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Morrissey & David Hoyle Spent The Day in Bed

I recently got around to watching the video for ‘Spent the Day In Bed’, Morrissey’s first single from his new Low in High School album.

Since writing Saint Morrissey – which was something akin to an exorcism – I’ve taken a somewhat more leisurely approach to the Stretford Bard’s output. Perhaps I’m slightly disappointed that he didn’t have the decency to finally retire incommunicado to Bognor Regis after it was published over a decade ago.

Instead my 58 year-old subject has, very selfishly, continued to tour furiously, put out new albums, as well as open his big Manc mouth and managing to epater les bourgeoisie fairly regularly, getting his name in the papers. I’m positively dreading all the updating I’d have to do for a new edition. Just when you think you’ve pinned and mounted your butterfly….

To make matters worse, ‘Spent The Day in Bed’ is Morrissey’s strongest, catchiest, most lyrical single for years.

Yes, the themes are very familiar – you might almost say… ‘tired’. The lines ‘Spent the day in bed/As the workers stay enslaved’ could be a three decades on sequel to ‘Still Ill’: ‘And if you must go to work tomorrow/Well if I were you I wouldn’t bother…’. And also ‘Nowhere Fast’ of course, with its lying in bed thinking about life and death and discovering ‘neither one particularly appeal to me’.

‘Spent the Day in Bed’ and the video are full of lazy intimations of mortality and gallows humour – but this time, a third of a century on, and with recent cancer scares, the gallows looms rather larger. Those sheets for which he’s paid and in which he’s laid could also be winding sheets, just as those pillows are ‘like pillars’.

But why not lie in your bed mausoleum taunting death?

‘Oh time do as I wish/Oh time do as I wish’

And avoiding life. Or at least, the impostor version of it we have to submit to:

‘No bus, no boss, no rain, no train./No emasculation, no castration’

In the video, when he gets to ‘no castration’, I think I detect a flicker of a self-mocking grin.

The video is almost as darkly funny as the lyrics. Morrissey in a Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? wheelchair is trundled into what looks like a dimly-lit 1960s Manchester working men’s club by a smirking, fresh-faced Joey Barton (I’d like to think Moz insisted that he get a shave if he wanted to be in his promo).

Barton, a famous Morrissey fan, is a professional ruffian footballer and tattooed boy from Birkenhead – well, Huyton if you want to be pedantic. And who wouldn’t want to be wheeled around by him in their dotage? Especially since Bette Davis is no longer available. (Though a passable stand-in does make an appearance later…)

Moz then performs the entire song seated, head tilted backwards, perhaps to catch the little light there is, perhaps to stretch out his 58-year-old neck, while his band perform on their feet around him – finally falling off his chair and out of shot at the end. A reminder that:

‘Life ends in death/So, there’s nothing wrong with/Being good to yourself/Be good to yourself for once!’

Life ends in death, so pamper yourself. By rehearsing it.

But it is the dreamy ‘Oh time do as I wish’ interlude in the video which is the main reason I’m writing this post. I almost fell off my chair when my old chum the performance artist David Hoyle suddenly appeared onstage at this point doing some sexy dancing with something shimmy. Watched avidly by Morrissey and Joey Barton, the latter hungrily popping peanuts into his mouth.

David, someone I got to know in the early 80s in London when we were both teenage runaways to Sodom-on-Thames, now lives in Manchester but grew up in Blackpool – where as a teenager he performed Shirley Bassey numbers in working men’s clubs, rather like the one in the video.

Hoyle and Morrissey have a lot in common – both northern, scornful, working class poet-prophets of the absurdity of desire, both determined not to keep the customer satisfied, and both keeping on keeping on, though one rather closer to the breadline than the other. It’s about time they got together.

And in fact much of the sentiment of ‘Spent the Day in Bed’ is also present in many of David’s shows (you can see many of them on YouTube) – which are also chock-full of gallows humour.

David likes to remind his audience regularly that they’re all going to die, despite their precious identities, ideologies and Sainsburys loyalty cards. He also likes to urge them to not bother to go to work tomorrow and try a little bit of anarchy instead. No bus, no boss, no train, no rain….

