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The Queen is Dead – but not buried.

So I checked the register of historical facts, and was shocked and ashamed to discover The Queen is Dead was released thirty years ago.

To commemorate/commiserate three whole decades of vicars in tutus and boys with thorns in their sides – though we’re still waiting on Charles appearing in his mother’s bridal veil – the Kindle edition of my ‘psycho-bio’ Saint Morrissey is available  to download for the next couple of days from Amazon US/UK for just 99 cents/pence.

Morrissey Reading

Dear Hero in Prison – Quotes From Morrissey’s Autobiography

Well, I’ve read that book. You know, the fastest-selling music biography ever.

And while it would be hideously indecorous of me to review it – especially since Morrissey was kind enough not to mention my biography of him – I will say this:

It certainly didn’t disappoint.

In lieu of a review, here are some especially cherished lines. Because of course, everything that he says rings true-oh-oh-oh.

Morrissey Reading

On his hometown

…we live in forgotten Victorian knife-plunging Manchester, where everything lies wherever it was left over one hundred years ago.

On his big head

Naturally my birth almost kills my mother, for my head is too big, but soon it is I, and not my mother, on the critical list at Salford’s Pendlebury Hospital.

On being Irish Catholic

…we Irish Catholics know very well how raucous happiness displeases God, so there is much evidence of guilt in all we say and do, but nonetheless it is said and done.

On school punishment

‘You touch me and my mum’ll be down,’ I warn Miss Dudley. I am nine years old.

On Myra Hindley

Tormentedly, everyone appears to know someone who knew Myra Hindley, and we are forced to accept a new truth; that a woman can be just as cruel and dehumanized as a man, and that all safety is an illusion.

On George Best

My father takes me to see George Best play at Old Trafford, and as I see the apocalyptic disturber of the peace swirl across the pitch, I faint. I am eight years old. Squinting in the sun, it is all too much for me, and I remember my father’s rasp as he dragged my twisted body through the crowd and out into the street, causing him to miss the rest of the match.

On Lost in Space

Dr Smith’s voice is the caustic cattiness of a tetchy dowager rising in pitch as each line ends, hands a-flutter with away with you, my child intolerance. Major West, on the other hand, will kick to kill. My notepad resting on my lap takes the scribbles of unspoken truth: effeminate men are very witty, whereas macho men are duller than death.

On being caught by a teacher with a New York Dolls album sleeve

‘LOOK AT THIS!’ she demanded of everyone, ‘LOOK AT THIS!’ and everyone looked at this. ‘THIS is sickness. These are MEN making themselves sexual for OTHER MEN.’

On delicate boys and rough girls

In King’s Lane a sporty Welsh girl lands me such a powerful clenched-fist blow that I fall to the ground deafened. ‘What was THAT for?’ I said, sightless with soreness. ‘Because I like you and you won’t look at me,’ she said – as if what she had done might improve the situation. It didn’t.

On 1970s teenage sex

Honeypots sprawled like open graves, their owners doing nothing at all other than letting you. The call of duty is all yours – to turn on and get off; to hit the spot and know the ropes; to please and be pleased; as the owners of such Bermuda Triangles do … nothing.

On 1970s porn

Female nudity is generally easy to find – if not actually unavoidable – but male nudity is still a glimpse of something that one is not meant to see. In mid-70s Manchester there must be obsessive love of vagina, otherwise your life dooms itself forever.

On Top of The Pops

All human activity is fruitless when pitted against the girls and boys singing on pop television, for they have found the answer as the rest of us search for the question. I will sing, too. If not, I will have to die.

On AE Housman

Housman was always alone – thinking himself to death, with no matronly wife to signal to the watching world that Alfred Edward was now quite alright – for isn’t this at least partly the aim of scoring a partner: to trumpet the mental all-clear to a world where how things seem is far more important than how things are?

On Patti Smith

In a dream state I watch her explode as she takes on the lesbian contingent at the front who are calling to Patti to ‘come out’ (where to? from what?), and they heckle her in almost every song.

On Sparks

Ron Mael sat at the keyboard like an abandoned ventriloquist’s doll, and brother Russell sang in French italics with the mad urgency of someone tied to a tree.

