Before I get to that, however, I need to explain that during the ’90s and the early ’00s, I hung out every early morning with a bunch of guys at The Big Cup, the funky, now defunct (de-funked?) coffee house in Manhattan’s Chelsea area. The day manager at the time was a big Morrissey fan and compulsively piped the ex-Smith’s solo canon daily.
Because I found Morrissey’s incessant gloom and doom so spiritually deflating as droned to interchangeable one-note melodies-okay, sometimes two- and even three-note melodies-of his devising with various collaborators, I’d usually let out such a heart-felt groan whenever I heard one start up that my dislike of Morrissey became a group in-joke.
You could say that-in contrast to Morrissey idolators known as Mozophiles-I could be labeled a Mozophobe, and a world-class one at that.
This brings me to Autobiography, published last week in a G. P. Putnam hardcover version ($30, illustrations), which I picked up as a Penguin Classic (a paperback, of course) in London a couple of weeks ago for 8.99 pounds, or approximately $14.50. I just couldn’t wait to get my mitts on it.
And why? Why couldn’t I contain myself from scouring the memoir of an artist whom I find totally resistible because so unceasingly downbeat-indeed, downbeat to the point of inducing wrist-slitting among listeners, if not so far for himself?
The answer is simple. I needed to find out whether he would explain in words devoid of music what lies behind his monumental pessimism. And I have to say that Morrissey was generous enough to provide the response to my request on the very first page-and to do so in such instantly accomplished prose that I only wished his myriad lyrics were as well-phrased.
Speaking of the Manchester neighborhood in which he circulated as a child, he writes:
The safe streets are dimly lit, the others not lit at all, but both represent a danger that you’re asking for should you find yourself out there once curtains have closed for tea. Past places of dread, we walk in the center of the road, looking up at the torn wallpapers of browny blacks and purples as the mournful remains of derelict shoulder-to-shoulder houses, their safety now replaced by trepidation.
Well, blimey, that’s enough to get anyone down as a result of just one afternoon’s excursion, and Morrissey-bless his affronted soul!-was bred in it.
No wonder he sees the world as he does. If the old supposition that a child’s outlook is formed by age five has any validity, then poor Steven Patrick had little hope-except when, as has transpired, the adult Morrissey could turn his endless slough of despond into hotly commercial songs in which thousands of like-minded folks can wallow when listening to him or watching him at his sell-out concerts.
With his childhood and frustratingly aimless young years down on paper-he’s rumored to have toiled over this volume for something like 20 years-he doesn’t stop there at spreading the fathomless chagrin. On page 265 of the 457-page book, he states, “It is a simple truth that everything in life ends badly.” On page 286 when speaking about a homeless cat he fostered, he notes, “His short life now over, as death always wins.” On page 295, he waxes, “It is a fact that even warming moments overwhelm me with despair, and this is why I am I.”
Oof! Maybe let’s take a brief pause while I buck myself up by remembering that life sometimes can be a rose garden-and possibly you do the same.
So, yes, Morrissey supplied me with a satisfying response to why I wanted to read his book. Surprisingly, he also offers any number of hearty laughs-if, unsurprisingly, they’re often at the expense of others. Aside from the random jibe at this or that foolishness, his most sustained humorous-and outraged-passages appear in the lengthy account of the trial that occurred when ex-Smiths drummer Mike Joyce sued for 25 percent of the group’s earnings he contended he’d been denied and Morrissey maintains were never contracted.
That ultimately humiliating episode, presided over by Judge John Weeks, isn’t the only one covered in a history Morrissey protests has consisted of one personal assault after another-many, incidentally, made by England’s revered music publication NME. Moreover, it’s not the only sequence that can be described as lengthy, or more accurately, too long.
Although Morrissey is almost convincing as he carries on about being the undeserving butt of so much contempt, a reader can’t help wondering what other takes on his reminiscences might be. For instance, it would be interesting to hear what Smiths co-founder Johnny Marr has to say about why he split with Morrissey in 1987 and has continued to keep his distance from a collaborator who’s been dubbed The Pope of Mope.
While recommending Morrissey to people who might want to find out one version of what-to invoke the old Blackglama slogan-becomes a legend most (his love of The New York Dolls, Chrissie Hynde and John Epperson, also known as Lypsinka)-I find some of his depictions of himself as disingenuous. Commenting more than once that he dislikes his looks, he’s put a photograph of himself on the cover that is as glamour-puss as they come.
Speaking of that form of self-involvement: When I was sitting on a stool in London’s famous Foyle’s reading the first Autobiography pages, I asked a staffer passing by how unusual it was that a book of this nature would be published first as a Penguin Classic. She replied that it was highly unusual and was done only because “big egotist” Morrissey threw a “hissy fit.” That qualifies as gossip, I suppose, but the Morrissey found between the lines of the thick tome could easily be a hissy-fit thrower.
(N. B.: Reportedly, the American version, which I haven’t perused, arrives minus a photograph of Jake Owen Walters with whom Morrissey hints strongly at having enjoyed a two-year homosexual relationship.)
By now, anyone who’s read this far might want to know if Autobiography provoked me to listen to Morrissey croak again for a possible reconsideration of his oeuvre. Yes, I did go to YouTube and clicked on a half dozen numbers-where, for instance, he claims to be the last of the international playboys or wants to get what he wants for the first time, et cetera. After 30 minutes or so of that maundering, I’d had enough. So no, I haven’t changed my opinion.
But, Morrissey lovers, remember before you write in, that it’s just an opinion.