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Morrissey in Conversation is a compilation of interviews with the singer that range from the early eighties through to the middle part of the last decade. There are twenty seven interviews in total from a variety of sources. Sounds, Blitz, GQ, Q Magazine, NME, broadsheet newspapers like The Observer and Guardian. Amongst those conducting the interviews are Paul Morley, Adrian Deevoy, Stuart Maconie, and Lynn Barber. The book is enjoyable to dip into because the interviews for the most part are funny and fairly light-hearted (if a touch hagiographic at times - especially Stuart Maconie) and full of amusing quips by the subject. It is of course interesting too to travel from the early eighties when Morrissey was about 24 and had suddenly been thrust into fame from absolute obscurity through to a couple of decades on when he was now an old trooper with his best days apparently behind him playing to cult audiences in bizarre places like Mexico and without a record deal. Morrissey remains a constant over the course of the book and never seems to change much despite the advancing years and the vicissitudes of his profession. He's always good for a few quotable lines and funny asides and doesn't really seem to exist as a real person outside of the music bubble he'd dreamed of gaining entry to since he was six years old in Manchester and annoying the neighbours by singing along to his already flourishing record collection each night. Beyond the fact that Morrissey is very solitary and a vegetarian he never really reveals anything about his private life. What do you do get though are his views on a battery of issues and subjects in the interviews and these are always interesting. Fame, the demise of The Smiths, Johnny Marr, ex-Smith Andy Joyce taking him and Marr to court in 1997 and winning one million pounds, the horrors of the meat industry, his musical contemporaries, his childhood, how he feels about getting older, British politics, the Royal Family, football, and so on.
Many of the interviews are woven as part of an article about Morrissey (there are more simple answer/question affairs too) and so you get plenty to read here even if your eyes might glaze over a few times when some of the broadsheet writers and Paul Morley in particular are waffling on in pretentious fashion. Most of the interviews here seem to be conducted by people who are genuinely interested in Morrissey and wanted to meet him and this makes the conversations more enjoyable I think. Morrissey's flippant attitude to answering questions provides plenty of humour too. Asked by Adrian Deevoy from GQ in 2005 who he thinks will be the first member of The Smiths to die, Morrissey replies, "Me. I'll be shot - probably by one of the ex-Smiths." Early interviews seem to be somewhat obsessed by his criticisms of the meat industry and the Royal Family. It seems tame now but his comments were often regarded to be controversial when The Smiths were starting out and being a vegetarian or a Republican back then seems to have been something slightly unusual worthy of giving a prod with a stick. Or a few questions in this case. "As far as I can see, money spent on royalty is money burnt," says Morrissey to Timeout in 1985. "I've never met anyone who supports royalty, and believe me I've searched. Okay, so there's some deaf and elderly pensioner in Hartlepool who has pictures of Prince Edward pinned on the toilet seat, but I know streams of people who can't wait to get rid of them." The early Smiths era interviews often tend to be the shortest but they are fun and provide plenty of good soundbites.
You get a lot about Morrissey's heroes and villains in the early interviews. One from (I think) Smash Hits in particular is nice because Morrissey explains his fondness for James Dean, Oscar Wilde and Billy Fury. One of the attractions for Morrissey of course is that they are all essentially doomed creatures. I'm not familiar with too many of the people conducting the interviews to be honest but I probably tend to like the more chatty ones rather than the structure of just presenting enormous Morrissey tracts on particular subjects. When Morrissey is actually engaged in a conversation with someone and the other person is talking a lot to and asking him questions he tends to be sharper and more witty. There are two Morrissey interviews by Paul Morley here and both are pleasantly jovial and reasonably illuminating. "When we finally meet," writes Morley. "Morrissey is as I've always wanted to imagine him - a silly blend of the fairly ordinary and the delightfully ostentatious. For somebody who confesses repeatedly to such chronic inner turmoil, he seems very calm, even in a way delighted with himself. I could not feel anything but vulgar admiration for Morrissey. His talent is sufficiently exquisite and perverse for me to consider him a truly great writer. I am not put off even when he is at his most contrived. If Patti Smith's Horses is my favourite album, then This Charming Man is my favourite single. It's not as if these records have stopped me from being a murderer, or anything like that, but somehow they have found time for me. Morrissey also makes me laugh, as if his life has been him acting out his own violent comedy, unusually amused by the very idea of human happiness. I am very moved by his transformation from utter loser to sly playboy of frustration."
I like the first interview in particular because Morrissey talks about his life just before he broke into music and how the alternative doesn't even bear thinking about. Morley famously begins the interview by asking him how he went from being the village idiot to the ringleader. While Stuart Maconie is a bit too florid and eager to impress with his linking passages the two Morrissey interviews he conducts here are entertaining because the subject seems relaxed and in a flippant mood. I like his answer to the question of whether he ever goes on holiday like a normal person. Morrissey replies that he never goes on holiday since they closed the Butlins at Bogner Regis and instead he prefers to lurk around East London in a cape. A 1995 interview between the pair for Q interesting because was presumed to be on the wane by this point and seems especially off the cuff and obtuse as if he doesn't expect anyone to be even reading this anyway. You can read Morrissey's thoughts on such (then) topical fare as the kung fu kick by Eric Cantona on a fan, John Major, Kurt Cobain's suicide ("I felt sad and envious") and Prince Naseem Hamed ("I always want him to trip over the ropes"). The 1991 interview is of note I think because it talks a lot about Morrissey's new backing band that he had just put together and started to tour with. Maconie paints a portrait of life on the road with Morrissey - in this case in Berlin. Morrissey's new young backing band admit that they'd never heard of The Smiths and took Morrissey as they found him. Just a nice person who is fairly easy to get on with.
The last batch of interviews are much more up to date. Lynn Barber's piece in The Observer is of note because she admits she doesn't know much about pop music or Morrissey. She interviews him in Colorado at a small show in 2005 and he seems very far away from the limelight (this was before his late return to some sort of form and surprising return to the charts and fame). "I had been warned that Morrissey could be flakey and difficult. But when I'd interviewed him earlier in the day, I found him exceptionally polite, friendly and tolerant of my ignorance of pop music. He went to great lengths to explain to me why Jarvis Cocker was not a patch on him - basically, he said, because he can't sing - while also claiming that he never listened to Pulp. He made good jokes, including jokes against himself. When I asked why he was so anti drink and drugs, he said, 'It's really self control, isn't it? I don't mind getting drunk, but it's not something I do very often. I mean - I am quite human. From a distance.'" Morrissey in Conversation is an enjoyable trawl if you are a fan and find Morrissey interviews fun. My only quibble would be that a funny interview Morrissey did for Q in 1994 seems to be absent but that aside there is a decent scope to the material collected here and the fact that it encompasses a couple of decades makes it more interesting too. One for fans only but a nice book to dip in and out of if you are. At the time of writing you can buy this for about £7.