There is much to be said for Schadenfreude. (If it was edible, it would be a meal in a very expensive restaurant, for which someone else was paying.) So it’s probably inadvertently that Morrissey has added to the gaiety of nations this past fortnight with the publication of his autobiography, winningly titled Autobiography. So catastrophically bad does the book turn out to be that Morrissey-loathing critics have queued up to give it (and him) a damn good thrashing. It has been a long time coming. While it has always been clear that The Smiths were every bit as good as we thought they were at the time, it is even clearer now that Morrissey’s symbiotic working partnership with Johnny Marr was the reason why. Since the band crumbled in 1987, all but Morrissey’s most unhinged fans would struggle to name even three halfway decent songs he has written. I myself like ‘First of the Gang to Die’ and…that’s pretty much it. By any standards, it’s a pretty feeble catalogue. No wonder he is always so cheesed off.
The greatest disappointment of Autobiography, though, is that even the moaning is substandard. For someone whose hatred of himself is surpassed only by his hatred of everyone else, you would have expected Morrissey to have whined, whinged, grouched and bellyached with a certain style, at the very least. But no, it’s all so trivial and petulant, as if to confirm one’s suspicion that those who find fame when young cease to mature at that moment and just become saggier and ever more revolting manifestations of their youthful selves. Still, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
By extraordinary coincidence, I have also been reading a curious little autobiographical volume by another hero of long ago, Donald Fagen, once and again of Steely Dan. In the 1980s, while The Smiths were rampant, Fagen was washed up and burnt out, and in lieu of recording new music (for which he had no ideas), he wrote some columns about old music for Première magazine and others. The more autobiographical of these have fetched up in Eminent Hipsters (Jonathan Cape, £16.99) and they are good fun, although the youthful enthusiasms of others are never quite as interesting to us as they are to them. To bulk out the book, though, Fagen has thrown in a tour diary he wrote in 2012 of a summer-long jaunt he took across the US with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald. They called themselves ‘The Dukes of September’, a typically wry acknowledgment of the fact that none of them will see 60 again. When Fagen travels with Steely Dan, it’s big venues, comfortable hotels and plane flights all the way.
The Dukes of September tour was slightly more low-rent. ‘Aside from the rehearsals, I never leave the hotel room. Mainly, I’ve been lying in bed and thinking about cigarettes.’ Every time he rings for room service, the poor sod at the other end responds to everything with a perky ‘Absolutely!’ ‘At night, to get to sleep, I watch pay-per-view movies on the hotel system. The movies are so bad now that I usually pass out just after catching the first glimpse of the flesh-eating death mist (or whatever).’ He doesn’t read much any more. ‘I’m now at the age — 64 — where so many sad things have happened that I’m too broken and anxious to read.’ I hope he’s not counting my slightly unenthusiastic review of his last album, but I imagine not.
To save money, Scaggs and McDonald are sleeping on their buses. The acoustics in all the halls are dreadful, and the audience only ever wants to hear the hits, and not the hoary old soul tunes the band wants to play. ‘By the way, I’m not posting this journal on the internet. Why should I let you lazy, spoiled TV Babies read it for nothing in the same way you download all those songs my partner and I sacrificed our entire youth to write and record, not to mention the miserable, friendless childhoods we endured that left us with lifelong feelings of shame and self-reproach we were forced to countervail with a fragile grandiosity and a need to constantly prove our self-worth — in short, with the sort of personality disorders that ultimately turned us into performing monkeys?’
In short, this is moaning of the highest order — jazz moaning, you might call it — and Fagen keeps it up for 70 brilliant, hilarious pages. For the intelligent, grumpy old music fan, only one of these books needs to be bought as a present this Christmas, and it’s not Morrissey’s.
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