Johnny Marr: excerpts from his autobiography on love and the opposite (Thatcher)

Johnny Marr - Set The Boy Free

From Johnny Marr’s brand-new autobiography, “Set The Boy Free“, here’s a couple of excerpts.

First, on how he met Angie, his future wife, partner in crime and consigliere. The last paragraph, however, is on Thatcher.

Johnny and Angie in the late 1970s.

Johnny and Angie in the late 1970s.

The party was just getting into the swing of things. I wandered around for a few minutes before settling on a couch in the main room, where Blondie’s new LP, Parallel Lines, was playing. I sank down next to my drummer and in a few seconds something happened that was to be the most important moment of my life: across the room I noticed a girl standing side-on. I was stunned by how pretty she was, and just like a movie the rest of the room appeared to freeze and I saw a glow around her. All I could think was, ‘You have found her.’ It was a total knowing. I turned to Bobby and said, ‘I’m going to marry that girl.’

It’s amazing how the course of your life can change within a few seconds. One moment things are as normal, and then a phone call, a meeting, destiny or fate, and everything is different from then on. I locked into that moment. I had to talk to her, and hoped she’d want to talk to me. I can’t remember what I said at first because I wasn’t hearing myself speak. I was fascinated by her. She was so beautiful and assured and so totally cool. I could tell she was younger than me, and after saying something I asked when her birthday was. She told me it was in October. ‘What date?’ I asked her. ‘Thirty-first, Halloween,’ she said. ‘What? We’re born on the same day.’

I thought it was beyond a boy and a girl, it was soul to soul. I needed her to like me as quickly as possible, but I couldn’t let her see it because I would look an idiot. I found out later that she knew who I was and was into me in the same way. Angie just didn’t let on. For the next few weeks I would just happen to be wherever she was going. When she walked to school in the morning I would be at my window as she went by, wondering if she’d look over. She looked every time and we’d wave to each other. I made sure I was standing by her school gate when she came out at lunchtime to go to the shop. I’d have Andy with me so I didn’t appear completely desperate, but she knew I’d be there and I knew she was expecting me. A gang of us would all hang around together – some of her mates and me and Andy – and we all knew it was so me and Angie could spend forty minutes together. Then I’d kill time until three forty-five when I could walk home with her. This ritual went on for weeks. It didn’t matter that I was supposed to be in school myself, it wasn’t even a consideration.

I’d taken to having longer and longer sabbaticals from St Augustine’s, and it didn’t seem to bother my school that their resident guitar hero was missing. If it was a nice day, Andy and I would look at each other and declare, ‘It’s too nice to go in today,’ and then go outside and walk around Wythenshawe Park. If it was raining, we’d turn to each other and say, ‘It’s a bit grim to go in today, isn’t it?’ and stay indoors instead. If one of us had a crisis of conscience, it would be alleviated by the other until he came to his senses. As long as I turned up at the school registrar’s office every now and then with a handwritten note saying ‘Dear Sir, Johnny had conjunctivitis’ and sign it with some unreadable signature, then everything was fine. When Andy needed a note, I would write one for him. After it became obvious what we were both doing, I wrote, ‘Dear Sir, Andy was with Johnny Marr because he had conjunctivitis,’ and once I wrote a letter that simply said, ‘Andy had conjunctivitis too,’ just to see if we could get away with it and because it was funny.

Angie and I started to see more of each other, although Andy was never too far away. He was easy-going as always, and it gave him plenty of opportunities to acquaint himself with a number of Angie’s friends, who were interested in their own hormonal activity. He was well happy and kept busy. The early days of finding each other were magic for me and Angie. One day we snuck off and sat on a wall on the estate with the spring sky behind us, and I laid out the plan for our future: ‘We’ll get away and get out. I’ll put together a band and make records. We’ll go to London, and then go around the world. I’m a guitar player and you’re a guitar player’s girlfriend. That’s what we’re doing.’ She didn’t doubt me, and that was amazing and validating. There was no other option for me anyway, and now that I had her it was even more necessary because she needed it too. I believed I could do it. She made me brave.

Angie lived with her mum and dad and her older brother, Pete, and not surprisingly they had started to notice that she had taken to dying her hair jet-black, had become very pale, and appeared to have lost all interest in homework and also food. Within about six weeks of us getting together she looked exactly like a teenage Siouxsie Sioux on the arm of a teenage Johnny Thunders, and wherever we went people would look and look again. We listened to New York Dolls, Psychedelic Furs and The Cramps, and her absolute favourite was Iggy Pop. Although I didn’t actually introduce her to cigarettes, I did introduce her to other things like guitars and record covers and gigs, and that was all right – Angie wanted an adventure and she supported all my ideas and curiosities. There were a lot of them.

Margaret Thatcher

As 1979 went on, Britain began to feel the effect of the new Conservative government, led by Margaret Thatcher. Nicknamed ‘The Iron Lady’, she abolished free milk for schoolchildren and was a woman so contemptuous you really had to wonder if the nation hadn’t lost its collective minds in electing her leader of the country. In the short time she had been in power there was already a change in the community I grew up in, as families suffered unemployment and a sense of real apprehension took hold. She had a colossal ego, and her philosophy relied on the very worst aspects of human nature. She knew that if you put people under enough hardship, they would turn away from each other in order to protect their own interests. Her vision, like that of all Conservative governments, was truly cynical in that it relied on fear, greed and indifference towards others – like someone choosing their new two-car garage over the needs of the unemployed father of three next door – and the terrible consequences of her vision would affect British people for a very long time.

On the topic of Johnny’s autobiography, this is a great recent interview with Johnny found in The Guardian.

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