In his long-awaited memoir, Morrissey sheds his wilting-wallflower image
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In “Pretty Girls Make Graves,” off the Smiths’ 1983 self-titled debut album, Morrissey bemoans the advances of a voracious woman: “But she’s too rough, and I’m too delicate.” That’s how the world has tended to see the singer: the prince of mope rock, someone who speaks for life’s wilting wallflowers, the easily bruised and eternally unrequited. From his fey, sighing vocals, often spiraling up into a genderless falsetto, to lyrics that express the erotic ascetic yearnings of someone with “no understanding of himself as flesh,” most of Morrissey’s best songs fit this image of bookish, bedroom-cloistered sensitivity.
Yet something odd becomes apparent as you make your way through Autobiography, the fifty-four-year-old singer’s best-selling new memoir. Yes, Morrissey sings on behalf of those brutalized by the world and its bullies. But he also admires and aspires to a certain sort of brutish ruthlessness. There’s a consistent attraction to masculine hardness running through his life and work, starting perhaps with Morrissey’s handy-with-his-fists father and blossoming later with songs that reveal a fascination with criminals, boxers, hooligans, and others who both dish out and take punishment. Musically, too, it becomes apparent that for all the yearning tenderness and fragile shimmer-jangle of songs like “Reel Around the Fountain,” and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” the Smiths were a punk band as far as Morrissey’s concerned: an aggressive pushback against the world that had overlooked and mocked him, an act of vengeance.
He describes the Smiths in militaristic
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