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Set the Boy Free

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  2,879 ratings  ·  331 reviews
The long-awaited memoir from the legendary guitarist and cofounder of the seminal British band The Smiths.

An artist who helped define a period in popular culture, Johnny Marr tells his story in a memoir as vivid and arresting as his music. The Smiths, the band with the signature sound he cofounded, remains one of the most beloved bands ever, and have a profound influence o
ebook, 480 pages
Published November 15th 2016 by Dey Street Books (first published November 3rd 2016)
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Average rating 4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,879 ratings  ·  331 reviews

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Kerry Dunn
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
Well, let's just say Johnny Marr is very diplomatic. I feel like he could have shown way more anger than he did in this. Some things I learned from Johnny:

1. Sometimes you meet your one true love as a teenager and it works out for life.
2. The Smiths really just needed a good manager.
3. Liam Gallagher only became famous because he had a cool haircut.
4. Sometimes the personal is political.
5. Music gives life meaning.
6. Drugs are bad.
7. Running is good.

I created a Spotify playlist as I read thi
Michael Legge
Nov 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shame he dies in the end.
Johnny Marr's Set the Boy Free is a nice counterpoint to Morrissey's excellent, dense Autobiography. Marr's narrative takes the form of a young, gregarious chancer who, at a very young age, decided that being a rock and roll star was his life's ambition. Marr is obsessed with the idea of being "cool" - he seemingly remembers every item of clothing he was wearing at each significant point in his life, and relishes the stories of hanging out with the rock establishment. We get meetings with Keef, ...more
Ben Winch
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
Johnny Marr, man – I had no idea he was such a dynamo! He’s like the Michael J. Fox of UK indie. I mean, don’t get me wrong: well do I realise I’ve just uttered a sacrilege, and though I dug the Smiths in my high school years I’d be the first to admit I’ve grown out of them, but I’ve always had time for Johnny Marr. Probably more than anyone (except maybe his own hero Keith Richards), Marr changed the notion of what it meant to be a “guitar hero”; while never bludgeoning us with technical wizard ...more
Shirley Bateman
Jan 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
There were times when I was reading 'Set the boy free' that I thought my heart was going to explode with nostalgia and love. I think that I'd forgotten just how much The Smiths meant to me.

I particularly loved Marr's account of going to Morrissey's house for the first time, knocking on his door and asking him to be in his band. The descriptions of Morrissey and Marr writing songs together were truly magical. Marr's writing style is plain and unadorned but it doesn't matter because he has such a
Sandy Nawrot
May 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio
Well, I think I've said this before but I'll say it again. Biographies (or autobiographies in this case) are starting to be my very best brain candy. And it can be about anybody with a story to tell. I consistently rate this genre five stars. People fascinate me.

So Johnny Marr. If you aren't aware of who he is (and in my circles I'm thinking that is going to be a high number) he's the lead guitar player and co-originator of the 80's British New Wave group The Smiths. Their lead vocalist Morrisse
M Tremmel
Dec 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Johnny Marr is exactly who I thought he was; a genius guitar player and true blue music fan himself. He distills his life story into practical recitations that are informative and enjoyable. He does not apologize for any drug use nor celebrate it like so many other musicians in their autobios. Instead, he gives a real experienced summation: "I learned a lot about the effects of cocaine which makes you think you're really having fun while it sucks all of the love o ...more
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
enjoyed this autobiography of the guitarist of the smiths and a look at his life and his musical journey from inner city Manchester to fame
Katey Lovell
Jan 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love Johnny Marr.

His life story proves that the heady combination of hard work and natural talent pays off. Set the Boy Free follows Johnny from humble beginnings on inner-city Manchester estates to global fame and acclaim. It's partly a 'rise of the underdog' tale, but it's also a love story between Marr and music. As a creative person myself, I couldn't help but be inspired by his drive, his ambition, his self-belief, and also his ability to do things his own way.

I love Johnny Marr.

