Sunday, February 23, 2014

Another Bear's Opinion -- Book Review

Autobiography by Morrissey

Morrissey is a bit of a polarising influence in my house. One of my housemates is a big fan. My other housemate regards Morrissey records as she would sharp objects – best hidden somewhere safe when the former housemate is having a down phase. It was enough to make me want to find out more about him.

Autobiography is written almost stream-of-consciousness style and I suspect it may even be the first draft. There are no chapter divisions and single paragraphs can sprawl over more than two pages. Despite this, it’s an easy, engaging and yes, entertaining read.

There are occasional wild tangents but he always returns to the main point before you’ve had enough time to forget what it was. It’s part pub conversation with cheeky asides, part film with the occasional flashback.

He does not dwell disproportionately on any perceived glory days. The Smiths are over by the half way point of the book, which is entirely fair enough since they were over by the half way point of Morrissey’s life thus far.

There are inconsistencies of course. Few would argue that Morrissey is always the most reliable witness. There were two errors that stood out to me. One was his recollection that Rough Trade Records boss Geoff Travis had approached George Martin to produce The Queen Is Dead, but George Martin declined the offer on the grounds that he only wanted to be known for producing The Beatles. That may well have been what Geoff Travis told Morrissey but a moment’s research into George Martin’s career would prove such an excuse untrue.

The other is where he states that EMI Australia refused to release an album called Viva Hate and instead changed the title to Education In Reverse. In fact, it was just a mistake. Morrissey had a habit of scratching cryptic messages into the run-out grooves of his records, and that was the message in his first solo album. The factory mistook this for the title. Within weeks, the misprinted copies were withdrawn and Viva Hate was duly available in Australia as intended. It’s not as dramatic a story but it’s closer to the truth.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. This is Morrissey unfiltered. It’s his truth as he chooses to tell it. Others may tell theirs one day. Or maybe not.

Although he often portrays himself as the victim of numerous conspiracies, he mostly avoids self-justification. The one major exception to this is the section on The Smiths Trial of 1996 where former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce sued Morrissey and Marr for unpaid earnings. He presents a comprehensive rebuttal of the judge’s summing up and makes a compelling case for incompetence on the part of the judge. Again though, this is Morrissey’s side of the story and other may recall things differently.

Although his loathing of Mike Joyce is deliberately palpable, this is only expressed during the trial. During the section on The Smiths, Morrissey has nothing but praise for his former bandmate’s musicianship which suggests an objectivity that few might otherwise give the author credit for. In fact, most people who pass through his life and career are treated the same way, written of affectionately while they are working with him and disparagingly afterwards. By contrast, his musical director of 20 year, Boz Boorer is hardly mentioned and songwriting partner for the Kill Uncle album Mark E Nevin is not mentioned at all. I suspect both might be relieved by this.

Having stated early in the book that the music was always what mattered most, above all else, he ends up writing far more about his business arrangements than the creative process and we learn more about where each successive single debuted on the charts than how the song was written and recorded.

Yes, it’s a book full of foibles but anyone with even a vague awareness of Morrissey should expect that. It is a pop autobiography as unique as the artist himself and as such, it’s well worth a read even if you’re not a massive fan.

One Bear’s Opinion: Five big mugs of sweet black tea.


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