Morrissey’s autobiography stirred a few hornet’s nests and proved that bigmouth could indeed strike again, Getintothis’ Dickie Felton reviews a tome from the heart and close to his own.
Even his arrival on this unhappy planet is life-or-death drama. The little bundle of joy brought into the world on May 22 1959 cannot swallow and is instantly thrust onto the critical list at Salford’s Pendlebury Hospital.
Parents are warned their newborn is “unlikely to survive“. After months hospitalised Steven Patrick Morrissey eventually pulls through.
In Autobiography, Morrissey tells his life story from turbulent birth. No sooner is child Morrissey up and running he has to contend with brutal schooling and “Victorian” surroundings of 1960s inner city Manchester.
The local council demolishes communities and splits families in the name of progress. These early stages of Autobiography offer beautiful but brutal commentary on life as it is lived.
This is an era of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley who snatch children and kill them. On another street, on another night, Morrissey could have been a victim of the Moors Murderers.
Someone find a torch, street lighting is absent as the childhood years seem played out in complete darkness. There’s no swinging sixties here.
But the large Irish family Morrissey belongs to is one of absolute love. The warmth of the Dwyer/Morrissey clan won’t fail to move you. TV – black and white of course – offers a glimpse of another life. And young Moz dreams of a world beyond.
Eurovision becomes his instant favourite: “my jotter at my knee, my own private scoring system profoundly at odds with the final result.” And it is music he tells us that “points to the light“.
On his earliest visit to Liverpool, Morrissey and his dad are involved in a road traffic accident – which is just so Morrissey. Other early cruel moments include being shoved into the deep end at Trafford Park baths by some local tough. The small non-swimmer Morrissey quips that the: “corn-plastered depths terrified me for years after“.
Just like in his songs, we are constantly reminded about the passing of time: “the years shuffle like cards“. On discovering the New York Dolls: “Now is the golden hour, and tomorrow could be too late.”
Early teenage years see Morrissey mesmerised by new friend, the sliver knee-lengthed boot wearing Jon Daley. They walk everywhere together and talk about the Manchester of old: “We too are part of the process of time frittering away“.
Morrissey gets his first taste of stardom when be bunks into the Coronation Street set and becomes a non-speaking extra cycling through Weatherfield. For the next 350 pages this cycle ride will take him around the world and to the likes of the Hollywood Bowl, Madison Square Garden and Royal Albert Hall.
By 1972 a next-door neighbour is chastising Morrissey for singing and Steven now stalks stage doors and hands a note to new hero David Bowie. Life is beginning.
He can’t get a job, he never wanted one anyway. And then in 1982 suddenly The Smiths. What should be a glorious tale of Phoenix-from-the-flames proportions is re-told as a chaotic mess. For every sold out concert on both sides of the Atlantic is the continued problem of no radio air play and zero exposure.
Dickie Felton with Morrissey
Although a massive success, The Smiths are doomed. For every dramatic Morrissey/Marr high, the reader is quickly sunk into murky depths. On the first Smiths American tour Morrissey shares his bed with cockroaches and then falls off the stage.
Record company Rough Trade seem unable to meet the ambitions of Morrissey and Marr who have vision of Smiths world domination. Finally major EMI steps in with a rescue attempt: “The Smiths are the new Beatles. Now, stop wasting time.”
After five years, The Smiths are dead. But a legion of fans are born and the group’s impact surely felt for all eternity.
The solo years (1987 to date) are a far more satisfying and wondrous read. Morrissey’s first solo tours of 1991/92 are bonkers in terms of fan reaction – especially in the U.S.. Everyone wants to meet him from Ricki Lake to Tom Hanks. The crowds invade stages just to touch. On one tour Moz goes through 300 shirts ripped from his back.
Beatlemania seems tame by comparison.
The infamous court case which pitted him against former bandmate Mike Joyce goes on for an eternity of pages, with Morrissey at great pains to re-tell his side of events. You can’t blame him. Judge Weeks is in the firing line along with Thatcher, royals, the media, former band members, and anyone involved in the meat industry. The court case gives perfect riposte to anyone out there believing that a Smiths reformation is on the cards. Never. Ever. No.
Death is a regular theme throughout Autobiography. And why shouldn’t it be? Death is very much a part of life. So we read about the tragically lost-too-young: from family members to managers, producers, trusty allies, and close friends. In one heartbroken passage, a postcard from singer Kirsty MacColl arrives through Morrissey’s letterbox as she is killed in Mexico.
Every page of this book screams at you to live for the moment before it’s too late. One day goodbye will be farewell. The greatest parts of this book relate to Morrissey’s solo career which has lasted more than five times longer than his stint with The Smiths.
The Morrissey of today plays sold-out shows from Athens to Argentina and we read of wild adoration among his worldwide fan base. Morrissey tattoos burn on arms, legs and chests. It’s a passion as intense as ever. One that will never die.
Dickie Felton has published two books about Morrissey. For more info visit dickiefelton.com
Further reading on Getintothis:
Johnny Marr: O2 Academy, Liverpool
Mark Kermode, Will Self and the nature of modern criticism
Bob Dylan, Another Self Portrait and the artist’s impressions