Steven Patrick Morrissey was born on 22 May 1959, at Park Hospital, Davyhulme, Lancashire. His parents—Elizabeth (née Dwyer) and Peter Morrissey—were working-class Irish Catholics. They had emigrated to Manchester from Dublin with his only sibling, elder sister Jacqueline, a year prior to his birth. They had given him the forename of Steven after the American actor Steve Cochran. His earliest home was a council house at 17 Harper Street in the Hulme area of inner Manchester. Living in that area, as a child he was deeply affected by the Moors murders in which a number of local children were murdered by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley; the killings had a lasting impression on him and would be referenced in the lyrics of the Smiths song "Suffer Little Children". He also became aware of the anti-Irish sentiment in British society against Irish migrants to Britain. In 1970 the family relocated to another council house at 384 King's Road, Stretford.
Following an early education at St. Wilfred's Primary School, Morrissey failed his 11-plus exam, and proceeded to St. Mary's Technical Modern School, an experience that he found unpleasant. He excelled at athletics, although was an unpopular loner at the school. He has been critical of his formal education, later stating that "the education I received was so basically evil and brutal. All I learnt was to have no self-esteem and to feel ashamed without knowing why". He left school in 1975, having received no formal qualifications. He continued his education at Stretford Technical College, and there gained three O-levels in English Literature, Sociology, and the General Paper. In 1975 he travelled to the United States to visit an aunt who lived in New Jersey. The relationship between Morrissey's parents was strained, and they ultimately separated in December 1976, with his father moving out of the family home.
"I lost myself in music at a very early age, and I remained there ... I did fall in love with the voices I heard, whether they were male or female. I loved those people. I really, really did love those people. For what it was worth, I gave them my life ... my youth. Beyond the perimeter of pop music there was a drop at the end of the world."
— Morrissey, 1991.
Morrissey's librarian mother encouraged her son's interest in reading. He took an interest in feminist literature, and particularly adored the Irish author Oscar Wilde, whom he came to idolise. The young Morrissey was a keen fan of the television soap opera Coronation Street, which focused around working-class communities in Manchester; he sent proposed scripts and storylines to the show's production company, Granada Television, although all were rejected. He was also a fan of Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey and its 1961 film adaptation, which was a kitchen sink drama focusing around working-class life in Salford. Many of his later songs directly quoted from A Taste of Honey.
Of his youth, Morrissey said, "Pop music was all I ever had, and it was completely entwined with the image of the pop star. I remember feeling the person singing was actually with me and understood me and my predicament." He later revealed that the first record he purchased was Marianne Faithfull's 1964 single "Come and Stay With Me". During the 1970s he became a glam rock fan, enjoying the work of English artists like T. Rex, David Bowie, and Roxy Music. He was also a fan of American glam rock artists such as Sparks, Jobriath, and the New York Dolls. He formed a British fan club for the latter band, attracting members through small adverts in the back pages of music magazines. It was through the New York Dolls' interest in female pop singers from the 1960s that Morrissey too developed a fascination for such artists, who included Sandie Shaw, Twinkle, and Dusty Springfield.
Early bands and published books: 1977–1981
Morrissey idolised American film actor James Dean
and published a book on the subject
Having left formal education, Morrissey proceeded through a series of jobs, as a clerk for the civil service and then the Inland Revenue, as a salesperson in a record store, and as a hospital porter, before abandoning employment and claiming unemployment benefits. He used much of the money from these jobs to purchase tickets for gigs, attending performances by Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Blondie. He regularly attended concerts, having a particular interest in the alternative and post-punk music scene. Having met the guitarist Billy Duffy in November 1977, Morrissey agreed to become the vocalist for Duffy's punk band the Nosebleeds. Morrissey co-wrote a number of songs with the band—"Peppermint Heaven", "I Get Nervous" and "I Think I'm Ready for the Electric Chair"—and performed with them in support slots for Jilted John and then Magazine. The band soon disbanded.
After the Nosebleeds' break-up, Morrissey followed Duffy to join Slaughter & the Dogs, briefly replacing original singer Wayne Barrett. He recorded four songs with the band and they auditioned for a record deal in London. After the audition fell through, Slaughter & the Dogs became Studio Sweethearts, without Morrissey.
Morrissey came to be known as a minor figure within Manchester's punk community.
By 1981, Morrissey had become a close friend of Linder Sterling, the frontwoman of punk-jazz ensemble Ludus; both her lyrics and style of singing influenced him. Through Sterling, he came to know Howard Devoto and Richard Boon. At the time, Morrissey's best male friend was James Maker; he would visit Maker in London or they would meet up in Manchester, where they visited the city's gay bars and gay clubs, in one case having to escape from a gang of gay bashers.
Wanting to become a professional writer, Morrissey considered a career in music journalism. He frequently wrote letters to the music press and was eventually hired by the weekly music review publication Record Mirror. He authored several short books for local publishing company Babylon Books: in 1981 they released a 24-page booklet he had written on the New York Dolls, which sold 3000 copies. This was followed by James Dean is Not Dead, a volume he wrote about the late American film star James Dean. Morrissey had developed a love of Dean, having covered his bedroom with pictures of the deceased film star.