Morrissey Hasn’t Changed — We Have

Morrissey is always going to dis­ap­point those who want him to be some kind of ‘singing Stephen Fry with a quiff’, argues Mark Simpson

morrissey Morrissey Hasnt Changed   We Have

 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

Shelagh Delaney Finally Sails on the Alley Alley-Oh

Shelagh Delaney the Salford-born child-prodigy author of the ground-breaking, hugely influ­en­tial — and touch­ingly funny — 1958 play ‘A Taste of Honey’ died at the week­end from can­cer, aged 71.

shelagh Shelagh Delaney Finally Sails on the Alley Alley Oh

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.”

Postscript

You can read a trib­ute to Shelagh Delaney by the Manchester writer Dave Haslam here.

Tip: Philip

Morrissey’s Seven Inch Plastic Strap-On

moz naked Morrisseys Seven Inch Plastic Strap On

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 ANALL’ scrawled across it in Magic Marker  (with the apo­strophe in ‘ANALL’ aimed at Moz’s fun­da­ment) appeared in a book­let for his Greatest Hits col­lec­tion: ‘So gross! This must mean he’s, like, totally gay!’

morrissey cheeky Morrisseys Seven Inch Plastic Strap On

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.)

handin Morrisseys Seven Inch Plastic Strap Onthe smiths cover 300x300 Morrisseys Seven Inch Plastic Strap On

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.

bestofmoz suedhead 300x297 Morrisseys Seven Inch Plastic Strap On

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.

aupairboy3 203x300 Morrisseys Seven Inch Plastic Strap Onnarcissus cellini 158x300 Morrisseys Seven Inch Plastic Strap On

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.

Both ends.

Morrissey Throwing His Lallies Around Paree

‘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.

A man of great Euro-vision

mozeuro A man of great Euro vision(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.