LEN BROWN was born in the Scottish Borders and brought up in Newcastle upon Tyne. He trained as a journalist on the East End News and The South Shields Gazette, before joining the staff of the New Musical Express in 1984. Since 1994, as a television producer, director or executive producer in Manchester, he has worked on over 40 documentaries for the BBC, Granada/ITV and Channel Four, including My Generation (R&B bands of the 1960s: Small Faces, The Animals, The Kinks...), T. Rex: Dandy In The Underworld, It’s Slade, Three Lions (A History Of The England Football Team 1960-2000), The Brit Girls (Girl singers of the 1960s: Cilla, Sandie, Lulu, Marianne Faithfull...), Football Stories: When Bobby Moore Met Jimmy Greaves, The Carpenters: Close To You and Rod Stewart: Wine Women & Song.

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Rock's Back Pages

Len Brown


(From the Manchester Evening News Saturday 30th August 2008)

Attempt to get closer to the heart of an intensely private star.

Can much more be written about Steven Patrick Morrissey, bard of Manchester, the voice of a million dispirited youngsters? Apparently, yes.  There have been scores of books about the former Smiths frontman, but Len Brown's 'Meeting With Morrissey' gives them all a run for their money.

Ex-NME writer turned TV producer Brown claims to have met Morrissey 'more times than any other journalist', was the first to interview the iconic singer after the demise of The Smiths and he dismisses those other biographies, rather scathingly, as the work of stalkers or Google cut 'n' pasters.

Brown says to understand Morrissey it's important to know that it begins and ends with Oscar Wilde.  And that's where we begin here - in room 118 of the Cadogan Hotel, just off London's Sloane Square, where Wilde was arrested on charges of homosexuality and where Brown's first meeting with Morrissey occurred.  That 'New Morrissey Express' interview is reproduced here but there are several previously unpublished encounters, too.

Brown doesn't pretend to be a great friend or great confidant of Morrissey but his meetings have allowed him, on the evidence here, to get closer to the heart of the intensely private, yet outspoken star.

As well as delving into the meanings of Morrissey's famed lyrics, Brown offers a comprehensive review of the singer's career and includes an informative A-Z of Morrissey's influences: Oscar Wilde, of course, the musicians from Bolan to Bowie to the New York Dolls, the Coronation Street actresses and the 'Kitchen Sink' characters which adorned many a Smiths single cover.

There's not too much new here for the true obsessives, but it's still essential reading for Mozza fans; they may be happy now.

Abigail Kemp


(Mojo, December 2008)

There is much to enjoy here; the interview material is sparkling and Brown's extrapolations on the figures who populate Morrissey's imagination, from the obvious (Oscar Wilde, James Dean) to the more obscure (TV's pioneering camp hairdresser Raymond 'Teasy-Weasy' Bessone) show an impressive grasp of Mozza arcana...one of the better books on the man who has claimed onstage to be Stinky Turner, Stan Ogden and 'Bruce Springroll'.





“Oh I know that you say, how age has no meaning, but here is your audience now, and they're screaming…Get off the stage!”

Recorded 20 years ago, Morrissey’s B-side ‘Get Off The Stage’ was a comedic but biting attack on dinosaur rock stars of the early 1990s.  “It’s really about the Rolling Stones,” he told me at the time, “people of that ilk who just refuse to die in the physical sense; all these boring old faces…I don’t understand why they’re still omnipresent, why they have this ubiquitousness!”

Yes, the passing of time, and all of its sickening crimes.  Today, May 22 2009, this very British icon - this Mancunian poet, ex-Smith, and controversial solo artist - turns fifty and, against all grave expectations and protestations, joins the craggy croaking ranks of rock and roll veterans. 

Some argue that the word ‘icon’ should be reserved for religious works or art, chiefly paintings or relics.  But let’s not forget that, back in 2006, Morrissey was voted second in the BBC’s British Living Icon poll behind Sir David Attenborough and ahead of Sir Paul McCartney.  He’s held in high regard by artists as diverse as Bono, J. K. Rowling, Michael Stipe, David Walliams, Noel Gallagher and Rufus Wainwright.  (David Cameron even selected The Smiths for his Desert Island Discs.)  

And it’s easy to detect his impact on wider popular culture.  Following Douglas Coupland’s novel Girlfriend In A Coma, Jo Brand’s latest book is titled The More You Ignore Me The Closer I Get.  Then there’s the celebrated Swedish vampire movie Let The Right One In, not forgetting Keri Koch’s new feature about Morrissey’s extraordinary Latino fan-base Passions Just Like Mine.
All titles stolen from the bigmouthed bards own songs; fitting tributes to a man who’s spent the last three decades plagiarising ideas from Warhol and Virginia Woolf, from Patti Smith and Sandie Shaw, from Alan Bennet and George Eliot, from the New York Dolls and Anthony Newley, from Coronation Street and the Carry On films.

