Morrissey’s ‘Autobiography’ sets out to settle scores
A review of Morrissey’s recently published “Autobiography,” which includes barbs for Siouxsie Sioux, Johnny Marr and other former collaborators.
Special to The Seattle Times
If the idea of titling your memoir “Autobiography” seems at once both brilliant and pretentious, you may already be a fan of Morrissey. In this massive tome, the singer not only tells the story of how his legendary band the Smiths formed, he also settles so many scores it could have had a subtitle that read “With Bite.”
Of musician Siouxsie Sioux, he writes, “She appears to hate even the people that she likes.” He spends pages and pages attacking his fellow Smiths, and dissecting deals that went wrong and quoting litigation.
He saves most of his snarl for guitarist Johnny Marr, though any student of rock knows that the tension between the two men was what made the Smiths great.
In that way, “Autobiography” (Putnam, 460 pp., $30) reminds you of Keith Richards’ “Life,” minus, of course, the excess of heroin.
Unlike Richards, Morrissey is a famous vegan. But like Richards, Morrissey’s best writing is when he re-creates his childhood, though Morrissey’s was in Manchester, England, a town he calls “more brittle and less courteous than anywhere else on Earth.”
Johnny Marr once pointed out to me that Manchester had many similarities, both musical and climate-related, with Seattle. Morrissey calls his hometown “soulless, forbidden to be romantic.” But there are parallels of a music scene coming together between his story, and Seattle’s.
He meets rock star Marc Bolan, of T-Rex, only to be turned down for an autograph. “Shadow close, swift as a swallow,” he describes this early brush with fame, and idolatry. Much of his writing is beautiful, and it comes as no surprise that an early Morrissey promo photo showed him displaying the works of Oscar Wilde.
Fame comes when the Manchester scene blossoms, but almost as soon as money comes in, Morrissey sours on the band, and, maybe, the world. He spends pages and pages outlining the unfairness of it all, but that vitriol has none of the beauty of his descriptions of childhood.
“Autobiography” is desperately in need of an editor, a governor of sorts, to pull the reins on Morrissey’s own spite. Perhaps the infamously prickly singer would accept no publishing contract that allowed a comma to be changed.
Keith Richards’ bio kept a reader enthralled because a talented co-writer (James Fox) held the guitarist at bay. There’s only one person in the world I can imagine who could have done that with Morrissey, and that’s his longtime collaborator in the Smiths, Johnny Marr. Perhaps then the title could have been “Autobiographies.”
Charles R. Cross: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.charlesrcross.com.