This book begins the only way a Steven Patrick Morrissey autobiography should: with gorgeously excessive descriptions of decay and despair.
By JEN CHANEY
The Washington Post
More brittle and less courteous than anywhere else on earth, Manchester is the old fire wheezing its last, where we all worry ourselves soulless, forbidden to be romantic, the notoriously melancholy pop star writes of the English city of his youth. The dark stone of the terraced houses is black with soot, and the house is a metaphor for the soul because beyond the house there is nothing, and there are scant communications to keep track of anyone should they leave it. You bang the door behind you and you may be gone forever, or never seen again, oh untraceable you.
Its a passage of virtuoso bleakness that could have been ripped directly from the scrawled notes in Morrisseys songwriting journal. (Oh Untraceable You that was the name of an obscure Smiths B-side, wasnt it?)
Its also typical of the spectacularly unbridled Autobiography, a book that is, in turn, typical of Morrissey: solo artist, frontman for the influential 80s British brood-rock band the Smiths and outspoken owner of an often petulant attitude that remains, 30-plus years into his career, a light that never goes out.
Like Morrisseys lyrics, Autobiography is filled with prose of dazzling, poetic excess that unspools without regard for conventional organizational tools, such as chapters or paragraphs of reasonable length.
Like Morrissey the man, Autobiography sometimes doesnt know when to shut up, marinating too long specifically, for about 50 pages in the bitters of a highly publicized trial on the division of royalty payments among the Smiths ex-band members. Morrissey once sang that he bears more grudges than lonely high-court judges. This book provides additional proof.
But what sings out most from Autobiography is his flair for expression and the same wicked sense of humor present in much of his music, humor sometimes overlooked because of his reputation as the official, silken-voiced balladeer of post-break-up crying jags.
He wryly remembers a TV newsman saying, Morrissey conveys all the worst elements of homosexuality and bestiality.
It is not enough, I note, to represent homosexuality fused with bestiality, Morrissey quips, but indeed I apparently convey all the very worst elements of both.
In October, Morrissey issued a statement explaining that he is not homosexual but humasexual: I am attracted to humans. But of course not many. Some of that may be explained in the book.
One must read this armed with a pen; at every turn, theres a quote worth underlining.
Discussing a relationship: Every minute has the high drama of first love, only far more exhilarating, and at last I have someone to answer the telephone.
As memorable as his words are, though, Morrissey doesnt use them to reveal certain details his fans might crave. He gives scant specifics about the songwriting process that allowed him and Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to become the Lennon and McCartney of the post-punk British music scene.
Naturally, Morrissey does his share of railing against the evils of meat-eating, of recalling the indignities of never seeing Panic rise to No. 1 on the U.K. pop charts and of tossing mud at industry insiders he doesnt like. But hes also quick to express adoration when he feels its earned. Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, one of Morrisseys favorites, could make people laugh at the funeral of triplets.
At his essence, Morrissey is someone who managed to carve tunnels out of his Manchester childhood gloom by opening his mouth to make music. In doing so, he carved similar tunnels for others, a fact that will forever permit his fans to forgive their beloved Morrissey when he waxes a little too vaguely poetic or goes off on egotistical rants.
As the man himself writes: Whenever Id overhear how people found me to be a bit much (which is a gentle way of saying the word unbearable), I understood why. To myself I would say: Well, yes, of course Im a bit much if I werent, I would not be lit up by so many lights.
Jen Chaney is a film critic and pop culture writer whose work appears in Vulture, New York magazine, the Dissolve and other outlets.