I found myself watching a documentary about entertainer and force of nature Elaine Stritch the other day. It was called Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. If I’m being honest I only watched it because I read a particularly funny passage about her in Morrissey’s Autobiography and I was also aware that she had just passed away. I was in no way overly familiar with her work before coming across the documentary on Netflix by chance.
The film not only dealt with her career and her one of a kind personality, but also with her unbelievable work ethic at the age of 87 and the struggles that she faced from aging and diabetes. She was someone that had more than one memorable quote to say the least. When talking about her diabetes she simply shrugged it off by saying something along the lines of everyone has their sack of rocks that they carry around. When asked about aging she quoted Bette Davis and said, “Aging is not for sissies.”
One of the most memorable parts of the film was when her musical director talked about their first meeting. He described how right away she stated that she wanted someone that was not going to bullshit her. With her truth was essential. In fact throughout the film she spoke openly about how the entertainment business is full of people that you can’t trust completely, and that it was clear that she valued people who would be straight with her. She herself was not one to hold her tongue regarding her opinion to say the least.
The movie itself was a very interesting character study. She was someone that went to a convent before going into acting, yet she swore like a sailor. She was both extremely vulnerable and yet completely brave in many ways. She loved attention, but didn’t suffer fake praise.
I was surprised at how moved I was at this documentary featuring an 87 year old woman whose work I had no relationship with. You see her at times in the movie, especially as she is struggling with her health and talking about her battle with alcoholism, at moments of extreme human weakness. It’s also clear that she undoubtedly liked being at the center of things. However, despite whatever flaws she may have had, one can’t help but marvel at the hutzpah that she possessed.
She was dead within a year of this film coming out. Throughout the movie the end of her career and life hover continuously. If she didn’t exactly rage against the dying of the light, she definitely faced it with more balls than most. I was glad that I discovered this tough old broad by chance, on a Saturday afternoon.
Earth is the Loneliest Planet is Morrissey’s simplest lyric in some time, maybe since Best Friend on the Payroll or Do Your Best and Don’t Worry from Southpaw Grammar. I am probably missing something but those two jump out. (I actually like both those songs and especially love Best Friend on the Payroll. I’ve always found Southpaw to be his most underrated album. Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte kill it on guitars on that record. The whole band is great.) The lyrics are basically the title of the song with a couple key phrases to add some light and shade to it. And for those of you that think he is not living up to his Smith’s heritage all I have to say is Some Girls Are Bigger than Others or Never Had No One Ever. Morrissey has been writing lyrics this way since he started. And if the lyrics are simple in terms of the amount of lines that he has written, trust me, as you play the song numerous times different nuances make themselves known.
The melody is textbook Morrissey; it’s a unique melody that sticks in your craw once you have heard it several times. What makes this track so outstanding, where it really raises the bar, is the music. Flamenco guitar, French café sounding accordion, ghostly female backing vocals, and a take the paint off the barn guitar solo are all there together among other things!
What is really interesting to me now that we have heard three songs from the album is how adventurous and outward looking the production and music is. Along with the three sets of lyrics, that all seem to look out at the world, the music really has a worldly quality to it without being what you would call world music. The writing is still very much in the World of Morrissey, but each song has different flourishes that make you think of different cultures. When Morrissey does what my brother and I call the “victory lap” in his Autobiography, when he talks about all of the success his music has met in all corners of the globe in the last part of his book, it makes me think that he has folded all of these places back into his music. The fact that has been able to do this while still retaining a very unique musical and lyrical identity is really exciting. Please let the next month go quickly, I want this record!
Julie Burchill is, of course, not loveable, and has pitifully late middle-aged legs. Her naked body probably kills off marine plankton in the North Sea…Unchained from the cellar Burchill will make sure that you remember her…I shall be honored to attend her funeral and i might even jump into the grave.
Morrissey on Julie Burchill in Autobiography. Burchill is a music journalist who once worked for the NME. I know from living in the North East that you often rip on the ones you love as sort of a loving past time. I get the sense North England, and Manchester particularly, is quite the same. However, with Morrissey you can never be quite sure when he is giving someone a backhanded compliment and when he is slinging arrows at his enemies. Just don’t ever accuse him of not having a sense of humor.
Whenever I get an autobiography or biography I dread that it will focus too long on the childhood of a subject. These passages are usually dreadfully boring and rarely shed light in any meaningful way on what is important about the person.
