In my younger days, I was introduced to The Smiths, the eighties guitar band founded by Morrissey and Johnny Marr. I was immediately drawn to their melancholy music, it spoke of a world of loneliness and poverty, of sexual ambiguity, of criminality. Johnny Marr was clearly a guitar prodigy, and Morrissey’s defiant vocal and poetic lyrics touched me in a way that the dance music my friends listened to (even after the club and the pills had worn off) could never do.

Decades later, and my friends are all grown up, married with kids. Morrissey has written a memoir (released in 2013) simply called Autobiography. When I first heard of Autobiography I was disgusted and disappointed that Morrissey had refused to release it unless Penguin publishing released it as a Penguin Modern Classic. This seemed like the height of hypocrisy, from an artist who had politicised his anti Royal, anti government and vegetarian beliefs, to simply sidestep what other writers had to struggle with, and to essentially make the definition of “modern classic” obsolete.

Nonetheless I bought the paperback out of curiosity, and there it sat on my bookshelf, unread, unloved then lost. Some years later, and whilst searching for material to review, I decided I would give Morrissey more of a chance than the tabloid media has and bought Autobiography for my kindle. Tremendous or trash, I would give the old devil his day in court. To his credit, I finished the lengthy tome in a day and a half, having a predilection for music memoirs. The narcissistic, overwrought prose speaks of a deeply sensitive man, lost in conflict with himself and his musical persona. Unlike other memoirs of artists that destroy themselves with sex, drugs and violence, Morrissey sleeps alone after each gig, content with a book of poetry to read, a cup of tea and some Rich Tea biscuits. The early part of the book concerns his upbringing in Manchester, a city forever looking to the bright lights of London, the ghoulish Moors Murderers, his sadomasochistic secondary school, his obsession with the New York Dolls, and his burgeoning desire to create art, to be a singer.  If you are a fan already and you haven’t read it, I imagine you’ll be in hog heaven. If you don’t like Morrissey, you may find the overwhelming self obsession that drips from every page too off putting. A. A Gill won The Hatchet Job of the Year for his review in The Sunday Times:

 “What is surprising is that any publisher would want to publish the book, not because it is any worse than a lot of other pop memoirs, but because Morrissey is plainly the most ornery, cantankerous, entitled, whingeing, self-martyred human being who ever drew breath. And those are just his good qualities.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Autobiography and think the author should be commended for his obvious literary achievements. Modern Classic or not, this is Morrissey we’re talking about, so what do you expect?

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