The Current's Rock and Roll Book Club: Morrissey's 'Autobiography'

Jim McGuinn with Morrissey's autobiography
Hardcover or soft, Jim McGuinn is fascinated with Morrissey's autobiography (Jay Gabler/MPR)

At The Current, we love music and we also love books about music. In partnership with MPR's The Thread, we've started a new series we're calling The Current's Rock and Roll Book Club. Each month, we're picking a book about the music we love, and one of our staff members is sharing his or her take on the book. We hope you'll read along with us, and share your thoughts both in the comment section and via social media: #RockandRollBookClub.

For our inaugural pick, Jade wrote about Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon's memoir. Last month, Andrea Swensson wrote about Jessica Hopper's First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. This month, with Morrissey coming to the Fitzgerald Theater on July 13, Jim McGuinn muses on the former Smiths frontman's 2011 autobiography.

Morrissey has long been one of the most fascinating individuals in rock history, going back to his days with the Smiths in the '80s. It's easy to find his influence in nearly every British singer (and many non-British singers) of the past 30 years. Pull up his Wiki and see the praise heaped on him: "NME considers Morrissey to be 'one of the most influential artists ever,' while The Independent says, 'Most pop stars have to be dead before they reach the iconic status he has reached in his lifetime.' In 2004, Pitchfork Media called him 'one of the most singular figures in Western popular culture from the last 20 years.'"

So news of his autobiography was greeted with excitement — and the book opened at #1 on the UK's bestseller list (more on chart positions later), while reviews ranged from The Daily Telegraph's assessment that it's "the best written musical autobiography since Bob Dylan's Chronicles" to The Independent's dismissal of the book's "droning narcissism." I'd say both are correct. Morrissey's book isn't great, but it's very human, and it's funny—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

It's similar to Neil Young's autobiography Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream—in which Young obsesses at length over cars and MP3s—in that each book was both hindered and enhanced by the lack of a ghostwriter (or, seemingly, an editor). Not having anyone to tell you how to structure your book leads to long passages that dig into Morrissey's fascination with the Moor Murders of '60s Manchester, his New York Dolls fandom, and an excruciating 50 pages devoted to his anger over losing a lawsuit to Smiths drummer Mike Joyce—with only scant whiffs of detail regarding the creation of classics like The Queen is Dead or Meat Is Murder.

Along the way, we're treated to page after page of Moz's self-deprecation, witheringly clever insults, and dozens of complaints about record label execs, ex-bandmates, meat-eaters, teachers, the NME, Margaret Thatcher, British royalty, radio DJs, more record execs, people that live in the American south, Siouxsie Sue, the judge in his lawsuit, and more record execs. He has no filter and does not care, which is exactly what makes it such a great read. I can live vicariously through the brash behavior of Moz: he says the things I would never! He has no need or time for politeness, and loads up his insults with the kind of wordplay you'd expect from the best lyricist of his generation.

He takes great pride in the passion of Moz fans, for not only do they feed him (and his soul), but they come to his defense when the rest of the world seems to not understand or acquiesce to his awesome. He's also obsessed with where things hit on the charts, whether it's the position of records he loved as a kid (like David Bowie's "Starman" in 1971 reaching number 42) or his own releases—we learn that Your Arsenal came in at #4, Vauxhall and I hit #1, "The More You Ignore Me" reached #8 but "Hold On To Your Friends" only #47, and so on.

Along the way we learn about childhood friends and family, and a few of the longstanding relationships Morrissey has forged over a lifetime in music. When word hit that the biography was coming out, there was speculation that Morrissey might end years of vagueness with a little more detail into his personal life and the choices he's made, and while you definitely get a sense for where he stands on sexuality, it's not revelatory or a call to arms the way Bob Mould's See a Little Light was, with Morrissey remaining mostly private about his private life. While we get oodles of thoughts on the style of British film stars of the '60s, we don't gain much insight into the author's sexuality.

If you're getting psyched for the upcoming Morrissey show at the Fitz, a pre-read of his autobiography will definitely entertain, possibly infuriate, and most likely leave you feeling that while Morrissey is a great artist to listen to or see, he might not be someone who would be easy to live or work with.


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