If I had to make a list of my heroes, Morrissey would not be on it. He is much more like those friends who do and say things that have me rolling my eyes and wondering to myself why I still keep them in my life, because all they do is embarrass me with their silly statements. These types of people make me feel like I need to take a walk to cool off, put my headphones on… and listen to “Cemetery Gates” or “Everyday is Like Sunday.” Suddenly I’m reminded of what it is I like so much about that person, why they’re so special to me, and why, no matter how hard I try, pushing them out of my life completely is unimaginable.
Me and Morrissey, Morrissey and Me — it’s a long, strange, and often complicated relationship, one that I’ve finally resigned myself to realizing is about the songs, making Moz the music version of the sex idiot. I recognize that our dynamic is based on the fact that I love his music but would really just rather not hear him talk if at all possible.
Yet Morrissey does talk a whole lot, and it’s hard to not hear him. He talks even more in Autobiography, the long-awaited story of Stephen Patrick Morrissey as told by Morrissey. And in true Moz fashion, he comes off as bitter and as angry as you’d expect throughout the whole thing, going after everybody from Rough Trade founder Geoff Travis (who he paints as both evil and incompetent) to former school teachers and band mates for pages and pages and pages. He spends somewhere close to 50 solely on the lawsuit brought against Morrissey by Smiths former drummer Mike Joyce, while also making room to call out some random “fat-assed woman” who is in and out of his life in minutes and pointing out how onetime hero Bryan Ferry “will drop quickly from the emotional radar” of a young Morrissey because the former Roxy Music singer “announces that his favorite food is veal — second only to foie gras in savage cruelty.” Autobiography offers all this, colored by the classic Mozissims that we all know and love (or absolutely hate); at one point, he starts off a paragraph by declaring, “My life stinks.” Just as we knew it would be, this book is full of snippy little remarks that, even if they happen to be correct, sound so incredibly tart and pissy that we all end up muttering, “Morrissey, just shut the fuck up already,” as we read.
Your reaction to the book is a perfect reflection of which kind of Morrissey fan you are: either you are a total worshiper who stopped eating meat because your hero called it murder or you take the good with the bad, realizing that while the bad can be annoying, the good is usually worth the frustration. And in the case of Autobiography, while it will undoubtedly make the latter camp grit their teeth, the good outweighs the bad, making it a very worthwhile read. He writes about tragedy after tragedy, friends and family member dying, until finally getting to the point where he recalls his father telling him, “You are obsessed with dead people,” and admits that he was right about that. There is death, and then there is the dead. Morrissey has not only witnessed plenty of death, but all of his heroes are dead people he never knew.
That’s the thing you come away with after reading Autobiography, if you hadn’t already realized it: Morrissey is a gloomy aesthete, a Romantic in a time not particularly welcoming to people like him. He says the things he says because he is the boy with the thorn in his side; he compares things in his life to the work of Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, and Larkin; writes beautifully about the ugly rock ‘n’ roll of the New York Dolls, the Ramones, and Iggy Pop; and compares his friend, the artist Linder Sterling to “Jean Genet, Yoko Ono, Norma Winstone and Margaret Atwood.” He writes about the time he spotted James Baldwin at an airport in 1986, and how Morrissey didn’t have “the steel” to approach the iconic writer. He dedicates a smart paragraph to Baldwin and his work, another flash of just how good a writer Morrissey is, and then ends the whole thing with, “Shortly thereafter, he [Baldwin] is dead.”
It isn’t some big, important moment in the life and times of Moz, but its proof that in his worldview, there is really no silver lining. Those clouds will never go away, and he’s always going to be the serious jerk with the instantly recognizable voice. He will go on being unhappy about things, and if you let him, he’ll try and make you unhappy about them as well. But just like this book that people are trying to make us believe contains earth-shattering revelations and salacious factoids — yet really just retells the singer’s story in elegant, sometimes lofty and pretentious prose — having Morrissey in your life pays off.