His tota
Gregarious cline
Johnny Marr is the man of my dreams. He encapsulates and manifests one my deepest beliefs that visualization, working hard and dedication is "the magic" in reaching your goals (and beyond in his case).
Without a doubt Marr is one of Rock's innovative guitar legends and it's magnificent to read how he set out to be exactly that, and he does it with soul and depth. His insights and memories into crafting the Smiths to reflect his original style are a must read for any musician or lover of music. E
Nov 20, 2016 rated it liked it
If you’re a fan of his guitar work in The Smiths and beyond, then this is a fine read for some Smiths stories, but it gets a bit dull once he avoids talking about his Madchester debauchery (foggy memories indeed) and he starts his distance running (save that for a different self-help book and dish the dirt).
Jan 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I became a fan of The Smiths a few years back and from the moment I put on "Ask" , I was immediately enthralled with the guitar playing of Johnny Marr. To this day, Johnny is not only my favorite Smiths member, but one of my most favorite musicians. Reading his autobiography confirmed this fact even more! Marr is a hell of a musician and a stand up guy! Despite being easily one of the most iconic guitar players of the century, Marr is humble and never takes himself too seriously! His book has pl ...more
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a fantastic, easy and enjoyable read. I couldn't put the book down and - as a mom of two busy little ones in which it takes me forever to read a book nowadays - I kept trying to squeeze in pages and chapters during any fleeting moment I could (parked car/sleeping kids, bathroom escapes, late night bed reading). I've always been a fan of The Smiths, but wasn't too familiar with and well versed in the specific band members' backgrounds. It wasn't until I recently heard a Sirius radio intervie ...more
Aug Stone
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Reading the interviews with Johnny Marr in Guitar Player and Guitar For The Practicing Musician magazines in 1990 when The The's 'Mind Bomb' album came out changed the way I thought about music. 'Set The Boy Free' is a wonderful insight into the man whose creativity did indeed shape much of the great guitar playing since 1983. Johnny Marr had a vision at a young age which he conveys to the reader and shows how by listening to his heart and his guts he made it all happen. There's truly wonderful ...more
Sep 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
Though tons of words have been written on the Smiths, this seems essential.

Besides, I am not sure you could consider Morrissey's autobiography non-fiction, so here we are.

This is pretty standard rock autobio. Conversational and breezy. Marr seems "aw shucks" as he recounts his life, marrying his teenage sweetheart and becoming one of the most influential guitarists of his generation.

Nothing wrong with that. His is an interesting story. Although he makes it sound like it was so simple, I gleam th
Paul Gleason
Nov 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Johnny Marr’s autobiography, Set the Boy Free (Dey St.), perfectly complements his guitar playing and songwriting: it’s adventurous, precise, energetic, and infectious. Once you start reading, you can’t put it down.

In 464 pages, Marr captures what it is to be a Smiths fan. His life mirrors his music, just like The Smiths’ music uncannily evokes their fans’ life experiences. Once you delve into Boy, you’re jolted into life in the same way that whatever Smiths song or album you first heard created
Daniel Sevitt
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: auto-biography
Perfectly decent autobiography covering all his career highlights, many of which I had forgotten - such as his time with The The or Modest Mouse. Marr was 23 when The Smith broke up which is astonishing. Plenty of namedropping, but he's mostly self-effacing and chuffed to have found himself where he is. Grateful for everything, but proud of the hard work he put in. It's a tough combination to pull off in an memoir, but I think he does it. Solidly entertaining, even if it has none of the flair of ...more
Apr 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Overall I'd say it was pretty good, if only for information on Johnny Marr's life growing up pre-Smiths. Details after that, of The Smiths and other projects, seem detailed in a way but washed over in another. It may be a case of having to cover so much ground.

Johnny Marr is a good guitar guy.
Nov 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is an inspiring read for any artists, musicians, or outsiders. Marr's most famous band The Smiths are the ultimate outsiders who have made it. Marr is a naturally gifted storyteller with an engaging voice. Many stories move me to laughing out loud or to tears streaming down my face. Several moments leave me gasping with tension and suspense.

Johnny Marr is my favorite rock guitarist of all-time. He writes stunning, moving, minimalist riffs that nobody else can manage. I'm such a fangirl
Adrian Deans
Nov 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was a late comer to The Smiths although now they’re one of my favourite bands. Accordingly, I picked up this book with some alacrity and breezed through it in two days.

