, in his attempts at gainful employment prior to the fateful meeting with guitarist Johnny Marr. He gets a job scraping human innards off surgeons’ scrubs, but flunks interviews at Sounds magazine and at a hairdresser where he is unable to differentiate between real hair and a wig.
His account of his Smiths tenure is fascinating, bearing testament to his unsinkable ambition, his clarity of vision and, alas, his pettiness. No grievances are deemed too small for inclusion. Both Geoff Travis, head of The Smiths’ label Rough Trade, and singer Sandie Shaw, who famously covered “How Soon is Now?”, are icily upbraided for never taking him to dinner.
This is small fry, though, next to Morrissey’s 50-page rant about the infamous court case in which Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, the Smiths’ bassist and drummer, sued Morrissey and Marr for unpaid royalties.
Whatever his issues with the final decree, all sympathy is lost through the astonishing tedium of reading about it.
Elsewhere, there are tender and surprisingly unambiguous revelations about personal relationships – one with Jake Walters and another with Tina Dehghani – and sweet reflections on family members. Most moving of all is a passage on the singer Kirsty MacColl who sends Morrissey a postcard from Mexico where she is on holiday at his recommendation, and where she dies, run over by a speedboat while snorkelling with her sons. He receives it a few weeks after her death.
One bathes in these moments when Morrissey drops the petulance and deals in honest human emotion, and it’s a relief, of sorts, to find a more peaceable figure in the final pages where, reflecting on his touring lifestyle, he observes: “I never found love from one, I instead find it from thousands.”
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 East 17 bandmember Brian Harvey in 'very desperate situation’
- 2 Germanwings plane crash: Video shows co-pilot Andreas Lubitz learning to fly as a teenager
- 3 Vladimir Putin says Russia will fight for the right of Palestinians to their own state
- 4 Germanwings crash: Captain of doomed plane was only 'on board because he changed job to spend more time with his children'
- 5 WrestleMania 31 results: Seth Rollins stuns WWE as he cashes in Money in the Bank contract to claim title from Brock Lesnar
Cassetteboy joins forces with Russell Brand for Emperor's New Clothes film
Poldark, review: Demelza’s insouciance is almost as impressive as Ross’ pecs
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity, TV review: The affable Englishman routine is wearing a bit thin
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew