The Pequod Review:
The early sections of Morrissey's Autobiography recounting his childhood are superb, but by the time he devotes forty pages to relitigating a dispute with his former Smiths bandmates (which culminated in a 1996 lawsuit), even his most devoted fans will likely lose patience. Nonetheless, a number of passages throughout the book are full of wit and lucid turns of phrase:
My childhood is streets upon streets upon streets upon streets. Streets to define you and streets to confine you, with no sign of motorway, freeway or highway. Somewhere beyond hides the treat of the countryside, for hour-less days when rains and reins lift, permitting us to be amongst people who live surrounded by space and are irked by our faces. Until then we live in forgotten Victorian knife-plunging Manchester, where everything lies wherever it was left over one hundred years ago. The safe streets are dimly lit, the others not lit at all, but both represent a danger that you’re asking for should you find yourself out there once curtains have closed for tea. Past places of dread, we walk in the center of the road, looking up at the torn wallpapers of browny blacks and purples as the mournful remains of derelict shoulder-to-shoulder houses, their safety now replaced by trepidation. Local kids ransack empty houses, and small and wide-eyed, I join them, balancing across exposed beams and racing into wet black cellars; underground cavities where murder and sex and self-destruction seep from cracks of local stone and shifting brickwork where aborted babies found deathly peace instead of unforgiving life.
At 17 I am worn out by my own emotions, and Manchester is a barbaric place where only headless savages can survive. There is no one to take me on, and no one to bother about me. Months go on for years. I explode from intensity. I cannot cope with anything other than my inability to cope. I want to sing. I am difficult and withdrawn – a head, really, but not a body – full of passion within, but none outwardly. There are no sexual guidelines and I see myself naked only by appointment. It is simply a funnel, and there is no one around who suggests otherwise, and my mental horizons are so narrow and no soul is interested in the me that is beneath the chastity belt.
I also liked this appreciation of A.E. Housman:
New air is discovered in the words of A. E. Housman (1859–1936), scholar-poet, vulnerable and complex. On the day of his twelfth birthday his mother dropped dead, sealing a private future of suffering for Housman, who was said to be a complete mystery even to those who knew him. With no interest in applause or public recognition, Housman published three volumes of poetry, each one of great successful caress, each a world in itself, forcing Housman into the highest literary ranks. A stern custodian of art and life, he shunned the world and he lived a solitary existence of monastic pain, unconnected to others. The unresolved heart worked against him in life, but it connected him to the world of poetry, where he allowed (in)complete strangers under his skin.
The published poetry makes the personal torture just barely acceptable. The pain done to Housman allowed him to rise above the mediocre and to find the words that most of us need help in order to say.
It’s easy for me to imagine Housman sitting in a favorite chair by a barely flickering gas fire, the brain grinding long and hard, wanting to explain things in his own way, monumental loneliness on top of him, but with no one to tell. The written word is an attempt at completeness when there is no one impatiently awaiting you in a dimly lit bedroom – awaiting your tales of the day, as the healing hands of someone who knew turn to you and touch you, and you lose yourself so completely in another that you are momentarily delivered from yourself. Whispering across the pillow comes a kind voice that might tell you how to get out of certain difficulties, from someone who might mercifully detach you from your complications. When there is no matching of lives, and we live on a strict diet of the self, the most intimate bond can be with the words that we write:
Oh often have I washed and dressed
And what’s to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times
I’ve done my best
And all’s to do again.
I ask myself if there is an irresponsible aspect in relaying thoughts of pain as inspiration, and I wonder whether Housman actually infected the sensitives further, and pulled them back into additional darkness. Surely it is true that everything in the imagination seems worse than it actually is – especially when one is alone and horizontal (in bed, as in the coffin). Housman was always alone – thinking himself to death, with no matronly wife to signal to the watching world that Alfred Edward was now quite alright – for isn’t this at least partly the aim of scoring a partner: to trumpet the mental all-clear to a world where how things seem is far more important than how things are? Now snugly in eternity, Housman still occupies my mind. His best moments were in Art, and not in the cut and thrust of human relationships. Yet he said more about human relationships than those who managed to feast on them. You see, you can’t have it both ways.
And his putdowns of his former Smiths bandmates are devastating in their brevity: drummer Mike Joyce is described as “an adult impersonating a child” and guitarist Johnny Marr is “safely tucked away as everyone’s friend — yet no one’s.” Meanwhile, he describes himself this way: “Although a passable human creature on the outside, the swirling soul within [me] seemed to speak up for the most awkward people on the planet.”