… here ’tis:
A A Gill on Autobiography by Morrissey
THE SUNDAY TIMES
AS NOËL Coward might have said, nothing incites intemperate cultural hyperbole like cheap music. Who can forget that the Beatles were once authoritatively lauded as the equal of Mozart, or that Bob Dylan was dubbed a contemporary Keats? The Beatles continued to ignore Covent Garden, and Mozart is rarely heard at Glastonbury; Dylan has been silently culled from the latest edition of the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry in English.
The publication of Autobiography was the second item on Channel 4’s news on the day it was released. Krishnan Guru-Murthy excitably told the nation that Morrissey really could write — presumably he was reading from an Autocue — and a pop journalist thrilled that he was one of the nation’s greatest cultural icons. He isn’t even one of Manchester’s greatest cultural icons.
This belief in high-low cultural relativity leads to a certain sort of chippy pop star feeling undervalued and then hoitily producing a rock opera or duet with concert harpsichord. Morrissey, though, didn’t have to attain the chip of being needily undervalued; he was born with it. He tells us he ditched “Steve”, his given name, to be known by his portentous unimoniker because — deep reverential breath here — great classical composers only have one name. Mussorgsky, Mozart, Morrissey.
His most pooterishly embarrassing piece of intellectual social climbing is having this autobiography published by Penguin Classics. Not Modern Classics, you understand, where the authors can still do book signings, but the classic Classics, where they’re dead and some of them only have one name. Molière, Machiavelli, Morrissey.
He has made up for being alive by having a photograph of himself pretending to be dead on the cover. The book’s publication was late and trade gossip has it that Steve insisted on each and every bookshop taking a minimum order of two dozen, misunderstanding how modern publishing works. But this is not unsurprising when you read the book. He is constantly moaning about record producers not pressing enough discs to get him to No 1. What is surprising is that any publisher would want to publish the book, not because it is any worse than a lot of other pop memoirs, but because Morrissey is plainly the most ornery, cantankerous, entitled, whingeing, self-martyred human being who ever drew breath. And those are just his good qualities.
The book falls into two distinct passages. The first quarter is devoted to growing up in Manchester (where he was born in 1959) and his schooling. This is laughably overwrought and overwritten, a litany of retrospective hurt and score-settling that reads like a cross between Madonna and Catherine Cookson. No teacher is too insignificant not to be humiliated from the heights of success, no slight is too small not to be rehashed with a final, killing esprit d’escalier. There are pages of lists of television programmes he watched (with plot analysis and character criticism). He could go on Mastermind with the specialist subject of Coronation Street or the works of Peter Wyngarde. There is the food he ate, the groups that appeared on Top of the Pops (with critical comments) and the poetry he liked (with quotes).
All of this takes quite a lot of time due to the amount of curlicues, falderals and bibelots he insists on dragging along as authorial decoration. Instead of adding colour or depth, they simply result in a cacophony of jangling, misheard and misused words. After 100 pages, he’s still at the school gate kicking dead teachers.
But then he sets off on the grown-up musical bit and the writing calms down and becomes more diary-like, bloggish, though with an incontinent use of italics that are a sort of stage direction or aside to the audience. He changes tenses in ways that are supposed to be elegant but just sound camp. There is one passage that stands out — this is the first time he sings. “Against the command of everyone I had ever known, I sing. My mouth meets the microphone and the tremolo quaver eats the room with acceptable pitch and I am removed from the lifelong definition of others and their opinions matter no more. I am singing the truth by myself which will also be the truth of others and give me a whole life. Let the voice speak up for once and for all.” That has the sense of being both revelatory and touching, but it stands out like the reflection of the moon in a sea of Stygian self-justification and stilted self-conscious prose.
The hurt recrimination is sometimes risible but mostly dull, like listening to neighbours bicker through a partition wall, and occasionally startlingly unpleasant, such as the reference to the Moors murderers and the unfound grave of their victim Keith Bennett. “Of course, had Keith been a child of privilege or moneyed background, the search would never have been called off. But he was a poor, gawky boy from Manchester’s forgotten side streets and minus the blond fantasy fetish of a cutesy Madeleine McCann.”
