“The last of the famous international playboys are Bowie, Bolan, Devoto and me.” — Morrissey
Perhaps it’s just Bolan, Devoto and Morrissey now.
“The last of the famous international playboys are Bowie, Bolan, Devoto and me.” — Morrissey
Perhaps it’s just Bolan, Devoto and Morrissey now.
Morrissey is always going to disappoint those who want him to be some kind of ‘singing Stephen Fry with a quiff’, argues Mark Simpson
Originally appeared on The Spectator Arts Blog
Because the 80s is the decade that actually ended the 20th Century – the 90s was just an after-party clean-up operation – it’s also the decade that never came to an end itself. In fact, the 80s is the decade that just won’t die.
Economy in (‘Big Bang’) recession. Tories in power. Cuts on the table. Riots on the streets. Royal weddings on the telly. The Falklands becoming a fighting issue. And my mother complaining about Morrissey: ‘I see that chap you like so much has been in the papers again. Ridiculous man! And he still can’t sing!’
As Madonna might put it, it’s all a bit reductive.
In fact everyone has been enjoying moaning about Morrissey lately – just like the good old days. In case you somehow missed it, at a performance in Argentina last week, his band appeared in t-shirts printed with the charming message ‘WE HATE WILLIAM AND KATE’ (remember 80s protest t-shirts?).
Perhaps worried this might be overlooked back home, the former Smiths front-man also offered this bouquet to his Argentine fans about those bitterly contested, sparsely-populated rocks in the South Atlantic: ‘Everybody knows they belong to you’.
The Times, Mirror, Telegraph, Sun and Mail all dutifully denounced Morrissey’s big mouth. The Guardian for its part ran an earnest discussion between two music critics titled: ‘Is Morrissey a national treasure?’ (The answer seemed to be ‘yes – but a very naughty one.’)
Not bad for a 52-year-old crooner currently without a record contract. But then, just like that other 80s diva keen on hairspray and frilly-collared blouses, we’ll never entirely be rid of him.
The British experience of the 80s is forever dominated by two very difficult personalities. Both from the north, both unafraid to speak their mind, and both possessing a gender all of their own.
And while one was a working-class militant vegetarian anarchist Sandie Shaw fan with a flair for homoerotic imagery, and the other a bossy petit bourgeois social Darwinist and devotee of General Pinochet who famously outlawed the ‘promotion of homosexuality’, both of them were radicals on a revenge trip.
But if Margaret Thatcher owned the 80s, Steven Patrick Morrissey stole its youth. Or at least, the youth that didn’t want to be a part of Thatcher’s 80s. The Smiths were not just an‘alternative’ band: they were the alternative that Maggie said didn’t exist.
In fact, The Smiths were reviled by almost everyone at the time – Fleet Street, the BBC (they were effectively banned from daytime Radio 1), the record business (they were signed to a teeny-weeny Indie label), and indeed most of the record buying public (their singles struggled to even get into the top 20).
But they have become the heart of a decade that didn’t have one. They are now the band that everyone liked – two or three decades after the event.
Including, most famously, David Cameron, who used The Smiths and Morrissey as a Tory re-branding and detoxifying tool at least as important as those melting glaciers he went to gawp at. Declaring The Smiths his favourite group not long after gaining the leadership of the ‘Nasty Party’, he was even pictured, if memory serves me right, with a copy of Morrissey’s 2005 album Ringleader of the Tormentors on his desk.
But Morrissey, whatever you may think of him, isn’t a man to be assimilated lightly. Especially by a Chipping Norton Tory.
When, in 2010, his estranged former Smiths collaborator Johnny Marr tweeted that he ‘forbade’ David Cameron from liking the Smiths, animal rights activist Morrissey endorsed him, adding:
‘David Cameron hunts and shoots and kills stags – apparently for pleasure. It was not for such people that either Meat Is Murder or The Queen Is Dead were recorded; in fact, they were made as a reaction against such violence.’
No-one can be genuinely surprised that someone who called an album The Queen is Dead is fiercely anti-Royalist. No-one can be shocked that the man who sang ‘Irish Blood English Heart’ is no fan of the remnants of the British Empire. And let’s not forget his famous 1984 quip: ‘The sorrow of the Brighton bombing is that Margaret Thatcher escaped unscathed’, or the track ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’ for his 1988 album Viva Hate.
Unless, that is, they hoped that Morrissey had mellowed with age and become some sort of singing Stephen Fry with a quiff. Morrissey’s views haven’t changed. Morrissey hasn’t changed. He still hasn’t grown up. He’s still an adolescent curmudgeon, an otherworldly prophet from Stretford — he’s just older and thicker around the middle, and with a bit more cash to spend. He did, after all, promise us again and again that he wouldn’t change, couldn’t change.
