Sunday, February 16, 2014

Who Reviews The Reviewers? Me. Sometimes. . .AA Gill's Attack On Morrissey's Autobiography

I'm still not convinced by the cream denim jacket
There are many pop autobiographies that shouldn’t be written. Some to protect the unwary reader, and some to protect the author. In Morrissey’s case, he has managed both. This is a book that cries out like one of his maudlin ditties to be edited. But were an editor to start, there would be no stopping. It is a heavy tome, utterly devoid of insight, warmth, wisdom or likeability. It is a potential firelighter of vanity, self-pity and logorrhoeic dullness. Putting it in Penguin Classics doesn’t diminish Aristotle or Homer or Tolstoy; it just roundly mocks Morrissey, and this is a humiliation constructed by the self-regard of its victim

The above is a portion of AA Gill's review of Morrissey's memoir Autobiography which was published in The Sunday Times. Gill's review has just been awarded The Hatchet Job Of The Year, a British journalism prize for the best bit of negative criticism in a British newspaper. The prize got front page coverage on the Guardian and the New York Times blog and has been lauded by cultural critics such as Andrew Sullivan as an example of the best of British journalism. Who doesn't love it when someone takes down a self important pop star a peg or two? To make it easier for everyone Morrissey really had it coming in Autobiography because he certainly dishes it out to his enemies and his perceived enemies (boy does he ever) and if you dish it out you should be able to take too.
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But if you read all of Gill's review you start to get a queasy feeling that Morrissey's real crime isn't his literary pretensions or his style, but the fact that he grew up poor and Irish and came from Manchester. How dare an oik, a pop star no less, sully the good name of Penguin Classics which publishes Virgil and Aristotle by talking about his own grubby little provincial life. Morrissey's Autobiography is no unvarnished masterpiece but the first 100 pages about his schooling in Manchester is utterly brilliant. A devastating and funny indictment of lazy and cruel teachers and a wrenching portrait of northern England in the 1960's. Only Morrissey could singularly fail to mention England winning the 1966 World Cup but remember who won every Miss World contest. Morrissey's streets are haunted by the Moors murderers and bewitched by the genius of George Best (when he sees Best in real life he faints, much to the mortification of his father). Its wonderful stuff: caustic and self mocking and funny. Gill's attack is so off base and bizarre it reminded me of those nineteenth century Times cartoons about the stupid Irish or Punch's hilarious 'things the servants say' columns. The idea of all those clubby London literary types slapping AA Gill on the back for a job well done putting a working class upstart in his place doesn't really sit that well in the age of Cameron & Johnson. Perhaps if Gill had been raised in the north of England and been a social class or two lower he would have appreciated Morrissey's book a little more, as Terry Eagleton did in the Guardian. Eagleton loved Morrissey's first 100 pages too and any British kid of that era who didn't grow up posh, like Gill, will be able to identify with Morrissey's childhood. 
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I am not attacking The Sunday Times (over the years The Sunday Times has had nothing but kind words for me and my work) nor am I attacking "literary London" ad hominem, but I am attacking AA Gill's motivations and sincerity. He found nothing worthy in Morrissey's entire book? On my blog I cut and pasted Morrissey's incredible 1 page review of the TV show Lost in Space. As a TV critic I would have thought Adrian Gill would have at least appreciated that little piece of genius.
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Perhaps I'm overreacting - when members of Britain's posh boarding school educated ruling elite go after working class writers it gets my back up - you can read his full review here and if I'm wrong let me know and I'll get down off my high horse and admit it.  But I don't think I am wrong. Morrissey and Adrian Gill have both written memoirs about their childhood, 1 of them is self serving, spoiled and tedious and surprisingly that one aint by Moz. And anyway the real reason to be angry with Penguin Books is not for publishing Morrissey but for pulping a book on Hinduism because it offended some Hindu nationalists in India.  Not cool.