… 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.
In an interesting review of Orwell’s public school memoir Such, Such Were the Joys, in today’s Graun, Francis Wheen is quoted on the subject of the disintegration of the Socialist Workers Party:
“[T]he party’s leader Alex Callinicos, grandson of the 2nd Lord Acton, was educated at a top private school and another senior leader, Charlie Kimber, is the Old Etonian son of a baronet. Also prominent in the brouhaha has been Dave Renton, an Old Etonian barrister related to a former Tory chief whip: ‘It sometimes reads like a conversation between Old Rugbeians and Old Etonians about the main British Trotskyist Party. It’s quite bizarre’.”
This reminded me of the latest cartoon strip from the pen that brought us the fabulous Billy Delta of Red Friars. This follow-up is not, perhaps, quite as hilarious (in part because the main characters are less well-known, and the plot-line more convoluted), but it’s still a good sectarian chuckle…
Above: Class Monitor Tim is showing the new boy Cuthbert Cringe-Renton around the school.
And on a (very) loosely related theme, for anyone with a lot of spare time there are tons of bulletins from the last four conferences of the American ISO (former comrades of the SWP), on this site: http://thecharnelhouse.org/2014/02/07/international-socialist-organization-2014-convention-bulletin/
I was going to put a question-mark at the end of that headline, but on reflection decided not to. I think we can be unequivocal about this.
When I was a callow young Trotskyist and James P. Cannon fan, older, more experienced comrades told me that Cannon’s organisation, the American SWP (no relation to the Brit group of the same name) had gone off the rails very badly in the 1950′s, when Cannon began to take a back seat and handed the reins over to lesser figures like Joseph Hansen. Evidence of this petty bourgeois degeneration, I was told, was a ludicrous faction fight over the question of women’s cosmetics that threatened to tear the SWP apart. In the end, good ol’ James P. came out of semi-retirement to bang heads together and tell Hansen and the comrades to get a grip and stop arguing about such irrelevant nonsense. Anyway, that’s how I remember being told about it.
As you can imagine, I never (until now) took the trouble to investigate the matter in any detail, but if you’re interested, quite a good account is given here, and you can even read some of the contemporaneous internal documents here, if you scroll down to No. A-23, October 1954. On the other hand, like myself when I was first told about the Great Cosmetics Faction Fight (GCFF), you may feel that life’s too short…
The point being, that I’ve always carried round in the back of my mind a vague recollection of the GCFF as a prime example of petty bourgeois leftist irrelevance, and probably the most ridiculous and laughable left-group factional dispute of all time.
The recent row within the International Socialist Network, resulting in the resignations of some of its most prominent members, makes the SWP’s GCFF look quite down to earth and sensible. If you ever wanted an example of why serious, socialist-inclined working class people all too often regard the far left as a bunch of irrelevant, posturing tossers, this is it. Don’t ask me what it’s all about, or what “race play” is. Comrade Coatesy gives some helpful background here and here. More detail for the serious connoisseur (aka “more discerning customer” wink, wink, reaching under the counter) here and here.
I’ll simply add, for now, that this preposterous business does appear to be genuine (rather than, as some might reasonably suspect, an exercise in sitautionist performance art and/or anti-left political satire) and is also one of those rather pleasing situations in which no-one in their right mind cares who wins: both sides are unspeakably awful self-righteous jerks. Actually, the ISN majority strike me as, if anything, even worse than Seymour, Miéville and their friend “Magpie” – if that’s possible. Still, it’s hard not to endulge in just a little schadenfreude at the discomfiture of Richard “Partially Contingent” Seymour, a character who’s made a minor career out of sub-Althussarian pretentiousness and “anathematising” others on the left for their real or imagined transgressions against “intersectionality“, and now falls victim to it himself.
Those who live by intersectionality, die by intersectionality.
Or, as Seymour himself put it in his seminal postgraduate thesis Patriarchy and the capitalist state:
“My suggestion is that as an analytic, patriarchy must be treated as one type of the more general phenomena of gender projects which in certain conjunctures form gender formations. What is a gender formation? I am drawing a direct analogy with Omi and Winant’s conception of racial formations, which comprises “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed … historically situated projects in which human bodies and social structures are represented and organized.” This is connected “to the evolution of hegemony, the way in which society is organized and ruled,” in the sense that racial projects are linked up with wider repertoires of hegemonic practices, either enabling or disrupting the formation of broad ruling or resistant alliances. A gender formation would thus be a ’sociohistorical process’ in which gender categories are ‘created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed’ through the interplay and struggle of rival gender projects. From my perspective, this has the advantage of grasping the relational, partially contingent and partially representational nature of gendered forms of power, and providing a means by which patriarchy can indeed be grasped in relation to historical materialism.”
The Thatcher fan club (led by the Daily Mail) howls with rage at those who dare ‘disrespect’ her memory.
Remember when harmless, decent, old Michael Foot died?
