Morrissey autobiography: that joke is, now, actually rather funny

I can smile about it now...
I can smile about it now…

Miles Davis is at a dinner hosted by US President Ronald Reagan. He is sat next to a politician’s wife, who says to him:

“What have you done that is so important in your life? Why are you here?”

Miles, in his Autobiography, says:

Now, I just hate shit like this coming from someone who is ignorant but who wants to be hip and has forced you into a situation where you’re talking to them in this manner. She brought this on herself. So then I said, “Well I’ve changed music five or six times, so I guess that’s what I’ve done…Now, tell me what you have done of any importance other than be white, and that ain’t important to me, so tell me what your claim to fame is?”

You have to feel sorry for the poor woman. Invited to a presidential dinner, and forced to sit next to Miles Davis, a man who is not only a jazz musician, but who also believes that jazz music is important and his place within music of great importance. No doubt she went home and spoke with her politician husband and tut-tutted and used the word ‘uppity’ and perhaps some other less delicate words to describe the hurt that she felt at having to share a dinner table with such a hubristic and obnoxious man.

It is a similar hurt that many people, many esteemed people within the world of literature are feeling today with the publication of Morrissey’s Autobiography on the Penguin Classics imprint. This, let us not forget, is the hallowed place where all of the greatest works of literature are published: Homer, Shakespeare, Balzac and Wilde among them.
These writers are all happily dead, and have been, whilst they rest in peace, adjudged and analysed and welcomed into the canon.

And now, a songwriter, who is merely the greatest pop lyricist this country has produced, has the temerity to demand, yes demand, that his autobiography should be published, without anyone from the wider literary establishment reading it, within the realm of Penguin Classics.

Well, isn’t that just like sitting at a presidential dinner and having Miles Davis insult you to your face?

“This isn’t about the redefinition of ‘classic’, but abject surrender. Penguin has with breath-stopping cynicism flogged its crown jewel – a precious place on the roster of the world’s most enduring literary works – to the moody maverick.”

The sound Boyd Tonkin, Literary Editor of the Independent, choking on his soup.

“To package as a classic a book that no one except Morrissey and a handful of fawning acolytes has read is to instantly reduce the worth of all classics”

said someone on the Telegraph who may as well, except to his mother, remain nameless.

Morrissey, just like Miles Davis all those years ago, should have kept quiet, known his place, and slunk off to the obscurity that his songwriting within the horribly besmirched and irrelevant world of pop music deserves.

Because we should listen to the literary editors and the politician’s wives. We should listen to the voices of those who contemporaneously would have said that Shakespeare was too bawdy, Dickens too populist, Beckett too repetitive, Austen too flippant, Proust too long-winded, and that Oscar Wilde deserved his prison term.

Morrissey, like Miles Davis, is revered in many countries across the globe, including England. The English establishment, perhaps taking into account his open and gleeful hatred of the royal family, still views him with disdain.

Those hundreds of thousands of us whose lives have been enriched – some would say saved – by Morrissey’s words, feel sorry for those suffering great hurt today. However, we do this with the archness and irony learnt from our hero as he marches triumphantly into the citadel known as Literary Establishment, and takes his rightful place among the greats.

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The poet wakes up and roams and comes home and writes this

The only thing you can aspire to growing up in Essex is to be the barrowboy or banker, trading, raking it in, fingerless gloves in Romford market, salmon shirts in the City, it doesn’t matter, you’ve got to be trading, raking it in, making a living, earning your keep, working and working and working away.

But what are you supposed to do if you are a dosser at heart, curtains drawn at seven a.m., George Osborne tutting on the street below, and all you are good at is words, constructing words into insubstantial sandcastles, how do you, as a poet, make a man of yourself?

You’ve got to sell your wares:

Six and ha’penny worth of sonnets, Mrs Springtime?
Do you want some limericks with that?
Will that be open or wrapped?

They say, I’m not sure who they are, but they definitely do say that the poet should not compromise his vision, and I believe that to be true but not true in my case because my vision is already compromised, it is necessarily compromised by my need to fulfil my erstwhile Essex desires. So when TFL came to me and said, Richard, we want you to do positive poems about TFL and etiquette

(Me who listens to dirty, dirty hip hop on tube trains, it’s seediness leaking into the ears of poor uncorrupted children who might otherwise be listening to pure pop sung by cynical teens with perfect hair and an eye on the till)

I said, yeah, alright.

So, I went down to Croydon, well turned out in my blue suit, and I sidled up to the old ladies – they love me, old ladies, and I love them – and delivered my lines about all the evils that other people do and the old ladies nod, and they say, you are quite right, Richard

and it proves that if you rhyme nicely and throw a few puns in along the way, people will believe what you say

and the young people who would like to think they are immune, they are also susceptible, because poetry makes people realise

it makes them realise that life is all right. You can moan and caterwaul all you like, but in our much criticised social democracy where nothing is good enough, if Transport for London have enough courage to pay a few poets some money, some honest cash money, to roam over London spreading goodness, and allow the poet, for a week only, to pretend he is a real life worker, with dignity and all the rest, then it would be churlish to argue too stridently and unrelentingly about our imperfect state of affairs.

Ben Brooks is a great new writer and everyone should read his book, Grow Up

The HMV dog is listening to St James' Infirmary by Louis Armstrong. The HMV dog is trying to be ironic, in the hope that it will make death easier. The HMV dog is deluded.
The HMV dog is listening to St James’ Infirmary by Louis Armstrong. The HMV dog is trying to be ironic, in the hope that it will make death easier. The HMV dog is deluded.

