Books

10.17.13

Speed Read: 13 Juiciest Bits From Morrissey’s ‘Autobiography’

Score settling, women bashing, Smiths hating, and finally a reveal about his mysterious love life—Nico Hines digs into Morrissey’s new ‘Autobiography’ for the most scandalous tidbits.

The outcry over Morrissey’s Autobiography started before anyone had read a word. Somehow, the pop iconoclast persuaded, or cajoled, Penguin to publish his memoirs as part of its Classics series, which previously had been reserved for significant works by the great figures in literary history, including Homer, Mark Twain, and Jane Austen.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the most celebrated contrarian in British music has packed plenty more controversy between those trademark covers. He recounts the breakup of ’80s cult favorites the Smiths, settles plenty of old scores, and finally opens up about his secretive love life. Here are the juiciest moments:

1. His Two-Year Romance With a Man

After decades of speculation over Morrissey’s sexuality, he describes for the first time an intense two-year “whirlwind” romance with a man named Jake Owen Walters. “For the first time in my life the eternal ‘I’ becomes ‘we,’” he writes. “Every minute has the high drama of first love, only far more exhilarating.”

In his mid-30s, Morrissey was now an ex-member of the Smiths and a veteran heartthrob who had rejected the lascivious lifestyle favored by many of his pop contemporaries. “His leap towards me is as uncharted as mine to him,” he said. “There will be no secrets of flesh or fantasy; he is me and I am him." As the relationship blossomed, there was a noticeable upturn in the tone of Morrissey’s work. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” gave way to the warmth of “Now My Heart Is Full” at the start of the 1994 album Vauxhall and I.

2. The Smiths’ Shock Breakup

Coming at the height of their powers, the Smiths’ breakup was a real shock. The story behind the band’s mystifying collapse has been the subject of endless speculation, which some hoped might come to an end once Morrissey finally published his memoirs. No such luck: “At the close of the Strangeways sessions there took place a glut of meetings with accountants and lawyers at the Wool Hall Studio, and in the context of such, the Smiths breathed a last exhausted sigh and folded. It happened as quickly and as unemotionally as this sentence took to describe it.”

He says he and Johnny Marr were exhausted and that nobody was sensible enough to suggest they both just take a holiday. He does also hint that Marr found it hard to accept Morrissey being the band’s real star. “The press had also tagged the Smiths ‘Mozzer’s men,’ a docket that enraged Johnny and which hacked at our umbilical cord,” he writes.

Years later, Morrissey received a letter from Marr, which he reproduces in the book: “I’ve only recently come to realize that you genuinely don’t know all the reasons for my leaving. To get into it would be horrible, but I will say that I honestly hated the sort of people we had become.”

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‘Autobiography’ by Morrissey. 480 pp. Penguin Classics. £5.99. ()

3. Chrissie Hynde Bites a Dog

The Pretenders frontwoman is one of the few characters in Morrissey’s life treated with any affection in the book. “She is by far the funniest person I have ever met,” he says. “Chrissie could make people laugh at the funeral of triplets.”

Morrissey takes great pleasure in the way the singer would deal with strangers in public places. “A screech-owl female frump begins a beer-sodden tire-slashing attack on Chrissie with, ‘You used to mean SO MUCH to me,’ to which Chrissie breaks in with, ‘Yes. But I don’t now—so fuck off.’” He recalls another night in a London pub where Hynde put on an even more extraordinary exhibition: “She calls [a] shaky terrier over to her, and then lifts it up onto her lap where she quickly sinks her teeth into its neck. The little dog clicks into a freeze-spasm like a kitten in its mother’s mouth. The dog’s owner and the dying bar staff watch stricken with horror.”

4. Media Are ‘Scribblers and Scratchers’

Moz hates the press. From television execs to newspaper journalists and rock critics, the contempt is universal. As the Smiths took off, he became frustrated by what he perceived as inaccurate and intrusive reporting. “Morrissey quotes shoot out from the press like darts, distorted and exaggerated, and something sniggers to me that my life is no longer my own,” he writes.

