Book Reviews / inspiration / Transgressive Writing

Johnny Marr, the Smiths, and Transgressive Writing

Last night I finished Johnny Marr’s autobiography, Set The Boy Free. It was an enjoyable book and I didn’t want to put it down until I had finished it. Reading about the formation of the Smiths and their career made me think back to when I “discovered” them. It was the mid-eighties and I was in high school. Compared to a lot of macho or at least benign rock stars, Morrissey seemed a transgressive figure; a gladioli flinging soul with a sharp wit and a habit of wearing ambiguous blouses. Honestly, I had no idea what he was singing about back then but it reached the outsider in me. Also, the way Johnny Marr played guitar influenced me as a musician; until the last year of the band there weren’t any guitar solos*, it was just strange, beautiful chords.

Even as a teenager, Johnny Marr was a force of nature. He had a vision right down to the way the first record sleeve looked and saw it to fruition. That sort of thing inspires me as an artist. Of course, creating art is the easy part; reaching the world at large and getting people interested is the bugger. One of the first things you need to understand is how to define yourself.

Hey…I’m an artiste, maaan, boxes are for shipping.

Yeah: I find myself saying that but I also want as many people as possible to read what I write. It took me months to figure out that the fiction I write is best categorized as Transgressive: Telling unusual stories full of characters who look at the world in a manner outside the norm–

That’s great, but I write non-fiction, as well.

That one stumped me for weeks, how to tie everything together and then I had a realization:

Wait–isn’t the desert sort of a “Transgressive” sort of place? It is definitely not a normal place to love and want to spend time in. It has always been the sort of area that has drawn in transgressive sort of people engaging in transgressive activities.

It may be a stretch, but I think it works so I am going with it.

When I was a senior in high school I took a drafting class. The teacher let us bring in cassettes to play and I brought in Hatful of Hollow by the Smiths. I think I got through a song and a half before the derisive comments led me to shut it off. It had been one of the rate moments in school where I had shared anything personal only to be reminded why I kept to myself. I had yet to write a novel like Golden Bullet but I had a transgressive soul. Johnny Marr was eighteen when he formed the Smiths and it seems he has a transgressive soul as well. I wasn’t nearly as brave and daring as he was as a teenager, but I feel a definite kinship. Thirty years on, he continues to inspire and entertain me and consequently I highly recommend Set The Boy Free.

Speaking of Transgressive writing, check out my novel Golden Bullet

*My favorite Smith’s guitar solo being the one for Shoplifters of the World.


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