20 April, 2018

Morrissey: I know it’s over

Many have pondered this week how Morrissey fans can possibly process some of the comments he has made in his latest interview. (You can read it here, if you must). Allow me to offer one fan’s thoughts.

First, I’ll establish my credentials. I first discovered The Smiths in 1988, just after their breakup. I became an instant fan and, by extension, a fan of Morrissey’s solo work which was essentially a continuation of The Smiths at first. I’ve also been a massive fan of Johnny Marr ever since and I’ve loved everything he’s done, including Electronic and Stex.

It took me 25 years to finally see Morrissey. When he first toured Australia in 1991, he cancelled the show due to ill health (which became something of a trademark of his tours). He didn’t tour again for 11 years and when he did in 2002, my date cancelled on me and I missed out again. He stayed away another decade and when his 2012 tour dates were announced, I was already booked to be out of the country. I had the option to change my travel plans but given his habit of cancelling shows, it wasn’t worth the risk. He came back less than three years later but only played the Vivid Festival in Sydney. Was it worth going in the ticket ballot and booking flights and accommodation for Sydney? It was not. Dates for the rest of the country were announced for October 2016 and finally, after a quarter of a century of delays and disappointment, I actually got to see Morrissey. Can you think of a more Morrissey story?

He was in fine form too. Although it was a pity he did World Peace is None of Your Business. More on that later.

So how do I rationalise his behaviour, if at all?

Well frankly, I have no problem with him advocating for animal rights as loudly and as confrontingly as he likes. I know there are those who prefer their animal activism in the form of starlets posing semi-nude for PETA, but as the latest reports of atrocities in the live export industry have shown, you have to get in people’s faces for them to take notice and do something.

If people are offended by the comparing of slaughterhouses to atrocities committed against humans, then that justifies him doing so because both have been done to living, sentient beings and it forces us to wonder how we would like that to happen to us.

You may find the tactic confronting but artists should be provocative and art should stand for something. It’s preferable though if their statements are factually accurate and intellectually consistent.

Then there’s the racism. Honestly, until now I had always found the accusations rather spurious. They were certainly plausible but not entirely convincing. The second track on Kill Uncle (the original version) was actually quite anti-racist as it portrays an English gang attacking a young Asian boy and concludes with the line, “I’m just passing through here, on my way to somewhere civilised.” The effect is ruined from the start though by the fact the song has the stupidly insensitive title Asian Rut.

The song that many took as proof of racism is The National Front Disco. The problem is he never makes it clear whether the song is intended as satire or not. And that is the artist’s prerogative. Roger Waters never makes it obvious that all the fascist imagery in The Wall is ironic. It’s left to the listener to work it out, but it does create an easy target.

But then, around the same time, he unveiled the Union Jack during his appearance at Madstock. Aha, right? Well hang on. To this day I have never understood why it was racist for Morrissey to display the Union Jack in 1992 but not for Noel Gallagher to paint it on his guitar in 1996. I’m happy to be educated on this. However, as an Australian, I’m for reclaiming the Southern Cross from the bogans, meatheads and racists who have co-opted it and I wouldn’t blame Britons for wanting to do the same for their national symbol. I’m not saying that’s what Morrissey was trying to do but honestly, I don’t get it.

Not racist                        Racist                          Not racist

His most overtly racist lyric was in Bengali in Platforms: “Oh shelve your western plans and understand, that life is hard enough when you belong here.” Even here, in the context of the whole song, I am (somewhat generously) willing to give Moz the benefit of the doubt that it was intended as a clumsy expression of empathy rather than an explicit declaration that foreigners don’t belong.

It is evident that Morrissey suffers some kind of depressive disorder and is quite possibly on the autism spectrum. This is not intended as any kind of criticism but seeking to possibly understand his behaviour. All criticism of his poor expression naturally feeds his feelings of paranoia and that the media is against him.

I believe a lot of the previous accusations against Morrissey have been beat-ups but one thing this latest interview shows is that whenever he grants an interview, the interviewer merely glances at a length of rope which Morrissey then picks up, fashions a perfectly formed noose, puts it around his neck, wraps the other end around a beam, and proceeds to stand precariously on a chair.

