When he set out to write the deﬁnitive Smiths biography, Johnny Rogan started something he couldn’t ﬁnish. With episode one out in paperback, Tom Lappin asks the obsessive author when he’ll be able to say ‘I know it’s over’.
essing with the myths surround- ing demi-gods can be a dangerous thing. A reasonably committed Smiths fan acquaintance of mine. on hearing that l was on my way to interview Johnny Rogan. passed me a butter knife and said ‘do your duty’. He wasn’t serious (I think he wasn’t serious). but there are infinitely more monomaniac followers ofthe Mancunian pop legends out there. Perhaps even one or two who might take the melodramatic declarations of their idol Steven Patrick Morrissey, as some kind of fatwah.
Morrissey. you have to understand. is less than delighted with Rogan‘s painstakingly researched chronicle of The Smiths. Morrissm‘ And Marr — The Severed Alliance. published to critical acclaim last year and now available in a revised and updated paperback edition. Before it even went to the printers he expressed a wish that: ‘Personally, I hope Johnny Rogan ends his days very soon in an M3 pile-up.’ Once the book was published, Morrissey adjusted his views slightly, preferring Rogan’s demise to be by way of slow charring in a hotel fire.
‘My favourite one was “If God exists Johnny the rat will be devoured by his German shepherd dogs’,’ says a noticeably unperturbed Rogan. ‘I wouldn’t mind but I don’t even have any German shepherd dogs . . .’ Morrissey’s ire is difficult to understand, unless it’s that Rogan’s slightly nerdish air (the writer is a balding thirtysomething with a passion for minute detail) offends the singer’s aesthetic sensibilities.
The book itself is a painstaking labour of love. four years in the writing, tracing every possible inﬂuence on his subjects. From the Easter uprising of 1916 to the actor who went on to play Curly in Coronation Street, everything has its place in the Morrissey/Marr history. ‘I researched it in the same way as you’d research a major literary biography,’ says Rogan. ‘lt’s the only way you can do it I think. It does take a long time, but to produce a decent book you’ve got to try to detach yourself from the commmercial aspect of it, and follow every lead. ask yourself if you’ve asked the last friend of the last person. It’s like being a police officer.’
Rogan’s prose certainly has the plodding meticulousness of the average bobby, but strangely enough it’s a style suited to his subject. The Smiths, and Morrissey in particular, are such an intriguing entity, that the ‘throw all the evidence into the pot and see what sticks’ approach works perfectly. The alternative was to take a particular slant on the band, an option Rogan discounted from the outset.
‘There was no preconceived package,’ he stresses. ‘That’s a recipe for distortion. The more salacious and sensationalist type of writer
will try to lix the facts to agree with their argument. I don’t do that. I could have taken the story in many different directions. or to put it more bluntly in a specific direction. There’s a story in the book about the young Morrissey cutting up the pictures of George Best. who I knew resembled his father. I thought “I could have a real Oedipal. Freudian book here”. Albert Goldman would have loved it. And lots of people say Morrissey’s got a mother fixation. It‘s almost irresistible for a biographer to have that thrust upon him. You can tie all that together and there’s your thesis. Morrissey labelled for all the world to see. That to me
‘There’s a story in the
solo careers up to 1987.
‘It is an ongoing project.’ he says. ‘but it‘s not quite a linear progression. I’m always looking back at The Smiths. Logically I should be concentrating on the solo stuff, but in fact. inevitably. l’m drawn back to the Smiths era. so a different Smiths-related project is likely to come out of this, incorporating a wealth of new material that I’ve got. I‘ve got to get all that out of my system. it’s clogging up the argument.’
There’s also the problem that in a recent interview Morrissey has suggested that he may do just one more album before disappearing into retirement. ‘I have two views
of that.‘ says Rogan. ‘Part of
was far too simplistic. I‘m not a trained psychiatrist. How can anyone. on the basis of a biography. make those kind of conclusions‘.’ You can‘t.‘
Rogan‘s no-stone-left- unturned approach has been lapped up by Smiths fans. At signings and readings the feedback has been entirely positive and nobody has
book about the young Morrissey cutting up the pictures of George Best, who I knew resembled his father. I
thought “I could have a
real Oedipal, Freudian book here”. Albert Goldman would have loved it.’
me feels it’s the old Frank Sinatra. David Bowie syndrome. announcing a retirement only to renege on it within six months or six weeks. with some flimsy explanation. On the other hand it does dawn on me that since The Smiths began. Morrissey has consistently mentioned this idea of retiring early. He seems to be very
shown any signs of taking Morrissey‘s threats at all seriously. ‘We’re led to believe that Morrissey’s fans are obsessive and thereby sheepish,’ says Rogan. ‘lfthey are as dedicated as that. why haven‘t I received one letter denouncing me‘.’ They‘ve all been of the “really enjoyed the book kind". more so than with any other book I‘ve written. Morrissey said those things before the book came out. so it was a statement based on ignorance and prejudice. That suggests he was more upset at the idea of a book than anything else.‘
Rogan admits that the project has engaged him to the extent that he cannot at present envisage ever writing about a different subject. He sees Morrissev And Marr becoming a kind of epic trilogy. tracing the ten years of their
the Smith: In ﬂoral mode, 1983: Man, Morrissey,
Joyce and Rourke
conscious of overstaying his welcome. The song ‘Get Off The Stage’ was a direct attack on Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones for doing exactly that.‘
This both-sides-of—the—argument attitude is Rogan’s approach to a T. He’s an archivist more than a theorist. never failing to sift through all the evidence before sitting on the fence. On last year’s controversy about Morrissey being a racist (sparked off by the song ‘National Front Disco’ and the injudicious brandishing of a Union Jack) Rogan puts both the anti and pro case in convincing terms. Even when it comes to the man who has wished him dead. Rogan still can’t help remaining a fan.
‘I still go to the shows. bttt I don‘t look up and think. “that person up there hates me”. It‘s strange. If it had been any other artist saying those things about me I don’t think I’d be able to feel the same about them. their work would be tainted. That can only be explained by the fact that I appreciate Morrissey’s psychology. so that his words don‘t have that wounding effect.‘
There are also signs that the Great One‘s pronouncements are beginning to soften: ‘His most recent comment accused me of being a female impersonator. That was quite sweet in a way. It’s quite touching that he‘s beginning to get quite comical about it.’
I suppose the butter knife can stay in the pocket this time. D Morrissey And Marr — The Severed Alliance is published in Omnibus paperback (£9. 95).
. . _.-.-.l The List 30 July—12 August l99313