Just released by Titan Books, Songs That Saved Your Life: The Art of The Smiths 1982-87 is the definitive look at the musical legacy of the legendary rock band. Originally published in 2002, this revised and updated edition realizes author Simon Goddard’s original vision for the book and is the final word on the group and their far-reaching influence. Goddard, a British music journalist whose latest book, Ziggyology: A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust, is released on March 28th, recently took some time to answer my questions about his ongoing love for Morrissey and Marr. Here’s what he had to say:
Obviously, you are a Smiths super fan. But what is it specifically about their music that continues to resonate with you?
They were the first band I saw live when I was 13 and the main band of my adolescence. I think they remain the ultimate adolescent band, which I don’t mean as an insult, quite the opposite. Pop music is the ultimate teenage art form and being the ultimate teenage band then The Smiths are the masters of that art form. So they’re intrinsic to my past and what made me the person I am, even though nowadays, as a 41 year-old adult, I confess I listen to them much less than I do Beethoven.
Why did you initially decide to write this book? How long did the process take? Have you heard from any of The Smiths about it?
I originally wrote it circa 2001-2002 at a time when The Smiths were still being marginalised as a “cult” 80s band and stigmatised in the popular media by the then-recent High Court case. So I wanted to write a manifesto waving a flag for their art rather than the personal drama. The first version of the book, being my first book, was a bit naïve and rushed and in due course there were severe problems with its original publishers.
I’m not in contact with anybody involved with The Smiths anymore but, years ago, I did receive an email from one of them which meant a great deal to me even if, ultimately, I wrote the book for the ghost of my teenage self.
Even though The Smiths are my favorite band, I’m fine with their musical legacy as it is and don’t want them to reunite. Where do you stand on this issue? Do you want Morrissey and Marr to perform/record again, or do you feel it is a collaboration best left in the past?
If The Smiths reunited it would be the worst thing to happen in the entire history of popular music. It would be like suddenly knocking down walls in the Sistine Chapel to build an extension. “Sorry, Mikey, I think this fresco could do with a few more panels,” etc. The legacy is perfect as it is. But it’s not something I lose a second’s sleep over because it is never going to happen.
How do you feel about Morrissey these days in general?
My feelings about Morrissey these days are detailed with near-pornographic zeal in a slim pamphlet still in print called Mozipedia.
What made you decide to re-release the book?
The original publishers, who were so clued up about the book that they first listed it on Amazon as a work about a “seminal glam rock band”, duly and deservedly went into liquidation. The copyright changed hands and a new publisher, Titan, wanted to put it out. After establishing the fact that they knew The Smiths weren’t a glam rock band then I agreed, but I also wanted to rewrite chunks of the book and correct stuff. So I’m finally happy with this version.
For me, personally, the It’s A Wonderful Life inspired prologue in this new Songs That Saved Your Life and the entry for Johnny Marr in Mozipedia are the best things I’ve ever written on the subject of The Smiths, and beyond those I have nothing else to add. I’ve written two books on them but there won’t be a third. My next book, out in the UK this month, is called Ziggyology and is about Ziggy Stardust and is without a doubt the book of which I am most proud.
Can you pick a favorite Smiths song and album? If so, what are they?
Strangeways, Here We Come is their best album, but on the very rare occasions I feel like listening to them now and risking feeling like a 15-year-old again then I’d probably go for side one of Meat Is Murder. But these days I prefer to let the world be my Smiths jukebox and it’s still a perverse thrill when they suddenly leap out of the speakers in a pub or café when you least expect. Even at low volume fighting for attention in a packed bar deafening the eardrums with drunken chat, I can spot a nanosecond’s yodel from “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” at fifty paces.