Piers Morgan, who later became a television host for CNN, is singled out for opprobrium for a story he wrote for the Sun newspaper about a girl who was injured at a show by a flying tambourine. “Ah, the greasy grind of the press—the scribblers and scratchers, the slingers and spillers,” Morrissey writes.

In later years, when he is releasing solo material but struggling to attract so much media coverage, he begins to feel typecast: “What’s the point of running a Morrissey story if neither HEAVEN KNOWS HE’S MISERABLE NOW or BIGMOUTH STRIKES AGAIN have any relevance as headlines?”

5. The NME Conspiracy

A particular focus of Morrissey’s anger is the NME, Britain’s premier music magazine, which he accuses of orchestrating a conspiracy against him. He says the magazine regularly gave him unfairly bad reviews, plotted to end his career, and wrongly accused him of racism, for which it apologized last year.

Julie Burchill, a former NME journalist, is on the receiving end of the most prolonged and nasty attack in Autobiography. “Julie Burchill is, of course, not loveable, and has pitifully late middle-aged legs,” he writes. “Her naked body probably kills off marine plankton in the North Sea…Unchained from the cellar Burchill will make sure that you remember her…I shall be honored to attend her funeral, and I might even jump into the grave.”

6. His Teenage Sleepovers

In a section of the book charting Morrissey’s teenage exploration of poetry, mostly the verse of gay trailblazers such as A.E. Housman and Oscar Wilde, he professes admiration for the subtle way gay artists from bygone eras acknowledged their relationships. “Partial disclosures of male closeness fascinate me,” he says.

He goes on to make some partial disclosures of his own. He describes regular sleepovers where he would lie at the other end of his closest friend Edward Messenger’s bed: “The fetish of secrecy begins, for isn’t it touch alone that changes you?”

Morrissey remains aloof and oblique when describing his relationships with other boys, although he was clear on the girls who pursued him at school: “Plainly I was not interested, being chosen but not chooser.”

He was far more interested in the New York Dolls, a band of transvestites. "Jerry Nolan on the front of the Dolls debut album is the first woman I ever fell in love with," he writes.

His first real-life infatuation is with a boy named Jon Daley, who is introduced to the reader striding along the road in silver knee-length boots, tight jeans, and a “blouse open to expose hairless body and flat belly…He looks sensational.” For a while they became inseparable, but Morrissey never details their closeness.

7. War With the Record Label

In Morrissey’s eyes, he and Marr made Rough Trade, and the independent record label owed them everything. “The smell of money replaced the smell of overcooked rice in the Rough Trade cloisters,” he writes.

The brilliance of the band was largely in spite of the label, according to Morrissey, and bad production and management had almost destroyed their debut album, The Smiths. “The album ought to have been a dangerous blow from the buckle-end of a belt, but instead it is a peck on the cheek.”

Morrissey says the problems deepened when they released their first hit, “This Charming Man”: “It becomes evident that Rough Trade cannot keep pace with demand for stock, suddenly they have a single that people want to buy, and they are caught cat-napping by the radiator.”

Complaints about Rough Trade and founder Geoff Travis pepper the book. Morrissey feels they did nothing to help the creative process and were actively unhelpful on practical considerations. Morrissey says he was asked by Travis why he thought the Smiths singles didn’t chart higher. Travis had his own answer: “‘Because they’re not good enough.’ He puts his glasses back on and shrugs his shoulders. I glance around his office looking for an axe. Some murders are well worth their prison time.”

8. Hating the Smiths

A soft spot for Marr remains, although he doesn’t escape entirely, but Morrissey is brutal when discussing the rest of the band, particularly Mike Joyce, whom Morrissey describes as a “flea looking for a dog” and “Joyce Iscariot.” In 1989, the drummer successfully sued for a greater share of the Smiths’ profits, the majority of which, 80 percent, was split between Morrissey and Marr.

