It’s unclear how long it took Jane Austen to achieve Penguin Classic status, but Morrissey achieves it with his first book, Autobiography. It might be better called Audacity. Or Badly Edited, as this book could be half the length and twice as good.
Morrissey's hatred of eating meat, NME and lawyers is revisited here, but his refusal to use chapters is new. You lose track of time, whilst drowning in verbosity.
But let’s not suggest this book is entirely poorly punctuated self-congratulation. It is far from it. He wryly reports that his big head almost killed his mother in birth, as death predictably overshadows the opening, like a cloud forever threatening rain. The passing of uncle Ernie is a particularly defining moment, whom 'ached, like most people, to find something of value to do.'
The first third of the book is about Manchester; industrial smog hanging over its canals, prose and Morrissey, while you resist flicking to when he is given Johnny Marr’s address. In the face of the shy Morrissey, Marr is also thankfully provided with the singers contact details, or the story would remain loitering sullenly on the corner of a red-bricked terrace.
Moz is magnanimous about Marr’s ambition, but frustratingly light on their songwriting. How these deeply loved songs arrived remains as mysterious to us, as perhaps they do to him. But there’s surprising credit to the Smiths rhythm section (whom Morrissey attacks later in the book during their ungracious litigation for royalties). He admires Rourke's cello on Shakespeare's sister, alongside Joyce's ‘thunderbolt’ drumming. Producer Stephen Street is 'always three thoughts ahead,' while Morrissey watches Johnny 'in the full vigour of his greatness…a deluge of ideas and motion, stream from his every touch.’
The Smiths years blur into recording sessions and frustrated visits to Rough Trade, about cover art, radio promotion and their inability to satisfy demand, meaning Smiths’ singles never go top 10. Although it’s not without humour: when Sandie Shaw’s Hand in Glove appears on The Smiths in Japan, he begs people to kill him, and 'many rush forward.’
The Smiths demise remains murky - self-fulfilling rumours, exhaustion and Marr working with Bryan Ferry. Morrissey’s solo career starts without pause, the success of which, particularly in the States lies partly forgotten. It’s in the early 90s when misquoting him becomes a sport of the Press, the funniest being his despair at reportedly saying ‘Come party’ to cause rioting at his 1991 UCLA gig; as if he’d ever say something like that.
The elephant of his sexuality then finally announces itself. Much has been made of his admitting to ‘friendship’ with Jake Walters, but it’s opaque and drifts from the narrative like a passing car stereo. It’s typical of the overwhelming distance Morrissey keeps between us and him – his words widening the moat as opposed to closing it.
You’re left with the portrait of a man with a distinct view of the world; a fan boy, an artist, a loner; idiosyncratic, but intelligent. The sort of pop star produced by the unfairly maligned 80s that seems impossible now.
Do we know Morrissey any better? It's unclear, which can’t be blamed entirely on the need for an editor. He might know himself better, so we're effectively paying for his therapy, but then perhaps we always were.