From the Daily Mail (two days after his death):
NB: Wikipedia states that “at the outbreak of the Second World War, Foot volunteered for military service, but was rejected because of his chronic asthma. It has been suggested (2011) that he became a member of the secret Auxiliary Units.
“In 1940, under the pen-name “Cato” he and two other Beaverbrook journalists (Frank Owen, editor of the Standard, and Peter Howard of the Daily Express) published Guilty Men, a Left Book Club book attacking the appeasement policy of the Chamberlain government, which became a run-away best-seller.”-JD
H/t Sunny at Liberal Conspiracy
James Bloodworth (writing at Obliged to Offend in December 2011):
Instead of celebrating … the left should reflect on what a
pig’s ear it’s made of the past 30 years
Ever since Margaret Thatcher stopped appearing in public due to poor health, the
fit and proper reaction to her eventual exit from the earthly realm has been
discussed with increasing regularity by the left.
That rolling news will gloss over her legacy with the empty platitudes of the obsequious is entirely predictable. Nor will it surprise many to see the leading lights of the Labour
Party queuing up to shower the former Prime Minister with praise.
There are, however, plenty of us who haven’t forgotten the lives she destroyed, the
dictators she championed or the unmitigated social disaster set in motion by her
particular brand of finance capitalism. We do not feel the need to do what many
formerly of the left now do, and parrot the dictum that we are ‘all Thatcherites
now’ (just a hint, but when a person says neo-liberal capitalism is ‘inevitable’
what they really mean is that it is desirable). Many of us are not, and never
will be Thatcherites, and we will continue to feel no shame in believing that
there is more to life than the winner-takes-all capitalism she so
unapologetically championed during her lifetime.
There are of course also those, on the other side of the fence, who view Thatcher’s eventual demise as an opportunity to get one over on her family, her friends, and her supporters
in a way that was not possible in an era when her ideas triumphed so
emphatically. In this regard, Margaret Thatcher’s death is not only to be
greeted with sullen contempt, but is to be actively celebrated.
The idea of getting back at this almost mythical figure for the numerous defeats she
inflicted on the left is strong motivation for those planning to crack open the
Champers on learning of her passing. Considering that during her reign she
trounced us at every opportunity, revelled in her victories, and then did it
again, the desire to see the back of the woman is perhaps understandable, even
if the outright celebration of her passing is, to my mind at least, taking
things a bit far.
What we on the left would do well to remember, however,
is that the ideas embodied by Mrs Thatcher are not going to be dented, let alone
killed-off by the departure of their most famous living embodiment. ‘All the
forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come,’ Victor
Hugo once said, and if the left is to recover from the tremendous setbacks it
has suffered during the past 30 years, it is the ideas embodied by Mrs Thatcher
that must be replaced, not the worn-out figure of an elderly lady.
Rather than celebrating the death of a human being, even a not
particularly endearing one, the left should instead examine with
clear-sightedness where it has gone wrong, how it has behaved and how it can do
better – and boy, can it do better. Considering the complete failure to make any
political inroads since the 2008 banking crash, this should be clearer today
Time and energy spent celebrating the deaths of those who
popularise ideas we dislike is time that would be better spent popularising our
own ideas. With this in mind, morbid celebrations are better left to the
psychologically unhinged. The media already does an effective job in portraying
us as morally detached from the values of the average person; they certainly
don’t need us serving up ammunition on a plate for them.
At a time when the revolutionary left is coming in for a lot of stick, it’s worth remembering that many bourgeois politicians are also scum-bags and bare-faced liars. At least Huhne will be going to jail. His perversion of the Course of Justice (bullying his then-wife into taking the rap for a speeding offence) is typical of this loathsome shyster. Back in 2009/2010 he even ripped off the tax payer with the following expenses claim, a £1,500 bill he submitted as part of his parliamentary expenses:
But a bit of petty money-grubbing like that is as nothing to the swine’s treatment of his ex-wife and family, as revealed in court today:
The messages between Chris Huhne and his son Peter that were read out in court:
PH: “We all know that you were driving and you put pressure on Mum. Accept it or face the consequences. You’ve told me that was the case. Or will this be another lie?”
CH: “I have no intention of sending Mum to Holloway Prison for three months. Dad.”
PH: “Are you going to accept your responsibility or do I have to contact the police and tell them what you told me?”
PH: “I don’t want to speak to you, you disgust me, f**k off.”
PH: “You are the most ghastly man I’ve ever known. Does it give you pleasure that you have lost almost all of your friends?”
PH: “You just don’t get it.”
CH: “Happy Christmas. I love you”
PH: “I hate you so f**k off.”
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.’
On the eve of the election this appeared on the Respect Site.
We are on the edge of a political earthquake in British politics. In polling conducted at the weekend, the Respect candidate in the Rotherham by-election, Yvonne Ridley, has the lead over Labour. Labour has panicked and launched a vicious and negative campaign of dirty tricks against Respect but this has been sidelined by our magnificent positive campaign with the Respect battle bus, advertizing truck and campaign groups in every ward.
