The Smiths have come to be known as somewhat of a mythic force within music and pop culture history. This is owing to the fact that over their short career, they became the most influential band of the British indie explosion of the 1980s. The telepathic songwriting partnership of frontman Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr reached legendary proportions. The band’s music was jangly, yes, but the lyrical themes were oft dark and sinister, poetically packaged by Morrissey’s character – an informed yet confounding individual.
One thing about Morrissey was clear from the get-go; he was incredibly well-read and took a lot of inspiration from a wide range of areas within popular culture. The extent of this was vast, as every single one of the band’s releases featured a reference to film, TV or the news. Recurring themes in his lyrics during and post-Smiths have been emotional isolation, sexual desire, self-loathing, dark humour and anti-establishment political stances. In the Smiths, he was critical of everyone from his old school teachers, label executives and old Queenie herself.
During The Smiths‘ career from 1982 to 1987, the then-coy Morrissey made fans wonder what exactly made him tick. At the time, when music publications were at their peak, the frontman took part in the NME’s weekly column called “Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer”. This column asked the stars of the day what their favourite books, films, records and “symbolists” were.
He names his artists like Sandie Shaw, Cilla Black, Rita Pavone, Timi Yuro, The Marvelettes, Nancy Sinatra, The Tams, John Leyton, Billy Fury and The Cookies.
In terms of “symbolists” Morrissey has some fun with his list. He includes Oscar Wilde, Sandie Shaw, Shelagh Delaney, Beatrice Arthur, Pauline Kael, Clifton Webb, Dorothy Parker and Ronald Searle. He also includes historic MP for Salford South and noted disputant, Hilaire Belloc. Taking up the final spot on his list is Viv Nicholson. She gained notoriety in the ’60s after her husband Keith won £152,319 on the football pools. The sum is the equivalent today of over £3million.
Nicholson told the papers she would “spend, spend, spend” and became a staple character of the press for much of the ’60s – a lot of this was due to Keith’s rapid spending of their fortune. You might not know it, but you have come across Viv Nicholson before. She is the woman on the cover of the single ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’, showing Morrissey’s essence as a sponge-like lyricist, he had also borrowed a line from her autobiography for ‘Still Ill’ with: “Under the iron bridge we kissed, and although I ended up with sore lips…”
The most exciting and diverse part of Morrissey profile as a consumer is his choice of books. Typical of the ex-Smiths man, his booklist features Oscar Wilde’s complete works, a murder anthology and feminist writings detailing the history of rape culture and toxic masculinity.
His vast array of literary influences perfectly capture him as a lyricist and human being. It displays his penchant for politics, intellectual topics and the grim side of the human psyche. Without these critical factors, the Smiths would not have been the force that they were.
Morrissey’s favourite books:
- The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde
- Popcorn Venus by Marjorie Rosen
- From Reverence to Rape by Molly Haskell
- Beyond Belief by Emlyn Williams
- The Lion in Love by Shelagh Delaney
- Against Our Will by Susan Brownmiller
- The Angel Inside Went Sour by Esther Rothman
- Men’s Liberation by Jack Nichols
- The Murderers’ Who’s Who by J.H.H. Gaute & Robin Odell
- The Handbook of Non-Sexist Writing by Casey Miller & Kate Swift