The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

AP story section

October 19, 2013

This charming man? Morrissey book climbs charts

LONDON — The new book by British singer Morrissey is a classic. It says so right on the cover.

The memoir from the former frontman of The Smiths — titled simply “Autobiography” — is the first rock bio published under the venerable Penguin Classics imprint, home to Aeschylus, Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde. Morrissey has said he insisted on the “classic” label as a condition of signing with Penguin.

That has horrified some people in the publishing industry, but not the singer’s many fans, who drove the book to the top of Amazon’s U.K. chart the day after it was published Thursday.

Jon Howells, spokesman for the Waterstones book store chain, said Friday that the book is destined to be a Christmas-season best-seller.

“In Britain, he is one of our icons,” Howells said. “His is the great untold story from the ‘80s generation of music heroes.”

The Smiths and their enigmatic, gladioli-waving singer had a huge impact in 1980s Britain with alternately giddy and melancholy songs such as “How Soon is Now” and “This Charming Man.” They weren’t quite so popular in the United States, where “Autobiography” does not yet have a publisher.

The quartet broke up in 1987, and Morrissey has used up some of his fans’ goodwill with increasingly curmudgeonly pronouncements during his solo career.

“Autobiography” opens with a vivid, verbose evocation of Steven Patrick Morrissey’s childhood as part of a sprawling Irish family in the damp, industrial northern English city of Manchester, and his awakening to the bright joys of pop music.

Fans will find mordant wit and evocative turns of phrase, while critics will see boundless self-indulgence and the absence of an editor’s trimming hand in the 457-page, single-chapter volume.

Reviewers have been sharply divided. Rock critic Neil McCormack gave the book a five-star review in the Daily Telegraph, calling it “the best-written musical autobiography since Bob Dylan’s ‘Chronicles.’” But the Independent’s literary editor, Boyd Tonkin, tired of Morrissey’s “droning narcissism” and “puerile litany of grievances.”

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