In great detail, Morrissey describes the High Court trial and subsequent appeal in which Joyce was awarded 25 percent of the band’s profits. Again Morrissey hints at a conspiracy against him: “I feel as though the outcome has been strategized in backrooms of closed curtains where my epoch has been cut short.”

He attacks the High Court judge, “Wobbly Weeks,” one of the appeals court judges, who “fell asleep unashamedly throughout the entire hearing,” and the prosecution barrister, who had “a face I could never be cruel enough to describe.”

9. ‘Friends' Wanted Him

Morrissey says he was invited to perform in an episode of Friends alongside Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) in the coffee shop while he was on set watching the show being taped. “I am requested to sing ‘in a really depressing voice.’ Within seconds I wind down the fire-escape like a serpent and its goodbye to Hollywood yet again.”

He also says he was offered a part as Dot Cotton’s son in the British soap Eastenders, as well as a role on Emmerdale.

10. Greedy?

Morrissey does very little to dispel rumors that he is rather tight. He mentions being forced to fly in economy class on planes and complains repeatedly about being stiffed out of cash by Rough Trade. On one occasion he says the label boss thanked him for the band’s success with “a bag of biscuits bearing a 2 pounds and 75 pence sticker still affixed. I gave no answer. How could there be one?”

After a contract wrangle that was going to cost Morrissey hundreds of thousands of pounds, he asks his accountant about trying to recover some of the money paid to his recently deceased manager, Nigel Thomas: “‘You wouldn’t take money from a grieving family!’ my accountant gasped. ‘But I’m grieving,’ I reply.”

Despite all the tickets and records his band has sold, Morrissey bemoans their ability to make money, although he describes an impressive array of homes, including one next door to Johnny Depp in California. “Still travelling economy, the Smiths conclude each tour penniless,” he writes.

More recently, he refuses to sign off on a band mate’s guest list for a show at the Hollywood Bowl: “I reject it since the eye-crossing cost of it is ultimately subtracted from my pension fund.”

11. He Wished He Were Dead

Morrissey traces his famous misery back to a “Dickensian” childhood in Manchester, where “inner-city slum kids” knew they were not needed by society.

As he grew older, a sadness was overtaken by clinical depression, and he makes a number of references to wishing himself dead. “Yet there comes a point when where the suicidalist must shut it down if only in order to save face,” he writes. “I could only tolerate an afternoon if I took a triple amount of the stated dose of valium prescribed by my GP (who would soon take his own life).”

12. All His Near-Death Experiences

Morrissey recalls several near-death experiences, starting from early childhood, when he was not expected to survive infancy. He was also the victim of an attempted kidnapping in Mexico. After being driven out of a concert and then off into the darkness, Morrissey and his entourage realize their driver is not taking them back to the hotel. “‘STOP THIS CAR!’ I shout, and bang my fists on the back of the driver’s seat…I jump out as the car drives on.”

That wasn’t Morrissey’s only grim Mexican encounter. Kirsty MacColl, the English singer on “Fairytale of New York,” asked him for some holiday advice. “Kirsty wants to know if Cancun would be worth the trek and I urge her to go,” he writes. On the first day of the vacation, she is killed in a boating accident as her children watch on in horror. “I cry myself blind for yet another lost friend.”

13. Insulting Women

A host of well-known figures feel Morrissey wrath. Many of them are women, and many are attacked for their appearance. Sarah Ferguson, the former Duchess of York, and her children are among the most lustily insulted: “Wherever I go I seem to see the Duchess of Nothing,” he says. “A little bundle of orange crawling out of a frothy dress, the drone of Sloane blessed with two daughters of Queen Victoria pot-dog pudginess.”

On the singer Nico, who worked with the Velvet Underground, he laments the passing of youthful good looks: “You feel certain that Nico is in there somewhere amongst the creases.”

Siouxsie Sioux, another female singer, gets it even worse, being described as a “blancmange.” “Within eight seconds she seems to have alienated everyone in the room…eyes roll ceilingwards each time Godzilla snaps out her stipulations,” he writes.