Polling conducted in the Croydon North by-election suggests that Lee Jasper, the Respect candidate, is now neck and neck with the Labour Party to win the constituency.
This is what happened (including the Middlesbrough by-election),
“Labour has won three by-elections, holding Croydon North, Middlesbrough and Rotherham parliamentary seats.
It increased its share of the vote in all three seats, but its majority was down in Rotherham, where the previous MP had quit over expenses claims.
The UK Independence Party came second in Middlesbrough and Rotherham, and finished third in Croydon North.”
How did Respect fare?
|Rotherham by-election, 29 November 2012|
|English Democrats||David Wildgoose||703||3.30|
|Liberal Democrat||Michael Beckett||451||2.11||-13.87|
|Trade Unionist & Socialist||Ralph Dyson||261||1.22|
|no description||Clint Bristow||29||0.14|
|Croydon North by-election, 2012|
|Liberal Democrat||Marisha Ray||860||3.5||-10.5|
|Christian Peoples||Stephen Hammond||192||0.8||N/A|
|National Front||Richard Edmonds||161||0.7||N/A|
|Monster Raving Loony||John Cartwright||110||0.4||N/A|
|Nine Eleven Was An Inside Job||Simon Lane||66||0.3||N/A|
|Young People’s Party||Robin Smith||63||0.3||N/A|
This is a good thing.
That is despite (as Toby says) the fact that the Labour winners in Rotherham and Croydon are part of the hidebound right-wing of the party.
It is still an anti-Coalition result.
The sensation of these elections is of course the UKIP vote.
These ‘fascists in blazers’ are the weevils of the British politics.
What for the left?
TUSC (261, 1,22 % in Rotherham and 277, 1,6% in Middlesbrough) and the Communist Party (119 votes) did not do well at all.
Ridley’s votes (1,778, 8, 3,4%) are far too many for any socialist to rejoice about.
Somebody who says this, ““[Respect] is a Zionist-free party… if there was any Zionism in the Respect Party they would be hunted down and kicked out. We have no time for Zionists.” She explained that government support “goes towards that disgusting little watchdog of America that is festering in the Middle East”. She went on to attack the Tories and Lib Dems, saying that all the mainstream parties are “riddled with Zionists”” represents forces that have no part in the labour movement.
Still one cannot but smile as ‘Rapper Jasper’s’ result: a lost deposit.
And at the pitiful attempts to draw comfort from their result by Respect supporters (wonder how long this link will last before these ‘democrats’ take it down).
The obvious fact is that Respect have drawn from the old (and now unused) Liberal Democrats’ by-election strategy: publish boosting made-up door-step reports and ‘polls’ just before an election.
And the truly magnificent score of the Rotherham Liberal Democrats (2,11% below an Independent, 2,73%) brings a spring to the step.
Example #1 (lovingly reported on 18 June at Socialist Unity, who prevent us linking):
According to the Sunday Herald:
“It wasn’t much fun being an Israeli footballer at Tynecastle yesterday. Lashed by the rain, barracked by pro-Palestinian demonstrators – and seven goals down at half-time…against a noisy backdrop of protests about the imprisonment of Palestinian footballers. The Israeli national anthem was jeered, and the players booed…the demonstrators’ chants for Scotland to score 10″
2 Responses to PRO-PALESTINIAN ACTIVISTS SCORE AGAINST APARTHEID AT TYNECASTLE PARK IN EDINBURGH
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Link to story: Signeul’s side inflict rout on suffering visitorsPosted by skidmarx 18 June, 2012 at 10:34 am
absolutely brilliant protest.reminded me of similar protest some years back at a men,s U21 game between the two in Livingstone(or was it Hamilton?). on that occasion we were frisked and scanned and all palestinian flags/posters were confiscated by the police.inside we were constantly filmed and photographed by special branch goons. however we managed to get a few flags in thanks to female protesters who had secreted them in their undergarments.best of all, scores of balloons were blown up inside and formed to make Palestinian symbols. throughout,there was non stop chanting,so important as the game was being broadcast live in Israel. well done everyone. couldn,t make it myself due to going to the well attended and important REFUGEES ARE WELCOME/STOP THE EVICTIONS demo in Glasgow.Posted by iain brown 18 June, 2012 at 11:22 am
A couple of weeks later the same fans chanted “Hamas, Hamas, Jews off to the gas” to fans from Lodz, a city whose population was a third Jewish before the second world war. Lowles says it is not just the supporters who are prone to nationalism. Jan Tomaszewski, a former Polish goalkeeper, said last August he was ashamed of the current Polish team which was made up of players who were not “true Poles”. Tomaszewski, now an MP for the rightwing Law and Justice party, said: “This hotchpotch lacks only a cannibal from Africa, who once ate a Polish missionary. This is not a Polish team. There are Colombian and German stray dogs.”
Rebekah Brooks is among six people arrested by Scotland Yard detectives on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, as part of the investigation into phone hacking.
The former News International chief executive was arrested at her home in Oxfordshire by detectives from Operation Weeting. Sources also said that her husband, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, was arrested.