By JAMES PARKER  |  March 27, 2006

First lesson: don’t fight it, feel it. Abandon yourself. “Morrissey was both siren and Man Friday to me — the seductive architect of my doom and my sole, loyal companion. . . . I lay on my mattress gasping and panting as I listened . . . ” As the disease progresses and Simpson enters manhood, his Moz-inspired rejection of necessity and aristocratic embrace of squalor threaten to turn him into a character from mid-20th-century Irish literature, something out of Beckett’s Murphy or Flann O’Brien. “Essentially,” he writes, “the trick to saving money on the dole was to minimize your life functions until they could barely be measured. This meant staying in bed most of the day while wearing two layers of clothes, with your overcoat over the bed, to save fuel. In other words, you actually had to die in an economical, if not a clinical, sense.” Second lesson: never lose your sense of humor.

Third lesson: grow up. Having acquired maturity, perspective and literary skill, and armed with the power of critical thinking, Simpson writes the book. And Saint Morrissey is more or less the perfect Morrissey book, in that it spurns the biographical grind so deplored by its subject, the damp Manchester of the day-to-day, to dance among the totems and effigies of the Morrissey psyche — his Oscar Wildes and James Deans and New York Dolls and Rita Tushinghams. Don’t know who Rita Tushingham is? Neither did I. She was the lead actress in A Taste of Honey, the 1961 film and jewel of British New Realism, with lines like “Women never have young minds. They are born three thousand years old.” Honey’s author, 17-year-old Mancunian playwright Shelagh Delaney, was a sort of Morrissey-in-waiting, a renegade sensitivity with a poison pen and a series of impossible demands. Another line from the movie: “You’re nothing to me. I’m everything to myself.” The Smiths songbook, as Simpson shows, is fairly pickled in Shelagh Delaney moments.

So the Smiths split, and then there’s the solo career with its boxer/villain æsthetic, and the court case where Smiths drummer Mike Joyce squeezes a million pounds out of “devious, truculent and unreliable” Morrissey (the judge’s words) and the music press flap about skinhead imagery and waving the flag (“My lawyers are poised,” an unrepentant Morrissey tells the NME), then the sweaty and hysterical US tours, the incomprehensibly adoring Latino fan base, and finally the strangest apparition of all: the exile nibbling toast in his LA mansion that looks, in Simpson’s words, “like a gingerbread windmill.” For Simpson, Morrissey is a world-historical figure: the Last Popstar, and possibly the Last Englishman. The fraught and delicate condition of Englishness, dynamited first by Thatcherism and then by Ecstasy, is deceased, its remains being curated exclusively by Morrissey. So his argument runs, and the fact that I disagree with it entirely did not interfere in the slightest with my enjoyment of his book.

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Smitten by the Smiths: an excerpt from Saint Morrissey. By Mark Simpson

Morrissey and the media

Five precious moments in a long, long love affair:

1) You must get a few propositions these days  . . . “Not many! The shock of the whole thing to me is that not many situations do arise. I thought literally queues upon queues would form, but it’s not the case. After the end of a sizzling performance, where people are simply eating each other to get close to the stage, I find myself back at the hotel with Scrabble and an orange. It’s all very curious.” ( Jamming , 1984)

2) What do you like in your music? “ I can’t forgive anybody a bad lyric, really. I like to think a singer is singing with a sense of immediate death. The Gallows Humor, la-di-da. That it’s the last song I’ll ever sing, quite literally. I like singers to sing with desperation. ( NME , 1989)

3) Where do you go for your holidays? “ I don’t go on holiday. Not since they shut down Butlins at Bognor. I just hang around the East End in a long black cape.” ( Q , 1995)

4) “I’m not a phone person. I can’t quite get used to the telephone.” Why? Lack of intimacy? “ Lack of interest. There’s usually a person on the other end.” ( Modern Rock Live , 1997)

5) Did you hear t.A.T.U.’s version of “How Soon Is Now”? “Yes, it was magnificent. Absolutely. Again, I don’t know much about them. They’re the teenage Russian lesbians. “Well, aren’t we all?” (Word, 2003)

- from Saint Morrissey

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