"Those who murder language are not pure" - Camus
A review of this book (it might be quicker to read the book...):
I have finally got around to perusing this book of essays released in August this year (2011) entitled 'Morrissey: Fandom, Representations and Identities', and co-edited by Eoin Devereux, Aileen Dillane and Martin J. Power. As a fan, I am finding much that is new in the material, and the discussions, for the most part, are illuminating. The authors have generally gone to some trouble to research the background to songs and events for the reader and to propose rationales, patterns and criticisms. It may take a few pages or chapters to acclimatise to the academic jingo, and no harm either to keep a dictionary to hand: is it ever?! Packaged like this, socio-cultural critique rocks - even if, in reading the volume, 'is that what I was doing?' might have been the frequent refrain running through Morrissey's mind!
Perhaps the most topical chapter is the fourth one, by Canadian Colin Snowsell: 'Fanatics, Apostles and NMEs'. In it a number of morrissey-solo.com posters are quoted by username, and comments there taken quite seriously, whatever about cautiously evaluated for spoof content. Sitting ducks we are, there; fodder for the college factory, like Morrissey himself! Fan theory is cited and fan behaviour described, if to a somewhat iterative and circular degree. The 2007 interview with the NME, the subsequent allegations, and range of fanbase reactions are covered in some detail, as is the gig retort about 'subspecies'. Included, a la Godwin, is a public comment (Billet) on the controversy: "If someone like Adolf Hitler said that, you'd talk about biological racism...", and it'd make sense to talk so, from someone of Hitler's character, beliefs and behaviour. Another essayist quotes from a song, "you defer to the views of the television news, let someone do your thinking for you' and I can't help wondering if, as a self-confessed fan, Mr Snowsell, now deservedly an internationally-esteemed man of letters, protests too much and is truly disappointed that his hero's antics of kicking away from the mundane are not so needed by him anymore, considering that from the Smiths' first single, 'Hand in Glove', dramatisation of alienation and of defending oppressed love crop up again and again. In that light it's rather an endearing piece, all in all.
In contrast, on the same theme of fandom, the first essay by Erin Hazard, 'Suedehead: Paving the Pilgrimage Path to Morrissey's and Dean's Fairmount, Indiana' does what it says on the tin in a romanticised appreciation of the benefits of becoming a fan, both in Morrissey's case and in turn, in the author's case. Along the way, quite fascinating information is provided about the Suedehead video, and deliberate parallels drawn, as in allegory, between it and photographs taken of Dean years beforehand, and later with the authors' own mementos of the journey. For this contributer, "this kind of investigation [as a mobilised fan] eventually became a way to turn imitation and reverence into creativity." Lee Brooks uses the same video, along with a range of other material, in evidence of Morrissey as Arthound extraordinaire, swiping cultural gems all over the place like his collage artist friend Linder Sterling, in chapter 14: 'Talent Borrows, Genius Steals: Morrissey and the Art of Appropriation'. Like Mozipedia,research of aesthetic sources adds value. For artists Dan Jacobson and Ian Jeffrey, listening to the songs allows you to become someone else. Their chapter 13, called 'Smiths Night: A Dream World Created Through Other People’s Music', tells a strange story of a girl with a cut bare foot bleeding all over the dance floor of a Smiths tribute night DJ set in New York, and from there queries what Bigmouth Strikes Again is about. Later,There Is A Light... is scrutinised e.g. tracing the intro back to Marvin Gaye's song 'Hitch Hike. The essay is presented as a conversation to reflect Morrissey's "play of intertextuality", though in its unnatural polish, this form also conveys a place like the nightclub, "where sincerity can be insincere."
The second chapter by Lawrence Foley, '"The Seaside Town They Forgot To Bomb": Morrissey and Betjeman on Urban Regeneration and British Identity', succeeds in divulging dusty biographical knowledge of John Betjeman, such as his influential official role in national architectural surveillance, that was rarely if ever mentioned in the context of Morrissey's concerns before about sense of place, homeland, and its manifestation in his oeuvre. Likewise, in chapter ten where editors Eoin Devereux and Aileen Dillane (a music lecturer) take on 'Speedway for Beginners: Morrissey, Martyrdom and Ambiguity', new hypotheses are put forward about possible sources of the song title; its story e.g. Wildean ventriloquism, religious martyr testimony. A close dissection (with help from Boz) of the musical construction with its key ambiguity and plagal/Amen cadences is included.