It’s what’s left out of this book rather than what’s put in that is strangest. There is an absence of music, not just in its tone, but the content. There are emetic pools of limpid prose about the music business, the ingratitude of fellow musicians and band members and the lack of talent in other performers, but there is nothing about the making of music itself, the composing of lyrics, the process of singing or the emotion of creation. He seems to assume we will already know his back catalogue and can hum along to his recorded life. This is 450 pages of what makes Morrissey, but nothing of what Morrissey makes.
There is the peevishness at managers, record labels and bouncers, a list of opaque court cases, all of which he manages to lose unfairly, due to the inherited stupidity of judges. Even his relation with the audience is equivocal. Morrissey likes them when they’re worshipping from a distance, but he is not so keen when they’re up close. As an adolescent he approaches Marc Bolan for an autograph. Bolan refuses and Morrissey, still awkwardly humiliated after all these years, has the last word. But then later in the book and life, he does exactly the same thing to his own fans without apparent irony.
There is little about his private life. A boyfriend slips in and out with barely a namecheck. This is him on his early sexual awakening: “Unfathomably I had several cupcake grapples in this year of 1973… Plunge or no plunge, girls remain mysteriously attracted to me.” There is precious little plunging after that.
There are many pop autobiographies that shouldn’t be written. Some to protect the unwary reader, and some to protect the author. In Morrissey’s case, he has managed both. This is a book that cries out like one of his maudlin ditties to be edited. But were an editor to start, there would be no stopping. It is a heavy tome, utterly devoid of insight, warmth, wisdom or likeability. It is a potential firelighter of vanity, self-pity and logorrhoeic dullness. Putting it in Penguin Classics doesn’t diminish Aristotle or Homer or Tolstoy; it just roundly mocks Morrissey, and this is a humiliation constructed by the self-regard of its victim.
Regulars will know that us Shirazers are not big fans of Noam Chomsky. But back in December 2012 he gave an interview that warmed the cockles of our collective heart, slamming, amongst others, those two verbose charlatans Žižek and Lacan:
Mike Springer (at Open Culture) writes:
Noam Chomsky’s well-known political views have tended to overshadow his groundbreaking work as a linguist and analytic philosopher. As a result, people sometimes assume that because Chomsky is a leftist, he would find common intellectual ground with the postmodernist philosophers of the European Left.
In this brief excerpt from a December, 2012 interview with Veterans Unplugged, Chomsky is asked about the ideas of Slavoj Žižek, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida. The M.I.T. scholar, who elsewhere has described some of those figures and their followers as “cults,” doesn’t mince words:
What you’re referring to is what’s called “theory.” And when I said I’m not interested in theory, what I meant is, I’m not interested in posturing–using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretending you have a theory when you have no theory whatsoever. So there’s no theory in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find in all of the work you mentioned some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying. Jacques Lacan I actually knew. I kind of liked him. We had meetings every once in awhile. But quite frankly I thought he was a total charlatan. He was just posturing for the television cameras in the way many Paris intellectuals do. Why this is influential, I haven’t the slightest idea. I don’t see anything there that should be influential.
via Leiter Reports
Oh, goody goody! Žižek has replied…(and makes some fair points about Chomsky’s record), here
Further comment on the spat, at Open Culture
This seems to be some kind of spoof, but I’ve no idea of what…
Billy Delta on the run
Redfriars School was founded in 1877 by its eccentric benefactor Anthony Cliff, as a special fee-paying school for Trotskyists, so that they could enjoy the benefits of a public school education, far from prying eyes.
Since Cliff passed away, Acting Headmaster Algernon Stallinicos has struggled manfully to maintain the school’s traditions, with the help of the Chair of the Governors, Sir Charlie, the Seventh Baronet Kimber.
Billy Delta is the Creep of the Remove. Billy is well-known for being able to peel an orange in his pocket. His appetites are vast. He is always on the prowl, and usually loses his trousers. Billy is waiting for a ten-bob postal order.
The whole thing here
Some of us have been banging on about the misogyny of the left for some time. 2012 was the year it became too apparent to ignore. It became clear during the Assange/Galloway furore that a significant part of the left has no time for feminism, sexual freedom or gender equality, which it regards as irrelevant middle class distractions from the glorious struggle against neoliberal imperialism. This is clear in the SWP’s support for far right Islamic fanatics, and it’s long been my contention that many anaemic middle aged leftwing males would rather like a society where women cover up and do as they are told.
