Morrissey settles a few scores with his book, Autobiography
Account of growing up in Manchester is beautiful, but real focus will be on relationship with man
Well-written, with his wry and arch sense of humour much in display, there is perhaps a bit too much score-settling at times in Morrissey’s Autobiography. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
First it was being published by Penguin, and then it was pulled at the last-minute; then it was being published by Penguin Classic (home to Virgil, John Stuart Mill and Francis Bacon), but there was a row about that - with critics saying the imprint was demeaning itself by publishing a pop star’s autobiography.
“It has been said most pop stars have to be dead before they reach the iconic status that Morrissey has reached in his lifetime” scolded Penguin Classic.
Then there were to be no advance review copies of the work, titled Autobiography, and the author had gone into hiding (he’s in Gothenburg apparently). Such was demand for Morrissey’s contemporary De Profundis-type autobiography that some bookshops opened – Harry Potter-style – at midnight last night so fans wouldn’t have to wait an entire eight hours to get their tremulous hands on a copy.
This was, we were reminded again, the person who had been voted the second-greatest living British icon by BBC viewers (just behind David Attenborough) a few years ago. Except he’s the son of two Dubliners and travels on an Irish passport.
These things take time, but when it arrived we learned that Manchester in the 1960s was indeed as grim as we always imagined it to be (he was hit with a leather strap while at his Catholic school), that The Smiths were indeed great – “our sound rockets with meteoric progression: bomb-burst drumming, explosive chords, combative bass lines, and over it all I am as free as a hawk to paint the canvas as I wish. It is a gift from Jesus,” he modestly notes.
His opinions of notables such as one-time collaborator Sandie Shaw and his one-time radio champion John Peel are a lot less flattering. Shaw expected better than the single they worked on together, Hand in Glove (it didn’t break the top 20), and Peel wasn’t really that interested in the band - his producer forced him to play their records, he claims.
Others to get a lash or three of his tongue are the High Court judge who referred to him as “devious, truculent and unreliable” during a court case over Smiths royalty payments (there’s a total of 50 pages on his High Court ordeal, 49 too many). The judge is described as “wringing his creased little hangman’s hands whilst resembling a pile of untouched sandwiches”.
Music magazine NME fares little better. They once accused him of flirting with racist imagery, and he claims there was once an NME editorial meeting at which an edict was passed around to “get Morrissey – the plan was under way to dislodge me as an NME staple”.
On his personal life (the subject of much conjecture over the years), he writes that he didn’t enter into his first serious relationship until he was 35. When he met Jake Walters he says “for the first time in my life the eternal ‘I’ becomes ‘We’ as finally I can get on with someone”.
He doesn’t precisely state they were lovers, but recounts an airline official saying to them “you’re either very close brothers or lovers”.
As the relationship with Jake floundered, it was good friend playwright Alan Bennett who called around to Morrissey’s house and tried to patch things up between the pair (no doubt over tea and Victoria Sponge). Even on his younger years he writes that “girls remained mysteriously attached to me … far more exciting to me were the array of stylish racing bikes that my father would bring home”.
Later on we learn that he was questioned by the Special Branch because of the lyrics to his song “Margaret on the Guillotine” – “so that they might gauge whether or not I pose a security threat to Margaret Thatcher”. He signs some autographs for them and is politely told no further questioning is needed.
He feared for his life during what he believes was an attempt to kidnap him after a show in Mexico in 2007. His security guard came to the rescue.
Well-written, with his wry and arch sense of humour much in display, there is perhaps a bit too much score-settling at times. His account of growing up in Manchester as the son of Irish immigrants is beautifully and evocatively done, but one suspects the real headlines here will be for his relationship with a man. Which is a shame as his sexuality is perhaps the least interesting thing about him.