Features I by I 17.10.13

Reel around the fountain pen: everything you need to know about Morrissey’s Autobiography in 10 songs

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Morrissey‘s Autobiography is out – and, surprise surprise, it’s topped both the Amazon charts and the news agenda.

Of course, this isn’t our first glimpse into the interior life of the quondam Smith – over 30 years of heart-baring lyrics, gnomic asides and entertaining and/or inadvisable interview nuggets, we’ve always been privy to Morrissey’s side of the story. Autobiography, however, fleshes out some of his more oblique proclamations with actual facts, albeit ones buried in 457 pages of witticisms, thumb-biting and purple prose.

Predictably, Autobiography‘s already been gutted for gossip, with the most headline-worthy passages now available to chew through online. For those who haven’t had the chance to give Autobiography a proper read – and, considering how funny it is, you really should – we’ve pulled together our own impressionistic synopsis of the tome – a playlist of classic Morrissey tracks to guide you through the book’s key revelations.

Warning: here be spoilers.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 1/9)

‘Now My Heart Is Full’ 
(Vauxhall And I, Parlophone, 1994)

Onto the lurid stuff first – after decades of elegant hint-dropping, Autobiography sees Morrissey finally offer some concrete details about his romantic history. You’ll probably have encountered this Dumbledore-grade spoiler already, but Morrissey reveals that his first proper relationship was with a man named Jake Walters in 1994, when Morrissey was 35. After two years of apparently tender co-habitation – “For the first time in my life the eternal ‘I’ becomes ‘we’, as, finally, I can get on with someone” – things come to an end – when Alan Bennett pops round and scents dissatisfaction, no less.

‘Dagenham Dave’
(Southpaw Grammar, RCA, 1995)

Autobiography boasts plenty of television-based material (and we don’t mean this either), with Morrissey revealing the following: he had a microscopic cameo role in Coronation Street as a nipper, and later submitted sample scripts to the series; he was asked to appear alongside Lisa Kudrow in an episode of Friends (“I am requested to sing ‘in a really depressing voice.’ Within seconds I wind down the fire-escape like a serpent and it’s goodbye to Hollywood yet again”); and he was petitioned by wayward execs to take a role in rustic snoozefest Emmerdale. Most interesting, however, is the revelation that he was once invited to play raffish ne’er-do-well Nick Cotton in Eastenders: “I would arrive unexpectedly in Albert Square and cause births, deaths and factory fires every time I open my mouth.”

‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’
(Strangeways Here We Come, Rough Trade, 1987)

By all accounts, Autobiography is packed cover-to-cover with indiscretions – some considered, some catty. One moment treated with unlikely brevity, however, is the much-picked-over 1987 breakup of The Smiths, which is tossed away as an afterthought: “…The Smiths breathed a last exhausted sigh and folded. It happened as quickly and as unemotionally as this sentence took to describe it.”

Although cagey on the band’s demise, Morrissey is much more candid when talking about its beginnings. His appraisal of the band’s self-titled 1983 debut is particularly telling, with the singer lamenting that the album was much less impactful than it could have been. As ever, Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis comes in for a pasting, with Morrissey suggesting that the record was stymied by sloppy production and iffy marketing: “The album ought to have been a dangerous blow from the buckle-end of a belt, but instead it is a peck on the cheek.”

‘Rusholme Ruffians’
(Meat Is Murder, Rough Trade, 1985)

Morrissey is not a man who’s slow to detect malign motives and sinister intentions, but the only moment in the book that resembles a scene from a Tony Scott movie suggests he’s occasionally found himself mixing with very nasty sorts indeed. After a show in Tijuana in September 2007, Morrissey claims to have been the victim of a foiled kidnapping. When his driver takes an apparently senseless detour minutes away from the US border, Morrissey and his security guard smell a rat and quickly bundle their way out of the car: “‘STOP THIS CAR!’ I shout, and bang my fists on the back of the driver’s seat…I jump out as the car drives on.”

‘Ambitious Outsiders’
(Maladjusted, Island, 1997)

When Marr abruptly dissolved The Smiths in 1987, the remaining band members briefly discussed bringing another guitarist into the fold. Interestingly, one hat in the ring belonged to big-league rock scribe Nick Kent, who asked to join the band on the grounds of his “encyclopaedic knowledge of the chord structures, dynamics etc of Johnny’s contributions to date.” FACT’s Tam Gunn similarly tried to fill the Kim-shaped vacancy in the Pixies, to no avail.

‘Have-A-Go Merchant’
(World Of Morrissey, Parlophone, 1995)

Non-revelation #1464: Morrissey doesn’t like the NME. Autobiography, however, gives us some indication of the depths of his discontent with the storied British music rag. According to Morrissey, the paper actively held a meeting in the early 1990s where the staff agreed to “get Morrissey”, presumably in a Joe Peschi drawl. Morrissey catalogues the paper’s slights against him – a string of insidious insults, much-publicised (and eventually retracted) accusations of racism, and unnecessarily poisonous reviews. He gets his own back, though, sticking a particularly sharpened axe into NME staffer Julie Burchill, whose “naked body probably kills off marine plankton in the North Sea”.

‘Margaret On The Guillotine’
(Viva Hate, HMV Records, 1988)

Like Pete Seeger and John Lennon before him, Morrissey, we’re told, has attracted the suspicion of the establishment – although the account is less The Wire than a particularly sedate episode of The Bill. After the release of Viva Hate, which featured anti-Thatcher piece ‘Margaret On The Guillotine’, the singer was called in by Special Branch to explain himself. Rather than being recruited to spy on rockabilly circles, Morrissey was quickly interviewed and cordially sent on his way – although not before being asked to give autographs.

‘Pregnant For The Last Time’
(HMV, 1991)

Tina Dehgani’s name has previously only had currency in the more fetid nooks of Morrissey messageboards, but, post-Autobiography, she’s likely to go down in history as the woman who nearly had Morrissey’s baby. After the failure of his relationship with Walters, Morrissey describes moving onto a close partnership with Dehhani, with whom he seriously considered creating a “mewling miniature monster”. Reading this while listening to ‘Handsome Devil’ makes for a uniquely disquieting experience.

‘Accept Yourself’
(Hatful Of Hollow, Rough Trade, 1984)

Even now, Morrissey is still the default choice for slobby writers looking for a cheap way to invoke the trope of the ‘miserable man’; cue memories of a thousand piss-poor ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’/ ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’. For all the smirking about Morrissey’s self-absorption, though, Autobiography suggests that there were moments where his miserablism tipped over into serious depression. The gallows humour makes it difficult to discern between honesty and mordant affectation, but the sterner sentences speak for themselves: “I could only tolerate an afternoon if I took a triple amount of the stated dose of valium prescribed by my GP (who would soon take his own life).”

‘Get Off The Stage’
(HMV, 1997)

As disgruntled as Siouxsie Sioux, Judge John Weeks and Sandie Shaw deserve to be after the way they’re described in the book, they’re probably not going to be as furious as the staunch book-lovers who have attacked Penguin for putting out Autobiography in the first place.  The book arrives, at the singer’s behest, on the Classics imprint, normally reserved for canonical writers like  Homer, Tolstoy, Steinbeck, etc – a gesture described by The Independent‘s lit-crit Boyd Toynton as “weak capitulation”.

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