D. McKinney | Morrissey FAQ: All That’s Left to Know about this Charming Man (Backbeat Books)

book moz-faqThere is a depth to the artist not seen in contemporary pop music. It’s predictable; Morrissey isn’t.


 


Here we go again. Another compendium for the masses. Another anthology for the fanatics. Another compilation for the people. But before we question why another tome on the Pope of Mope is warranted, let’s look at what this addition to the Morrissey canon offers.

Citing over 100 articles and more than a dozen websites and books (including Simon Goddard’s Songs That Saved Your Life: The Art of the Smiths 1982-1987, reviewed by PLAYBACK:stl in 2013), Morrissey FAQ contains some hidden gems and surprising insights. Broken into classifications, the 41 “chapters” deliver a skimmer’s delight. Readers can peruse sections noting Morrissey’s TV appearances, music videos, DVD/videotape releases, bandmate biographies, and an impressive 21-page discography. Yes, 21 pages! (Take that Taylor Swift!) Approximately 130 pages, the majority of the book, is reserved for an exhaustive track listing and dissection of his albums from The Smiths’ self-titled debut through the most recent solo releases. Overall, Morrissey FAQ reads like a checklist for Morrissey/Smiths collectors.

Entries rarely break the length of a page, which consequently gives the impression that analysis is limited or, at times, lacks depth. Instead, McKinney occasionally interjects with lighthearted gonzo journalism, reminiscing on Morrissey/Smiths–related personal experiences or creative digressions: “I think Morrissey would be an awesome stoner. He could take a couple rips off the bong, eat a bag of cookies, and settle in to watch some long, boring movie. ‘Hey man, we are all human and we need to be loved,’ he would say while high” (p. 307).

On the other hand, why should anyone take a subject like a “pop artist” seriously? Apparently, not everyone does, as noted in several of McKinney’s entries. Beavis and Butthead apparently didn’t extol reverence when they reviewed the “November Spawned a Monster” video in 1994 (p. 246), nor were Moz references by Bill Nye (p. 269) and Mystery Science Theater 3000 (p. 268) militantly devout early in his solo career. And apparently Morrissey dislikes that nickname, Moz. These entries highlight the obscure details of Morrissey’s life that fans drool over, but most entries include more familiar topics (Smiths, New York dolls, Oscar Wilde, performing with flowers).

Casual Morrissey fans (are there such creatures?) will not likely be enticed by the blandness of the layout. Morrissey FAQ is reminiscent of those overpriced textbooks written by professors and displayed in your local university, or of a self-published poetry collection by your local author. The black-and-white cover photo of younger Morrissey with a slight scowl would give some fodder for detractors. Yet, in light of that criticism, further inspection will show that this cover is a formulaic template for a series published by Hal Leonard Books. The FAQ series includes other notable film and music icons, including The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash, Star Trek, Lucille Ball, and SNL, to name a few. Morrissey, along with South Park and Nirvana, is one of the more contemporary topics. Most subjects of the books are broken-up bands or dead celebrities, which begs the question, “Who is the audience?” It becomes obvious that a book like Morrissey FAQ is not meant to attract new fans, but to captivate the already converted.

So, why is another Morrissey book needed? Simply put, this book further exhibits Morrissey’s coinciding legendary status and topical appeal. He is still a commodity, as demonstrated in his current touring schedule and continued album releases. He is still controversial (note the Jimmy Kimmel Live episode in 2013 and last month’s public letter shaming Al Gore and Live Earth’s Kevin Wall). And this is why people are “Morrissey Lovers or Morrissey Haters,” as the Morrissey FAQ author notes. His belligerency on issues like animal rights and his sardonic wit often dissuade people. But he has always been consistently boorish, and that is appealing to those who seem to understand or respect Morrissey. We fans know what to expect (musically, at least) and remain entertained. And with Morrissey, there is a depth that isn’t seen in contemporary pop music. It’s predictable; Morrissey isn’t. It’s pandering; Morrissey isn’t. It’s commercial; Morrissey isn’t. And it’s just painfully boring; and love him or hate him, Morrissey isn’t. He doesn’t have to reinvent himself with clothing lines, duets with hip-hop artists, appearances at music awards, commercial tie-ins, or aggressive tweeting. At 56, Morrissey is still Morrissey. And this is why Morrissey FAQ can be published: Because analysis of Morrissey will be a light that never goes out. | J. Church

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