18 TALK­BACK Sarah Bradley

Mor­ris­sey Pen­guin

NZ Today - - FRONT PAGE -

Mor­ris­sey, or Moz to the fans and fol­low­ers, born Stephen Pa­trick Mor­ris­sey, of­fers a strange brand of hu­mour and in­tel­lect. He’s fun­ni­est when he’s not try­ing to be, he’s thought­ful when the guard goes down, and he’s the cre­ator/co-cre­ator of some en­dur­ing pop mu­sic, a charm­ing lyri­cist, a won­der­ful singer.

Even if you don’t care for his solo ca­reer – and re­ally that’s be­ing too harsh – there’s a world of won­der in those sharp sin­gles from The Smiths.

Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy sings – it re­ally does. Mor­ris­sey, you see, wasn’t just from Manch­ester, but “for­got­ten Vic­to­rian knife­plung­ing Manch­ester” and he damns an old teacher with the pre­dic­tion they will die “smelling of at­tics”. So it sings in much the same way as a Mor­ris­sey song. There are petty put­downs and mean gags, but there’s hu­mour and heart.

You see no­body thinks Mor­ris­sey is as ab­surd quite as much as Mor­ris­sey does. He knows it’s an act – he in­vented, and is still work­ing at, the act. The thing that frus­trates and alien­ates just as much as it ex­hil­a­rates is that Mor­ris­sey takes the art and act of be­ing ab­surd re­ally quite se­ri­ously. And so Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, chap­ter-less, roams for close to 500 pages.

You have to be care­ful what you wish for with au­to­bi­ogra­phies – and if you come to Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy want­ing some ex­am­i­na­tion of the way Moz and Johnny Marr met and mar­ried them­selves to the craft of pop-song engineering, you will be dis­ap­pointed. If you stand back and let the pur­ple prose flow, then you can have a good time with this book.

It’s worth think­ing Mor­ris­sey did this to see just how much he could get away with – just as you fig­ure that’s why he opens his mouth to the press about fox-hunt­ing and veg­e­tar­i­an­ism and celibacy and hat­ing the Royal Fam­ily. He be­lieves it, sure, but be­hind the smirk there’s a twitch of play­ing with con­tempt, flirt­ing with it, court­ing it, de­liv­er­ing it with aplomb.

Just quite what Mor­ris­sey should be re­mem­bered for varies – but at his best he’s a near-per­fect crooner in an age where that art was for­got­ten. He’s been writ­ten off as not that im­por­tant. In the pages of his book you’ll read that he’s still sore he’s not quite the crit­i­cal dar­ling, when, in a way, he kinda is. I’ve al­ways seen him and heard him as a writer, first and fore­most. And that ex­tends over to the page. There are some beau­ti­fully evoca­tive phrases in this book, par­tic­u­larly the care that is placed around de­scrib­ing his up­bring­ing, the squalor of the time, the fam­ily unit – and the way th­ese words sing to your ears is won­der­ful. The writ­ing, im­pec­ca­ble.

Si­mon Sweet­man

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