As a recent two-day Irish symposium on his lyricism illustrated, many international academics are now joining passionate fans from across this unhappy planet to celebrate Morrissey as a living work of art. 

How the hell did this happen?  As a teenager in Manchester he defined himself as a “sad, obsessive loner”.  Punk contemporaries branded him “Steve The Nutter” as if he was some sort of weirdo village idiot.  And, in the opinion of the late Factory boss Tony Wilson, “anyone less likely to be a pop star from this scene was unimaginable”. 

Decades on from The Smiths’ too brief but brilliantly prolific career (1983-87), earlier this year Morrissey released ‘Years Of Refusal’, his ninth solo studio album (his twentieth if you include live albums and compilations).  Along the way he’s created some of the most distinctive hit singles in the history of pop culture, from ‘Suedehead’ and ‘November Spawned A Monster’ through to ‘You Have Killed Me’ and ‘All You Need Is Me’ (“there’s so much destruction all over this world, and all you can do is complain about me”).  Let’s face it, apart from Morrissey and Simon bloody Cowell, who else in popular music is really worth complaining about?

I first encountered Steven Patrick Morrissey at London’s Venue back in September 1983.  The Smiths performed ‘This Charming Man’ live for the first time and it was one of the finest three minutes of pop music I’d ever heard.  Against the post-Falklands backdrop of New Romanticism, unemployment and rampant Thatcherism, Morrissey’s disillusioned but desperately funny lyrics struck a chord with me.  In the summer of 1984, back in my hometown of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, living with my parents (following my younger brother’s suicide), The Smiths’ ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ seemed to capture the battered spirit of Northern England during the Miners’ strike.

On joining the New Musical Express, I followed The Smiths passionately, reporting on their brief involvement with Red Wedge, struggling to capture in words the power and chaos of their 1986 ‘Queen Is Dead’ tour, and gradually becoming aware of the internal frictions that would too soon destroy this great British band.   Frankly I was shattered when The Smiths split – perhaps in the same daft way that teenage girls react when boy bands break up – and, clutching an advance cassette of their last studio album  ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’, I fled from England to India in the winter of 1987. 

Given that Morrissey had emotionally declared “The Smiths were like a life support machine to me”, I was understandably concerned about his future.  His close friend, guitarist and song-writing partner Johnny Marr had been burnt out by life in The Smiths and would re-emerge in Electronic with new chums Barney Sumner of New Order and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys.  But what would become of Morrissey? 

Like most fans, who’d studied his many lyrics about mortality and suicide (‘Shakespeare’s Sister’, ‘Stretch Out And Wait’, ‘Asleep’, ‘Cemetry Gates’, ‘Death At One’s Elbow’…), I feared the collapse of The Smiths might push him over the edge.  He’d talked of his great fascination with artists who’ve lived fast and died young, notably James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, and he’d reflected on death and even suicide.  “I’m nearly 29,” he even told me when ‘Viva Hate’ came out in 1988, “I’ll be dead in a couple of years!”

“I have a dramatic, unswayable, unavoidable obsession with death. I can remember being obsessed with it from the age of eight or nine.  And I often wondered if it was quite a natural inbuilt emotion for people who are destined to…take their own lives.   I think if there was a magical, beautiful pill that one could take that would retire you from the world…I would take it.”

If you don’t die by your own hand, I’d replied, then how would you like to go?

“The problem with death as with birth is that it’s so violent…so probably just propped up on those fluffy pillows in the front room.”

In early 1988, I began to fully appreciate the great influence Oscar Wilde had had on Morrissey’s artistic development.  Wilde had famously declared that   “the secret of life is art” and “to become a work of art is the object of living”.  Clearly the spirit of Wilde has influenced many Smiths and Morrissey solo songs from ‘What Difference Does It Make?’ and ‘Cemetry Gates’ through to ‘To Me You Are A Work Of Art’ and the recent single ‘I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris’.

Wilde played a crucial part in my own early encounters with Morrissey, notably at the Cadogan Hotel (the very room in which Oscar Wilde had been arrested a century earlier), at Wilde’s tomb in Paris’ Pere Lachaise graveyard and at Hook End near Reading Gaol - scene of the hard labour and the ballad.  In correspondence Morrissey quotes Wilde, in interviews he’s seemed moved by Wilde’s tragedy and, in the minefield of popular music, he’s never been afraid to preach Wilde’s gospel.  As Oscar declared “any attempt to extend the subject matter of art is extremely distasteful to the public – and yet the vitality and progress of art depend in a large measure on the continual extension of the subject matter”.

Without question Morrissey has extended the subject matter of the popular song more than any artist of the late 20th/early 21st century.  Child murder, working class poverty, suicide, football hooliganism, mental illness, police corruption, disability, animal cruelty, violence, paedophilia, racism, death, the loss of faith and so on.  Typically and topically, the recent track ‘Children In Pieces’ deals with the abuse of children in schools run by the Roman Catholic church.