I just got the Springsteen biography Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin. This was no exception to the rule. I quickly found myself skipping ahead a few chapters to the formation of the E Street Band. When I am reading about someone, whether they are a politician or a musician or an artist I want to know what makes them tick, why they made the decisions that they made, etc. Although occasionally these childhood passages can be enlightening, they are often a ticker tape of the ordinary. This is usually the fault of the writer and not necessarily because childhood plays no role in the formation of who these people become. It obviously does. An average writer can make a political campaign or a life among celebrities interesting, but only a truly great writer can make an average childhood come alive with meaning. Springsteen’s whole career seems to have been greatly influenced by his relationship with his father, but if a writer tackles these things as just a series of incidents, they don’t seem very meaningful. The director Werner Herzog once talked about how he didn’t like Cinema Verite because it was not ecstatic truth but the truth of accountants. Often these childhood passages are just the truth of accountants, names and dates without any deeper significance imbued in them.
In order for a writer to make childhood an interesting subject it usually helps if they have a greater historical understanding of the time and place in which a subject lived. Often what happens in a home is influenced by the outside world and vice versa. Just writing well definitely plays a part, but having this extra historical understanding goes some ways in creating a better understanding of someone.
Two books that break this mold are Neal Gabler’s excellent biography of Walt Disney and Morrissey’s own Autobiography. Gabler understood that world that Disney grew up in. He not only tells Disney’s family history, but recreates the world that he grew up in. Morrissey makes the facts of his childhood clear, but more importantly comments and describes vividly the dreary world of 1960’s and 70’s Manchester. In fact Morrissey is so adept at recreating this world though image laden and poetic writing, that as great as his book is, it almost is a slight comedown after these amazing opening chapters. With the Disney book you see how the world that Disney grew up in forever had him trying to recapture the fonder moments of his childhood. If his childhood in and of itself is not particularly interesting, the world that was around it surely is.
Our lives are not just a series of interactions and internal reflections. We can’t help but be shaped by the cultural and historical events around us, even if we greatly resist them. Even if you reject and rebel against the culture at large, you are responding to it in some way. Some of us may wish to be the “one from none”, as Henry Rollins once wrote, but we never truly are.
I’ll probably never be done writing about Lou Reed, not completely, but this is the last time I write of his death in any kind of memorial sense. I posted and dissected his lyrics for a week and I felt that fitting enough tribute. Even by the end of the week, if I’m being honest, I was beginning to tire. Not because my love for him and his work had diminished in the slightest, but because his work is powerful enough to stand on its own, without my chirpings.
However, through Morrissey’s Autobiography I have discovered the poet A.E. Housman. I just posted something by him earlier today that was quoted in Autobiography. I was able to download a book of his poetry today for the ridiculous price of $1.99. Amazing that a man’s whole life work can be bought for so little. Well he’s dead now, so at least he doesn’t have to be troubled by it.
Anyway, I had mentioned in my posts about how Lou Reed was often funny and, at least more often than his reputation would allow for, was also quite capable of commenting on the brighter side of life. However, his reputation for treading in the dark was also well earned.
For those of you that don’t have time for writers who dabble in the darker side of the human experience, or don’t understand why someone would, I thought the poem below will say what I, if I had a million words, could not. Although any words fail when trying to represent the true complexities of a human life, I thought that this poem would help explain why Lou Reed was important. He went places other writers in the field of pop music dared not go before him. I believe that this was as much purpose as chance. Those like Lou Reed carve out trails in the night, so that the rest of us won’t feel so alone when we take that similar and inevitable path.
They say my verse is sad: no wonder.
Its narrow measure spans
Rue for eternity, and sorrow
Not mine, but man’s.
This is for all ill-treated fellows
Unborn and unbegot,
For them to read when they’re in trouble
And I am not
- A. E. Housman
The thoughts of others
Were light and fleeting,
Of lovers’ meeting
Or luck or fame.
Mine were of trouble,
And mine were steady;
So I was ready
When trouble came.
By A.E. Housman – Morrissey got to this poet’s words first in his Autobiography which I’m reading, but I loved them so much I couldn’t help but share.
