Just a few weeks ago, the rumors of Morrissey’s Autobiography seemed like a cruel hoax to taunt his fans, who have suffered enough lately. By all the rules of the publishing world, this book shouldn’t exist. But rules were made to be broken, like the hearts of Morrissey fans. So not only is Autobiography a real thing, published in the U.K. with barely any warning, it’s so much better than anyone could have imagined. None of the quickie U.K. reviews even hinted at how funny the book is. Practically every paragraph has a line or two that demands to be read aloud to the mirror, tattooed on foreheads, carved on tombstones. One of my favorites: “I vomit profusely when I discover that the album has been pressed in Japan with Sandie Shaw’s version of ‘Hand In Glove’ included. I am so disgusted by this that I beg people to kill me. Many rush forward.”
If you were expecting a warm, cuddly Morrissey, get out while you can — honey pie, you’re not safe here. With charity toward none, with malice for all, Autobiography is petty bile raised to the level of madcap rapture, and in case you ever marvel at the lack of maturity or perspective, or wonder why he hasn’t learned anything along the way, flip back to the title page and re-read the author’s name. This is Morrissey. He’s not on earth to learn things. He’s here to be a bit much.
And Autobiography is a lot of a bit much — nearly 500 pages, with tiny margins and no index. So instead of flipping around looking for “Boorer, Boz” or “busses, double-decker” or “Bowie, David, argument over fruit-salad buffet in 1992 with,” you have to jump in. There are great moments everywhere, including that breakfast with Bowie. “David quietly tells me, ‘You know, I’ve had so much sex and drugs I can’t believe I’m still alive,’ and I loudly tell him, ‘You know, I’ve had so LITTLE sex and drugs I can’t believe I’m still alive.'”
Autobiography is written entirely in his own distinctive Moz tongue, the language he’s quipped in since his earliest interviews, mixing up self-mockery and hubris. He wrings his hands over grievances he’s nursed for decades. He’s still outraged the Thompson Twins blocked the first Smiths record from reaching Number One. His complaints aren’t always fair, or accurate, or sane, but that’s so far from the point it’s not even in the same room. He’s like Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest, who keeps a diary just because “one should always have something sensational to read on a train.” And needless to say, he saves the cattiest barbs for himself. “Tim had asked me to do the entire ‘November Spawned a Monster’ video naked. I explained to him that this would be impossible since my entire lower body had been destroyed by fire in 1965.”
Morrissey also claims Rolling Stone never covered the Smiths in the 1980s, which I must admit made me laugh out loud, since Rolling Stone’s praise — via David Fricke, Kurt Loder, James Henke and other critics — was how practically all the Smiths’ original U.S. fans found out this band existed. (Hell, Rolling Stone even had kind words for the ghastly Meat Is Murder.)
Despite his lifelong New York Dolls fandom, he didn’t enjoy meeting them in real life, especially the late Arthur Kane. “You can buy New York Dolls T-shirts at Urban Outfitters for $45,’ he would rage, ‘but why would people do that when they could SLEEP with me for $45?‘ I wasn’t cruel enough to explain to him that most people would much rather have the t-shirt.”
Moz is a surprisingly accurate critic of his own recorded work, though he totally underrates the cherished 1990 single “Piccadilly Palare,” which he calls “a student work of novelty that wears off before noon.” Like the other ex-Smiths, he insists Strangeways is better than The Queen Is Dead, though they’re the only four people on earth who think so. He seems fond of Boz Boorer, his guitar sidekick for over 20 years, his longest and most fruitful musical collaboration, a man who fans obsess over because he’s apparently figured out the secret of getting along with Morrissey. (Nobody gets along with Morrissey, especially not Morrissey.)
Autobiography would have been a very different book if it had come out 10 years ago, when he was having a massive creative resurgence, or 10 years from now, when he’ll probably have another one. But he hasn’t written any worthy songs lately, and his recent U.S. tour was a painful debacle to witness, the all-time low of his career as a musician. He kept grumbling about the lack of audience response, but what did he expect for “People Are The Same Everywhere,” a conga line?
So the real shocker isn’t that Autobiography exists — it’s that it’s so full of life, in all its morally reprehensible wit. I would have paid full retail import plus shipping for a lot less. (How much is 27 pounds, by the way? Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.) I will spend years reading this book. There was never any reason for Morrissey to turn into an artist, much less a wildly successful one, except his own stubborn determination that he should be one. And by the same token, there’s no reason Autobiography should be anywhere near this great — except Morrissey wanted it that way, most likely out of spite. “Well, yes, of course I’m a bit much,” he admits. “If I weren’t, I would not be lit up by so many lights.”