Two biographies were released in Australia this week . The first is a meticulously researched bio of a deep thinking and creative man who is respected by many. The second is autobiography of an ego-driven rock star. I'm planning to read Brian Jay Jones' biography on Jim Henson for pleasure and Muppets nostalgia. I wouldn't normally give a shit about Morrissey's biography but for the fact that it has been so controversial.
So what is the controversy? Morrissey, it seems, believes that his autobiography is so interesting and will have such a great cultural impact that it deserves to be published under the Penguin Classics imprint. And Penguin, it seems, have been willing to play ball. Basically, they've tampered with a much-loved and well respected imprint to satisfy the whims of an ageing, albeit intelligent and well-respected rock star.
To be honest, as a consumer I am divided on the issue. I get that rock and roll is all about pushing cultural boundaries and accepted norms. Rock and roll is intended at times to upset and challenge. That is what the best kind of art does. The sacred Penguin Classics imprint is quite an interesting boundary to push and something that no one has tried (or at least tried successfully,) before.
On the other hand ... it's Penguin Classics. That's one hell of a sacred imprint. The books published under the imprint are always those that have stood the test of time and the editions are always thoroughly and meticulously researched by scholars, and come with introductions, appendices, footnotes, etc. As a university student, I knew that the Penguin Classics edition of any set text was always the finest choice--the only other publisher who ever came close was Oxford University Press. And now the imprint has been cheapened with the inclusion of a rock and roll autobiography. Suddenly, the imprint does not seem so special any more.
So what happens now? Well, maybe it will turn out that Morrissey's autobiography is just as well written and important as he claims. But I doubt it. My guess is that Morriessy's autobiography will sell a decent number of copies, be shelved as biography rather than with the classics and in a few years time the whole controversy will be quietly forgotten. Maybe we'll get a quick recap at the end of the decade or if the author should create more controversy somehow, somewhere. As for Penguin well, I suppose that it is their publishing house and their imprint. They can do what they like with it.
But I doubt that they will publish another rock star autobiography under that same imprint again.