As the frontman of the Smiths and as a solo artist, Morrissey has managed to capture the radiant glow of sadness in ways that few rock icons have. Now the man who gave us ”Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” has channeled that gorgeous misery into Autobiography, a bracing, beautiful tour de force of a rock memoir.
His tale begins in ’60s Manchester, a blighted sub-working-class town. There grew Steven Morrissey, an aimless and perpetually melancholy youth. The operatic heartbreak that would later inform the Smiths’ best songs sprang from his everyday tragedies — the pain of divorce, the passing of too-young family members, and the alienation that comes from sexual confusion. He was saved through pop music, eventually finding a compatriot in guitarist Johnny Marr and forming a band of his own. The passages on the blooming of the Smiths and their harrowed existence — huge in the U.K. but constantly under fire from critics, contemporaries, and suits alike — deftly convey his eternal inner struggle, wavering between the ecstasy of finding his voice and the angst over bad business decisions and fractured friendships.
Autobiography is not divided into chapters, a structural challenge that makes the propulsion of the prose all the more important. Even as Morrissey’s romanticism turns to hostility during his transition from the Smiths to a solo career, his way with words remains wonderfully lush. Sideways skids into topics like animal cruelty feel pulsating and alive, especially when his gallows humor lifts the mood. It’s those glimpses of light in the darkness that make Autobiography spry, and they reflect Morrissey’s greatest gift as a frontman: Even when he’s spewing bile, his poetic raconteur’s soul keeps him lovable. A