Thursday, October 17, 2013

There is a title that should never come out: Morrissey - The Autobiography

You spoke in silhouette (but they couldn't name you).

Much excitement today, with the release of the Morrissey autobiography. It's like Harry Potter for the middle-aged; only Harry Potter took several hundred pages to be convinced of his greatness.

Yes, shops have opened at midnight, presumably for people who were afraid that Mozzer: My Struggle might vanish at the first striking of daylight.

The whole bunch of stunt around the launch, though, has surely done more to chip away at the myth more than any book could burnish it? The tacky pretend-strop of a couple of weeks ago, for example: sure, cheaper than advertising but hardly edifying.

And the decision to release on the Penguin Classic imprint doesn't help. I know there's some argument that this is akin to the revival of HMV for his solo albums, but it doesn't quite work. Penguin Classics isn't defunct; it's an imprint that is still going and (used to) have a high barrier to entry.

Letting Moz onto this list diminishes Penguin a bit, but more importantly shows what a dead ear Morrissey has these days. Behaviour that seemed charming when you're a young man who had just written Meat Is Murder looks desperate when you're older and your last single was Something Is Squeezing My Skull.

Going on the Junior Puffin list would have been funny, the sort of swagger you'd expect. Reviving Ptarmigan, Penguin's quiz imprint - that would have been consistent. Penguin Classics? It comes across as lazy bragadoccio.

Let's not lose sight of what this is: it's a cash-in book for the Christmas market; trying to dress it up as something other isn't going to work.

You might once have been the last of the international playboys, alongside Bowie, Devoto and Eno. Now you're just first on the WH Smith signing table wishlist, with Holden, Saunders and Union J.

Bowie has shown this year, once again, that what marks him out is an endless capacity for reinvention.

Stephen Morrissey reinvented himself once, too, as Morrissey. And thank god he did; nobody would wish The Smiths away.

But that one reinvention was all he had; since then, it's just been relaunching and reworking that one idea. It's like getting William Hartnell with every regeneration, only a slightly more pantomimic Hartnell each time.

So have fun, settling scores and tending the grounds of your own memorial pyre. But your lyrics intrigued because they only half-revealed who might be; why throw away your talent for the occluded autobiography by going for the tell-all?

1 comment:

Robin Carmody said...

For me, the most depressing thing about the book's being on Penguin Classics is what it says about the cynical tokenism of the new establishment under Cameron, throwing grizzled 1980s leftists a crumb as it further institutionalises neoliberalism and two-tier Britishness.

It might also say something about the sympathy of people Morrissey's fans always imagined themselves to be against - to have rejected, to have thrown on the fire - for his view of who and what is genuinely British, and who and what isn't. In the 1980s, romanticisation of the north of England from the perspective of people frustrated by their own southern middle-classness took the form of aspiring towards outsiderdom, but at least the other manifestations thereof (Joy Division/New Order, The Fall, even the Roses and at a pinch the Mondays) were part of the historic Manchester socialist tradition which, as a century earlier, counterbalanced the Manchester Liberalism which so influenced the government of the 1980s.

In the 1990s, that romanticisation - one of the decade's defining songs said poverty tourism - of the north shifted to straight-down-the-line hedonism and lad culture, but at least there was a smidgeon of working-class spirit left within it, however compromised. Morrissey has in some ways always struck me as a very *non-Mancunian* figure - more of a small-town man. As you say, the Smiths left a wonderful legacy which will last for all time; the music stands up on its own terms and defies the cynicism brought on by the passing of time. But as with the Stones - to whom Simon Reynolds compared them when they split; the former representing *leaving home*, fleeing the 50s, and the Smiths representing *pining for a home*, wanting to get back to those pre-pop certainties, a sort of anti-pop pop group trying to ignore the fact that Morrissey himself could never have fitted in back then - the legacy gets more and more problematic, more and more two-edged and with ever greater historical ironies attached to it - with time.

And yet it is still in many ways the greatest *English soul* music of the 1980s, the last and greatest artistic manifestation of a certain kind of deceptively conservative socialism, one of pop's most complete bodies of work as a statement of determination and personal vision. It is just that it was fundamentally not of the world that was being created, let alone of the world that was to come, and no such vision could survive that approaching world. More than ever, you wish he had simply retreated to that crumbling cottage in Somerset.

Post a Comment

As a general rule, posts will only be deleted if they reek of spam.