"Set the Boy Free" by Johnny Marr – Book Review
If you have any interest in guitar bands and especially indie guitar bands, and most particularly The Smiths, this book is essential reading.
As you’d expect the book catalogues Mister Marr’s incredible career from an early age, and boy did he start early, right through to the present day. If you don’t know the whole story you might be surprised just how many bands he has played with.
It looks like he wrote the book himself, though it is always difficult to tell with celebrity biogs. All too often there is the small print that says with so-and-so, or as told to so-and-so, and in those cases you can bet who did 90% of the writing. But there is nothing like that here, though in saying that, there is thanks at the end to eleven people who helped in various ways in the writing and production of this book.
No matter, this is a very readable and interesting story. Perhaps inevitably, the first half is far more engaging than the second. And yes, that is the part that deals with the incredibly rapid rise of The Smiths from nowhere, to their massive worldwide success, and their ultimate implosion, and it is this implosion that probably sparked most readers to buy this book in the first place.
In truth, are we any the wiser after reading of what caused the break-up? Not really, other than an unequal share of the royalties and revenue, though in truth, it was clear to everyone that two members contributed far more to this band than the other two, and I guess that is always going to create tensions that will ultimately break the whole. It had happened before and it sure as heck will happen again.
One piece of advice. If you ever have the opportunity to ask questions at a Johnny Marr press conference, never ask him if there is any chance of The Smiths getting back together. Not if you know what’s good for you. Oh, and another little gem too. If you ever form a band make sure you all know precisely who will get what in the way of revenue and credits right from day one, and make sure that is written down and agreed on, and that way you stand a better chance of not falling out later, and maybe even avoiding expensive litigation that could drag on for almost twenty years. The REM and U2 route is always preferable when it comes to things like that.
“Set the Boy Free” is a decent read, I enjoyed it, and a book I can recommend, though maybe at the end of it all, it left me with a feeling of sadness, and maybe that is not so ridiculous. It is The Smiths we are primarily talking about, after all, despite Johnny’s huge successes elsewhere afterwards.
As someone else once wrote, thank you for the music. I'm glad I was there.