John H. Baker's chapter (3) on Morrissey's attraction to the skinhead cult, 'In the Spirit of '69?...' is also fairly topical and sets out, step by step, what happened before, during and after Madstock in Finsbury Park 1992. Despite the media leaving reality well behind in their biased coverage, a couple of other song videos featuring skinheads were made and are discussed - http://www.myspace.com/video/im-not-...-frank/1271445 , http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_pfMoUVNPw . The essay is a useful clarification of this milestone and concludes pretty much that confusion abounded, and malice was not aforethought.
Chapter 5, 'The "Teenage Dad" and "Slum Mums" are Just "Certain people I Know": Counter Hegemonic Representations of the Working/Underclass in the Works of Morrissey' is louder than bombs, rumbling with relevance to our times and very validating to anyone who is not deliriously happy about the political-economic landscape and the suppression of class inequality issues. I would just recommend it to everybody. I've also noticed over the past few months in the Irish newspapers that the three editors (one of whom is Martin J. Power, who wrote ch. 5) are walking their talk - or at least talking it loud -, publicly standing up for people threatened with educational deprivation, and stigmatisation due to where they live. Respect.
In decoding the words of 'Slum Mums, it is observed, after Rogan, that "in assuming the role of the taunter, as well as her potential liberator, Morrissey forces the audience to deal with our own prejudices." The next/sixth chapter by Daniel Manco, 'In Our Different Ways We Are the Same: Morrissey and Representations of Disability', considers this method when assessing the controversial song, November Spawned a Monster (it is pointed out that the moniker, les enfants de novembre, traditionally refers to all the oppressed peoples of the world). Two theorists, Mitchell and Snyder are cited in support of a verbal ploy termed "transgressive resignification":
- As opposed to substituting more palatable terms, the ironic embrace of derogatory terminology has provided the leverage that belongs to openly transgressive displays...The embrace of denigrating terminology forces the dominant culture to face its own violence head-on because the authority of devaluation has been claimed openly and ironically...The effect shames the dominant culture into a recognition of its own dehumanising precepts...that detracts from the original power of the condescending terms. -
Most of us, I think, know that this is what was going on with the 'subspecies' remark and Morrissey explained it as such. Manco's essay delves deep into disability perspectives and weighs up the use of irony versus taking advantage of stereotypes gratuitously for effect and symbolic proxies for other socially injured persons as appear in such songs as Nobody Loves Us, Dagenham Dave, There's A Place In Hell...since disability of one kind of another touches most people in a lifetime. In a note, Because of My Poor Education is added to the list, with a dubious comment that here, "the corporeal non-normativity is metaphorical". Leaping from Morrissey's teenage impersonation as the wheelchair-bound Sheridan Whiteside, the theme roams widely such that "one might well ponder the associative chains", but very interesting stuff. Non-normative gender becomes the total focus in Elisabeth Woronzoff's chapter 15, ‘'I’m Not The Man You Think I Am’: Morrissey’s Negotiation of Dominant Gender and Sexuality Codes'. Narrating from films such as Querelle, and from books such as The British Pop Dandy, she shows how he uniquely "embraces gender fluidity and never settles at either end of the gender binary long enough to provide the normative constructions credibitily". He sings of being re-born free, forging a new paradigm of a polymorphous sexual identity by negotiating dominating discourses and institutational controls, to make it easier for others...(continued->)
(->)...A potted history of portraiture is delivered in the examination of album art by Melissa Connor in Chapter 7, '"My So Friendly Lens": Morrissey as Mediated through his Public Image'. The use of other celebrities, his own face and body, and other signs in record sleeves and promotional material, to reveal 'only as much as he wants us to see' and I would add, what we want to see often, is ably explored. The enquiry carries over into Chapter 8, entitled, '“Because I’ve only got Two Hands”: Western Art Undercurrents in the Poses and Gestures of Morrissey' and penned by Andrew Cope. Here Morrissey is postulated as the proverbial finger pointing at the moon in his adoption of classic embodied poses from Plato through religious iconography (martyr-redeemer) and pop culture figures (e.g. The Wanderer), reproduced on the page, as signs on a trail to something greater beyond. It is claimed that "art, for Morrissey is the prophetic call of some fundamental reality...[that] resist any level of postmodern disenchantment..." and reach its zenith in his live shows.
More about art and culture in chapter 9: 'Moz: art: Adorno Meets Morrissey in the Cultural Divisions , which is written by Rachel M. Brett. This writer views Morrissey through Adorno's deduction that "through capitalist production methods of industrialisation, the CI [culture industry] produced a predetermined division between high and low culture that disguised the transactional valutes between them". Pop music is a distraction and consciousness-dulling consolation. As art becomes more mass-commercialised, Morrissey is situated as going against the grain in making punk-pop, subverting from within, plucking apt samples from elsewhere to patch into his 'modern hymns' which usually involve an 'Other' struggling through class barriers and some sort of absence. By still challenging the means of production, "he maintains human agency for himself as a commodity form and his audience as consumers alike."
