Finally, at the third attempt, I’ve managed to finish Morrissey’s Autobiography, though it was sometimes a struggle. I should state at the outset that I’m a die-hard Morrissey fan, having lived with his songs in my head for the best part of forty years. One of the minor pleasures of reading the book lay in spotting the snippets of lyrics slipped unobtrusively into the text (without quote marks or italics) for the benefit of the aficionado.
But frankly this was one of the few pleasures. The bulk of the book is devoted to settling old scores – with ex-Smiths members, managers, record company execs, music journalists, fellow musicians, DJs, lawyers, judges, in fact virtually everyone Morrissey seems to have met in his life. When he’s not rehearsing old grudges he’s annotating the chart position of every one of his singles and albums in the UK and US charts and badmouthing all those who stopped his songs from reaching a higher position out of sheer bloody-mindedness. Do I feel I know Morrissey any better at the end of this book than at the beginning? No, but that’s as much a testament to the strength of the songs as the weakness of the book. Would I like to know him better, now I’ve read it? Hmm, not sure. Will his songs continue to exert their peculiar hold over me? Almost certainly.
Having said all that, there were parts of the book I enjoyed. His account of possibly seeing a ghost on Saddleworth Moor, site of the infamous Moors Murders (and inspiration for the memorable ‘Suffer Little Children’), points to the ghost of a genuine writer lurking within the cantankerous curmudgeonly frame of the public Morrissey. And there’s something strangely vulnerable and touching about the sense of validation (he refers to it repeatedly as ‘love’) that he seems to take from his relationship with his adoring fans in Mexico, Chile and Sweden. Finally, as someone who gave up eating meat in the 1980s, I had no argument with his occasional, surprisingly restrained animal-rights diatribes, even applauding him for walking out of a meeting with a lunch partner who insisted on ordering frogs’ legs, a not uncommon occurrence by all accounts.
As one might expect, the book is written in a highly idiosyncratic, idiomatic style, full of offbeat alliterative riffs. Sometimes the wordplay is clever and amusing, more often it’s bizarrely unfathomable, and most of the time it’s in need of a good editor. Morrissey may think he’s writing in the tradition of Oscar Wilde or perhaps even James Joyce, but a writer who doesn’t know his garner from his garnish or his hew from his hue should probably stick to songwriting.
I’ll leave the last word to Morrissey himself, taken from a passage that encapsulates both the peaks and troughs of his miserabilist métier: ‘Only the grand completion of a recorded song allows my heart to laugh… But once you have said Life is a Pigsty, where to go from there?’