It’s we, his fans, who have changed. If we’re embarrassed by his antics it may be because we’ve finally become the people we used to hate.
Download Mark Simpson’s acclaimed ‘psycho-bio’ Saint Morrissey on Kindle
Below is a classic Monitor profile of Delaney and Salford from 1960, directed by Ken Russell, no less. Fifty years on Delaney the provincial working class girl comes across as very modern and relaxed in front of the BBC cameras — albeit in a slightly dreamy, introspective way that isn’t in fact very modern at all, alas. We don’t really have time for such things now.
When I first saw this a few years back I felt young Shelagh was someone I might actually know myself, someone I might have popped round for tea and a gossip with, even though I was born several years after this film was made.
Note how the semi-detached she’s living in bears a strong resemblance to the one a certain Steven Patrick was raised in, just down the road in Stretford. (And the one in this recent ad.)
Delaney is infectiously passionate about working class Salford, captured here in a perfect little time-capsule, a fragment of a lost civilisation, before the docks and the chimneys and the back-to-back sense of community and pride was swept away by the 60s and 70s and those ugly new houses. She talks repeatedly in the doc about being rooted there — and how she gets homesick whenever she travels. It’s the perfect place for a writer:
“The language is alive, it’s virile, it lives and it breathes and you know exactly where it’s coming from. Right out of the earth…”.
“Down by the river it’s even romantic, if you can stand the smell.”
The quip about the river almost sounds like a Morrissey lyric.…
Which reminds me: look out for the middle-aged male Salford market trader wearing Dame Edith Sitwell’s earrings: “He’s been here for years — and always wears those earrings.”
You can read a tribute to Shelagh Delaney by the Manchester writer Dave Haslam here.
I shall never be able to play The Smiths again without thinking of Prime Minster David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague sharing a hotel room — and Cameron complaining about Hague’s disappointing endowment.
There’s a naked man standing laughing in your dreams.
You know who it is, but you don’t like what it means.
A number of people have forwarded Morrissey’s pubes to me. (For which, many thanks.)
I thought I could get away with not discussing the Moz minge, but this Red Hot Chili Peppers pastiche, nostalgic vinyl taking the place of stuffed socks, which appears on the inside sleeve of Morrissey’s new single ‘Throwing My Arms Around Paris’ has generated a lot of commentary, some amused, some not, and some, such as Paul Flynn in the Guardian, citing it as ‘the latest sign of artistic decline’.
But all of it suggesting Morrissey’s curlies cannot be ignored.
It’s funny how Morrissey manages to repeatedly surprise people with his consistent, insistent coquettishness. Only last year, legions were scandalized when that picture taken in the early 90s of His Mozness’ naked hairy arse with ‘YOUR ARSE AN’ ALL’ scrawled across it in Magic Marker (with the apostrophe in ‘AN’ ALL’ aimed at Moz’s fundament) appeared in a booklet for his Greatest Hits collection: ‘So gross! This must mean he’s, like, totally gay!’
But Morrissey, odd, reclusive creature that he is, has never exactly been a shrinking violet. His work has always had a naughty, ‘cheeky’, exhibitionist side. As he sang back in the day on the Meat is Murder track ‘Nowhere Fast’: ‘I’d like to drop my trousers to the Queen — every sensible child will know what this means’. His first single featured a close-up of naked male gay porn star’s bubble-butt. His first album had a shot of the torso of a naked male hustler on it. (Like all the artwork during his Smiths period, it was all selected and directed and probably even pasted up by him.)
After The Smiths split, he became his own cover star and was to be found hugging his topless solo self on his 1997 ‘Best Of’ collection.
And while he may have once scorned her shamelessness, Moz’s outrageous ‘November Spawned a Monster’ promo in 1990 out-Madonna-ed Madonna, featuring him writhing in the desert in a skimpy see-through mesh blouse that somehow keeps slipping off — perhaps because he appears to be being bummed by an odd-shaped boulder.
On-stage he pole-dances around his songs often ending on his back with his legs in the air, obligingly lifted towards the auditorium, while yodelling. Even today, it’s still an absolute and legal requirement of all tickets sales that Moz strips off his sweat-soaked shirt at least once every show and throw it into the crowd, who instantly rend it to tiny fragrant shreds, which they then appear to eat.
If Morrissey doesn’t get his tits out for the lads and lasses you’re entitled to a full refund, I believe. It’s always been a flagrantly, probably pathologically sexual thing between Moz and his fans. Though as he’s got older and thicker around the midriff the pole-dancing, does get a bit more, er, awkward.