Is it a surprise, then, that when rape allegations are made within the party, SWP members rejected the ‘bourgeois court system’ in favour of a hastily convened tribunal consisting of friends of the defendant (but apparently one of them used to volunteer at a rape crisis centre, which makes it okay)? This is a cult. These people do not believe in the rule of law and it shouldn’t raise any eyebrows that they should try to essentially secede from the UK criminal justice system, and treat a serious criminal matter with a bullshit disputes committee process rightly compared to sharia.
Two objections are generally raised at this point. Members have told me that the complainant explicitly stated she didn’t want to go to the police. Maybe so, and that’s her choice. But we also have a duty to listen to people who know the organisation, and have made the choice to walk out. Tom Walker, experienced SWP journalist, has said that:
It is stated that the accuser did not want to go to the police, as is her absolute right if that was truly her decision. However, knowing the culture of the SWP, I doubt that was a decision she made entirely free from pressure.
Do not underestimate the pressure the SWP can bring to bear on members by telling them to do or not do things for the ultimate cause of the socialist society the party’s members are all fighting for.
Objection two is that these are just allegations. The McAlpine rules apply and you can’t convict Comrade Delta in the kangaroo court of public opinion. True again. But there is going to be no due process in this case because the party has decided that there won’t be. Unless the police make an independent decision to investigate, we’ll never know. Even if Comrade Delta is innocent, the whisper of the political village will follow him to the grave.
All this we know. This story ain’t going away and we have not heard the last of this. There have been further rape allegations and so much insight, argument and commentary that it’s almost impossible to keep up with it (although Jim Jepps does his best). I just want to pick up on something Paul Anderson has touched on: that there has been far too much credit and good faith given to the SWP ‘oppositionists’.
The best known SWP writers in the UK are probably the novelist China Miéville and my old friend Richard Seymour. Neither has quit the party as far as I know. Both of them have written long condemnathon posts at Lenin’s Tomb, and Seymour has set up a new blog, International Socialism, featuring posts from the rank and file. Their denounciations of the SWP leadership are welcome. But these guys have been cadre for years. Why has it taken a leaked committee report for them to speak out?
The SWP has a great talent for hyperbole. One post on Seymour’s blog shrieks that ‘The entire working class has an interest in what happens in the SWP… the SWP remains, for all I’ve said, the best thing the British working class has at its disposal.’ During the crisis, it has fallen back on its reputation. ‘Our record on women’s rights is SECOND TO NONE,’ a paper seller bellowed at me in Manchester. (Second to none? ‘YES’.) This is bullshit, of course. Close examination reveals SWP claims as defenders of feminism to be lies. The initial allegation was followed by the worst kind of Unilad slut-shaming. Laurie Penny writes: ‘not only were friends of the alleged rapist allowed to investigate the complaint, the alleged victims were subject to further harassment. Their drinking habits and former relationships were called into question, and those who stood by them were subject to expulsion and exclusion.’
Clearly there has been a misogynistic canteen culture within the organisation for decades. And Seymour and Mieville only notice this at the moment the leaked report detonated onto the internet? As Omar says in The Wire: ‘Nigger, please.’
Fact is, the SWP can’t come back from this. It is finished. As the Very Public Sociologist put it:
They are the party that lets an alleged rapist off because a committee of his mates gave him a clean bill of health, and no amount of back-pedalling, no ’democracy commissions’ or truth-and-reconciliation procedures can change that. It’s game over, comrades.
The SWP recruit predominantly from universities and it can’t do that as the SWP after this. The young people coming up now (and by ‘young people’ I don’t mean bloggers in their thirties, I mean people born in 1985-1995) are strongly feminist. Think of a popular young writer or blogger – Laurie Penny, Helen Lewis, Zoe Stavri, Juliet Jacques, the Vagenda team, Sianushka, the Nat Fantastic – and s/he is likely to come from a passionate feminist position. Big grassroots organisations are increasingly feminist and any far left group simply won’t get the numbers without them. The only remaining power play for a far left activist is to disassociate completely with the SWP and set up as some kind of new party that doesn’t have the SWP’s black past. Maybe I’m being too cynical and Richard Seymour really does have the sisterhood’s best interests at heart. But ask yourself: can you really trust a man who writes that badly?
Penny writes that ‘Many of the UK’s most important thinkers and writers are members, or former members’ of the SWP.’ She could have said that most of them became important writers and thinkers after they left the SWP. Paul Richards nails it, in his indispensable essay on the cult:
They sweep up young, idealistic people, take their idealism and energy, and wring them out like sheets of kitchen towel. They turn people off progressive politics for life. They stand alongside decent-minded people, subvert their campaigns, and drive them into the ground.