I was shopping in HMV in Hastings on Thursday looking for some pre-death bargains. Trouble was, even with the last rites having been read, the bargains were still not that good. It was only 25% off some stickered items, which shows they are continuing their unrealistic pricing policy to the very last. But I wanted to buy something, for the souvenir carrier bag if nothing else, so I picked up two books for a tenner.

I’m glad I did so because my last purchase from HMV might well be one of my best. In fact, I’d be prepared to say that this purchase was second only to buying the GZA’s Liquid Swords back in the 90s. Because one of those two books was Grow Up by Ben Brooks.

I was attracted by the pleasingly mordant front cover, and the quote on the inside sleeve from comedian / poet Tim Key who says Grow Up is “sickeningly good. So confident, so stylish. An unacceptably witty and confident debut.”

That was good enough for me. And if that’s not good enough to persuade you to pick up this book as soon as possible, I hope the rest of this blog will be. Because for the rest of this blog I will mostly quote little bits of the book and tell you to read Grow Up by Ben Brooks.

Grow Up, would you believe, is about growing up. There isn’t what you’d call a plot, just a series of incidents involving the main character and narrator, Jasper Wolf, who is a teenager who likes taking drugs and having sex and does not like revising for exams. He also does not like his step-dad, who he thinks did a few murders and is going to kill his mum.

Here follows some quotations from the book. You will notice Ben Brooks is really good at writing.

The comedown from mephedrone is my least favourite type of skiing.

Jasper on his counsellor: Sugar is pouring out of her lips. Sugar is only good when it is in tea. It is not good when it is coming out of the mouths of overpaid women in suits who think that they are emotionally shampooing me.

The shipping forecast is an extremely comfortable duvet.

Jonah’s mum has watched the news every day since her husband died in Afghanistan. She is just looking for someone to swear at. She swears indiscriminately. I have witnessed it often. She swears at Trevor McDonald, Hannah Montana and Gok Wan. She calls them all cunts.

The first Harry Potter film is playing on the television. A flock of bright boats are shifting over black water. I have seen this film more times than I have had sex. That is a statistic I need to reverse. I will begin by not watching it again.

Read Grow Up by Ben Brooks. It’s on Canongate Press. You can probably get it in a dying HMV branch, or if you care little for the fate of the High Street you can get it on Amazon. I’m ambivalent about where you source your copy. The main thing is you read it.

Noel Fielding thinks this book is great, as does Tim Key. But it's totally up to you if you want to waste your life reading something that isn't as good instead.
Noel Fielding thinks this book is great, as does Tim Key. But it’s totally up to you if you want to waste your life reading something that isn’t as good instead.

Jerusalem artichokes: a short story

Recently, during my weekly shop in Streatham Sainsbury’s, I was searching for the Jerusalem artichokes. When I found them, I noticed there was only one bag left. As I reached to get them, a small Muslim lady elbowed me out of the way and grabbed them for herself.

“Hey!” I said. “Give those back, you vicious, uncivilised Muslim.”

“Who are you calling vicious, you big-nosed Jew,” she said, insulting me without any provocation whatsoever.

I didn’t rise to the bait and very politely said, “Would you please give me them back?”

I knew what the answer would be, so I grabbed the artichokes from her basket before she had chance to reply. Unfortunately, she was quicker than she looked and we both had a strong grip of them when the store manager, and my golf partner, Theodore Yankee, appeared at my side.

“What’s the problem, Richard?” Mr Yankee asked.

“Nothing at all,” I replied. “This lady wanted the last bag of Jerusalem artichokes and, despite me having them first, I was just giving them to her.”

“That’s very decent of you.”

“Yes,” I said. “But I would like one small thing in return. I’d like the lady to cook me a meal, using the Jerusalems, then we’ll say no more about it.”

“What a wonderful idea,” said Mr Yankee. “That should even things out.”

After no little encouragement, the lady agreed. I went back to her house in Streatham Vale, and watched TV while she prepared a Jamie Oliver recipe, using the Jerusalems.

The meal was delicious, but at the end of it, I still didn’t feel as if I had been fully compensated for my loss. That being the case, I decided to stay in her house, keeping the lady under house arrest while she catered to my every need. Things were going quite smoothly when, after 10 days, she told me that all the food in the house had run out.

“Why don’t you let me go out and get some supplies?” she asked.

I thought the question impertinent, so I tied the woman up and set her house on fire, before heading off to Sainsbury’s myself.

When I got there, I bumped into my old friend, Theodore Yankee. I explained what had happened and he agreed that while my actions were firm, they were totally fair, given the provocation I had endured.

I thanked him for his understanding my position. I added that, on reflection, it was only reasonable for me to receive suitable compensation from Sainsbury’s itself. Mr Yankee agreed, and said I could have free Jerusalems delivered to my door each week, for life.

I was disgusted at this derisory offer and told him so.

“Theodore,” I said, “your offer is all very well for myself, but what about my children, and my children’s children? Do they have to come to Sainsbury’s and suffer cruel insults at the hands of Muslims? Do you think it is right that innocent children should be punished in this way?”

Theodore saw that my point was a fair one and ensured that my family would get free Jerusalem artichokes and free delivery of their weekly shopping in perpetuity.

We shook hands and I walked home feeling that, after a long, hard struggle, justice had finally been done.

A much-coveted vegetable: the Jerusalem artichoke