Oh, and the naked Moz showing us his shaved armpit shot by Eamonn McCabe (which seems to be an update of the famous Narcissus statue by Cellini) used on the jacket of Saint Morrissey — partly to undermine the title - originally appeared on the cover of the NME in 1988 and on a big, fold-out, blue-tac-to-your-sweaty-teen-boy-bedroom-wall poster inside.
Today’s naked Moz looks very different. Which is only natural since he’s now nearly 50 — though of course ageing naturally is the height of unnaturalness these days. But the boyish exhibitionism is largely unchanged. Yes, he has the body of a middle-aged male celebrity who scandalously refuses to hire a personal fitness trainer (even if one or two of the chaps in his employ look as if they’d rather be on a ten mile run).
But he’s also showing us that inside the body of a pub landlord from County Mayo is still a skinny lonely boy from Stretford, nakedly demanding our love. With a seven inch pop single where his manhood should be. That’s how people don’t grow up.
If you look closely — and clearly I have — this jokey pic isn’t really very funny. Like ‘Throwing My Arms Around Paris’, it’s sadly, proudly defiant. It’s Morrissey’s family portrait. This is what his love-life looks like. It’s all here: Pop music. His band-mates. His fans (we’re looking at him again — he’s that naked man laughing and crying in our dreams).
And, centre of shot, perhaps his most enduring relationship of all: the one he has with his hair.
‘Only stone and steel accept my love…’
Or can handle it. ‘Throwing My Arms Around Paris’ is the swooning new single from the (Moz-cara wearing) old groaner, full of his curiously uplifting despair throwing its empty arms around… his audience again. The perfect companion piece to last year’s bottom-spanking ‘All You Need is Me’, a song that seems to address his lovers and detractors at the same time.
Because of course, they’re one and the same: ‘You don’t like me but you love me, either way your wrong’. (In the vid he briefly uses his tambourine as an arch halo.)
That’s two good tracks from the forthcoming Years of Refusal album already.
Which is two more than on Ringleader of the Tormentors.
(Originally appeared here 10/1/07)
First the Tory party, now the BBC. Is there any daggy British institution that isn’t scrabbling for a sweaty piece of Mozza’s gold lamé shirt, like an especially wild-eyed fan at the end of a gig?
You can hardly have escaped the news that, after last year’s grinding nadir of Daz Sampson, the rapping metalwork teacher, BBC Eurovision was “in talks” with rap-loathing Morrissey about writing (but not performing) this year’s UK entry.
Which is probably the point. Like Tory leader David Cameron’s incessant Moz-mentioning last year, it’s the perfect way to rebrand. Tired? Boring? Totally lacking in credibility? Call Morrissey! It can’t be long before Prince Charles beats a path to Morrissey’s door pleading to use ‘Irish Blood English Heart’ as the new national anthem.
Why is Morrissey’s star riding so high? Why is the man once so reviled and mocked, banned from daytime Radio 1 and pilloried in the tabloids, now so vaunted he was recently voted Britain’s Greatest Living Cultural Icon That Doesn’t Work With Small Furry Animals? (He came second after David Attenborough in the BBC’s “cultural icons” poll.)
Partly, it’s because he survived. Even Moz-loathers respect the fact that he hasn’t been defeated by them. Partly, it’s generational. Whether they know it or not, whether they admit it or not, Morrissey keeps the keys to the hearts of the 80s generation under his silk pillows. The generation that is now listening to Radio 2 (or is the voice of it in the case of famous Moz-fan Jeremy Vine), watching Question Time — and editing newspapers.
But mostly it is because Morrissey has never sold out — in a world where selling out is now the whole bloody point. Which makes him an object of enormous curiosity. He is a superbrand that has never realised its “potential” — so others want to do it for him. Oh, and he writes brilliant pop songs. Unlike most in the limelight today, he just HAS earned it yet, baby.
But will he write “a song for Europe”? Well, it’s not impossible. Not only is this little Englander now something of a Europhile (he recently fell in love with Rome), Morrissey himself was the first to suggest the idea of Eurovision, quipping last year: “I was horrified but not surprised to see the UK fail. Why don’t they ask me?” After all, for much of his childhood he wanted to be Sandie Shaw, Britain’s first Eurovision winner in 1967 with ‘Puppet on a String’, and he bombarded her with fan letters. Eerily, the first Smiths first single was called ‘Hand in Glove’. (Even more eerily, this was a song Morrissey then persuaded Shaw to cover — resulting in Shaw imitating Morrissey imitating her on Top of the Pops).
Either way, Morrissey is probably the last person in Britain who really, really cares about pop music enough to really care about Eurovision.
Copyright © 1994 - 2014 Mark Simpson All Rights Reserved.