Sunday, 12 July 2015

Autobiography by Morrissey

As a long time Smiths/Morrissey fan I was excited to get my hands on this book, and largely it doesn’t disappoint. I would go so far as to say that this is one of the most incredible books I have ever read.

It’s not your typical autobiography, so much so that for the first page or so it completely threw me. The account of his early years and the rise of The Smiths are full of sadness, wit, tenderness and betrayal. His description of his school days, and the vile bullying teachers of St Mary’s, is particularly effecting; almost like something written by Mervyn Peake. He obviously had some scores to settle and you get the impression that years of silence have finally found an outlet. There are some targets you wouldn’t expect, whilst others who have since done him wrong are discussed with tenderness. It does occasionally descend into bitchiness, and there are a few roll your eyes moments as Morrissey storms out of restaurants because someone at his table has had the audacity to order meat. Yet he seems fully aware of his own shortcomings. What really comes through in this book, especially the first third, is his compassion for those around him; and his hurt and bewilderment at the various betrayals (either real or perceived it is difficult to say). There’s a lot of humour too, some of it tongue in cheek, which I think a lot of people will miss. There’s even a mini ghost story which takes place on Saddleworth Moor which is so well described that it could keep you awake at night like it did me.

Unlike other reviewers I actually found the section dedicated to the court case fascinating as Morrissey builds a very strong case for his own persecution at the hands of the establishment. I felt that this was an important point, and I don’t blame Morrissey for dwelling on it. He basically laughs at the idea of free speech existing in England. This is a man who’d previously taken pot shots at royalty and Margaret Thatcher, so it’s easy to believe that they wanted to bring him down. And why did the case focus on Morrissey rather than the Morrissey & Marr partnership?

I got the impression Morrissey wrote this over many years as the front and end sections feel almost as if they were written by different people. For me the end section felt flat, and slightly smug, where Morrissey details his comeback starting with You Are the Quarry. This was where the book started to lose its grip on me. You can see how he wanted to bring the story full circle and show how all his trials paid off in the end. At one point he describes how, on stage in Manchester, he can see the building where he once worked in the basement as an Inland Revenue clerk which rounds off his story quite well. The endless details of shows and cities and hotels, though, felt a little empty as if it were only required to fill up the word count.

Ultimately, though this is the story of Morrissey, it is so packed with wisdom and insight that it is lifted above mere autobiography and becomes something akin to The Bell Jar. Anyone merely looking for revelations will miss what makes this a great book. It is the story of a misfit boy who wanted to sing, went through various trials along the way, fought and fought and fought and fought to follow his dream, did it all his way, and came out a winner in the end.

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