On being banned by his best mate’s mum

I ponder on how I could possibly be considered a bad influence, since I am neither bad nor remotely influential. It is not as if, at this age of 18, I designed dresses under the name Violet Temper. It is not as if I sought a career in exotic dancing, or read jokes aloud at funerals. I had never even once been drunk. My main concern in life was to find somewhere that could make spectacles in less than an hour.

On Sandie Shaw

I had collected all of Sandie’s slap-bang singles of the 1960s, and thought that they perfectly traversed the cheap and loud sound of east London skirty jailbait.

On the North

…the north is a separate country – one of wild night landscapes of affectionate affliction.

On Success

…there is Paul Newman, sitting quietly at the door of his Sunset Marquis villa; there is Patricia Neal, frail but smiling at La Luna restaurant on Larchmont; there is Paul Simon, sitting with Whoopi Goldberg, to whom the unemployable Stretford canal-bank cleaner is introduced. This all could be a dream, yet it is not sad enough to be a dream.

On Rough Trade Records

These are the days when almost any unsigned artist that I favor instantly awakes to find Geoff Travis sitting at the foot of their bed, a short-form agreement between his teeth. It’s a compliment, of sorts.

On David Bowie

David quietly tells me, ‘You know, I’ve had so much sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive,’ and I loudly tell him, ‘You know, I’ve had SO LITTLE sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive.’

On life with the boxer Jake Walters

…every minute has the high drama of first love, only far more exhilarating, and at last I have someone to answer the telephone.

On Jake’s belly

I am photographed for Creem magazine with my head resting on Jake’s exposed belly. ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’ asks new manager Arnold Stiefel. ‘No?’ I say in a small voice. ‘Well, that’s a very intimate shot.’ ‘Oh?’ I say, baffled. ‘A man doesn’t rest his head on another man’s stomach,’ Arnold goes on. ‘No?’ I answer, all adrift on the cruel sea.

On that November Spawned a Monster video

Tim had asked me to do the entire November spawned a monster video naked. I explained to him that this would be impossible since my entire lower body had been destroyed by fire in 1965. His expression remained wide-eyed with belief as he replied, ‘Oh.’

On his fans

As I watch and study, I am mirrored by a handsome legion of the tough and the flash, and with this vision all of my efforts succeed.

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Will Morrissey Have The Last Laugh – Again?

 ‘Has any book in recent memory not actually about wizards provoked so much interest?’

Mark Simpson on the most eagerly-anticipated music biography ever.

C4 News, 14 October, 2013

MORRISSEY HAS ALWAYS enjoyed the last laugh. His entire career has been based on it. Back in the 1980s, when he was in his pomp as the pompadoured front man of The Smiths – and loudly rejecting everything the 1980s stood for – Morrissey was asked if he thought that success was a form of revenge. “Absolutely and entirely a form of revenge,” he agreed. But revenge for what? “Well, for everything, on everybody,” he replied. “So now I can just sit back every night – when Minder is finished – and just chuckle, deafeningly.”

Right now he must be chuckling so deafeningly the neighbours are complaining to the council. Wherever it is he lives these days.

His much anticipated, much delayed, much-discussed eponymously titled autobiography is sweet revenge indeed. Has any book in recent memory not actually about wizards provoked so much interest? Before even its existence was certain? Before anyone seems to have read the thing?

Whatever its contents – and your guess is as good as mine – Autobiography is already stamped with Big Mouth’s trademark scorn. The photo on the book jacket (pictured), offering the world his not insubstantial chin. The apparent absence of review copies, ensuring his critics will have to pay to have their ha’pence worth – and everyone and my mother has an opinion on Morrissey.

But the best and biggest joke of all is that it doesn’t matter what they scribble. Or in a way, what he’s written: Morrissey has succeeded in getting Penguin to put his memoirs out as a Penguin Classic. The Bard of Stretford is somewhere between Montaigne and More. Someone who has always been openly obsessed with turning himself into a “living sign” (and the Amazon blurb mentions the word “icon” twice) – is now officially an instant classic. Penguin say so. So there.

A flabbergasted literary world has rushed to remind Morrissey that he just hasn’t earned it yet, baby. But in actual historical fact he already has.

