Posts Tagged ‘Morrissey’

bookish

Tomorrow – allegedly – Morrissey’s autobiography, all 480 pages of it, will be published by illustrious outfit Penguin Classics. In the Indy a few days ago a rather waspish Boyd Tonkin criticised this turn of events.  His main objection was that Morrissey was being given special privileges in the publishing world as the grande dame of Literary Pop. He wrote:

‘Penguin will next week publish the first edition of Morrissey’s Autobiography – which almost no one outside the company has yet read, let alone formed a fashion-proof judgment about – as a Penguin Classic in the familiar black livery. Well. “The Queen is dead,” sang the quixotic melancholiac of Davyhulme, so long ago. Penguin Classics, as a noble idea of affordable, accessible enlightenment, has certainly died this month. The verdict has to be suicide.’

I tend to agree with him:

I think Moz demanding to be a ‘Penguin Classic’ highlights some of the contradictions in the star: he likes to drop his trousers to the queen on some days, on others he is clamouring to be accepted by and honoured by the establishment. His fans just thought the hoo-ha was  a storm in a fine china tea cup and were amused to see the ‘literati’ were feeling Rick-rolled by their hero. But my favourite commentary so far on the forthcoming book, and on  Moz as just a tad self-important, is this suggestion for the front cover by a Guardian reader (click to enlarge the ego):

Morrissey autobiography design by TiberiusGracchus

Barbs aside, Moz showed his more cuddly, democratic side recently when he saved a brilliant  tumblr from the ‘copyright bullies’ at UniversalThis Charming Charlie mashes up Smiths/Moz lyrics with Peanuts cartoons to wonderful effect. But has the ‘tumblr generation’ overtaken the 50 something popster in creativity, wit and verve?

charlietumblr_mubm0zmFU61seji43o1_r1_500

I am pretty sure I am not the only Moz fan worrying that could indeed be the case. For, Moz didn’t wait a while after the demise (or triumphant close? – we wish) of his musical career before pondering on life, love and of course hate in an autobiography . Instead he has careered straight from almost collapsing on stage and cancelling all his gigs, with no more  new material in sight, to producing  what he seems to be presenting as a stately, magesterial, definitive memoir. I think Gore Vidal played it a bit more stylishly.

Morrissey has deliberately caused some hype around his forthcoming book – or if not hype, then at least plenty of whispered, and shouted, catty gossip. I want it to live up to all expectations and be a Vauxhall and I of a tour de force. But I’m not holding my breath. (well I am, but don’t tell anyone!)

music-morrissey-25-live-blue

I wasn’t planning to see Morrissey 25 Live the film of a recent, ‘intimate’ (1800 seat venue) gig at a US school, Hollywood High. But Sara Annwyl invited me  so that was that. The event celebrates Moz’s 25 year solo career, but he still slipped some Smiths songs into the set list . I have never been to a Moz gig. I wondered if watching this, I’d be left kicking myself for not getting it together, in the 30 years I’ve known his music, to see the great man live. But to be honest, much as I enjoyed the experience of having huge close ups of Moz’s sneering eyes and mouth shoved in my face for 90 minutes, I’m now relieved to have kept my love at a safe distance. Why? Well, for all the reasons I loved him in the first place.

As has been well-documented already, Morrissey is pretty intense. And, it’s not necessarily his introspective, caustic lyrics that produce that intensity. Though they add to the mix. No it’s his performance, his body, and the response he provokes in his adoring fans that make Moz explosive. Scary. Weird. From his first appearances on Top Of The Pops in 1983, when we witnessed opened mouthed, as he waved his gladioli-adorned tush, and wailed that distinctive wail, it was clear that this man wanted our attention. And boy he got it. But even knowing what I know, even being the ‘crazy’, ‘obsessive’ fan I am (not just of Moz), I was pretty taken aback by what I saw on screen in the Curzon Soho last night.
morrissey25liveathollywoodhighflowers

The plain fact is; Morrissey demands to be worshipped, and quite literally. As Morrissey put his hand to his heart, or reached it out in a plaintive plea (to God?) so did the fans. Any ‘extreme’ or ‘religious’ symbolism taken up by the screaming audience was started and exacerbated by Moz himself. It was he after all, who grabbed a very young boy from the crowd in the closing moments of the gig, and held him in his arms, beatific, Christ-like. Earlier, when Stephen gave the mike to a few lucky members of his loyal flock, he was met with utter, complete devotion. As the Evening Standard put it:

‘The inanity of the fans makes a nonsense of the 54-year-old singer’s self-deprecating wit (“I’ll always hold my head up high…in a psychiatric unit”). “Thank you for living,” says a woman and Morrissey, instead of retching, smiles.’

It was that coy smile that got me. Suddenly all ‘irony’ and detached commentary was gone from the 50 something’s expression. He was the cat that got the cream. Morrissey LOVES Morrissey-love. And that love of the love he receives, but only pretends to reciprocate is probably what got Moz through that gig at Hollywood High. As @louderthanwar  explained in some detail, the show was meant to be at the start of an American tour this year, turned out to be one of the last as he fell ill and ran out of funding for the rest of the planned shows. It’s hardly surprising that the way Morrissey performs, body and soul splayed before us, takes more out of him in his 50s than it did in his 20s. Maybe the show is over for good. If so, this film will become more iconic than it seems at the moment. More poignant. We’ll see.

