If you are a fan of The Smiths, the Manchester, England band together from 1982-1987, known for the indie hits such as “How Soon is Now?” and “This Charming Man,” then you took notice when Morrissey’s Autobiography came out in 2013 (as a Penguin Classic, an auspicious honor). Morrissey has long been an enigmatic yet mysterious musician. He is outspoken on his views regarding the Queen, vegetarianism and even celibacy, but much of his life is unknown, so his memoir was hotly anticipated.
Morrissey, as the lyricist for The Smiths and his own solo career, is a man with an artful ear for language. Tremendously well-written, Autobiography begins by capturing the dreary drudgery and casual, institutionalized cruelty of Manchester’s streets and schools. Morrissey provides a barrage of the television shows, stars and songs that formed him, that provided him an education on maleness, and provided him a way out of the narrow world otherwise afforded him. The only disappointment overall is how little he really shares of himself. His relationship and process with Marr is scarcely scratched, perhaps overshadowed by its hasty, confusing demise not to mention eclipsed by the harrowing, offensive court case years later. He devulges many opinions about an array of bands and individuals, but shadowboxes with himself. Dogged by false, vindictive press and indifferent DJs, Morrissey has survived (while, sadly, surrounded by death), becoming only more himself. Even if he doesn’t have the last word, his version will be the best said.
Now Johnny Marr has penned a memoir, Set the Boy Free. Marr has been less forthcoming as a musician than Morrissey–letting the songs, bands and projects he undertakes do the talking for him. So, I was more intrigued, in a way, to learn what Marr would reveal and share in his memoir. I found myself turning the pages simply to find out how Marr viewed Morrissey and their falling out. But Marr expresses nothing but love and admiration for his former musical partner and, unlike Morrissey, spends very little time wallowing or pining for the past.
While Marr is not as strong a writer as Morrissey nor as enigmatic/mysterious, this memoir is more geared to a music scene fan. Marr does not wallow, so when The Smiths cuts Marr from the band over management issues, Marr sets his sights on other opportunities. Making friends and working with musicians he admires–Matt Johnson of The The, Bernard Sumner of New Order, Modest Mouse and others–and improving as a guitar player is more important to Marr than fame, petty disputes and days gone by. An enjoyable memoir even if it lacks the depth of feeling and hyperbole of Morrissey’s Autobiography.
If you love The Smiths, you can continue your indulgence with Tony Fletcher’s A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths.
~posted by Misha