Book Review: Autobiography

It’s fair to say that one of the most feverishly anticipated celebrity memoirs in recent times was Morrissey’s. Fans and detractors alike couldn’t imagine what the famously elusive Moz would have to say for himself. Having conquered the thing, I’ll say that how much you enjoy it doesn’t depend entirely on how much you love Morrissey, but it sure does help if you’re partial towards him.

The first disclaimer; if you’re looking for hard biographical data, you won’t find it here. If you need a biographical refresher course, there are plenty of biographies written by professional biographers. Morrissey isn’t interested in petty specifics, he’s interested in conveying what it feels like to have been Morrissey all those years. Apparently it wasn’t fun.

Second disclaimer; this is not an easy read. It’s not a book you can grab on the fly and cram a page or two in while you await the bus. To the surprise of no one, Morrissey writes like what he is – a writer. The books reads more like a novel than your usual barely coherent rock star tell-all. It’s verbose, dense with wordplay, rich with run-on sentences that spin out – masterfully – for pages. There are plenty of mean, wickedly funny sketches of  weird personalities, with as much attention given to wacky Manchester neighbors as major stars (though plenty of celebrity names are dropped throughout.) Especially striking is Morrissey’s opening salvo; an epic, impressionistic flowing recollection of growing up in hardscrabble Manchester, no place for a soft-hearted boy. Even if you’re not charmed by the author’s personality or his music, if you’re a lover of good writing, you should be deeply satisfied by his writing ability.

If you are generally prepared charmed by Morrissey, you’ll be charmed and frustrated with him in turn, for the personality is out in full force, and not to sugercoat it, it’s not a very nice one. There is, of course, the famous wit and the wry self-deprecation, which has carried the day since Morrissey first arrived on the world stage. He knows he’s difficult and not socially adept and not at all suited to the role of rock god, and knows enough to wring black humor from his many tales of awkwardness and ineptitude. On the other hand, as success hangs heavy, he doesn’t know what to make of himself. The triumphant comeback of the aughts seems to leave Morrissey befuddled, as he recounts strings of venues sold-out to adoring crowds young enough to be his offspring. The dogged underdog self image can’t be shaken. Morrissey thinks he’s eternally put-upon; he sees himself as a hapless bystander in the narrative of his own life. The many documented instances of Morrissey instigating drama, starting feuds, saying offensive things on purpose and just generally being an asshole – those things are documented, but not by him. He doesn’t seem to understand that he’s not the victim in every situation, or that some things may be his fault. For instance, the description of the infamous court battle wherein Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke sued for an equal cut of Smiths’ profits goes on for page after petulant page. You may or may not agree that ‘the other two’ Smiths deserved equal profit, but one thing is clear – in Morrissey’s eyes those two were non-entities from the very beginning.

Those not already carrying the Morrissey torch may slam down the book in frustration, probably at around the halfway point. The deeply impassioned, especially those with a literary bent, will find it worth slogging through the occasional self-serving bits. The deft writing and ever-present humor should carry you through. And it is, in its own way, an unusually revealing memoir. Now we know what it feels like to be Morrissey, or at least imagine being stuck with his company; sometimes pleasant, sometimes aggravating, always one of a kind.

Move On Alone

I love Jethro Tull at their most baroque, and that’s how they’re best known. But they did used to be a blues band, back in the 60’s. It seems that nearly everyone who started out in the 60’s was initially a blues band, and some groups evolved from there better than others. In J-Tull’s case, blues rock was clearly too narrow a field to stick around in for more than a year or two. Never the less, they did it well. It’s a good rule of thumb that you shouldn’t jump out and experiment if you haven’t first mastered the basics, and This Was was, perhaps self-consciously, a starting point before the stride towards more wildly ambitious things.