Simon Goddard | Songs That Saved Your Life (Revised Edition): The Art of The Smiths 1982-87 (Titan Books)

songsthatsaved 75The book is a Harold Bloom-ian analysis of practically every song and performance from The Smith halcyon days.

 

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The decades have not diluted Simon Goddard’s obsession with The Smiths. A self-proclaimed “Smiths apostle,” Goddard has written two impressive volumes about the world’s ultimate ’80s indie band: The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life (2002) and Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths (Plume, 2010). This year saw the publication of a revised version of Songs, now titled Songs That Saved Your Life: The Art of the Smiths 1982-87

The inclusion of dates in the title would suggest a more focused approach to writing about Moz and his Manchester mates. What we get instead, however, is a Harold Bloom-ian analysis of practically every song and performance from The Smith halcyon days.

The prologue takes an imaginary—and idealistic—account of the first meeting between guitarist Johnny Marr and wordsmith Steven Morrissey. Pinning Marr on the front steps of Morrissey’s home, Goddard creates a narrative that emphasizes the importance of this door knock heard around the world. Goddard bookends his work with a dreamed-up, decadent decline of The Smiths. This narrative prose, which Goddard uses throughout Songs, may be accessible to casual music fans, but heightens the experience for Smiths fans. 

In contrast to the overtly romantic tale of The Smiths’ birth and demise, the bulk of Songs contains heavily researched material. Like any legitimate biographer, Goddard relies on support from a variety of sources: quotes from Morrissey, Marr, bassist Andy Rourke, and drummer Mike Joyce; eyewitness accounts from their technicians or producers; archived magazine articles; interview transcripts; published books; documentaries and videos; and fan websites. These chronologically presented sketches read much like the encyclopedic entries in Mozipedia, but they contain a narrative flare that gives them a feel reminiscent of micro-stories. 

In one account, Goddard spins the yarn about the recording process surrounding “How Soon Is Now?”, arguably The Smiths most mainstream single. (Remember the title sequence to Charmed?) Who knew “the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ of the ’80s” had a tinge of Credence Clearwater Revival, or was lyrically inspired by George Elliot’s Middlemarch? And if you did, could you dissect the technical aspects of the recording, how Marr created the tremolo effect, or what amp was used for the reverb? (It was a Fender Twin, if you’re wondering.) 

I was interested in how Goddard would account for the pedophilia controversy surrounding “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.” The author mentions it without too much digression, relying rather on source material and pushing aside the tabloids. An example is when Goddard cites the 1955 film The Colditz Story as the tile inspiration for “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” while linking the lyrics to a 1935 Katherin Hepburn film. This isn’t to say that the entries drag; all are sub-headed by song title and year, and most range from one to several pages, so the volume is a light read if done episodically. With such intense focus, Goddard definitely has an ability to mix artistic and historical accounts. 

But Goddard expands his re-creation beyond the songs. The appendices list the backstories of the releases of single, notable concert appearances, BBC Radio spots, and appearances on U.K. television, many of which can be viewed online. So with relatively unlimited resources at our own disposal, what makes is a revised book about The Smiths’ discography relevant?

Because flashes of artistic genius like The Smiths stretch beyond our imaginations and comprehension—and it takes someone like Simon Goddard to capture it and package it so we can once again learn to appreciate it. | J. Church

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