Before he found something much more rewarding to do, the young, lonely Steven Patrick Morrissey wanted nothing so much as to be a writer. From his box bedroom in his mother’s council house in suburban Manchester this autodidact who left school at sixteen typed out screeds to the NME, and pamphlets about his twin obsessions, glam punk band The New York Dolls and James Dean. His mother was a librarian, and he famously quipped later: “I was born in Manchester Central Library. In the crime section.”

But Johnny Marr came calling and Morrissey became one of the most unlikely, most literary of popsters – using pop music as a giant fax machine to tell the world the story of his life: insisting that his lyrics, which often “borrowed” from the writers he admired, be printed on the record sleeves. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if – and part of me hopes – his memoir turns out to be just his collected lyrics, with some hand-drawn titivation in the margins.

And what lyrics! Morrissey is unquestionably the greatest lyricist of desire – and thus of frustration – who ever moaned. If a young Oscar Wilde, another one of Morrissey’s idols, had heard The Smiths he wouldn’t have bothered writing plays. He’d have formed a band.

But part of the drama of Autobiography, part of what makes his book such an event that provokes such curiosity from all sides, is that despite turning it into great art, and becoming a global star, the actual details of Morrissey’s private life have remained resolutely private. Which is a shocking, almost indecent achievement in a culture as sure of its entitlement to know everything as ours is today.

Perhaps it’s just sour grapes on the part of a writer who was never a pop star, but having created this mystique, this cherished iconic status through his art and through his quaint obsession with old skool stardom in an age of mere celebrity, can it, I wonder, survive confession? Can prose compare to bloody poetry? Will he kiss and tell? Will he settle scores? And has Penguin dared to edit him?

But most of all, will he finally say “sorry” for stealing away the hearts of a generation?

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Morrissey Hasn’t Changed – We Have

Morrissey is always going to disappoint those who want him to be some kind of ‘singing Stephen Fry with a quiff’, argues Mark Simpson

 Originally appeared on The Spectator Arts Blog

Because the 80s is the decade that actually ended the 20th Century – the 90s was just an after-party clean-up operation – it’s also the decade that never came to an end itself. In fact, the 80s is the decade that just won’t die.

Economy in (‘Big Bang’) recession. Tories in power. Cuts on the table. Riots on the streets. Royal weddings on the telly. The Falklands becoming a fighting issue. And my mother complaining about Morrissey: ‘I see that chap you like so much has been in the papers again. Ridiculous man! And he still can’t sing!’

As Madonna might put it, it’s all a bit reductive.

In fact everyone has been enjoying moaning about Morrissey lately – just like the good old days. In case you somehow missed it, at a performance in Argentina last week, his band appeared in t-shirts printed with the charming message ‘WE HATE WILLIAM AND KATE’ (remember 80s protest t-shirts?).

Perhaps worried this might be overlooked back home, the former Smiths front-man also offered this bouquet to his Argentine fans about those bitterly contested, sparsely-populated rocks in the South Atlantic: ‘Everybody knows they belong to you’.

The Times, Mirror, Telegraph, Sun and Mail all dutifully denounced Morrissey’s big mouth. The Guardian for its part ran an earnest discussion between two music critics titled: ‘Is Morrissey a national treasure?’ (The answer seemed to be ‘yes – but a very naughty one.’)

Not bad for a 52-year-old crooner currently without a record contract. But then, just like that other 80s diva keen on hairspray and frilly-collared blouses, we’ll never entirely be rid of him.

The British experience of the 80s is forever dominated by two very difficult personalities. Both from the north, both unafraid to speak their mind, and both possessing a gender all of their own.

And while one was a working-class militant vegetarian anarchist Sandie Shaw fan with a flair for homoerotic imagery, and the other a bossy petit bourgeois social Darwinist and devotee of General Pinochet who famously outlawed the ‘promotion of homosexuality’, both of them were radicals on a revenge trip.

But if Margaret Thatcher owned the 80s, Steven Patrick Morrissey stole its youth. Or at least, the youth that didn’t want to be a part of Thatcher’s 80s. The Smiths were not just an‘alternative’ band: they were the alternative that Maggie said didn’t exist.