That tells you a lot about both the quality of the writing and my interest in the journey. I love biographies but too often lose interest once the subject gets famous. Johnny Marr’s book held my attention the whole way, although I did like best the development years and The Smiths years. His description of growing up in Manchest
Rick Burin
It’s all guitars, socialism and dangerous driving in this informal, chatty, sometimes shapeless autobiography from the diminutive, jangly, axe-wielding, boundary-pushing, cool-as-fuck former Smith. The one who wrote all the music. The one who didn’t turn out greedy or UKIP. The one who – a mystifying lack of contrition for going drink-driving aside – seems really pretty damn sound. Marr isn’t a particularly strong writer – his spellbinding creative gifts lie elsewhere – but his book is fun, some ...more
Apr 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone interested in rock and pop music
Recommended to Leonardo by: Cecilia
A clear-minded and level-headed autobiography, Set The Boy Free is a joyful and sincere account of Johnny Marr's musical and personal journey (which, in his case, are one and the same). Marr is deeply thankful for the gift of music (for himself and his audience) and that gratitude is translated into his words and his memories, from his childhood (and his early falling in love with music and guitars) to his many musical adventures (from the Smiths to The The, Electronica, Modest Mouse and his own ...more
Hector Ramirez
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
Set the Boy free.

What a let down had been waiting years for J Marr to write a book. Particularly after Mozza's was so bad :(
The first ten chapters basically expound his love for clothes etc (He likes clothes also worked in a clothes shop he was good at selling clothes etc etc) Had alot of cousins names them all!
Some interesting Smiths stories regarding Andy Rourke and a few about Moz. But no real insight into the creative process imo.....
Marr then spouts about his views on politics and social
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Listened to this one on Audible; Marr is outstanding as a narrator in his Mancunian accent, telling the story of his life. I was never a big fan of the Smiths (yeah, I know...sorry!) but was curious about his career. What I found was a suprisingly candid journey through the life of a songwriter and guitarist, from his upbringing in Manchester, starting on his path playing in local garage bands through the explosion of the Smiths, to stints playing and recording with the the like of Chrissie Hynd ...more
While Marr is not as strong a writer as Morrissey nor as enigmatic/mysterious, this memoir is more geared to a music scene fan. Marr does not wallow, so when The Smiths cuts Marr from the band over management issues, Marr sets his sights on other opportunities. Making friends and working with musicians he admires--Matt Johnson of The The, Bernard Sumner of New Order, Modest Mouse and others--and improving as a guitar player is more important to Marr than fame, petty disputes and days gone by. An ...more
Elaine Maynard
May 12, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up-on
Heaven knows I was miserable reading this, how has Johnny Marr managed to write such a boring autobiography? He must have some cracking stories about Morrissey and the Manchester scene but for whatever reason, he fails to include them. So disappointing. Btw, while reading part of this I was wearing a white shirt, distressed skinny jeans and silver trainers, my hair was in a ponytail and my makeup was achingly on point!
May 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Johnny Marr is a wonderful human being and his book is simply delightful. If you're interested in the formation of The Smiths and his ongoing love of guitar throughout the years this is definitely worth a read. Mostly what shines through is what a kind and compassionate man Johnny is, and how much he truly loves music and his family. I'm honored to have met him and got a signed copy of this book and will treasure it forever. ...more
Dec 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
For some reason I wasn't expecting much from this book but loved it. If you can listen to the audiobook, it was even better narrated by Johnny Marr IMO. One of my favorites of the year. ...more
Jul 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although The Smiths were about quality music-wise (although I still believe that their songs make more sense when taken individually rather than in an album format. The notable exception being the second half of The Queen is Dead – but that’s a debate for another day) things written about them has been rather poor. When lead singer Morrissey released his autobiography, I thought it would put some rumors to rest but it didn’t, if anything he made the band seem more enigmatic. A typical Morrissey ...more
Jan 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: on-hold
This gets a 3.5.

I imagine if you love Johnny Marr's work outside The Smiths more than I do, this book would be getting closer to a 4 or 5 star rating. Marr just isn't my favourite musician. However, this is a good book, that goes from when he was a kid and moving around England and getting into music and wanting to form a band whilst working at clothing shops all the way to modern day where he's made a nice guitar. Obviously much happened in-between and most of it is pretty interesting, but why
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Johnny Marr (born John Martin Maher on 31 October 1963 in Ardwick, Manchester) is an English guitarist, keyboardist, harmonica player, and singer. Marr rose to fame in the 1980s as the guitarist in The Smiths, where he formed an influential songwriting partnership with Morrissey. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon, and has been a member of Modest Mouse since 2006. In 2008, he joined The Cribs ...more

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