I knew then that life could only ever be changed for the better because somebody somewhere had taken a risk – often with their own life. As an educational establishment, St Mary’s contained only the traditional values of negativity, and there would not be a single hour spent within its walls when I could feel either relaxed or untrammeled. It simply wasn’t allowed. In their God-fearing, chanting morality, the teachers of St Mary’s only managed to convey nihilism and limericks.
Morrissey in his Autobiography.
Earlier this week I received Morrissey’s Autobiography in the mail from England. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited to receive something. Although I’m quite sure it arrived in the typically modern fashion of however Fed Ex brings their goods to our door, I imagined it arriving on a Victorian steam ship.
I am a good deal Irish and possibly a little English. I don’t feel any sense of lacking an identity, so I’m not sure why, but I have always been fascinated by British and Irish culture. Funnily enough they often hate each other.
Much like Joyce created a vivid sense of Dublin in his works, Morrissey has created through his music a mythical sense of England. Or it at least appears that way at times through the eyes of an American. That’s not to say that he holds anything back, or that he sentimentalizes anything, but it’s more an amalgamation of images. The slang of Piccadilly Palare, the Moors Murders, the Salford Lads Club, Clapham Common, and so many other things that an American boy should have no clue about, are ingrained in my mind. I took a trip to London some years back, I wish to visit Manchester someday, and around every corner was a Morrissey song lyric. Street signs that probably meant nothing to the people walking past them every day were full of life to me.
I’m only forty pages into it, too short to get any true sense of the book as a whole, but lord the man can turn a phrase in print. I should have expected no less as his song lyrics are as good as anyone’s.
I used to get upset when people didn’t get Morrissey. He has always been a hero of mine for his integrity, his wit, and his talent. But now I feel bad for people that don’t understand his art. Spending your life without Morrissey would be like never reading Oscar Wilde. You certainly can go from birth to death without reading Oscar Wilde, but why would you want to?
On this glorious occasion … of the splendid defeat – Anthony Newley
I wanna start from
Before the beginning
Loot wine, “Be mine, and
Then let’s stay out for the night”
Ride via Parkside
Jeer the lights in the windows
Of all safe and stable homes
(But wondering then, well what
Could peace of mind be like ?)
Anyway do you want to hear
Our story, or not ?
As the Fulham Road lights
Stretch and invite into the night
From a Stevenage overspill
We’d kill to live around
SW6 – with someone like you
Keep thieves’ hours
With someone like you
…As long as it slides
You stalk the house
In a low-cut blouse :
“Oh Christ, another stifled
Friday night !”
And the Fulham Road lights
Stretch and invite into the night
Well, I was fifteen
What could I know ?
When the gulf between
All the things I need
And the things I receive
Is an ancient ocean
Wide, wild, lost, uncrossed
Still I maintain there’s nothing
Wrong with you
You do all that you do
Because it’s all you can do
Well, I was fifteen
Where could I go ?
With a soul full of loathing
For stinging bureaucracy
Making it anything
Other than easy
For working girls like me
With my hands on my head
I flop on your bed
With a head full of dread
For all I’ve ever said
Never to be trusted
Oh, never to be trusted
There’s nothing wrong with you, oh
There’s nothing wrong with you, oh
There’s nothing wrong with you, oh
There’s nothing wrong with you
In honor of the man’s newly pubished autobiography, which I am dying to get my hands on, I thought I would post some of my favorite Morrissey lyrics. This is the title song from his Maladjusted album. I love these lyrics, and the music that accompanies them, for the sense of danger and dread that they create. As with many Mozzer songs, there are many quotable lines. “With a soul full of loathing for stinging bureaucracy.” “And the gulf between all the thing I need and the things I recieve is an ancient ocean wide.” I also always loved the quote by Anthony Newley that begins the piece. After the more simple, but no less brilliant, lyrics of Vauxhall and I and Southpaw Grammer, this song marked for me a return to his more poetic writing style. Morrissey has always romanticized the outsiders of society. This song is a great example of that.
I was off the grid all weekend on a brief tour. I hope to catch up on posting this week now that I am back.
Dear lord, when this thing is available I will own it! I hate to do shameless promotion on my blog, especially when it is for something that isn’t mine, but I can’t help it. Morrissey is my favorite lyricist of all time. If he can write prose, and what little I have seen him write tells me he can, as well as he writes lyrics, then this is going to be a great book. I can’t wait to get my hands on it!