But, I for one can’t finish on the topic of Morrissey without mentioning his tits. And how he has to get them out at any given opportunity. What began as a young slip of a man tearing his shirt off unexpectedly and aggressively at Smiths concerts infront  of flustered teenage boys has evolved into something a bit more mannered. A bit more of a strip-tease. @THEAGENTAPSLEY pointed out rather astutely that towards the end of the gig:

‘ Morrissey ripped open a shirt that he must have intended to sacrifice (unlike the first two [see above-QRG], which he had worn to go offstage and change, and which looked much nicer) at crucial words about those whose physical appearance one despises’.

It just wasn’t like the old days anymore. When Morrissey didn’t care about the state of his (now designer) clothes, and ripped them off spontaneously. Now it’s a carefully choreographed part of the stage show. But with his pretty body still in bloody good nick for his age, nobody was complaining and certainly not me.

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In our little darkened corner of central London Morrissey 25 Live became a sing-along. It might have been The Sound Of Music or Rocky Horror for the sense of joyous camaraderie (especially the young(ish)man two seats down from me who was in fine voice) and our enthusiastic going for the top notes. I sang Speedway with particular gusto. And I said my goodbyes.

And when you slam
Down the hammer
Can you see it in your heart ?
All of the rumours
Keeping me grounded
I never said, I never said that they were
Completely unfounded

So when you slam
Down the hammer
Can you see it in your heart ?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Can you delve so low ?
And when you’re standing
On my fingers
Can you see it in your heart ? … ah …
And when you try
To break my spirit
It won’t work
Because there’s nothing left to break
Anymore
All of the rumours
Keeping me grounded
I never said, I never said that they were
Completely unfounded

You won’t sleep
Until the earth that wants me
Finally has me
Oh you’ve done it now
You won’t rest
Until the hearse that becomes me
Finally takes me
Oh you’ve done it now
And you won’t smile
Until my loving mouth
Is shut good and proper
FOREVER

All of the rumours
Keeping me grounded
I never said, I never said that they were
Completely unfounded
And all those lies
Written lies, twisted lies
Well, they weren’t lies
They weren’t lies
They weren’t lies

I never said
I never said
I could have mentioned your name
I could have dragged you in
Guilt by implication
By association
I’ve always been true to you
In my own strange way
I’ve always been true to you
In my own sick way
I’ll always stay true to you

I was delighted to be asked to contribute to the Words On Music blog, part of a project to investigate the state of rock journalism, which is currently  ‘missing, presumed dead’. Words on Music is the brainchild of Simon Spence, whose new biography of The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses – War And Peace looks well worth a read. My piece argues that ‘pop music journalism’ has been engulfed by the digital world, and that this is no bad thing.

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I am a writer. Sometimes I write about music. At one point in history, I was even some kind of ‘music journalist’; I used to write for The North’s independent muso rag Sandman Magazine.

So why am I here to defend a remark I made recently on twitter that was pretty damning about music journalism? During the Words On Music live discussion event I tweeted:

#wordsonmusic it is time for music journalists to STFU and to let the music, and the technology, and the young people speak for themselves

Apparently my comment was picked up and retweeted by quite a few people, maybe in agreement, maybe in disgust. But it certainly, excuse my metaphor, struck a chord.

I stand by the sentiments expressed in my tweet because I think music journalism is spectacularly slow to cotton onto the social media revolution that is happening around it. And that has been happening for quite a long time! Whilst musicians and fans have been eagerly taking up the opportunities for sharing, promoting, discussing and making music provided by platforms such as Myspace, spotify, garageband, youtube, and bandcamp, writers have seemed to resist change. Maybe they resent the ‘democratisation’ that comes with new media, because anyone can be heard writing and talking about pop music now. This reduces the status of journalist ‘experts’ and completely removes their role as ‘opinion leaders’.

The last time I remember buying an album due to a review in a newspaper was when I read about The Decline of British Sea Power in The Guardian in 2003. Nine years on, I rely solely on word of mouth recommendations, online chats with twitter muso pals, random youtube discoveries, friends’ spotify playlists and, viral music videos to switch me on to new bands and artists.

For me, any arguments about loss in ‘quality’ or ‘depth of knowledge’ of trained, experienced pop journalists are overshadowed by the sheer breadth and variety of voices, styles and perspectives that come with twenty first century music discourse. In a piece in which admittedly I did protest too much about my annoyance with Manchester’s Master of Miserablism, I wrote: ‘I hate Morrissey because listening to middle class white men analysing pop music was already boring enough’.

For example the list of people involved in the Words On Music live stream discussion event this year seems to include about twenty men, two women, most (or all?) of whom are white.

But, having spent some years completing a Phd on gender inequality in the creative sector, and then running a social enterprise training women in the music industry, and having grown weary of feminist rhetoric, I am not going to sit around asking where are the women? Or where are the ethnic minorities? Or indeed where are the young people? In pop music and journalism.

