O Morrissey. Filled with a dichotomous blend of love and hate for people and things (but not animals). Perhaps this uncontrollable mixture of sentiments is what prompted him to release Autobiography—or (as the long-winded section on The Smiths lawsuits indicates) a need for more money. There are several facts that become clear in Autobiography. Chief among them is that Morrissey is the loneliest person on the planet. No one can know how impossibly imprisoned he feels by his own body—except of course the hordes of fans who seek solace for a similar problem in his music.
Autobiography opens with the beautifully poetic line: “My childhood is streets upon streets upon streets upon streets.” This single utterance is telling of so many occurrences that would happen in Morrissey’s future, from moving to Los Angeles to being stifled by metaphorical roadblocks aplenty. His adolescence the subject of so many of The Smiths’ best songs (including “The Headmaster Ritual” and “Jeane”), it makes sense that this is by far the richest, most enjoyable portion of the tome.
Although every artist has his musical hero of choice (for most, it was David Bowie), Morrissey discusses his fervor for a number of early influences, in particular Marc Bolan (who wistfully says, “Oooh no” when Morrissey asks for his autograph), Lou Reed, Patti Smith, New York Dolls (this above all) and, of course, David Bowie. The running motif of all these acts is not merely androgyny and sexual ambiguity, but songs that serve as anthems for the ostracized and socially shunned.
The rehashing of how Morrissey came to meet Johnny Marr is predictably lacking (for most of what’s said about Marr tends to be unfavorable), and the buildup to The Smiths’ success is considerably reserved. What Morrissey focuses on instead is the incredible ineptitude and oversight of Rough Trade head Geoff Travis. Emphasizing the notion that Rough Trade wouldn’t even exist today had The Smiths not signed on, Morrissey laments how negligent Travis was in his handling of the band, serving as the primary cause for why The Smiths never had a Top 10 hit.
As his fame increased, Morrissey seemed to become more introverted, horrified and surprised by the masses of people in attendance at the band’s American performances and even more horrified and surprised to find that he would earn nothing from said performances. In fact, the main lesson that can be gleaned from Autobiography is that you should never sign any legal contract. Ever.
And yet, as matters seemed to grow ever worse and tenser between band and management, The Smiths’ music only got better, culminating in the serene epitaph that was Strangeways, Here We Come. The retelling of how the band ultimately broke up also proves to be on the dissatisfying side, with Morrissey placing the majority of the blame on British music magazine New Musical Express for starting rumors of their breakup that prompted neither of the band members to correct them.
As Morrissey reluctantly embarked on his solo career (per the shackles of an unfulfilled record contract with EMI), he expresses the emotions of one who has lost the most valuable and meaningful person in their life to death. For The Smiths represented so much to Morrissey; it was his triumph over those who were content to tell him he should clean up medical waste for a living. During his mention of a conversation with Michael Stipe (one of many celebrity mentions in the book), Stipe notes enviously, “I wish I could go solo.” Morrissey replies that he never wanted to go solo and thought that he had at least “another thirty albums” to make with The Smiths.
His career tragedy is briefly marred in the early 90s. Morrissey’s scant number of romantic dalliances is one of the most evident elements in the book, with one of those relationships reportedly edited heavily in the U.S. edition of the novel. His time with photographer Jake Owen Walters comes across as one of the most enjoyable periods of his life as he illuminates, “Jake and I neither sought nor needed company other than our own for the whirlwind stretch to come…for the first time in my life the eternal ‘I’ becomes ‘we’ as, finally, I can get on with someone.”
This brief era of happiness is mitigated by Judge John Weeks, who sides heavily and overtly with drummer Mike Joyce in his lawsuit against Morrissey for a twenty-five percent share of everything The Smiths had financially gained. In fact, this takes up a large amount of the prose as Morrissey expends all his reserves of vitriol for the man who stole his hard-earned money.
As the book draws to its close, Morrissey grows fonder of name checking (e.g. Nancy Sinatra, Elaine Stritch and David Johansen) and the description of European cities (e.g. Rome and St. Tropez). His disdain for the incompetence of record labels is further iterated with the release of You Are the Quarry. Because of the cover art bearing the image of him toting a gun, it is edited for Wal-Mart distribution and ends up remaining edited in other releases as well (iTunes)–yet another salt slick added to so many of his artistic wounds.
The most notable aspects of Autobiography are that there are no chapter divisions (which could be attributed to the idea that Morrissey sees life as one endless string of badness), a fondness for using Smiths lyrics in sentences, an intense hatred for the production of meat and cruelty toward animals and the utter contempt for Judge John Weeks exhibited for a considerable majority of the book. Then again, if you had lost millions of pounds to Mike Joyce (the least instrumental—in both senses of the word—member of The Smiths), you would probably express a similar amount of ire.
The conclusion of Autobiography is somewhat unsatisfying, with an abrupt ending in the year 2011 while Morrissey is still and forevermore on one of his tours. Because touring seems to be one of the few things he derives pleasure from, it is evident that Morrissey finds comfort in the love of his fans, asserting that while he has yet to find love from one person, he has found it instead from thousands. This book is his thank you for that love, that special devotion that exists only between Morrissey and Morrissey fan.