Alas Smiths and tomes - it's the details that get you in the end
REVOLVER:THE FIRST print run of Johnny Rogan’s Morrissey Marr: The Severed Alliance was reduced from 5,000 copies to 3,000, such was the publishing company’s wariness of a very long and very detailed rock biography that hadn’t got The Beatles or The Rolling Stones as its subject matter.
Rogan’s book went on to sell well over 100,000 copies, and remains a landmark volume, not just for its intellectual rigour but also for how it redefined what “deep research” actually entails. Rogan – who has also written acclaimed works on The Byrds and Van Morrison – went to almost ridiculous lengths to get his source material.
Not just content with mere chronological episoding, he also threw in lashings of sociopolitical content to contextualise his findings. You and I may not think the cartoon- reading habits of an 11-year-old Manchester schoolboy are that important, but Rogan went that extra mile – consistently.
Morrissey called for Rogan’s immediate death when The Severed Alliance first appeared in 1992. Dismissing the book’s contents as only Morrissey could – “he writes lies” – the singer nevertheless later cited the book as evidence during his court battle over royalties with Smiths drummer Mike Joyce.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the book, Rogan has brought out a substantially new version. More than a “director’s cut” of the original, it’s also a “making of”, as the author details the reaction from the family and friends of Morrissey and Marr to the original. He has removed all the post-Smiths material and instead bulked up the early lives of the two main protagonists, going into a lot more detail about their finances and the real reason they broke up.
“The whole story of the formation of The Smiths and its lead-up, plus the early days, is far longer than before,” Rogan tells me. “This was opened up by various interviews, such as with the original bassist Dave Hibbert, and people who only came forward after seeing what I had done with the original book.”
Even for non-Smiths fans, the book details everything you need to know about the music industry and the dynamics of band relationships. Longstanding myths about the group are exploded with abandon, lies run up against the truth, and the whole Gubu nature of The Smiths’ life and times is laid bare.
This is a supreme case-study of ego, creativity, finances, press dealings, record company relationships, life on the road, drink/drugs and why you should indeed sweat the small stuff when you’re in a band – as it’s the small details that get you in the end.
Rogan is of Irish descent (his family are from Waterford) and that does help, considering that seven out the eight Smiths parents were Irish. Given their surnames – Morrissey, Maher, Joyce, Rourke – even the band’s name was meant as an ironic statement on their outsider status growing up in the UK. You may think there is more Irish history in the book than is actually needed, but the band’s Irishness is central to their work.
If you really want to understand why The Smiths – unlike most, if not all, of their contemporaries – will never reform (just last year they turned down a multi-million- dollar deal to play the Coachella festival), read the book. As the New Statesman review of this updated version states, you will be “sadder and wiser”. This is twisted and sardonic tragi-comedy. The Smiths are dead. And Rogan knows whodunnit.
Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance Updated Twentieth Anniversary Edition is published by Omnibus Press.
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