Despite this focus on often taboo subjects, in interviews over the years he’s always been warm and funny, sometimes quiet and shy, but with outbursts of desperate laughter and memorable moments of Carry On comic timing.

When I asked Morrissey about his famously solitary celibate existence he responded, “in order to concentrate absolutely and perfectly on everything I had to…give up sausages”.  Once, when he was persistently attacked by a wasp during an interview, I suggested it might be attracted by his aftershave?  “No,” came the sharp reply, “by the Northern tone of bitterness.”  Later, when I enquired about the best way to keep in contact with him, he answered, “I have a fax machine.  It’s more useful than a telephone because you don’t have to speak.”

Yet his opponents - those who seriously argue that pop music should be about nothing but escapism or hedonism or trouble-free upbeat subjects - continue to brand him negative or miserable.

Unlike many of his Eighties contemporaries, Morrissey has retained this provocative, spiky, quality.  Although ninety per cent of his worldview could loosely be categorised as radical and to the Left – the vegetarianism and animal rights, the celebration of gay and lesbian artists, the hostility to everyone from Thatcher to Bush – his strong views on immigration and the protection of British culture from outside influences continue to cause controversy.  I don’t always agree with him but, as my long-gone mum once told me, you learn nothing from only listening to people who agree with you

Far from being angered or upset by his many critics, Morrissey genuinely seems to thrive on the hostility: “people find me enormously irritating.  If you don’t have 100 per cent passion for every move I make then I’m the most irritating person you could hope to hear.  I know this because people write and tell me…it’s a tremendous accolade.”

If fifty is the new thirty and you’re not classified a coffin dodger until you’re at least eighty, then Morrissey’s survival continues to be a triumph over depression and despair.  Many of his fans will tell you that, by addressing the difficult subjects most artists avoid, he’s somehow helped them handle life; through his open struggles to find a soul-mate, to cope with the deaths of friends, to make any sense of this fucked-up world.  Famously unmanageable, un-malleable, and (by his own admission) un-loveable, in live performance this week Morrissey continues to attract a huge following and, since the early days of The Smiths there have always been stage invasions, open gestures of almost religious adoration from fans of all sexual persuasions.  (When asked if he was giving his fans the hugs they didn’t get anywhere else, Morrissey replied, “I thought they were giving me the hugs that I didn’t get anywhere else”.) 

Perhaps today should be declared a day of amnesty for all the Morrissey bashers out there; for those people who never liked the look of him back in 1984, on Top Of The Pops with the gladioli and the beads and “initiate me” tattooed on his skinny body; for those who can’t stand his “lovely singing voice”, who disagreed with him politically or sexually? 

The Salford Lad’s turned fifty and for once deserves your appreciation, if only for being provocative and different, the agent provocateur of pop, the patron saint of outsiders.  Then tomorrow, in the spirit of his recent track ‘It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore’, you can loudly croon: “Did you really think we meant, all of those syrupy, sentimental things, that we said yesterday?”

Len Brown’s biography Meetings With Morrissey is published by Omnibus.


Google Book Reviews:


Review: Meetings with Morrissey
User Review  - Nisá - Goodreads
wilde-overdosed. great read! Read full review

Review: Meetings with Morrissey
User Review  - Heather Lynn - Goodreads
This is the best Morissey biography I've read. It doesn't show a different side of Moz, but elaborates on his childhood and his relationship with the media. Very interesting. Read full review

Review: Meetings with Morrissey
User Review  - Mariel - Goodreads
"Can you squeeze me into an empty page of your diary and psychologically save me? I've got faith in you." The five stars up top are for Morrissey. Len Brown's Meetings with Morrissey is truly a four ... Read full review

Review: Meetings with Morrissey
User Review  - Russ - Goodreads
Len Brown doesn't mind flying his fanboy flag. He will remind you several times that he defended Morrissey even when most of the NME staff had turned on him. This doesn't really taint the book; in ... Read full review

Review: Meetings with Morrissey
User Review  - Richard - Goodreads
i think this might be the best overall book about morrissey as a person. there are other books, most notably johnny rogan's 'the severed alliance' that give you the broader biography about his ... Read full review

Review: Meetings with Morrissey
User Review  - Brian Wilde - Goodreads
Meetings with Morrissey is an account of a series of interviews with Morrissey over a 25 year period conducted by former NME man Len Brown. Not alone, Brown spent the early eighties frustrated and ... Read full review

Review: Meetings with Morrissey
User Review  - Melusina - Goodreads
Absolutely wonderful and magical - one of the best Morrissey biographies I have read! Read full review

Review: Meetings with Morrissey
User Review  - minnie - Goodreads
As Morrissey books go this one was quite good, the author Len Brown is obviously a fan.I liked the 'Morrisseys People' chapter at the end listing all his influences such as, Pat Phoenix,James Dean ... Read full review