Read in: October 2016
Edition and format: Penguin Classics 2013/Paperback
First published: 2013
“I am no more unhappy than anyone else, and most humans are wretched creatures – cursed by the sadness of being. The world created me and I am here – never realizing that I am in love until it gets me into trouble.”
It took me an embarrassingly long time to finally dive into beloved Morrissey’s elegant, measured prose, yet here I am, humbled by the way he’s walked right up to the microphone and named all the things he loves and all the things he loathes.
In my eyes, he’s always been a sensitive soul struggling to keep his basic humanity intact in a world (a pigsty) where you can be stripped of it at every corner. Constantly in the public spotlight, crucified by the media countless times, lately dismissed as that washed out old singer who hates everybody, misquoted, misunderstood, maladjusted – but no attacks on his character seem to be able to extinguish his spirit, and boy, are we glad!
The book spans from his formative years, tortured youth, through the rise and fall of The Smiths, his going solo and all the way to the beyond, where we now stand. Some of the highlights it covers are his early musical influences, his friendships with kind and interesting people, the infamous court process that marked his life so and of which he speaks with lingering bitterness that can only be the bitterness of sincerity, the glory and gore of The Smiths years, and the passion and dedication which have transformed him into a living legend.
He speaks of his idols and influences with heartwarming admiration and familiarity , and this might be the moment to mention that if I were to draw up a similar list, his name would be at the very top. He had me at first with his lyrics and his voice, and later on with his wit, bluntness, love for Wilde, vegetarianism, unwillingness to interact with people who didn’t make him comfortable…a kindred soul, the gentle hand that rocks the cradle as you drift into sleep in the dead of yet another lonely night.
Far from putting him on a pedestal and unreservedly believing everything he’s said or sung, I appreciate how human and real he is, take it or leave it. If you don’t like me, then don’t look at me. Nobody asked you to buy that disc, get that tattoo, scratch that name on your arm with a fountain pen, put up that poster, splash out on that concert ticket. Those who do, however, are a congregation, a community drawn together by love, connected through music, a mosaic of worshiping faces that brings Moz himself down on his knees with disbelief.
Don’t expect to skim the book for any juicy details or sudden revelations regarding his private life that have somehow slipped under your radar over the years. This is not that kind of book, nor was it written by that kind of man. Who Morrissey chooses to share his bed with has always been and will always be none of our business. And yet, there is a lesson to be learned from his words far, far more important than any simple-minded gossip: this book, just like his life, is about love: the search for it, the giving and receiving of it, and finding it in the most unexpected places, such as a particularly emotion-charged note or an audience member’s scream. It is also about having your face dragged in fifteen miles of shit, and triumphing nevertheless. And I’m not talking about slander here, or any of the smaller or larger scandals that have turned listening to Morrissey into a political act. I’m talking about facing the world and all its gloom and doom, the passing of time and all of its sickening crimes, not hanging yourself over every pale day, doing your best and not worrying.
This, to me, is this extraordinary man’s ultimate message: there is evil and stupidity and ignorance and intolerance and sorrow and misery all around us, there’s no denying it. But there’s also so much beauty and love and kindness and truth, if you can take them when offered and give them whenever you’re able to. Taking and giving. The ultimate beauty and love and truth? Music.
“It is the song of the unresolved heart, and is so disconnected with sorrow that the sorrow turns in on itself and becomes triumph.”