Because I know where they are. They are online, in their studios, at gigs, on Logic and Ableton, on the ball, on form, in tune, on time, in synch, out there, at work, outperforming the old guard.

The future is already here, and we may as well join wise cats like Tom RobinsonCornershopand – yes – Lady Gaga, and get with the programme. There is still a place for words on music, but those words have to take into account the changing culture, technology and times we make music in. This is no country for out of touch hacks.

 

In a previous post of mine about ‘subjectivity’ ‘objectification’ and narcissism, a frighteningly astute commenter likened me to Morrissey. He quoted me:

“He [Roland Barthes] positioned himself as the ‘amorous subject’ and that seemed to me like the font of his creativity and knowledge and writing and work. If you are always the ‘object’ of someone else’s affections, it is a very passive role. What do you actually do?”

And then said, damningly:

‘This is Morrissey in a nutshell. A continually fascinating aspect of his work is how melancholic longing is always a form of activity, even attack. Always pursuing, its unimaginable that the “amorous subject” of a Morrissey lyric could ever be the pursued. You are the quarry.

His work is constantly recriminating the loved object for its passivity. And here there is a secret collusion between lovers and enemies: “And what do you do? You just sit there”.’

 

Mark Simpson’s 1996 book, Its A Queer World, begins with an enigmatic dedication:

‘For M – (whether he wants it or not)’.

The line, ‘whether he wants it or not’, reminds me of the 1994 Morrissey track – The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get. The particularly resonant part of the song is: I am now /A central part /Of your mind’s landscape /Whether you care /Or do not . Could the ‘M’ in Simpson’s dedication stand for Morrissey himself? Or is it the initial of an unnamed lover maybe? I expect I will never know.

But the fact I am asking the question, gives me away. As what? A fan? A person who has taken a scalpel to Simpson’s words in a way nobody else has to date? An unwanted visitor? A pain in the arse?
Biographers (and critics) are all these things and more. The dedication in It’s A Queer World, and my interaction with Simpson and his work overall, have also reminded me of Janet Malcolm’s extraordinary work: The Silent Woman. The book tells the story of the ‘afterlife’ of Sylvia Plath, and in particular her biographies. Malcolm considers whether or not the biographies were accurate or compassionate  portrayals of the poet’s life. In a review at the time of publication in 1994 a journalist wrote:

‘Malcolm is right, though, when she says that there is a difference between an interview and a biography. The interviewee has at least agreed to the interview, whereas biographical subjects – and, in the case of Ted Hughes, their estranged husbands – are written about whether they want it or not. In the battle between Ted and Olwyn and the biographers, Malcolm has decided to take the Hugheses side. She tries to imagine how it must feel for Hughes to be ‘buried alive’ each time Plath’s remains are disinterred in a new book, and she shrewdly suggests that what he finds most unbearable is being treated as though he too were dead and on the anatomist’s table. Yet even here, there is a nagging paradox. For she is doing exactly what Hughes can’t stand: ‘reading’ his mind on a speculative basis.

Significantly, Malcolm never gets to meet Hughes. In a book full of interviews he is conspicuously the Silent Man, though he looms large in her imagination and haunts the narrative like a hulking ghost. People keep telling her about his enormous sex appeal, and Malcolm reports how this affects her response to his letters, which become hugely attractive in her eyes. Drawn by his magnetism, she hangs around sheepishly in the road outside his house like an unrequited lover. If this attitude seems less than dispassionate, Malcolm would argue that it just goes to illustrate her belief in the ‘psychological impossibility of not taking sides’. She not only tells us, but shows us, how our sympathies and antipathies – even, or perhaps especially, those of biographers and journalists – boil down in the end not to logic but to prejudice and emotion.’

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/book-review–in-the-biographers-laboratory-the-silent-woman–janet-malcolm-picador-1499-pounds-1444339.html

‘biographical subjects – and, in the case of Ted Hughes, their estranged husbands – are written about whether they want it or not.’

If you care or do not. Whether he wants it or not.

I am not writing a biography of Mark Simpson, but I am writing criticism, which, when concerned with the work of a living author, mirrors or collides with biography at times.  I don’t have the subject’s consent for my project. But Simpson is no stranger to the quagmire or the wonder of biography – for his most well known book Saint Morrissey is a ‘psycho bio’ of the singer. So he of all people, will understand, if not quite endorse my plight.

And the more he ignores me, the closer I get.

‘Hilary went to her death because she couldn’t think of anything to say
Everybody thought that she was boring, so they never listened anyway
Nobody was really saying anything of interest, she fell asleep
She was into S&M and bible studies
Not everyone’s cup of tea she would admit to me
Her cup of tea, she would admit to no one’

- Belle and Sebastian

 

I love this song (see above) by Belle and Sebastian ‘If you’re feeling sinister’, because it satirises that self-absorbed, ‘gothic’ attitude that characterises Morrissey and his fans. Why don’t you just get over yourself it seems to be asking. Well, because then we wouldn’t have such gems as Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now or I Am Hated For Loving.