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The Man, The Smith, The Legend

Morrissey’s Autobiography is the royal me

There’s a lot of B.S. in Morrissey’s Autobiography (Penguin/Putnam, $30): It’s self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing, self-mythologizing, full of melodramatic humor and humorous melodrama. If The Queen is “the royal we,” then Morrissey is “the royal me.” If this surprises you, I respond: “I see you’re unfamiliar with Morrissey.”  

Autobiography is also remarkably well-written in passages, laugh-out-loud funny and tender; Morrissey writes beautifully of depression, untimely death (of friends and family) as well as the plight of the weak and underprivileged — from the poor of Britain and Mexico to an injured baby bird he nurses to health in his California backyard.

The book is strongest when recounting Morrissey’s childhood. His schools are grim and martial punishment (read: child abuse) is the norm. Morrissey’s Manchester of the ’60s and ’70s is Dickensian and dour, his upbringing beyond working-class; his only outlets are TV, film and pop music (particularly the gender-bending glam rock of the ’70s). 

Some are disappointed that Autobiography doesn’t reveal more of the singer’s creative process — I assert in the long, affectionate passages describing actors and singers meaningful to him as a boy, he’s doing just that, by saying, “Look over there! Don’t look at me!” Morrissey is both opening up while obscuring, for these influences are his process, and he is these influences.

The Smiths career breezes by. Morrissey clearly is stating, “I am more than The Smiths.” He speaks lovingly of his bandmates and is generous to their talent, but you feel the betrayal of the court case that put the final nail in the coffin of the seminal ’80s rock group. Love relationships are mentioned, but blink and you’ll miss them. He speaks sweetly of those who’ve touched his life and viciously of those he feels wronged by.

His solo career gets more attention. Morrissey is both a self-made man and an eternal victim — perpetually a day late, never getting his due, always on the short end of life. To be fair, he frequently states all of this is no fault but his own. Ultimately Autobiography is about triumph: A young boy, beyond hypersensitive (more an open wound), goes on to be one of the most beloved, unique and successful individuals in the history of pop music, almost entirely on his own terms. He’s cantankerous, contrary and divisive. Many love him, and many hate him. Meanwhile, the real Steven Patrick Morrissey slips out the stage door alone, off to the next concert.

Don’t miss the delightful and affectionate mention of his one-and-only show at Eugene’s McDonald Theatre in August 2002.