Here’s a review I wrote of one of David’s shows at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London in 1998, a frightening two decades ago, when he was still appearing as The Divine David (a persona he was shortly to kill off – before it killed him). All will be explained. Or perhaps not….

Joan and Bette together again

THE DIVINE DAVID AT THE ROYAL VAUXHALL TAVERN, LONDON

by Mark Simpson (Independent on Sunday, 1998)

Last year a one-man avant-garde whirlwind arrived on the London alternative cabaret circuit. Looking and sounding like Bette Davis meets Iggy Pop (and drinks him under the table) he proclaimed the death of drag and traditional crowd-pleasing en-ter-tain-ment.

Oh yes, and the redundancy of sexuality and gender as well.

“REMEMBER!” he would howl at the audience, after some crazed portrait-painting or singing Bowie’s Heroes in the style of Tommy Steele, “you may be standing there feeling very proud of yourself for being ‘a man’ or ‘a woman’ , ‘a straight’ or a” – spitting the word out like a piece of four-day old mince he found lodged between his teeth – “‘gay’, but you’ve all got something in common, something much more certain than any of these fragile illusions. YOU’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!”

“Now,” he’d add softly, “isn’t that lovely, ladies and gentlemen? Doesn’t that give you a warm feeling inside?”

But The Divine David has decided that this isn’t the kind of thing that the punters want. The embodiment of the avant-garde after the death of the avant-garde, the zombie Spirit of Humanity that used to urge audiences not to go to work tomorrow or pay any bills has gone corporate. A glossy colour leaflet advertises his latest show, Viva 5 Apathy, with pictures of smiling people in suits clutching lap-tops at board-meetings and includes a statement from the President, The Divine DavidTM, about how market research has convinced him that what is needed is a more consumer-led product.

“This time,” he concludes, “it’s corporate!”

Although this sensible mission statement is undermined slightly by a photo on the last page depicting The Divinely Skinny One snapped from behind in a pair of purple briefs, looking over his shoulder, sloppily lip-sticked lips parted coquettishly, mouthing a faux surprised “OH!”.

At the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, now re-named the Royal Vauxhall Conference Centre, Jay Cloth, The Divine David’s delectable-yet-efficient secretary and receptionist, takes your money (£3 waged/£3.50 unwaged), issues you with a name badge and does a spot of niche-market research, showing you some flash cards featuring fire, ambulance, police and mountain rescue and asking: “Have you used any of these services recently?”

The Vauxhall Tavern is a perfect venue for the Divine David’s reinvention of himself. Built in the mid-nineteenth century as a music-hall venue, after the Second World War it became a drag pub. In the seventies disco lights, black paint and a dj booth was added and it became a gay drag pub. Corinthian columns, flaking paint and a century of tobacco smoke, alcohol fumes and rowdy, anarchic performance reaches its apotheosis and nadir in The Divine David.

Except, of course, he’s now gone corporate. “I’ve learnt that people want entertainment”’ he announces when he finally steps out onto the stage, wearing a business-like mauve woollen twin-set with padded shoulders Herman Munster would have envied. “Audiences don’t want anything that will stretch them a bit. There’s going to be none of that avant-garde rubbish tonight. None of you need go home tonight to your rented accommodation feeling stupid.” He then performs a cappella quite the most disturbing version of ‘You Made Me Love You’ – so inane that it takes on meanings you never wanted to think about before: I didn’t wanna do it…

Entertainment over, David conducts a flip-chart seminar on how to “make a go of it” in business. “First,” he says, all schoolmarmish, “you take your self,” and writes ‘SELF’ at the top of the chart. “And then you get rid of that.” He strikes the word through. “And you become a what? Does anybody know?”

“A CUNT!” shouts out a drunken Scottish voice.

“Yes, a cunt that’s right.” He writes ‘CUNT’. “And what do you end up in?”

“A FOOKIN’ NIGHTMARE!”.