In fact, The Smiths were reviled by almost everyone at the time – Fleet Street, the BBC (they were effectively banned from daytime Radio 1), the record business (they were signed to a teeny-weeny Indie label), and indeed most of the record buying public (their singles struggled to even get into the top 20).

But they have become the heart of a decade that didn’t have one. They are now the band that everyone liked – two or three decades after the event.

Including, most famously, David Cameron, who used The Smiths and Morrissey as a Tory re-branding and detoxifying tool at least as important as those melting glaciers he went to gawp at. Declaring The Smiths his favourite group not long after gaining the leadership of the ‘Nasty Party’, he was even pictured, if memory serves me right, with a copy of Morrissey’s 2005 album Ringleader of the Tormentors on his desk.

But Morrissey, whatever you may think of him, isn’t a man to be assimilated lightly. Especially by a Chipping Norton Tory.

When, in 2010, his estranged former Smiths collaborator Johnny Marr tweeted that he ‘forbade’ David Cameron from liking the Smiths, animal rights activist Morrissey endorsed him, adding:

‘David Cameron hunts and shoots and kills stags – apparently for pleasure. It was not for such people that either Meat Is Murder or The Queen Is Dead were recorded; in fact, they were made as a reaction against such violence.’

No-one can be genuinely surprised that someone who called an album The Queen is Dead is fiercely anti-Royalist. No-one can be shocked that the man who sang ‘Irish Blood English Heart’ is no fan of the remnants of the British Empire. And let’s not forget his famous 1984 quip: ‘The sorrow of the Brighton bombing is that Margaret Thatcher escaped unscathed’, or the track ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’ for his 1988 album Viva Hate.

Unless, that is, they hoped that Morrissey had mellowed with age and become some sort of singing Stephen Fry with a quiff. Morrissey’s views haven’t changed. Morrissey hasn’t changed. He still hasn’t grown up. He’s still an adolescent curmudgeon, an otherworldly prophet from Stretford – he’s just older and thicker around the middle, and with a bit more cash to spend. He did, after all, promise us again and again that he wouldn’t change, couldn’t change.

It’s we, his fans, who have changed. If we’re embarrassed by his antics it may be because we’ve finally become the people we used to hate.

Download Mark Simpson’s acclaimed ‘psycho-bio’ Saint Morrissey on Kindle

Shelagh Delaney Finally Sails on the Alley Alley-Oh

Shelagh Delaney the Salford-born child-prodigy author of the ground-breaking, hugely influential — and touchingly funny — 1958 play ‘A Taste of Honey’ died at the weekend from cancer, aged 71.

Below is a classic Monitor profile of Delaney and Salford from 1960, directed by Ken Russell, no less. Fifty years on Delaney the provincial working class girl comes across as very modern and relaxed in front of the BBC cameras — albeit in a slightly dreamy, introspective way that isn’t in fact very modern at all, alas. We don’t really have time for such things now.

When I first saw this a few years back I felt young Shelagh was someone I might actually know myself, someone I might have popped round for tea and a gossip with, even though I was born several years after this film was made.

Note how the semi-detached she’s living in bears a strong resemblance to the one a certain Steven Patrick was raised in, just down the road in Stretford. (And the one in this recent ad.)

Delaney is infectiously passionate about working class Salford, captured here in a perfect little time-capsule, a fragment of a lost civilisation, before the docks and the chimneys and the back-to-back sense of community and pride was swept away by the 60s and 70s and those ugly new houses. She talks repeatedly in the doc about being rooted there — and how she gets homesick whenever she travels. It’s the perfect place for a writer:

“The language is alive, it’s virile, it lives and it breathes and you know exactly where it’s coming from. Right out of the earth…”.

“Down by the river it’s even romantic, if you can stand the smell.”

The quip about the river almost sounds like a Morrissey lyric….

Which reminds me: look out for the middle-aged male Salford market trader wearing Dame Edith Sitwell’s earrings: “He’s been here for years — and always wears those earrings.”

Postscript

You can read a tribute to Shelagh Delaney by the Manchester writer Dave Haslam here.

Tip: Philip