Alternative music’s most obsessed-about icon gets the business from an appropriately obsessed fan.
Barely two pages into this “psychobio” of the former lead signer of The Smiths, the author opines, “Arguably, poor Oscar [Wilde] was merely an early, failed, and somewhat overweight prototype for Morrissey,” and not many more before he declares, “ ‘The Smiths’ is the greatest of the Smiths’ albums, making it, of course, the Greatest Album of All Time.” There’s a wink and a nudge here, of course: Simpson, known in his native Britain as a wickedly funny, out-there gay satirist, is well aware of just how unhinged—or, yes, “alarming”—he is going to sound to those not initiated into the cult of Morrissey, and he plays off that to an extent. But he still truly thinks that Morrissey is just about the best thing to have hit modern music since . . . well, anyone. To many, The Smiths was just a band of mopey Brits with a classically handsome, sexually ambiguous singer crooning about heartache over jangling guitars. But to a vociferous minority, Morrissey became an icon, an “anti-pop idol” in Simpson’s words; to this day, his solo concerts are mobbed by screaming fans. The author is not so concerned with rehashing the ups and downs of a landmark alternative band as he is with dissecting Morrissey himself: what makes the bookish, vegetarian, celibate Irish-Catholic from Manchester tick, and what draws his fans to him. No matter how hard he digs into the perverse appeal of a highly sexualized star who renounces sex itself, Simpson doesn’t quite get an answer, but along the way he is able to fire off plenty of tart darts at the pop-historical landscape, continually topping one ludicrously overreaching announcement (“Morrissey was the real mad lad holding the world hostage at the point of a pop single”) with another.
Relentlessly enjoyable, and enhanced by the author’s absolute refusal to keep even a shred of his dignity intact.