“A nightmare, exactly,” agrees David in a businesslike fashion, writing ‘= A NIGHTMARE’. “Does everyone see how that works? That’s lovely.”

The Divine David, corporate or avant-garde, doesn’t have much time for sentimentality. At one point he declares his support for Tracy Edwards: ‘Any woman who kills a man is a friend of mine.’

A little later he ruminates: “When I’m at a garden party or some such social occasion, people often come up to me and say, ‘Oh, David, there’s a gay over here, you must meet him.’ And I say, ‘Oh a gay, I know all about that – that’s about gristle up your shitter – if memory serves me right….’.

Not very fond of ‘men’ or ‘gays’, The Divine David has what some might call a certain distance on his predicament. Others, of course, will accuse him of ‘self-hatred’. But the whole point of The Divine David is drama and conflict, a refusal to become what you are supposed to be, a refusal to relax into identity, into niche markets and corporate/corporal values, into predictability. Or profitability.

So before the second half of his performance, we hear him announce over the p.a.: “Ladies und gentlemen, I’ve a confession to make. I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve gone avant-garde again!”

Out he prances on stage in an alarming vented black body-suit, stretched over his gangly frame and his head, leaving a mad little oval of smeared red lips and melting mascara eyes. To the tune of a disco rhumba he then dances and mimes in a delightfully demented way with a couple of hoops, including an hilarious wheelchair moment straight out of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?.

The Divine David is back – quite the scariest, funniest, smartest, truest, noblest thing you can see for three quid. Invest now.

In the 21st Century David Hoyle is on Facebook.

The Dame Edna Experience Goes West

The intoxicatingly talented DEE, alias Jonathan Paul Hellyer, is performing his last ever Sunday show at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern this Easter weekend. Fame has finally found him, possums, and he’s moving to America. To salute him, his new life and the end of an era for London’s gay scene, I thought I’d post this appreciation from the early Noughties

FSK_DE_Hellyer_x3x1

(Independent on Sunday, 23 September, 2001)

By Mark Simpson

I have a confession to make. I’ve been having an affair. For some time now I’ve been sneaking off to a slightly smelly Victorian drag pub in South London every Sunday afternoon to see a performer called ‘The Dame Edna Experience’. And every Sunday I’ve experienced… well, this is very embarrassing. True Love.

What does the Dame Edna Experience, aka Jonathan Paul Hellyer, do? Well, he tells a few dirty jokes, and then he sings some cheesy love songs, which he often makes fun of as he’s singing. In a black Basque, stockings horn-rimmed glasses and a blue-rinse wig. But somehow, he takes you from the base to the sublime to the ridiculous and back again leaving you bewitched, bothered and bewildered and wondering what Barry Humphries did to deserve the accolade.

Everyone in the place – and it is sold out every week – is transfixed by him. Even the shirtless gay clubbers coming down from their weekend’s raving stop chewing their gum and stare, slack-jawed.

To say he’s merely ‘funny’ or ‘has a great voice’ would be a libellous misrepresentation. Hellyer has a talent that seems to encompass the entire range of human emotion – and gender. He doesn’t just sing songs such as ‘Angels’ and ‘Think Twice’ note perfect, and in a voice uncannily like Celine Dion or Robbie Williams. He breathes something into these ponderous ditties that transforms their cheapness into something dangerously potent in a way that Baz Luhrmann would envy. Distilling Robbie-ness and Dion-ness into something intoxicating that the artists themselves could never quite be bothered to do.

So when he performs the irksome charity version of ‘Perfect Day’, rendering everyone from Lou Reed to Tammy Wynette, Bono to Ronan, Elton to Heather Small so intensely the originals seem counterfeit, you find yourself absurdly moved and amused – as much by the power of your own response as anything else. And when he finally pulls off that blue wig and those glasses and lets us look into his eyes you notice that this divine trickster is young and attractive too, those legs rather shapely in those stockings.

Such a perfect Sunday. I’m so glad I spent it with you. You made me forget myself – I thought I was someone else. Someone good.

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