Meetings with Morrissey
By Len Brown
Omnibus Press – £19.95
‘’You’ll have to do it eventually so do it now… accept yourself.’’ So spoke the minstrel of morose melodrama, Morrissey, at The Venue in London in 1983. Twelve simple words, which, apart from making oodles of philosophical sense, probably connected with all who were present that evening. Among them was Len Brown, for whom the gig was a reaffirmation that popular music still counted for something, still meant something beyond the precocious bollocks of New Romanticism or the equally puke induced psyco-shite of the vile Thompson Twins: ‘’In this ridiculous context, an underfed scrawny bloke in baggy-bottomed jeans with a Billy Fury hairdo looked like a creature from another planet […] In a way he wasn’t right, he wasn’t normal, and yet he looked so right up there on stage; an odd combination of self-consciousness and outrageous confidence yet without arrogance; like a showman in a straight jacket, screaming to get out… or back in.’’
For the author of Meetings with Morrissey , said performance was not only a revelation – which triggered a professional relationship with the subject that continues to the present day – but an acute realization that it was okay, to not have to subscribe to the ghastly status quo of Thatcherism: ‘’If you didn’t want to sell your soul to capitalism or dedicate your life to the pursuit of money, or perhaps you were struggling with love and self-love, then in Morrissey and his Smiths you were offered an alternative, bearable path through the political chaos and the musical mediocrity of the Eighties; a self-help group with great pop songs.’’
Says it all really. The Smiths were indeed, a self-help group to a great many people. That they wrote great pop songs was a bonafide bonus, which made it all the more easier and acceptable to be swept up in the literary tidal wave of adoration; particularly by that of the NME, for whom Morrissey at the time, was incapable of doing/saying/writing/declaring, anything wrong.
Today, this is no longer the case, although Brown – a former NME writer himself – has remained loyal to the beliefs of his Mancunian muse. This comes across loud and exceedingly clear throughout Meetings With Morrissey. The title, being exactly what it is, as Brown has conducted more interviews with Morrissey than most, which lends the book an authenticity, not often found: ‘’On threadbare Manchester council estates once a year fairs would come round. It was a period of tremendous violence, hate, distress, high romance and all the truly vital things in life.’’
Brown suggests such thinking, along with much of Morrissey’s work, is ‘’realism rather than pessimism,’’ and I for one, am inclined to agree. I also believe this biography is truly blessed with all the right information and reasoning. Not only does it enable the reader to both discover and embrace Morrissey through simple prose, it explores many of the artists he himself has celebrated – including Patti Smith, James Dean, Pat Phoenix, Marc Bolan, Billy Fury and the inevitable New York Dolls (of whose fan club back in the day, Morrissey was UK President!). More than anyone, the book investigates the subject’s lifelong fascination with the brilliant Oscar Wilde: ‘’Although he was the most intelligent, he simplified everything. Therefore practically everybody could read Oscar Wilde and understand. He wasn’t complicated. Yet he still left you lying on the bed… panting. It was so real and truthful.’’