BOOKS ISSUE: Morrissey's long and juicy story, D.H. Peligro's 'Dreadnaught,' and more musical books (and live music, too)
TOFU AND WHISKEY Of course Morrissey would name his long-awaited memoir Autobiography (Putnam Adult, 464 pp., $30). The legendarily morose British pop singer and former Smiths leader has always seemed a bit larger than life.
The book already came out in the UK (and France) in October and was a huge sensation, topping best-seller lists, but US audiences have been forced to wait for the precious tome, twiddling their thumbs for its arrival, much like the infrequent uncancelled Morrissey live performance. The hardcover finally arrives stateside Dec. 3.
That said, the book on the life of the "Meat is Murder" singer-activist is worth the twiddling, if only for morbid curiosity. It's lengthy, uncanny, and packed with daggering insults toward other musicians (Johnny Marr), ex-presidents and royals (George W., Sarah Ferguson), and himself, along with drawn-out sections on his favorite poets, court cases, and desire to die. It covers his life from birth to present day.
People go crazy over Morrissey — there's even a Mozipedia book, published in 2010, so clearly the desire to hear it all in his own voice is there. I'll claim to be a Morrissey novice, comparatively. At least, I've never worn a bedazzled jean jacket to a fever-pitched Moz convention, so some revelations in the book were still eye-opening, though needing to be extracted from verbose prose.
The long-time vegetarian, proudly outspoken against the meat industry, writes instead mostly about his suicidal depressive past and his dreary youth — and he finally speaks to those rumors of his sexuality. Yup, he loved a man named Jake Owen Walters. Though he later released this statement about those sections of the book: "Unfortunately, I am not homosexual. In technical fact, I am humansexual. I am attracted to humans. But, of course ... not many."
So Steven Patrick Morrissey, as he was known at birth, recounts a dark and uncomfortable childhood in Manchester, much of which was spun into early Smiths songs. But if we're comparing horrific childhoods, another recent memoir might outweigh every aspect of Morrissey's sad complaints: that of D.H. Peligro, whose own bio, Dreadnaught: King of Afropunk (Rare Bird Books, 280 pp., $13) came out in October.
Peligro — the complex, wild-man drummer of SF's Dead Kennedys, as well as (briefly) Red Hot Chili Peppers, and guitarist in his own band, Peligro — grew up "dirt poor" in St. Louis, Mo., where he was born in 1959. (He literally eats dirt as a punishment in one section.) Like Moz, he now eats a veg-heavy diet. "All that food we had growing up in the ghetto was poison, drained of any nutritional value. Being forced to eat that food was one of the reasons that later in life, even when I was strung out on heroin, I remained a fanatic vegan," he writes.
While the book opens with an extremely upsetting and grotesque strung-out hospital stay in a room with "puke green walls," one of many incidents for the drug-addicted musician, it quickly falls backward in time to his beginnings as a "Satan's Child," the name by which he was known as around town. He never met his father, was mercilessly beat by his oft-drunk stepfather, and lived in a hotbed of violence and racial segregation in his early years.
And yet, despite all this, growing up in St. Louis also greatly influenced Peligro's interest in music, and fostered a space in which to learn rhythm and blues. His beloved Uncle Sam Carr, who introduced him to musical instruments, was the son of blues guitarist Robert Nighthawk (who supposedly was the first to play slide guitar). Peligro recalls playing Carr some Dead Kennedys music years later and Carr "really listening" and nodding his head along to the noisy, Jello Biafra-led punk band.