Reader, Meet Author: #1 St Morrissey

Posted: August 18, 2010 in Masculinities, Morrissey, Reader, Meet Author, Writing
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Welcome to Quiet Riot Girl’s Book Group: Reader, Meet Author.

The first book to be discussed  is St Morrissey by Mark Simpson.

I am a rubbish fan of both Morrissey and Mark Simpson. Although I love them both, and feel they have touched my life in quite profound ways, I have never been to a Morrissey gig and I have never bought or read in its entirety a book by Mr Simpson.  So I decided to rectify one of these failings, when I told a writer friend of mine about St Morrissey, Simpson’s ‘psycho-biography’ of that Icon of English pop, Mozzer.

My friend, who I shall call here ‘Mr Canada’, exclaimed ‘Holy Crap!’ when he heard about this book, as he is a Morrissey fan, and probably a much less rubbish one than me. He is also more postmodern than I am, so whilst he read the e-version of  St Morrissey on his I-pad, I ordered the hardcover (second-hand, again, a rubbish fan) from Amazon and away we went.

Here is our conversation on having read St Morrissey:

Quiet Riot Girl:  I have finished the book. I won’t tell you how it ends, as you already know! Was nice to read it at the same time as you. I know for sure that some of the things that pissed me off about it you won’t have noticed as they are very British and parochial to do with pop music culture in the UK. But the good bits were excellent.

Mr. Canada: I finished the book last night. And then spent a bunch of time on YouTube watching a Moz show from 2004, live in Manchester. And now his words have a different meaning. They have the meaning I first imprinted on them but I know more about his life now. I agree – there were things that made me roll my eyes but the good bits far outweighed the rest and overall the book was quite excellent. I gave it 4 stars over on GoodReads. Mark is a lovely writer.

QRG: Well hopefully when Games Perverts Play is released he will get to read you as well. Though he might not find out as much about you from your writing as you have about him from his! He is a lovely writer. I will try not to be too hard on him for his MASSIVE UNFORGIVEABLE misrepresentation of my other favourite band, PULP!

Mr Canada: Well, he doesn’t really like anyone else. He’s a bit harsh on everyone post-Smiths, really. At least everyone English and post-Smiths.

QRG: yes but PULP were PRE-Smiths. They started in 1979. I bet you Morrissey listened to Pulp he just would not admit to being influenced by his contemporary pop musicians!

Mr Canada: That’s true. I always forget how long they’ve been around. Morrissey would never admit to contemporary influences, you’re right. That would besmirch the legend.

QRG: Besmirch? Lovely. Actually I went to a Pulp gig in Manchester in about 2001 and Jarvis was very ironic about being in the home of the God Morrissey, surrounded by Mozzer fans. Someone threw a pack of women’s tights onto the stage and Jarvis pretended to read something scrawled on the back: ‘Punctured bicycle on a hillside, desolate’ he ‘read’. I think Jarvis knows full well that he was part of what made The Smiths possible. Musically and in gender-bending terms.

Mr Canada:Well, he has that satisfaction at least.

QRG: Oh I think Jarvis is ok with not being St Morrissey. He also resisted the ‘star’ role and hated being a teenage fan’s wet dream. Probably hated it more than Morrissey in fact.

Here is Babies.

I might put this convo on my blog- I was going to write something about St Morrissey and this is nicer than me writing some poncy critique! I will make you anonymous for dramatic effect…

Mr Canada: I love drama.

QRG: what was your favourite part of the book then? I won’t just moan about Pulp when the book was actually about Morrissey.

Mr Canada: I had a few. One is the child Morrissey. The upbringing. The absent father. The loving mother. I knew the basic outlines but Mark filled them in for me. Two is learning how long the affectation of being “Morrissey” has been going on. He has played this role for a long time, since puberty essentially so I then buy Mark’s assertion of Morrissey’s “honesty” and how he has given himself totally to his fans. Though each time Mark said “to the world” I had to laugh. There are entire continents that do not know or care about Morrissey, I’m sure. And then, toward the end, Mark does kind of call Morrissey out for his act, his attitutude, and I thought, well, finally. I wished there had been more about his relationship with LA and with Hispanic Americans in particular. This is a fascinating and incredible evolution in Mozworld and deserved far, far more attention. I’m guessing Mark didn’t travel to write this book. And that fact kind of weakens it in the end.

