He may not have produced any music of genuine significance for two decades, and has lived abroad for as long, but, somehow, 54-year-old, erstwhile Smiths potentate Steven Patrick Morrissey remains a pervasive presence on the UK music scene (and beyond – the Prime Minister professes to be a fan) – a still ineffably looming, indomitable yet enigmatic figure whose legacy of wit, wisdom and wild egocentricity, not to mention sphinx-like inscrutability, are unsurpassed in the British music since The Smiths hung up their Rickenbackers and gladioli back in 1987.
Testament to Morrissey’s enduring fascination arrived with the publication of Autobiography, his long-rumoured memoir, and the febrile response it has engendered even among those who would struggle to remember the titles of any of the Salford bard’s recent albums. Much of the debate, well, Twitter fury at least, has been focused on the author’s insistence that the tome appear as a Penguin Classic, an imprint traditionally reserved for the canon of great literary works from past centuries, not freshly minted pop star chronicles. A typically Morrisseyan gesture of wilfulness, bordering on arrogance, the book may only be a ‘classic’ in its author’s head, but whatever it says on the jacket, it has already become a literary cause célèbre unmatched, in terms of musical subject matter at least, since Bob Dylan’s Chronicles.
Reviews have been, frankly, decidedly mixed thus far, the consensus being that the book’s undoubted brilliance is too often undermined by its author’s petulance – passages of vivid purple prose about grim Manchester school days, his early musical heroes, the rise of The Smiths, or his ascent into the cultural aristocracy (taking tea with a hectoring Vanessa Redgrave one minute, turning down a part in Friends the next) being too often counterweighted by pages of huffy longueurs and dispiritingly over-long analyses of The Smith’s protracted, post-break- up legal wrangles.
For all that, Autobiography remains a thing of rare fascination. After all, what subsequent British pop star could command so many column inches and figure so prominently in the national debate simply by telling his life story to date? Like him or lump him, Morrissey is, at least temporarily, back in vogue.