Today my colleague sent me an interesting article from Publishing Perspectives which asked, if Morrissey is a Penguin Classic, why not Elton John?
The article makes some interesting points about devaluing a respected brand to soothe a celebrity’s ego and you do have to wonder what the editor was thinking. Did Morrissey demand to have his autobiography published in the Penguin Classics series? Is the publication of Morrissey’s biography in the Penguin Classics some kind of stunt? Does it matter anyway?
Neither my colleague or I have read the Morrissey autobiography but it did lead to an interesting discussion about what can be considered a classic. I argued that a classic has to have gained some sort of critical praise from readers across a significant period of time, it’s not a label which can be instantly applied- in the same way that you can’t call a book which has yet to be released a bestseller. But that’s a pretty vague and fuzzy definition in itself.
What makes a book a classic for you?
I tend to agree with you – you don’t find out what is a classic for about 25 years. I use music to illustrate this. I am now a middle aged person. I was a teenager in the 1980s. A great deal of music made in the 1980s was considered at the time, by the cool kids, to be trash. I never ceases to amaze me that the teenagers I teach listen to music by Jon Bon Jovi – most of Bon Jovi’s music was thought to be utter tripe when it was released. It has survived though so there must be something to be said for it. I’m not claiming that it is musical genius, just that it has a lasting appeal.
I’m sure some people older than me are amazed that my generation enjoys the Beatles, The Doors and Flanders and Swann. I think Morrissey is being a little premature if he really did ask to be published as a classic.
Some people go beyond becoming classics and become immortal. Freddie Mercury to me was not just a great musician and entertainer, he is god. But that’s another story…
I think musically Morrissey could be argued to be a modern classic- his songs still speak to people today- I’m just not sure whether it’s arrogance or silliness that has made someone try to carry that label across genres. Folly!