The problem with the SWP isn’t that it acts on naive, utopian and impractical politics, it’s that it actively crushes and destroys human creativity, idealism, hopes and dreams.
A very big rock has been lifted up. Whether it’s Savile, Cyril Smith or the WRP, this stuff always comes out eventually. Thank god for the internet. It exposes everything.
In his increasingly undignified rightward belly-crawl from the SWP, via Respect, into a sort of incoherent Labourite Stalinism whilst playing the role of tame anti-Trot witch-hunter for unspecified audiences, Andy Nooman at least provides some entertainment this festive season. I was about to say “harmless” entertainment, but his latest ranting on his ”Socialist Unity” blog, about the revolutionary left (in this case, the AWL/ Alliance for Workers Liberty) is, by his own account “a redacted version of something I wrote for another audience.” I wonder who that “other audience” might be?
Above: Stroppybird’s cat
Nooman’s sub-political tirade is avowedly based upon John Sullivan’s ‘When This Pub Closes’ which is poor stuff but at least evinces some political grasp of its subject(s). In fact, Nooman, whether he knows it or not, is more in the tradition of the rank Stalinist ignoramous Denver Walker’s student union-level, scummy little tome ‘Quite Right Mr Trotsky.’
Anyway, there is much to be enjoyed in Nooman’s bile against the revolutionary left and his grovelling to the Labour/TU bureaucracy, but sadly he doesn’t let us link to “Socialist Unity,” so you’ll have to use Google, or copy/paste socialistunity.com/the-alliance-for-workers-liberty-the-dynamics-of-a-malignant-cult/
The comments are most entertaining as well, including:
* 23. How inept do you have to be in order to pen a hatchet job that embarrasses yourself more than anybody else? - Patrick Smith
* 123. EDUCATION? DEMOCRACY? ACTIVITY? What a DISGRACE to the left. A disgrace to socialist countries/union leaders/students.
I’m really glad you’ve outed them about all that sexual impropriety.m Who needs facts when you’ve got pure conjecture? I bet they’re all a bunch of filthy deviants. Oh and yes, I heard that Sheffield was particularly bad too. Need castrating, the lot of them – RHuzzah
* 142. Until this article was posted I’d never heard of the AWL, and from reading all the heated posts about occult meetings sexual impropriety and filthy deviants I only have one question.
Where do I sign up? – CJB
* 161. Ok. John [John Wight, Nooman's antisemitic sidekick - JD] couldn’t care less about someone writing for this blog or its standing among people who used to advocate for it. Andy completely agrees with him. Egal.
A narrowing of vision accompanied by a growing climate of intolerance, abuse and bullying — I for one have seen this movie a couple of times before And know well the last reel.
So no song and dance, just ciao — bella – Kevin Ovenden [former Socialist Unity contributor - JD]
P.S: Check out the attacks on Yours Truly: Nooman can’t even get this attempt at “humour” right, and work out whether I’m Father Ted or Father Jack…
I thought this was a nasty, racist spoof created by Galloway’s enemies to make him and ‘Honeyglaze’ Jasper look and sound like a pair of total jerks (not that it’s difficult to do that). But apparently it’s genuine. If you haven’t already seen it, brace yourself and prepare to cringe:
Hopefully, the humiliations at Croydon North and Rotherham, coming hard on the heels of the resignation of Salma Yaqoob, will finally kill off the reactionary, communalist vanity project that is/was ‘Respect.’
[The remarks occur 21:40 into the video]
Of course, Galloway is not a rape-apologist…any more than he’s an antisemite
Galloway: “I mean not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion. Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you’re already in the sex game with them.
“It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said, “do you mind if I do it again?”.
“It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning.
“I don’t believe either of those women, I don’t believe either of these stories.”
Galloway later defended his remarks on Twitter, claiming that what constitutes a sexual offence in Sweden would not be considered such a crime in the UK:
Former Monty Python star Terry Jones has also taken to Twitter to defend Assange:
A spokesman for Rape Crisis said: “It is clear from George Galloway’s comments that his legal understanding of rape is factually incorrect.
“Having had consensual sex with someone once does not mean a woman has forever forfeited her right to withdraw or refuse her consent to further sex with that person.
