18 TALKBACK Sarah Bradley
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.