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October 1, 2010

Book Notes - Simon Goddard ("Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

At 532 pages and with 600 entries, Simon Goddard's Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths is an almost overwhelming resource on the life and music of Steven Patrick Morrissey as well as his former band. Every song, every musician, and every lyrical allusion is duly noted along with an almost endless assortment of quotes from Morrissey on a vast variety of topics.

Mozipedia is an invaluable resource that also is an entertaining read. The only other book I have read that even comes close to its encyclopedic exploration of a musician's life and work is Michael Gray's excellent The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia.

In his own words, here is Simon Goddard's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths:

a-ha - "The Sun Always Shines On TV"

By fate of alphabet and hyphen, the first entry in the encyclopedia of Morrissey is for 80s Norwegian pop trio a-ha, a favourite of his at the time. I was pleased that this was the case since it immediately reiterates a fundamental which many people forget: The Smiths were a pop group and Morrissey is a pop singer. Too often, especially in Britain, critics make the mistake of discussing Morrissey by tucking in the cravat, sucking the pen end and resorting to the elite language of academia and a stray quote from Coleridge. In doing so they can miss the point and purpose of Morrissey, that his words may be the equal of Betjeman but he'd still rather be Bobby Righteous. This anti-pop snobbery still exists. Recently Morrissey, arguably the greatest pop symbolist of all time, was photographed with the great pop symbolist of our time, Lady Gaga, in doing so prompting violent gasps of despair in the sniffier potholes of cyberspace as if a photo had just been circulated of The Pope sharing a Jacuzzi with Ian Paisley. Those of us not blinkered by indie-Luddism know Morrissey and Gaga to be different jerkins cut from the same square-baiting cloth; that when Gaga describes her music as "a youth church experience to speak out and celebrate against all forms of discrimination and prejudice" she's merely echoing the ancient call of Smithdom. During The Smiths' first year on record David Bowie pointed out that the pop song had replaced painting as the greatest art form of the late 20th century. Morrissey continues to prove as much. As for a-ha, this was their only British number one which U2 later ripped off for Beautiful Day. "I reached inside myself and found nothing there to ease the pressure of my ever-worried mind" howls lupine "dreamboat" Morten Harket. And people called The Smiths miserable?

The Cliff Adams Orchestra - "The Lonely Man Theme"

Not mentioned in Mozipedia but one of many candidate signature tunes. It was written for an ill-fated 1960 British television marketing campaign for Strand cigarettes. The advert featured a solitary Sinatra look-a-like wandering a dank and deserted street finding momentary joy in a smoke. The slogan: "You're never alone with a Strand." It backfired horribly. The nicotine-addicted post-war public thought the ad too depressing and within a year Strand cigs were no more. To my ears the tune evokes der Innere Stadt of Smithdom: the lonesome "Hand In Glove" harmonica, the trudge of "Never Had No One Ever", the resignation of "I Know It's Over". Morrissey once said he started The Smiths because he'd walked home in the rain once too often. I like to think of this as the soundtrack to the walk which pushed him over the edge.

David Bowie - "All The Madmen"

In the spaghetti junction of Morrissey's soul, many roads lead back to Bowie. In pop music generally, the majority of roads lead back to Bowie, the most important artist in the history of British popular music, more so than The Beatles. Has there ever been an idea in pop greater than Ziggy Stardust - "Hello, I'm a pop star. From outer space"? Possibly not until a subsequent genius waved gladioli on Top Of The Pops eleven years hence. "All The Madmen" comes from the first side of 1970's The Man Who Sold The World, in Morrissey's words "musical literacy delivered." As with many records from Morrissey's adolescence mentioned in the book, we can try to imagine the boy alone in his Stretford bedroom drinking in the muse for future usage. "Here I stand, foot in hand, talking to my wall. I'm not quite right at all." Fast forward 39 years to Morrissey's "Something Is Squeezing My Skull" and the circle is unbroken.

Pat Phoenix - "Coronation Street Monologue"

For those American readers who might not know, Coronation Street is the longest running soap opera on British television, set in a fictional working class district of Morrissey's hometown, Manchester. Phoenix, who played the character Elsie Tanner, graced the sleeve of The Smiths' 1985 single "Shakespeare's Sister" (which as I point out in Mozipedia is one of the ten greatest records in the history of rock'n'roll - not that anybody knows for certain what the other nine are). She also had a bit-part in 1962's The L-Shaped Room, source of the "Take me back to dear old Blighty" sample at the beginning of "The Queen Is Dead". As an emblem of Morrissey's intrinsic northern-ness and the uniquely Mancunian sensibility permeating much of The Smiths' songbook I've chosen this B-side of a 1962 Corrie cast single on HMV. Phoenix recites her own self-penned grim-up-north itinerary over the show's familiar theme tune. "Rain. And more rain. Wet rooftops. Houses huddled together under a yellow blanket of smoke. Chimneys. And more chimneys…" Funny to think some people still wonder why Morrissey moved to Los Angeles.

