[yes, I know they mis-spell his name throughout - I think it's company policy]
26 Jan 2004 11:37
A review of the gospel for Morrissey devotees.
Like ducklings emerging from our shells, instinctively fixating on the first creature we clap our eyes on, to follow until we’re old enough to know what’s good for us, the first time a teenager falls in love with a pop star is a seminal moment from which some never recover. Our doom is sealed, our souls are imprinted with the exquisitely tortuous realisation that our untouchable “happy-sad” secret Self that hitherto no one had known anything about, especially our parents, could, possibly, be understood by another human being.
We are not alone! Someone out there gets us – or could get us, if only they knew us. We become alive to the possibility of relating. We start dreaming of a time when we are not held hostage by the tyrannical hormones morphing our pimply body into something scarily alien, a time when we can lose our self-consciousness and red-faced embarrassment for existing, a time when we cease writhing with overwhelming incomprehensible desires in the dark, and are ugly ducklings no more.
We know, deep down, that we’re never going to meet our idol. We may worship them from in front of the stage and send them reams of fan letters; if we’re lucky, our god may smile at our prayers and reward us with a wave or a signed photo. It’s the passion of courtly love – we can obsess as much as we like in the refuge of our bedroom shrines, our walls papered with icons, go to every gig and scream until we’re hoarse, get every version of every record they’ve ever released and play them until we know every nuance, can sing every word, can answer any catechism – this marriage made in heaven is never going to be consummated. It is, therefore, perfect.
We don’t choose our gods – they choose us. For me, it happened to be Tom Robinson, whom I first saw on Top of the Pops in November 1977, at the age of 13. I remember being mesmerised, and not knowing why. The explanation came when I heard his song ‘Glad To Be Gay’, released the following year, and a strong strand of my life’s pattern was set then – sexual politics and social change. Not one of the most gifted musicians in the world, with only a couple of tracks that stand the test of time, he proved himself to be a worthy, kind man with integrity – especially when he came out as bisexual, displaying a dignified refusal to let his desire be confined by the labels he helped create. His influence on me was ultimately benign. He changed tack, he lost his magic and became mortal. He let me go.
Mark Simpson was not so lucky. His calling came not from a decent spokesman for a cause, but from an indecent artist, a crowing Pied Piper, who took children and made them old. When he was eighteen, in 1983, The Smiths appeared on The Tube, and Simpson’s soul was taken there and then. In bittersweet revenge for a lifetime in thrall to the god that is Stephen Patrick, he has written Saint Morrissey, a delightful, insightful, playful, seductive, smoulderingly intelligent and very funny book. It’s a “Dear Mr Gable” love letter for our time, a gospel for the cult of Morrissey devotees, the most passionate on the planet. (I declare my late conversion: I’ve travelled hundreds of miles twice in the past ten years, solely to see Morrissey perform, and his handsome-devilish face still adorns my walls).
Simpson takes as his source material only that which Morrissey has written in his lyrics or spoken in interview, and thus claims no special privilege to know him, any more than any other fan knows him – (ie intimately). As such, it may or may not bear any relationship to the truth as Morrissey himself sees it, for Simpson acknowledges the self-defeating nature of trying to interpret those enigmatic lyrics. But that’s irrelevant. I have never read a book before like this: every page or two, I wanted to stop and talk about what Simpson had written with someone else – I wanted to discuss, argue, complain, gasp, share the experience. Mostly, I wanted to laugh. Considering that this is a book about a man whose isolation, morbidity and alienation is legendary, this book made me want to be sociable.
This is the Morrissey paradox. For all that he is a dark creature of the night, for all that his art is neurotic and perverse and hateful and borne out of a deep and probably obnoxious malaise, his willingness to share it with us is a relief, a joyous experience, for we can then look at our own shadow and go: thank God for that, I’m not the only freak. Our fear lessens, we can laugh; our faith in life is restored. Fear is the opposite of faith, not hate.
In Smith’s book, all the literary, environmental and personal influences on the singer are explored with wit and respect: his hellish schooldays, his absent father, Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste Of Honey, The Moors murders, Oscar Wilde, the Seventies, Bolan, Bowie; the “Beautiful Bastard” James Dean, and a hysterical passage on how Johnny Marr came into Morrissey’s life. The “scandalous virtue” of his celibacy. An uncompromising homage to the Ruffian, Morrissey’s (and Simpson’s) masculine muse. Violence. Rent boys, feminism, racism, America, Thatcher, ecstasy, all are discussed, with Simpson’s unique take on masculinity and popular culture, half-celebration, half-lament, informing everything he writes.
“For a man who is a collection of celebrated, creative pathologies and dysfunctions, normality/cure would be a kind of erasure” writes Simpson. I disagree. Firstly, that there is a “cure” for life, especially a life of such intensity and creativity, that has brought so much joy to the world. Secondly, that normality is something that anyone would – or could – choose. In the same way that Morrissey had no choice when he saw Marc Bolan play at the age of 12, his fate was sealed. Our only choice is to do gladly that which we must do.
Like read this book.