Itís hard not to get a bit jealous when you find out that someone like Joe Pernice, the talented singer-songwriter, and heart and soul of the gloomy-ethereal popsters, the Pernice Brothers, is also a talented author. But there you have it. With his astute perceptions and graceful language, the guy can write circles around most of the popular novelists today, and then whack them in the head later on with his melody.
As part of Continuumís new 33 1/3 series of small-scale books on classic albums, Meat is Murder, a semi-autobiographical novel revolving around the Smithís seminal 1980ís album, ventures out of the bounds of essay (the other books in the series are music criticism) to capture teenage angst, isolation, and anglophilia in all its dark glory.
In an era when teenage suicide pacts were the leading news stories and the thoughtful teens were looking for an escape from Wham! and the Material Girl, Joe Perniceís unnamed teenage protagonist looks across the sea to the UK, and more specifically to Meat is Murder, as a bridge to Allison, the girl in his class that heís got a crush on. Much of the story is attached to the music, but the reader doesnít need to be familiar with the music to enjoy it. The reader needs only to recall their own teen years when they were most impressionable, when songs became attached to special moments that took on an epic greatness in a naive and inexperienced teen.
For me, the Smiths were the great pasty white hope. R.E.M. ran a close second (until late '86 when they lost me), but the Brits had an emotional edge. It was like Morrissey was given the key to the city of morbid, romantic angst. He tiptoed over a suspension bridge of glass blown by Marr and Co. It was pop music and ultra-melodic, with lyrics that penetrated my quietest fears with a diamond-tipped bummer.
Later in the story he writes, The trick was somehow to convert our love of the album into our love for each other. That pretty well sums up the motivation behind the main character.
But the novel isnít about the unrequited love that is so often associated with lead singer Morrissey and the Smithís music. Itís about the worse feeling of uncertainty: it's about the tension of not knowing how to love, and not knowing if she likes you that way. Considering its short length (just over 100 pages), itís full of humor, irony, sadness, death, poignancy and bitterness. In fact, some might say, it's just like the album.