The US television personality Dick Clark used to be referred to as the world’s oldest teenager. When he died, I believe Morrissey took over the mantle, albeit for completely different reasons. The attraction of Morrissey’s songwriting was always that he understands the lonely and rejected. If you’re one of the people who always hated Morrissey from the outset (and there are millions), then you probably had friends at high school and knew how to form relationships. Good for you! Some of us didn’t, and Morrissey was the first one who made us feel like we might not be a minority of one.

Having said that, there’s something ever-so-slightly undignified about a man in his late fifties singing about not getting out of bed. If you write a song called Life is a Pigsty and you’re not an unemployed teenager, you probably need to take stock. It’s as if Moz leapt straight from tragic poetic teen to miserable old curmudgeon without any of the growth you might expect in between.

Morrissey began to wear out his welcome with me with World Peace is None of Your Business. Elvis Costello once said, “Morrissey writes wonderful song titles, but sadly he often forgets to write the song.” It was a rather harsh comment at the time but it’s never been truer than of World Peace… because he takes an excellent premise and wastes it. What’s unforgivable for me is the line, “Each time you vote, you support the process.” Oh RIGHT! It’s MY fault the way we’re governed is in such a parlous state because I exercise what tiny influence I actually have on it, and nothing to do with idiots like Morrissey who know what’s wrong with the world but refuse to take a bit of responsibility and VOTE.

Morrissey is not just the only artist, but the only person I know of whose understanding of the world and expression of it has actually become less sophisticated since his 20s.

It’s an unfair criticism that Morrissey has been repeating himself ever since The Smiths. It is fair to say he’s been doing it for the last 20 years though. In all that time, he’s just been rewriting the same three songs only gradually worse:
Everyone Hates Me
’E’s a Likely Lad Inn’e?
Politics? Bollocks, more like!

Evidently, the same goes for his interviews. Even though it was with a sympathetic interviewer on an officially sanctioned website, Moz chose to leap off the aforementioned chair, into a bath with a plugged-in toaster floating in it. They say you shouldn’t attribute to malice what can adequately be explained as stupidity. If so, Morrissey has been incredibly stupid. And I’m sure it has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Johnny Marr – who writes far better lyrics than Morrissey does these days – has a new album coming out next month!

His description of halal slaughter as evil is acceptable because he considers all slaughter evil, but to link it to ISIS is calculated bigotry. To appeal to Islamophobia in his campaign for animal rights is as low as those who claim to care about animal welfare when the truth is they just hate Muslims. There is no plausible deniability for his race-baiting any more. (And if anyone wants to ask “What race is Islam?” then bring it on! I shall sup lustily on your triggered racist tears.) It causes me to question my previous forgiveness.

Sadiq Khan should not be above criticism but anyone who can’t spell Cemetery, thinks ‘destructors’ means the same thing as ‘destroyers,’ or writes the 120 pages of utter drivel that is List of the Lost, has no place judging anyone else for how they use the English language.
Knuckle to knuckle with the machete of justice?
Seriously, Morrissey? What the hell is this?

And apparently Hitler was left wing. I’m not even going to bother going into what an ignorant statement this is. Morrissey’s political naivety has always been evident but this is indefensibly stupid. What was his point anyway? Ah, who cares?

Will I keep listening to his music? Of course I will. There are certain artists like Ted Nugent and the Norwegian Black Metal scene in general who can go to hell. For all the others, it’s more nuanced than that. Enjoying art should never be considered an endorsement of the artist’s views or actions – although it certainly may be. Just ask anyone who has ever enjoyed Wagner, Lead Belly, Ike Turner or Phil Collins. And there are certainly plenty of gun-toting rednecks who love some John Lennon or Woody Guthrie. Should I burn my copies of Imagine and All Things Must Pass because Phil Spector produced them?

For the future though, the dear departed Sean Hughes once said, “Everybody gets over their Morrissey phase, except Morrissey.” (The singer replied, “Too true!”) Well, it’s taken 30 years, but I Know It’s Over.