Iconic singer Morrissey should be valued for his awkwardness, according to an academic at the University of St Andrews.
Dr Gavin Hopps, one of the few academic experts on the work of Morrissey and The Smiths, believes that for all his fame, the singer still hasn’t received the recognition he deserves.
‘He’s a bone in the throat of popular music, and is valuable precisely because he is disturbing – obstinately insisting that “There is no such thing in life as normal,”‘ he commented.
In a new book – the first academic study of Morrissey, being published to coincide with the singer’s 50th birthday this year (22 May 2009), Dr Hopps argues that Morrissey is the greatest lyricist in the history of British popular music, and compares Manchester’s most famous son to literary luminaries such as Samuel Beckett, Philip Larkin, John Betjeman and Oscar Wilde, as well as comedy greats Frankie Howerd and George Formby.
Morrissey is well known for his ‘bookishness’ and his love of Wilde in particular, however, this is the first book to examine his literary influences in any depth.
According to Hopps, ‘most existing commentaries on Morrissey retell a gossipy story of the circumstances around his songs or else fashion a biographical portrait out of his lyrics. Either way, his artistry tends to disappear in the process.’
Dr Hopps, a research fellow in the University’s interdisciplinary Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (ITIA), looks at the poetic qualities of Morrissey’s writing, but also discusses the idiosyncrasies of the singer’s voice, his fondness for whimsy, innuendo and camp, as well as his staging of ‘the body that doesn’t quite fit with itself.’
Morrissey once described himself as ‘the greatest living oddity’, and Dr Hopps’ book Morrissey: The Pageant of His Bleeding Heart sees this oddity as central to the singer’s artistic achievement.
Dr Hopps writes, “Being embarrassing is a positive feature of Morrissey’s art as it is in the TV series The Office – which alienates us even as it invites identification. This is of course a matter of comedy – like Les Dawson’s piano playing or Frank Spenser’s mishaps – though it also involves a defamiliarizing effect, which in tickling us encourages critical reflection.”
The book is the first sustained piece of academic research on the work of Morrissey and The Smiths, which explores all the major subjects in Morrissey’s writing – such as love, melancholy, monstrosity and non-belonging – and relates these to larger cultural and philosophical traditions.
In contrast to other books on the singer, The Pageant of His Bleeding Heart is concerned with ‘how his songs mean as much as what they mean’ – which is central to what Dr Hopps describes as ‘an aesthetics of coyness’.
Mindful of Morrissey’s hostile dismissal of previous studies, the book takes issue with their ‘uncritical biographizing’ and highlights the ways in which Morrissey’s songs are ‘a trap for the literalist.’
In 2002, Dr Hopps was one of the speakers at the first academic conference on the subject of The Smiths, hosted appropriately by the University of Manchester. An expert in British Romanticism and one of the founding trustees of the Scottish Byron Society, Dr Hopps is the author of a number of papers on poetry and pop music, including ‘Morrissey and the Light that Never Goes Out,’ ‘A Foreigner at Home: Morrissey and the Art of Embarrassment,’ ‘Celibacy, Abstinence and Rock ‘n’ Roll: Morrissey’s Deconstruction of Pop’.
Last year was the 25th anniversary of the formation of The Smiths and tonight (May 22), Morrissey will mark his 50th birthday by playing to a home audience at the Manchester Apollo.
Michael Bracewell, author of England Is Mine: Pop Life in Albion from Wilde to Goldie, commented, ‘Finally, Morrissey’s astonishing career as a writer and singer is treated with the scholarship it deserves. This is an outstanding, elegant book, of interest not only to Morrissey’s fans, but to anyone interested in the literary capacity of pop music, as well as its power to enchant, seduce and unnerve.’
Morrissey: The Pageant of His Bleeding Heart by Gavin Hopps is published by Continuum and will be available from June. For further information visit: http://www.morrisseypageant.com
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