Thursday 18 January 2018

Heaven knows, he's still miserable

Memoir Autobiography Morrissey Penguin, €11.99, pbk, 457 pages

Bigmouth strikes again: Morrissey
Bigmouth strikes again: Morrissey
Morrissey is vitriolic towards Princess Beatrice, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and Princess Eugenie
Irish TV presenter and interviewer Henry Kelly is called "a little, pinched Irish madam"
Bigmouth strikes again: Morrissey is vitriolic towards Rough Trade's Geoff Travis in Memoir
Autobiography - Morrissey
John Meagher

John Meagher

Available with free P&P on or by calling 091 709350

Morrissey's Irish background played a pivotal role in his upbringing and world-view, but when his path crossed with a television presenter from the country of his parents, he felt little kinship.

"I am rolled out to face an icy grilling from Henry Kelly," he writes, of a breakfast television interview from 1984, "a little, pinched Irish madam who has no time for me and cuts me off mid-sentence, with neither a 'thank you' or a 'good luck' as he minces frostily into his next major superstardom moment."

Over the course of 457 pages, the ex-Smiths frontman takes similar pot shots at just about everyone he feels wronged him or – in the case of poor Henry Kelly – was little more than a footnote in a chequered career.

In an age of say-nothing, anodyne memoirs, Morrissey's reminiscences are laced with acid and there's an eclectic roll-call who get it with both barrels: ex-bandmates, record company executives, other musicians. It is a rare soul indeed who emerges from the book unscathed and doesn't earn the singer's wrath.

His enthusiasm for settling scores makes for juicy reading, especially when his put-downs are delivered in that florid, Wildean style of writing that devotees will recognise from his songs.

He is especially vicious towards Geoff Travis, the founder of Rough Trade – the record label that was home to The Smiths in their short, five-year lifespan. Travis, Morrissey insists, was not as keen as he could have been about the band when first acquainted with them and is accused of not doing enough to make the group even more successful than they could have been.

Morrissey's assertion that The Smiths saved Travis's career as he would have "found himself wandering from kaftan to kaftan" without them, reads like a petulant assessment of a figure who had already done much to shape British music.

Sandie Shaw also gets special treatment: her crime, it seems, was a sniffy comment made to Morrissey about the poor chart placing of her version of The Smiths song, 'Hand in Glove' and her failure to take him out to dinner.

Meanwhile, the rabidly vegetarian Morrissey has choice words for meat-eating David Bowie, whom he accuses of "feeding off the blood of mammals".

The royal family – subject of several of his most vitriolic songs – are vilified at every opportunity with Sarah, Duchess of York, whom he particularly dislikes, described as "the drone of Sloane, blessed with two daughters of Queen Victoria pot-dog pudginess".

Although he is generous when it comes to acknowledging the musical acumen of the other three members of The Smiths, especially his songwriting partner, the guitarist Johnny Marr, he devotes 50 pages to the rancorous court case initiated by drummer Mike Joyce over the division of royalties. His description of Joyce as "a flea in search of a dog" is laugh-out-loud funny but would appear to make the prospect of a Smiths reunion more distant than ever.

Morrissey reserves a more tender recollection for his Dublin parents, who joined the great ranks of Irish emigrants to Britain in the 1950s. His mother, "always closest to the heart", is remembered for her great beauty, while his regard for his father centres on a willingness to be "fist-ready with the outside world . . . in the days when physicality ironed matters smoothly".

His picture of the Manchester of his youth is like something from Dickens and his descriptions of dark streets, soot-stained terraces and shady characters would populate several of his songs.

While Morrissey is happy to lay into his enemies, he is less willing to delve into certain aspects of his life although he does fulfil tabloid prurience by offering scant details about a two-year relationship with a man and an admission that he wanted to have a child with an old female friend.

Yet such glimpses of the man behind the facade are rare – and frustratingly short on detail. Aficionados of his music are likely to feel short-changed, too. He doesn't grant nearly enough space to how his music came into being or give the reader an insight into The Smiths' creative processes. In fact, his descriptions of the band's music read like those of a third-rate music critic.

And then there are the unpalatable flights of fancy that do his reputation no good: in discussing the Moors Murders – a subject that has long obsessed him – he concludes with a crass remark about one of the child victims lacking "the blonde fantasy-fetish of a cutesy Madeleine McCann".

But such wanton nastiness is unlikely to bother Morrissey's fanatical fanbase, many of whom seem happy to ignore his controversial race views, and already this book has become the fastest selling memoir in Britain since Kate McCann penned one about her disappeared child, the aforementioned Madeleine.

Irish Independent

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