QRG: I think Mark wanted us to believe that he wrote the book from his bedsit in Manchester!

I don’t know about Mozzer’s relationship with HIspanic Americans. Was that within the timeframe of the book? eg before 2003?

Mr Canada: He alludes to it in the end, in the slight LA section. He’s huge among California’s Hispanic population. I think Rolling Stone or Spin did a story on it last year. It’s quite an incredible development. Just enormous among young Hispanics. East LA, etc. Huge.

QRG: Wow I didn’t know. I will look into that myself! I’d like to see some Spanish translations of Morrissey lyrics!

I found the book a bit ‘fatalistic’ about being a fan. As if you are stuck in this monogamous relationship with a single artist whereas in fact, most fans are flighty bastards, myself included. They can declare undying love one day, and then have a new love the next. I have been in love with The Smiths, Bronski Beat, The Beat, The Eurythmics, Billy Bragg, Lloyd Cole and the commotions, Joni, Tom Waits, Pulp, PJ Harvey, Nirvana, Patti Smith, Low, etc etc etc… it doesn’t make my adoration any less, the fact it was spread between so many bands over time. I don’t want to make any parallels between that ‘fatalism’ and how Mr Simpson may approach actual relationships. Then I’d be going all Freudian on his ass.

But my favourite line in the whole book, the only one that made me laugh out loud was when he said that Freud could have written ‘Wilhelm It Was Really Nothing’ for his ‘friend’  Wilhelm Fleiss.

Mr Canada: Yes, that was a good line. The Smiths were one side of me. Really. Because my other side fell head over heels for The Pixies. They were my musical yin and yang in those days (yes, I realize the timelines don’t necessarily work out perfectly) and any sort of evolution in tastes I may have result from these dual obsessions, so that I like loud, interesting guitar rock type music and also a different kind of music, a more introspective sort of lyric and a softer sound that always just threatens to implode. This duality in my tastes probably goes back even further. I’m sure Roxy Music led me into The Smiths (and something as awful as Yes led me into Roxy Music!). And Morrissey always did seem kind of a “how to be a lead singer” type to me. I bought into all of it for a long, long time. Until I grew up at least.

QRG: The Pixies are talented and a very complex band, musically. But I never got really into them.  Debaser is a fucking amazing track though.

‘I bought into all of it for a long, long time. Until I grew up at least’.

I expect Mark would be the first to admit that his story is the story of a teenage Morrissey fan that never grew up. In that it has a pathos. And a kind of defiance that Morrissey himself shares.

But the thing is they have both probably grown up really. They seem like ‘men’ to me, not boys. Just maybe they haven’t grown up in their romantic perception of themselves, which will include their CD collections.

Mr Canada: If you stay in character long enough, you stay in character. Morrissey has definitely grown up and that may be one of the reasons his last few have been so weak (in my opinion).

Morrissey and Frank Black (Pixies) have almost remarkably similar trajectories except Morrissey explores himself and his relationship to a place and time and Frank Black explores himself and then projects his insecurities into a kind of 60s pop culture grab bag including aliens and sci-fi, surfer music, horror movies, etc. But he’s talking about himself, really. He grew up relatively wealthy in the suburbs of America and Morrissey didn’t. Makes all the difference in the world.

But Frank Black reconciled himself to his old band and they toured (I saw them two nights in a row when they came here). So perhaps there is hope for some kind of Mozzer-Marr collaboration in the future. Though Marr has really shit the pants since the Smiths break-up. This Modest Mouse stuff he’s doing is too awful for words.

QRG: Shit the pants? haha.

