It has been almost 30 years since I attempted to write any kind of book review. Back then I was forced to analyse things and also forced to conform to wearing a uniform. School was as much of a challenge for me as it was for one Steven Patrick Morrissey who was on the streets of Manchester in the 1960s and 1970s.
When the Morrissey autobiography was published last week I had to make sure I had a copy as the music of The Smiths was the soundtrack for my childhood. All those years ago to get an insight into the band and Morrissey would have been a dream. The impact of the band that were spawned just down the road was significant. So much so that I have heard of some people making a pilgrimage to Manchester to buy their own copy of the book.
So, what does the book, surprisingly published by Penguin Classics, tell us about the infamous songwriter. Overwhelmingly it is a story of a quest for acceptability and to be loved, as Morrissey clearly feels he is unloveable. In the concluding pages he soaks up the adoration while touring and uses it to fill the obvious gaps in his life. There was surprising honesty throughout the book even though many incidents are glossed over or ignored completely. What he does tell us he tells in exquisite detail.
Surprisingly, the weather plays an important part in his mental and physical well-being from the damp streets of Manchester in his youth through to the sun of Los Angeles as he becomes an exile from the UK. Despite the dark retelling of his childhood the descriptions show some fondness for the harsh northern life. But there is little fondness for those school days.
Death punctuates his life and the many stories within the autobiography. It would be easy to assume that Morrissey has come face-to-face with the finality of life more than most. However, I think it is more about the fact that he dwells on the conclusion of life which brings it into the heart of his existence. In the midst of life we are in death.
Many reviewers have focused on the depression or misery of Morrissey. I don’t see this. What I see is someone who has been searching for something to make his life feel more complete, to feel accepted and valued and who uses attack as a form of defence. There is certainly no holding back on the vitriol for people who have shared moments in his life. But that together with the name dropping makes it an entertaining read.
What have I gained from the experience? Well, it has made me hunt out the old Smiths vinyl to rediscover the delights of Morrissey and Marr. For the first time, I can understand where many of the lyrics have originated. It has a joyous use of language and some of the descriptions within the book are as delightful as they are damning. If I was a psychologist it would surely tell me a lot about Morrissey’s desire for acceptance and lack of self-awareness. For me, I closed the book and wanted to grasp the opportunity to creatively use and play with the English language.