Those charming men again
In keeping with the egalitarian nature of the book’s premise, drummer Joyce and bass guitarist Rourke are here, too, but, perhaps inevitably, they are continuously undercut and overshadowed by Morrissey and Marr. (“For Mike and Andy to . . . have power of veto,” says the bands first manager, Joe Moss, “ . . . that’s inconceivable. It’s not their vision; they’re part of Johnny and Morrissey’s vision.”)
Therein lies the book’s crippling fault, for despite Fletcher’s best intentions he simply doesn’t provide enough balance for the narrative. Another flaw, particularly in such a lengthy book, is Fletcher’s writing, which although fastidiously attentive to detail lacks even a hint of the wit and crackle of its subjects’ songs.
Thankfully, the story itself is riveting and Fletcher tells it lucidly and fairly. The drive to continue reading is provided by Marr’s no-nonsense spirit and by Morrissey’s eminently quotable lyrics and interviews (sourced from a variety of publications, including quite a few interviews from this newspaper).
There’s also the fact that the music was so distinguished and the band’s output so prolific. In the five years from the band’s formation, in 1982, to its disintegration, in 1987, The Smiths released four studio albums, a number of compilation albums and numerous non-album singles. And how incomparable their recorded legacy remains.
The band had two crucial elements: Marr’s inventive musicianship, best exemplified, perhaps, on the song How Soon Is Now?, which sublimely defines a sense of disconnectedness; and Morrissey himself. His is a persona of his own construction, though answerable, perhaps, to specific cultural and sexual reference points, from Oscar Wilde (who, writes Fletcher, became Morrissey’s “first true hero, indeed something of a role model and an inspiration”), James Dean and the northern England-based works of Delaney, Alan Sillitoe and Keith Waterhouse, to the humour of Victoria Wood and the 1960s Carry On movies. His skill as a lyricist was to match his functional borrowings from other people’s work with his own sense of isolation and rejection of conventional notions of masculinity.
A Light That Never Goes Out is a decent retread of old ground, and it’s a worthy enough addition to rock-music biography. Its publication will, of course, prompt a question: will The Smiths ever re-form? Surely if bands such as The Stone Roses, who issued hell-freezes-over denials through the years, can do it, then anything is possible? Not so, according to Morrissey. “I would rather eat my own testicles than reform The Smiths,” he has said, “and thats saying something for a vegetarian.”
Tony Clayton-Lea writes on pop culture for The Irish Times. His most recent book is 101 Irish Records You Must Hear Before You Die, published by Liberties Press