Morrissey's nephew read a message on his behalf at the Manchester book launch-cum-symposium, dealing with the suggestion in Chapter Eleven that Morrissey had pitch-controlled his voice on 'Skull' (to imagined mass relief that no-one was subpoenaed for anything else!). That chapter, 'No Love in Modern Life: Matters of Performance and Production in a Morrissey Song', was written by Eirik Askerøi. Morrissey had not altered his voice, according to the statement, but "singing in that high register was actually starting to damage Morrissey's vocal cords, hence the shift down for later live performances". Askeroi is an active recording musician whose knowledge about composition, and electric guitars with their history and social impact, is on full pedagogic display here. He links the song's utterances on modern life to concurrent discourses on the war on terror and accelerating use of social e-media in a thought-provoking penultimate section, and concludes, "as we become more isolated and lonely through a mix of technological devices and fear of an unstable and ambiguous Other, Morrissey's sonic double take becomes a reminder of how such mechanisms might lead us away from love and real friendships in human life." So there.
Morrissey, the clownish human icon, expresses his polyphonic consciousness through multimodal text (much provided by Oscar Wilde who's given a few paragraphs) in a Northern woman's voice, according to Pierpaolo Martino who wrote chapter 1: ‘"Vicar In A Tutu": Dialogism, Iconicity and the Carnivalesque in Morrissey'. Quoting 'Irish Blood English Heart', Morrissey's 'in-betweenness', his existance on the borderline, is compared to Wilde's similar liminality, or evasion of easy categorisation and rejection of rank. The author subjects the two further albums to similar treatment. In chapter 16, 'Melodramatic Morrissey: Kill Uncle, Cavell and the Question of the Human Voice', Johanna Sjöstedt proposes, drawing on heavyweight thinkers, that the neglected early album, Kill Uncle, actually shines a playful philosophical light on ordinary human life in precious plain language, and offers far more than Gavin Hopps' assessment of surface camp; in fact, it's a masterpiece. In the sharply-intuited discussion, sizzlingly-provocative conundrums like this are put forth: "Thus, radical scepticism with respect to others is not grounded in metaphysical speculation separated from the human realm, it is a question raised in response to experiences of failure in everyday communication..." We dread both voicelessness and excessive expression, and Kill Uncle offers the solution of acknowledgement, going forward, even while the relative ease of artistic expression in it contrasts with 'the strain of the pain" of dealing with people.
Like others captured by the title of Stan Hawkins' recent book, the British Pop Dandy, Morrissey stems from this line alongside Beau Brummel, Byron, Wilde, Coward, Crisp, Bowie. Hawkins wrote the last, 17th, chapter, ‘You Have Killed Me’ – Tropes of Hyperbole and Sentimentality in Morrissey’s Musical Expression,' and views the song, like many others, as "an impassioned [ritualised] response to social politics", with Passolini's assassination centre-stage. The vocal idiosyncrasies of Morrissey's natural-sounding voice and his "dramatised subjectivity" are picked apart as performed and recorded. His imputed "psychopathology" in stubbornly maintaining a vulnerable solidarity with the human struggle is probed, culminating in a verdict that although Moz has killed us, we forgive him too, always. : )
Brilliant post. You should be a journalist.
Thanks for the review Goinghome. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the book.
This book seems ripe with material. For Pseuds Corner
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself
Thanks for the write-up GH. The fact that Morrissey's later work still provides grist for so many mills speaks volumes about his continuing relevance (prinicipally, perhaps, to academics and the ragged remains of his army).
Stuff like this makes me , but the author does have a point: Morrissey is the consummate performance artist, and his body language speaks as loudly as his words. His gestures fall somewhere between Socrates/Plato and a world-weary erotic dancer (which is part of his present charm).
Without MSG I Am Nothing , gr8 username, Cebo reference?
anyways, I have been starved for new reading material here and goinghome's review fit the bill, thanks
I want the book now...
I'll be travelling to Costa Rica late this summer because it's beautiful there and I haven't been in ages! You should all go!
Anyway, I noticed this book on amazon about Morrissey and his fans and was wondering if anyone of you had read it? Is it worth the $40?
Seems rather expensive!
Why was my thread moved?????
I asked about a certain book and it gets combined with a thread about his autobiography???
Is someone trying to play a LOL on me?
I didn't merge the thread but I suspect it was merged as a courtesy to help you find the answer to your question about the book without having to force you to start reading a different thread.
"Cried over my supper, it revived. Got off the table... started to fly."