The Smiths - "Meat Is Murder"

The idea behind Mozipedia was that beyond the obvious A to Z reference it should work as a random means of figuring out who Morrissey is, producing results as shallow or insightful as the reader wishes to combine. But some traits are closer to the core than others, vegetarianism and animal welfare being among the more obvious. Though vegetarianism is on the increase, the meaty media backlash makes the spread of its common sense all that bit harder. We live in a TV chef culture so endemic that an alien landing in Britain today could easily determine that the goal of all human aspiration is to have a "good palate". Such programmes promote taste and sensation over thought and compassion, gastronomy over ecology, a brief chew in the mouth as justification for long, agonising and barbaric killing practices. So sadly we need this song as much today as we did back in 1985. Ultimately every human has to live with or deal with their place, or absence, in the slaughter house-dinner plate-toilet bowl chain as their own conscience chooses. At best, every so often a "Meat Is Murder" can nudge those troubled by the moral inconsistency of being a self-professed "animal lover" who still eats fish and flesh into lifting that burden and living free of hypocrisy.

Frank Sinatra - "I Can't Get Started"
Elvis Presley - "How's The World Treating You?"
New York Dolls - "Private World"

Morrissey calls these his "Royal Three": the Orion's belt of his musical cosmos. The representatives here easily explain why. Sinatra: "I'm a glum one, it's explainable." Presley: "There's no hope for tomorrow." Johansen: "I get cool and lonely, feelin' sorry for myself." Is there any need to elaborate? After Johnny Marr, the Dolls have the longest entry in Mozipedia, such is their worth. I had to fight to include a two-page photo spread of the Dolls which seemed to have given my nervously disposed UK publisher an attack of the vapours, so I'm very proud it remained. That fourth and final photo section is actually my favourite. That I succeeded in a spread with lesbian lovers Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge holding dachsunds on one side and East End gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray in boxing pose on the other still tickles my ribs and says much for the diversity of Morrissey's universe. What other book, what other subject, would necessitate such a juxtaposition? I also love the Nico portrait taken from a 1963 French film called Strip-Tease. The subliminal idea with some of the photos, that one especially, was "Smiths sleeves that might have been". Incidentally Nico is "firm first reserve" just outside Morrissey's Royal Three, so as an equivalent reserve song for any of the above I nominate "Afraid". Nico: "You are beautiful and you are alone."

Morrissey - "Now My Heart Is Full"

I finished writing Mozipedia during a week in Scotland, an intensive last seven days with the deadline portcullis hovering millimetres above my head. Oscar Wilde was the last one I completed (I didn't, as some people assumed, write it chronologically as it appears). At the last full stop I went for a walk on a beach, flopped upon the pebbles and listened to this song gurgling with relief. When it's difficult to put into words the personal emotions art can provoke it is perfectly acceptable to opt for the absurd. Or so it seems to me. In describing "Now My Heart Is Full" I found myself unintentionally conjuring visions of Morrissey dancing naked in an empty cinema "becoming ever drunker on the screen's pure neon glow" (I recall I'd also been listening to Blondie's "Fade Away And Radiate"). It amused me no end at the time. Now I wonder is this how Paul Morley felt when he got to the stage where he was discussing Joy Division in the same context as hermaphrodites? Answers on a psychiatrist's couch to Simon Goddard c/o Plume Publishing, 375 Hudson St, NY 10014.

Timi Yuro - "Stardust"

Until Morrissey writes a toe-tapper called "Zebra In A Coma", Mozipedia ends at Y with the final word going to American soul and country singer Timi Yuro. I could have chosen "Interlude", her 1968 film theme which Morrissey covered in duet with Siouxsie Sioux, or his own favourite "Insult To Injury". But Yuro's version of the old Hoagy Carmichael standard is as fitting a full stop as any. "Stardust" has been tackled by tonsils as formidable as those of Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald yet Yuro slays them all, every syllable trembling with the body-blows of a life loving and losing upon the ropes. "Sometimes I wonder why I spend the lonely night dreaming of a song. The melody haunts my reverie…and I am once again with you." In this we hear not only the throbbing heart of Morrissey but what it means to those who follow him (in extreme cases writing preposterous 350,000 word encyclopedias) because, well, we must. He is, always was and forever will be "consolation in the stardust of a song."

Simon Goddard and Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths links:

the author's blog
the author's Wikipedia entry

Culture Catch review
The Fix review
FourThousand review
Pop Candy review
Record Collector review
Sunset Over Slawit review
Telegraph review
Vol. 1 Brooklyn review
Webcuts review

Emily Loughlin interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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