They will never get back together in my opinion. Far too proud. But yes, I agree, ‘if you stay in character long enough, you stay in character’.

I don’t think I ever had a ‘character’ to stay in. I am just developing one now, a little too late, a kind of bawdy, old school,  pervert and intellectual misfit. Great. That will be commercially marketable!

Mr Canada: It will. It’s a good mix. You’ll see.

QRG: At least it is a fun ‘character’ to play! I almost believe she is real.

Thank-you Mister Canada, I think we have given St Morrissey and St Mark a little food for thought there. I look forward to our next book group session! You can choose our next read.

Mr Canada: I’m hardly Mister Canada. I’m not even Mister Montreal. Or Mister Mile End (my neighbourhood). Frankly, I might not even be the man of the house….

QRG:  Did you know there is a Pulp song called Mile End? It’s a rough area in East London.

You are Mr. Canada to me. You and Don Mckellar.

Post Script:

My favourite section of the book was the part that talked about the influence of  A Taste of Honey on Morrissey. I didn’t know all those lyrics were lifted so mercilessly from the film. I liked this part because it brought Morrissey into the context of his cultural and physical history in the North West. And because it added a ‘femininity’ to the narrative with those amazing women characters like Jo, Shelagh, and Elsie Tanner. I think it was the best-written part as well.  And then of course there was Sandie Shaw, another ballsy woman in Morrissey’s life…

Hand in Glove sums up the relationship between, not just Steven and his Mum, Steven and Oscar, Morrissey and Marr, or Mark and Morrissey, but with all fans and their favourite writers, artists and bands. ‘It’s not like any other love. This one’s different, because it’s us’.  Except, and I am not sure if Mark would agree here, really, it is exactly the same.


Comments
  1. marc nash says:

    Great um interview/review you two. Just always loathed The Smiths as they were patronised by the long coat brigade at college who moved on to them after Ian Curtis killed himself. I couldn’t take them seriously. That’s probably not Morrisey’s fault though. But I just didn’t buy into the Northern Oscar Wilde act. The only time I saw them live was when Mark e Smith invited them to open for The Fall. Couldn’t help thinking that Smith was aggrandising himself by having a group ‘named’ after him warm up for his band.

  2. Haha they are really called ‘The Mark E Smiths’!

    Wasn’t he aggrandising himself by having Morrissey support him and not the other way round? I bet it was fun backstage that night.

    • actually that was one other contemporary band that I don’t think Morrissey or Mark really acknowledged: Joy Division must have influenced Morrissey greatly. Just because he never mentioned them doesn’t mean he didn’t listen to them, possibly very intently…

    • marc nash says:

      It was very early on in The Smiths’ career, when both bands were on Rough Trade record label. The Fall fell out with the label, The Smiths soon moved on to bigger & better with EMI (Morrisey’s affectation with reviving the fortunes of the label that had the dog listening to the old gramaphone …)

      • this is what I love about pop history. Every fan has their own individual relationship with an artist/band. It is completely personal. And then there is so much ‘stuff’ surrounding them:

        politics/subcultures/economics/media/location/gender/sexuality/ethnicity

        That is when it gets interesting for me. When all these things collide…

  3. BenSix says:

    My favourite section of the book was the part that talked about the influence of A Taste of Honey on Morrissey…

    Does it touch on By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept? That’s worth reading, if you haven’t come across it.

  4. No, but I have read that book. In rather ‘psycho-(auto)biographical’ circumstances, too.

  5. Elise says:

    Didn’t know you had a Morrissey tag. And, PULP! Somewhere on the internet there’s an interview where Morrissey, during his crazy wilderness period in the late 90s, admits that Jarvis Cocker is the only contemporary lyricist who’s any good, then goes on at some length, according to the interviewer, about how Jarvis “isn’t a patch on” him coz he can’t sing.

    • haha. well at least he acknowledged Jarvis. Maybe one day, when Mr Simpson is old and nobody listens to him anymore he will put on a Pulp record and realise what he was missing.

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