“There is a light that never goes out.” – Morrissey and Johnny Marr
First and foremost, Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths by Simon Goddard is one of the most serious compendiums of pop music information that I’ve ever read that wasn’t simply a record guide. This work on the life of Steven Patrick Morrissey, former lead singer of The Smiths, is incredibly dense and comprehensive in its coverage of his life, works, influences, opinions on miscellaneous subjects, and cultural impact.
However, this is not a traditional biography. It is an encyclopedia and as such it is has the extra benefits that a biography lacks. While each entry has a kind of narrative, there is no running narrative for the entire work. Information is laid out in alphabetical order and cross-referential terms are in bold letters, allowing the reader to skip around the tome where his or her interest in a topic leads rather than hoping all will be revealed in the end.
Goddard has not written the entries in a typically boring academic manner. By which I mean a manner that lays out facts as if bones found at an archeological dig, bare and blanched in the sun. No, he is often trying to make those bones dance. As he writes in the prefacing section titled “Mozingredients,”
“Great art such as [Morrissey’s] defies dispassion and should never suffer the fate of fusty objective analysis.” (p. ix)
Take for instance, the matter of the song meanings. Goddard not only explores the lyrics themselves but also the impact that a song has on him personally. For example, when discussing the B-side, “There Speaks A True Friend,” he writes,
“Despite vain efforts to enliven it with guitar solos and a weird, abrupt ending (Morrissey’s idea as he didn’t like its original prolonged outro), it remains an inconsequential leftover.” (p.443)
Gems like this are sprinkled throughout asserting that Morrissey’s songs are witty, duplicitously simple story pieces with multiple layers of emotional truth. Some of the stories are well executed and resonant while others simply do not work out.
Mozipedia also includes sidebars of topics deemed particularly key to the reader’s understanding, a gallery of pictures, an extensive bibliography, and a full discography in chronological order of both The Smiths' and Morrissey’s solo releases. If there is any criticism to be given, other than on matters of taste in music, it is that the work is almost too much (as it spans over 500 pages). I have had to put it down for stretches of time in order to reasonably absorb what I have read. But like the light in this review’s epigraph, my interest in this book never seems to go out.
If you are interested in perusing Mozipedia, click here to reserve a copy.