Autobiography by Morrissey (Penguin Classics, £8.99), reviewed by What's On North's Margaret Chrystall
* * * *
IT’S a shame Penguin couldn’t have got Morrissey to perform his own book and add his speaking voice for an audiobook – it would’ve been called Audiobiography, of course.
But even without his real-life, unmistakeable tones in your ears once you finish the 400-odd pages, you can hear the former Smiths frontman's wry, angry, let-down-by-life words playing through your mind.
There’s a lot of story to tell, but there are plenty of times when you’re not sure Morrissey’s the best person to tell it. The thread is often hard to follow, things appear out of the blue as if a section might have been edited out earlier, but you just have to go with the flow.
The book offers up every obsessive Smiths’ fan’s dream - the story of the Manchester boy who grew up poor but unique, formed a band and - despite the best efforts of his badly-organised record company – became a pop icon and one of the most recognisable faces of the 80s and 90s.
But Morrissey has many axes to grind.
He wants you to believe many of his most acidic and famous quotes were made up by the press.
And by the end you wish you’d kept a note of all the people who shafted him along the way – it’s a lot.
They include journalists, Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis, The Smiths’ Mike Joyce (and the money-draining legal wrangles he set in play), the New York Dolls (he helped get back together briefly) and Hollywood neighbour Johnny Depp.
Morrissey seems to have few friends or loved ones, bar his close Irish-Manchester family.
But then you start to wonder, has life really been that cruel or is this just miserabilist Moz indulging his doomy side? The book doesn’t help you decide that either way.
The tale itself is irresistible and quirkily told.
Nearly every page is packed with little jewels – a story here, a joke there, a killer soundbite, an unforgettable incident. And when he’s not getting carried away on wafts of poetic language, he’s a born writer with the knack of comedy. Also, he's a master of the bittersweet twist.
He performed at a muddy Glastonbury in 2004: "As I walk offstage my timorous legs give way and I slide backwards into the waiting gooey glop, which is quite naturally captured on split-second camera. It could only be me. Thank you, God."
But in his neverending quest for love from his audiences, his fans, record company, managers, fellow musicians, he often seems cursed. Even his kind acts bounce back to torment him – such as fretting about recommending Cancun to Kirsty McColl for a lovely holiday. She ends up dying there in a freak speedboat accident.
But he also shares some accidentally beautiful moments life crowdsurfs in his direction.
"No dreamy reality could ever equal my first ever concert in Sao Paolo in Brazil, when the crowd lifted a girl over their heads towards me, and as she came closer I could see she held a white stick … and as the crowd placed her gently on the stage she handed me a note which read, ‘I cannot see you, but I love you.’"
Quick review: The lyrics of Smiths' hit The Boy With The Thorn In His Side sums it up. "Behind the hatred there lies/A murderous desire for love/How can they look into my eyes/And still they don't believe me?" Though the book's packed with tantalising gems about The Smiths' rise, the break-up, why a reunion won't ever happen and why he hates fellow band member Mike Joyce, there's so much more. But the book frustratingly dodges around some of the biggest mysteries about the man.