The telephone call from my literary agent. ‘I think you should write an article on Mr Morrissey’s Autobiography.’
‘Oh. Narcissism has spoken; I had heard. Although why I should be spending my precious time throwing words in that particular direction escapes me – unless The Guardian has misplaced all of the little hacks-for-hire it usually relies upon to fill their daily Morrissey coverage?
‘Well, I’m not sure we should be aiming as high as The Guardian; not after the time I harangued the Features Editor to give you that Sheena Easton interview, only for you to turn up dressed as an astronaut, blind drunk and shouting I’m fucking Buzz Aldrin, so I am. Her publicist came very close to issuing legal instruction for waving that golf club in her client’s face.’
‘That was an accident. Anyway, Autobiography is the last thing that book should be filed under. Try True Crime.’
Cue feigned laughter at the other end of the telephone.
Still, my agent had a point; the clamour for Autobiography articles was such that any words I managed to hammer out in between listening to the Prelude of Wagner’s Tristun Und Isolde and mainlining brandy was guaranteed to add to the pension pot. That’s what happens (and this is 100% true) should you have a lyric from Strangeways, Here We Come stamped up and along your right arm in louche tattooist’s ink – strangers approach you in the street as if you’re intimate circle, and demand through uncouth attention to learn What’s he really like? (the answer: Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard).
(Incidentally, the process of getting tattooed is such the intimate experience: another’s hands rifling over your flesh, delivering bolts of such pleasure/pain that it becomes difficult not to ask the pretty Australian tattooist for her hand in marriage – at least until she asks Where do these words come from? What do they mean? – and the illusion is shattered).
Meanwhile: Autobiography. A book whose greatest asset is that you don’t actually need to bother reading the damn thing; it’s everything you can imagine, or ever hoped it would be. Because the intoxication of Morrissey lay in his inability to be anything other than Morrissey. I remember as a kid watching an episode of (horribly safe 1970’s BBC sitcom) The Good Life, in which, as the summit of a sitcom argument approached, downtrodden, sexually unfulfilled and wasted on him Barbara Good (played by Felicity Kendal) snaps, and denied the attentions that glamour dictates, declares that there are three genders: male, female, and Barbara (at which juncture she proceeds to pour gravy down her chest, and I innocently enquire of my mother why my willy has just grown big).
Felicity Kendal was wrong; the three sexes are girl, boy and Morrissey – although this revelation isn’t so much an awkward riff upon the gender politic as an acknowledgement of author as intrinsically other; a sex that’s sexless (as opposed to androgynous), and a heart that’s either missing, there in duplicate, or both
It becomes apparent even a few pages in that the book is (intentionally?) mis-titled, the biographical detail that convention usually relies on buried under weight of wit and bon mot, whilst as for motive – well, Morrissey is Morrissey, and is therefore immune from having to explain himself, in any medium. I did overhear an associate complaining that he’d learned nothing having finished this weighty tome, but that’s missing the point; Autobiography is not a textbook. Rather, this is the opportunity to stalk the house in Morrissey-tinted spectacles (as well as a low-cut blouse). To witness events from his perverse sightline – rancour, amusement, and bemusement. Steven Patrick whittles on and on like an evil toad – and glorious stuff it is too. Sublimely written (of course), each turn of phrase like a shapely ankle, spotted superstitiously in the summer of 1860. Yes – both his aversion to the paragraph and use of US English is annoying. The narrative drifts a little as the clock turns 2000. The back catalogue (and particularly the solo stuff) deserves so much more time and space than Morrissey permits himself (even if the paragraph on Vauxhall & I is simply beautiful), whilst – and call this a hunch – I think it’s fair to say that the Mike Joyce legal battle might not have been totally forgiven or forgotten. All instances where the concept doesn’t mesh in full conviction (although so naturally and involuntarily contrary is this fucker, it wouldn’t surprise me if these flaws were cultured deliberately).
Still, the world is a better place for Autobiography. Charmed by its own obliqueness it may be, but then again, so are we, and so we have been since ‘Hand In Glove’. There’s something inordinately pleasing to the decidedly monochromatic cinema through which his childhood is projected, Manchester a hulking, brooding presence, the drama very kitchen sink. Cameos are manifold, the ire acidic (hello Geoff Travis) yet interspersed with moments of genuine affection: Peter Wyngarde, Sandie Shaw, Julie Burchill, Nancy Sinatra – each encounter exquisitely imparted, the confidentiality most wry, most endearing.
And what have we learned? That’s an everything and nothing type of answer; demanding (or even expecting) obsequiousness from Herr Morrissey is a rum old sport. Unless, that is, you’ve been infected (is that the correct verb?) – in which case all makes perfect sense, the narrative sparkling in wicked patterns.
Meanwhile, back in the LGM compound, I take another shot of brandy, then phone the literary agent back to tell her that I’m too busy to write an article on any bloody book. After which I plan to flick the TV on, then masturbate along to old episodes of The Good Life. Again.