Disclaimer: I am a huge Morrissey fan. In many ways I blame him for my continued existence. On a teenage blog I constantly quoted him, sometimes writing whole posts in his lyrics. In teenage depression, when you think nobody will ever really care about you, that you’re just another cog that will die basically unnoticed, musicians and songwriters are a refuge as you lie on your bed wanting more than anything to just skip forward to when things are interesting. For me Morrissey was (and continues to be) counsel, and like a Christian flipping through the Bible for passages to make them feel alright, there is always a lyric to reassure me that things are shitty everywhere, but you can escape for a bit if you find the like-minded. I have ‘Hand in Glove’ tattooed on my forearm, and putting a CD in a tray continues to be easier than burdening someone else with my issues. Basically, this review will be anything but fair and balanced. So sorry for that.
After indefinitely being put on hold days before release just a few weeks ago, Autobiography was finally released yesterday. With very little pre-release information about its contents, people everywhere speculated on what the tome would hold. Would there be a final decisive statement on Morrissey’s sexuality? How many would come under fire? Would his poetic lyricism translate to the longer form?
Nobody was really worried about the latter. As though Alan Bennett developed an unshakeable love of The New York Dolls, Morrissey starts at the beginning, detailing his birth which almost killed his mother, apparently due to the size of his head. He speaks at length of childhood gangs, classroom whippings and an extensive family life on the rough post-war streets of Manchester. His love of kitchen-sink dramas and their stars is shown in lengthy analyses of the moral underpinnings of their stories. He details teenage trips to see the pop stars he loved, sleeping on train station platforms after seeing Patti Smith and David Bowie.
The language is beautiful. It is so well written that it’s almost unbelievable that it’s his first foray into real prose since short books on James Dean and The New York Dolls were written 30 years ago. A particularly stunning section recalls driving over the moors with Linder Sterling and seeing a ghost.
Morrissey brings his life to the page as a Gothic tale of rejection, and triumph among the people while the higher powers turn their backs. A few involved have already disputed Morrissey’s memories of certain events, but really, what difference does it make? Several pivotal court cases rear their ugly heads, and the case of Joyce vs Morrissey is retold at great length. It will make those most desperate to see The Smiths reform think twice.
The subject of love is somewhat evaded. As in his lyrics, he stays as ambiguous as can be, though there is a two-year relationship with a man called Jake, and another with a man (presumably nicknamed) Gelato. With his sexuality always having been such a subject of scrutiny in the press, the bravery to disclose these partnerships, and with such tenderness, is amazing. Fans will not be shocked, nor will they particularly care whether Morrissey is gay/bi/straight/pansexual; it has never been about that for anyone but the music press. The real revelation is the openness with which he shares these anecdotes.
At the end of it all, even with the humanity that is so central to the book, Morrissey’s star is not diminished like some pop star selling their wedding rights to OK Magazine. He cements his place, as Patti Smith did with Just Kids, as a lyricist with prose abilities to rival that of any author. The autobiography is a perfect distillation of over thirty years in the music industry, and the trials which that brings to somebody so in touch with the human condition. The wit is as sharp as the damnation of enemies, and the book brings shocked bursts of laughter along with true emotional experiences. As they say, it’s Morrissey’s world, we just live in it. FInally we have a map.