JOHNNY MARR -SET THE BOY FREESKU: AC-BK089
Johnny Marr’s autobiography Set the Boy Free is a resoundingly positive portrayal of the life of the guitarist, whose sensational strums, song-writing and sounds have contributed endlessly to music since the eighties.
The Smiths were undoubtedly a band that shaped the musical and political landscape of the decade – offering an emotional, bitter yet politically poignant alternative to the disposability of pop culture. The band had the incredible talent of tapping into the teenage psyche: vulnerability, loneliness and violence – which remained largely unwritten about in pop music – viscerally became the core of their sound. Their ability to produce great, alternative art has meant that they have remained popular outside of the original generation of Smiths fans; lighting the fire under the disaffected youth that remain a constant in any generation. Johnny says himself in the book that people ‘were looking for something that expressed their times and culture’, and the Smiths were an ‘insular gang’ that seemed to fill that gap.
Johnny was born into a working-class Irish family during the sixties in Manchester. His captivation with music was evident from an early age: he had his first guitar at the age of five, saying that he had ‘no idea if music is something that you’re born with or is bred into you, but the fascination [he] had with music was completely personal and natural’. The book twists and turns with stories of Johnny forming his first band at the age of fourteen, devouring pop culture, meeting his girlfriend Angie, and honing his craft up until the formation of The Smiths.
There are vivid and rich accounts of his song-writing processes; one in particular chronicles of a song-writing weekend extravaganza. Johnny locked himself away in his flat, refining a riff he’d come up with earlier in the back of the band’s van. He formed it into an acoustic masterpiece, followed by two other demos that came to be known as some of the biggest Smiths hits: ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’, ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’, and ‘How Soon Is Now?’
However, frictions between management, the forlorn modern-bard Morrissey and the staunch traditionalist Marr ended up in the dissolution of the indie rock band, yet for Marr, this was not a miserable time, but rather a stage ‘of rejuvenation, pro-future, pro-music’. His resounding positivity meant his departure was not the end of the guitar maestro, but rather the beginning of a rich musical anthology: from playing with Bryan Ferry, Talking Heads, Pet Shop Boys to forming the Pretenders, Modest Mouse and Cribs, amongst countless other musical endeavours.
Johnny’s talent is unshakable and undeniable. His book is an assemblage of his endless optimism as he embraces his legendary story as one of the great guitarists of a generation.
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