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Review: Morrissey, ‘Autobiography’

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Miserable, moody and Mancunian are the words that spring to mind upon hearing Morrissey’s name. A British icon and an inspirational figure in music, the Manchester man’s new autobiography hit the shelves in October last year and much controversy has followed. This was partly due to the book’s name, which follows the trend of attempts at charming and egotistical autobiography titles such as Russell Brand’s My Booky Wook  Morrissey simply names his: Autobiography.

Having summed up the Manchester vibe in previous work – ‘I would go out tonight but I haven’t got a stitch to wear’ – Morrissey’s northern realism started a revolution of similarly straight-to-the-point music. Many popular bands, such as Oasis, followed in The Smiths’ Mancunian footsteps all the way to the end of Oxford Road. Will his autobiography live up to its rather minimalistic name?

Rather like the name of his former band, The Smiths, the title Autobiography suggests an egotistical self-assurance that is certainly present. Reflecting on The Smiths’ name, Morrissey writes: “Neither of us can come up with anything else. It strikes me that the Smiths name lacks any settled association on face value, yet could also suit a presentation of virtually any style of music”. It seems his title is as bleak as his description of Manchester life. Or was it just that he couldn’t think of anything else?

Having been identified as a Manchester Man, Morrissey’s autobiography gives the impression that it really is grim up north as he discusses the “slums of Moss Side and Hulme”. Needless to say, his book isn’t a laugh a minute as even his childhood photos are coupled with miserable captions: “Jackie and I, 1966, wondering how we can possibly leave the world better than we found it”. The book opens with the line: “my childhood is streets upon streets upon streets” and I start hoping this book won’t be complaint upon complaint upon complaint! But as I read on, I realise that Manchester is not the natural habitat of our so-called Manchester man who was so eager for the escape The Smiths brought. And at times I wonder, was it because of the weather?

The autobiography itself has been a subject of much discussion recently due to its publication by Penguin Classics. Influential though he might be, many people have been asking if the publishing company usually reserved for the works of Homer, Virgil and great literary writers such as Jane Austen, was really appropriate for the first publication of a rock star’s anecdotes. This stimulated much discussion as to who deemed it a classic in the first place, and as if you couldn’t have guessed, it was Morrissey himself who said in a Radio 4 programme in 2011, “I’d like it to go to Penguin but only if they published it as a Classic”.

However, Morrissey portrays his bitter enthusiasm for politics, the environment and his escape from Manchester in an eloquent manner showing his literary side. In some ways, this makes the book closer to a Classic than simply a collection of the boastings of a celebrity. It is well worth picking up on a rainy day, and if we’re being realistic ourselves, we have lots of those in Manchester!

Lucy Simpson is a prospective journalist who is passionate about reading, writing and eating chocolate. You can read more of her work on her blog

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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