Reviews

Saint Morrissey by Mark Simpson

Joseph Pompeo

Morrissey is loved because he feels unloved. His followers revel helplessly in the romanticized hyperbole of self-pity.


Saint Morrissey

Publisher: SAF Publishing
Length: 256
Formats: UK (paperback
Price: £7.99 (UK ) /$24.95 (US )
Author: Mark Simpson
UK publication date: 2004-10
Amazon
Don't forget the songs that made you cry, and the songs that saved your life.
-- The Smiths

There's no reason to talk about the books I read, but still I do.
-- Morrissey

Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before. Morrissey: No other artist has been so desperately idolized, so romantically adored, so sincerely emulated by so devoted, albeit so marginal a fan-base. It's a paradox that undoubtedly has more than a few pop-culture junkies, baffled parents, and burgeoning teenage indie rockers wondering, "Who was that weirdo playing the Letterman show dressed like a priest, and didn't I see his face on the cover of Spin a few months back?"

How are curious individuals such as these to become acquainted with rock's most "enigmatic" performer? A logical answer, it seems, would be to read a book about him, and fortunately the latest Morrissey biography, Saint Morrissey saw its publication coincide with the recent success of the Mozzer's seventh solo effort, You Are the Quarry. Unfortunately, this book will only further confuse the aforementioned demographic. In other words, unless you are a diehard this book will do nothing more that introduce you to the obsessive, borderline psychotic nature of Morrissey fans.

You can forget about objectivity. In fact any reader unable to quote Smiths' lyrics like his life depended on it will not fare very well in an attempt to navigate through 200 pages of insiders' paradigms and fan club trivia. It therefore goes without saying that author Mark Simpson, appropriately called "the skinhead Oscar Wilde," is a fan of the highest measure.

In many ways Saint Morrissey is a failure. It fails to merely elaborate a story. It fails to maintain a narrative balance between fact and emotion. All clarity of how the tale is told collapses under the author's propensity to deconstruct almost everything Morrissey has said or written in the past twenty years. It alienates all readers who cannot, or who refuse to understand alienation in and of itself, (not to mention anyone who bought the Smiths' Singles and decided to call it a day).

With that said if you are anything like Mark Simpson, or myself for that matter, chances are you won't be able to put this book down. You may not love it. You may even hate it, but in either case, Saint Morrissey will saturate your intellect with anything and everything you've ever suspected, theorized, or wanted to know about one famously solitary and historically inscrutable blue-eyed man from Manchester.

Originally published in 2003, the book was made more widely available in soft-cover this past October, less than a week before Morrissey kicked off his much anticipated U.S. tour.

The thesis is simple. As Simpson claims at the onset, "To get to the melancholic heart of Morrissey's condition, to get inside the wasteland of his head-or his bed-there is only one thing you need to do. Listen to him." The problem is Morrissey has a lot to say, and with the continuous citation of lyrics and interviews the reader is sure to hear just about all of it.

Before he immerses us in Smiths/Morrissey literary theory and psychoanalysis, Simpson discusses the history and extent of his own fandom, ironically portraying himself as the victim of "Bloody poetry…which spoke directly and assuredly to a happy-sad part of [him] that [he] barely knew existed." It's no wonder he can hardly go a single paragraph without referencing various lyrics. His shameless appropriation may seem excessive, if not excessively trite, but it effectively highlights Morrissey's universality. Morrissey is loved because he feels unloved. His followers revel helplessly in the romanticized hyperbole of self-pity, assured by the fact that there is at least one other person on the face of the earth who is just like them.

From Morrissey's early childhood to the present day (Stephen Patrick to Moz), the book cites countless lyrics and interviews relevant to the various stages of his emotional, psychological, and professional development. Simpson takes his reader from Morrissey's childhood experience of formal education ("Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools."), to his Oedipal complex, ("Smother me mother."), to his gender-bending ("I'm a girl and you're a boy."); from his subversive sexual project ("On a desk is where I want you"), to his evocation of homoerotic imagery ("How can they see the love in our eyes, and still they don't believe us?"), to his celibacy ("Sex is a waste of batteries").

Also discussed at length is Morrissey's all too familiar list of personal heroes -- Oscar Wilde, Shelagh Delaney, James Dean, Marc Bolan, etc. -- revealing a paradoxical duality in his relationship to iconography. He is at once celebrity and fan, envious and envied, deity and disciple.

Simpson meticulously dissects Morrissey's solo career, casting his lyrical concerns with condemnation, solitude, and resentment against a backdrop of working class disillusionment, changes in British society, and the decline of pop music. Topics of particular interest include his fluctuating position in the charts, his love-hate relationships with England and America, and the media's infamous (not to mention entirely misdirected) allegations of racism following the release of Your Arsenal.

The last Morrisseyism Simpson accounts for is his relationship to fame, or the lack thereof. Morrissey fans will be the first to argue that the man is painfully underrated; that a music industry as banal as it is profit-driven has robbed him of the success and recognition he deserves. Then again, it is through his refusal of conventional celebrity status that Morrissey preserves the loyalty of his fans, and as Simpson notes, "It is this peculiar, decidedly unhealthy relationship with his fans that explains the oddly intense nature of Morrissey's cult fame."

With the introduction of this final paradox Simpson completes Morrissey's canonization. His sainthood manifests itself in the image of men and women "flattening hefty security guards [to] succeed in wrapping themselves around the indulgent singer." Simpson writes:

He has achieved in life the transcendence that other performers have only achieved in death …This is the twisted miracle of Morrissey's life that his fans, his congregation of Beautiful Bastards, bears witness to. Morrissey is the only 'saint' to be canonized before his death, and the only one to intercede on the behalf of his supplicants not from heaven but from his bedroom.

So chances are if you've made it through this review you might just be willing to give Simpson's biography a go, and if not be thankful that you never got sucked in like the rest of us. There are also those of you who never thought someone would actually have gone so far as to proclaim Morrissey a saint, however tongue in cheek his intentions were.

But ask yourselves this: Who would have thought that within a year of this book's initial publication Morrissey would be strutting around in priestly regalia at his concerts and on national television? Kind of makes you think.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image