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.

Will Morrissey Have The Last Laugh — Again?

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

morrissey_book_cover_penguin_MED

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?

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