“Sex without consent is rape. Mr. Galloway’s description of sexual violence as ‘really bad manners’, as well as his apparent ignorance of the law, is offensive and deeply concerning.”
Extracted from Huffington Post
Crow’s a posturing twat, anyway…
Above: portraits of a fake-left twat
Dave K writes:
On 3 March, the Guardian announced that Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks would be making “an investigative thriller in the mould of All the President’s Men out of its book WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. I asked David Leigh, who wrote the book with Luke Harding, how much DreamWorks had paid the Guardian for the screen rights and what he expected to make personally. “No idea,” was the puzzling reply of the Guardian’s “investigations editor”. The paper paid WikiLeaks nothing for its treasure trove of leaks. Assange and WikiLeaks – not Leigh or Harding – were responsible for what the Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, has called “one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the last 30 years”.
[To do these parasites justice, they did have to read masses of fragmentary documentation and make some kind of sense of it.]
The Guardian has made it clear that it has no further use for Assange. He is a loose cannon who did not fit Guardianworld, who proved a tough, unclubbable negotiator. And brave. In the Guardian’s self-regarding book, Assange’s extraordinary bravery is excised. He becomes a figure of petty bemusement, an “unusual Australian” with a “frizzy-haired” mother; he is gratuitously abused as “callous” and a “damaged personality” who was “on the autistic spectrum”. How will Spielberg deal with this childish character assassination?
[Actually, the book says a lot about Assange’s courage, brilliant brain and indifference to comfort and material possessions. When I’d finished reading it I admired Assange more than I had before.]
On the BBC’s Panorama, Leigh indulged hearsay that Assange did not care about the lives of those named in the leaks.
Assange‘s indifference to the lives of those named in the link turns up on p111 of the book. The Afghan war logs in Wikileaks’ possession mentioned “names of informants or those who had collaborated with US troops. . .”
I [Declan Walsh, one of the Guardian team sifting through the leaks] told David Leigh I was worried about the repercussions of publishing these names, who could easily be killed by the Taliban or other militant groups if identified. David agreed it was a concern and said he’d raised the issue with Julian, but he didn’t seem concerned. That night, we went out to a Moorish restaurant, Moro, with the two German reporters. David broached the problem again with Julian. The response floored me. ‘Well, they’re informants,’ he said. ‘So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.’ There was, for a moment, silence around the table. I think everyone was struck by what a callous thing that was to say.
In the event the names were redacted.
As some commenters in the thread point out, Pilger misuses the word “hearsay“. David Leigh heard these remarks of Assange with his own ears. It wasn’t reported to him by someone else, which is what “hearsay” means. There were three other witnesses there who heard this as well, and in the thread David Leigh names them. However Pilger has been indulging in “hearsay” himself since he presumably is going by what Assange has told him what was said at this dinner.
As always with Assange and Wikileaks, there is a lovely irony in this. The creed of St Julian says “We believe in raw data, unmediated and unchannelled. Cover us with data, oh Lord, so we can save our souls.” In this instance Leigh is the man who holds the raw data bleeding and dripping in his hands, Pilger has had it cooked and processed.
Pilger also says:-
As for the claim that he had complained of a “Jewish conspiracy”, which followed a torrent of internet nonsense that he was an evil agent of Mossad, Assange rejected this as “completely false, in spirit and word”.
[Pilger, once a courageous reporter who would travel to war zones, evidently hasn’t been around the internet much. It’s perfectly possible that you will be attacked as an evil agent of Mossad because your leaks don’t deal much with the insanity-inducing obsession, Israel, while you agree with a view that has a fairly broad consensus, that the world is ruled by a Zionist entity via its partner, the USA.]
Pilger does not address the most damning charge against Asange’s political and moral judgement in the Panorama programme, his dealings with the obsessive anti-semite and general loon, Israel Shamir. A useful summary of this association can be found here by Nathalie Rothschild, though no doubt many will find her surname suspect.
The words “Julian Assange” are as reliable a nutter magnet as “Israel and Palestine“. In the Liberal Conspiracy thread on Private Eye’s revelations about Assange’s belief in a Jewish media conspiracy people turn up to say that (a) Private Eye must have been hoaxed or is telling lies; (b) Assange was only saying what’s true anyway. The same calibre of commenter turns up at John Pilger‘s thread saying (a) David Leigh was telling lies; (b) what’s wrong with killing informants anyway?