Stephen Morris never really got on with formal education. You’ll discover the extend of his aversion to the classroom through the early part of this excellent memoir. That he writes with a wit, with a passion and with aplomb is down to his passion for reading I reckon. He spent many an hour in his youth in libraries, book shops and, of course, record stores. But not so much in school! His love of music is maybe predictable but the extent of his passion for literature came as a pleasant surprise.
I ordered Record Play Pause after hearing Morris on Radio 4’s A Good Read. He impressed me with his enthusiasm and critical commentary on the books being discussed. Through this BBC podcast, he introduced me to the (very) leftfield world of author David Keenan (read my review of Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device here).
All of which meant I was very much looking forward to creasing the spine of Record Play Pause.
Well, what a joy this book is. There is always a level of trepidation when turning the first page of a memoir (or autobiography). How many are launched in hardback and given as Christmas presents – selling in large numbers simply because of the name on the front? Too many I reckon, and a large proportion will be dry, bland, descriptive affairs destined to gather dust and never be read.
I needn’t have worried. The attention to detail which we all enjoy so much in his musicianship is on display here in his words too.
There is a humble self awareness about Stephen Morris, which is comes through wonderfully on the page. Here we follow his childhood, teenage years and the all too short career of Joy Division (Morris is promising a Part II which will take in the New Order era), the book combines his determination to follow his dreams with a darkly humorous catalogue of mistakes and mishaps.
It would have been easy (and lazy) for him to let the narrative follow the life of Joy Division’s lead singer and lyricist, Ian Curtis, leaving Morris playing a secondary role – the mass media only ever mention Curtis and one particular Joy Division song (Love Will Tear Us Apart) – so he could have ‘cashed in’ on that angle of the story. Not a bit of it, this is the world of Stephen Morris through the words of Stephen Morris. Given the beautiful way with language the man has, my library of musical memoirs is so much richer because of this book.
The sad suicide of Ian Curtis is dealt with tenderly but without gushing romance. Morris’ fondness of his friend and bandmate comes through in the passages around the time of Curtis’ death. It is dramatic and a turning point in all the band member’s lives, but I like the way the author shows us that moment in time without melodrama nor voyeurism. He pulls no punches but also doesn’t add any unnecessary band-standing to the story.
I could claim that the book will appeal to everyone, whatever your musical tastes, age, or your record buying history, but that may not be completely true. It would more than stand up alongside any other autobiography of a musician trying to find his way in the world, but I found myself nodding along as Morris reminded me of bands and venues as well as music press and radio which have also featured in my life when I was a young man. Without these reference points, the reader might possibly become lost in the chronology. That said, because of the popularity of New Order, and the legendary status of Joy Division, I’m sure nearly everyone will enjoy the story.
Anyone with even a passing interest in music (and a love of the written word) will finish this book enriched. The very northern, very ‘real’ nature of Joy Division and their association with the emerging Factory Records and the legendary Hacienda night club is told in eloquent and honest detail.
Stephen Morris writes in a coy, subtly humorous and thoughtful voice which is a delight to read.
I heartily recommend this book and eagerly await Part II!