So I checked the register of historical facts, and was shocked and ashamed to discover The Queen is Dead was released thirty years ago.
To commemorate/commiserate three whole decades of vicars in tutus and boys with thorns in their sides – though we’re still waiting on Charles appearing in his mother’s bridal veil – the Kindle edition of my ‘psycho-bio’ Saint Morrissey is available to download for the next couple of days from Amazon US/UK for just 99 cents/pence.
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.
Hard to believe, but this year Tony Richardson’s wide-eyed 1961 ‘neo-realist’ masterpiece A Taste of Honey, based on a play by Salford playwright prodigy Shelagh Delaney is half a century old.
Filmed on location in lyrical black and white when Manchester was still connected to its chimney-stacked ‘dark Satanic’ past, it tells the story of Jo, a gawky, dream-filled, pregnant, unmarried working class teenage girl thinking about life and thinking about death and neither one particularly appealing to her.
This Sunday the Liverpool-based queer arts festival Homotopia will be holding a 50th anniversary screening of this classic film followed by a Q&A session with Rita Tushingham, who played young Jo in what turned out to be the performance of her life. (As part of the same festival, yours truly will be ‘in conversation’ with April Ashley on Nov 23.)
Back in the 1980s, when it was almost forgotten, A Taste of Honey had a big mouthed, bolshy, blousey northern champion — the singer Morrissey, who fashioned pretty much the entire world of his first couple of albums out of it. And famously lifting several lyrics from it:
‘Hand in Glove’: And I’ll probably never see you again (‘I’ll probably never see you again. I know it!’)
‘Reel Around the Fountain’: I dreamt about you last night/and I fell out of bed twice (‘I dreamt about you last night. Fell out of bed twice’.); You’re the bees knees/but so am I (‘You’re the bees knees, but so am I’.)
‘You’ve Got Everything Now’: As merry as the days were long (‘As merry as the day is long’.)
‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’: Six months is a long time (‘It’s a long time, six months’.)
‘I Don’t Owe You Anything’: (‘I don’t owe you anything’.)
‘Alma Matters’: It’s my life/to ruin/my own way (‘Anyway, it’s your life, ruin it your own way’.)
‘This Night Has Opened My Eyes’ The dream has gone but the baby is real (‘Oh, well, the dream’s gone but the baby’s real enough.’) And I’m not happy and I’m not sad. (I’m not sorry and I’m not glad.’).
The title I gave the chapter in Saint Morrissey examining Moz’s doomed little love-affair with Shelagh/Jo — ‘Dump her on the doorstep, girl’ — was yet another Moz lyric inspired by Taste. As the man himself admitted in the 90s: “Even I — even I — went a bit too far with A Taste of Honey.”
Here’s an excerpt from that chapter, explaining the impact and freshness of the film in 1961, how Delaney’s sparkling script sets Taste apart from the rest of the so-called British New Realism cinema of the 1960s, and why despite the passing of time and all its heinous crimes (and the normalisation of many of the taboos it tackled) it has hardly dated at all:
Unlike the other works by Fifties (usually northern) working class authors that were turned into films in the early Sixties, such as Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, Billy Liar, and Room at the Top, A Taste of Honey was written from a female perspective, or rather intro-spective. Unashamedly self-absorbed, it manages to be genuinely ‘shocking’ and contemporary in its subject matter: adultery, promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, maternal irresponsibility, abortion, miscegenation, homosexuality, congenital madness . . . (if this list reads like an episode of Brookside, perhaps this is why, in the late Eighties, Morrissey made a cameo appearance in a spin-off of that show called South).
However, Taste managed to cover all these themes without being sensationalist, refusing to hide behind pompous gestures and pseudo politics. It isn’t a play about an angry young man, but a vaguely anxious young girl — a much more ‘universal’ subject, since most of us are vaguely anxious young girls at some point in our lives.
And all of these characteristics — poetic naturalism, shocking without sensationalism, refusal of pompous gestures, dreamy introspection, a freshly feminine perspective — were to be features of Morrissey’s own work.
The widely critically-acclaimed, innovative — and egotistical — ‘psycho-bio’ of pop’s most elusive, most adored, most charming and most alarming front-man is now available for instant download on Amazon Kindle (including Kindle for PC, iPhone and iPad).
“The most incisive biography of Morrissey yet published” – James Maker, “The Fifth Smith“
“Simpson is funny, clever, honest, irreverent and egotistical: quite the match for Morrissey. More biographies should be written this way.” – Independent on Sunday Books of the Year
“Saint Morrissey is a cracking read, almost an instructional handbook on how to develop, deal with, and finally escape an obsession.” – The Boston Phoenix
“A provocative and precocious read…. Smiths fans will love it, and even Morrissey himself might arch an eyebrow in appreciation.” – Time Out
“Like his subject, incurable super-fan Simpson is constantly amusing and provocative…. A book Morrissey will claim to hate, but secretly love.” – Mojo
“The erudite Simpson gives a compelling account his youthful – and adult – fascination with the bard of Whalley Range/Beverly Hills… A nimble essay which gives fandom a good name.” – Guardian Books of the Year
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.
Books by Mark Simpson
The Psychopathology of Everyday Driving
A biography of the metrosexual. By his dad.
End of Gays?
Banning gay propaganda can backfire. Spectacularly.
“All Saints should be presumed guilty until proved innocent.”
The book that changed the way the world looks at men
It's a Queer World
A warped look at a fin de siecle world of pop culture where nothing is quite as straight or gay as it seems.
This book will change the way you think about sex. It may even put you off it altogether.
Male Lib is Nothing to Be Scared Of
Notes on Hipsterism
While everyone else in the 80s wanted to look like they’d walked off the set of Blade Runner or Top Gun, Peter York looked and sounded like he’d stepped out of Dangerous Liaisons. […]
Sixth Form Boys Will Hug Boys
Why masculinity isn't 'in crisis'.
Invasion of the Driverless Cars
Mark Simpson on the headless horsemen of the coming ‘carpocalypse’
Pride & Prejudice
I think the time has come to share a secret about my past I’ve kept hidden for far too long.…
‘Love Island’ – ITV’s Primetime Spornotopia
Mark Simpson undresses the gayest straight dating show on telly
Cristiano Ronaldo’s talent & prettiness are intolerable.
Hairdresser Cars on Fire
Feeling envious or threatened by someone else’s motor? Unable to afford it? Resentful of the pleasure and joy it clearly brings them? Allergic to bold style, design, and nice colours? Never fear! […]
Get Hur! How Gay Subtexts Became Ancient History
We don’t really do subtexts in the see-through, digital 21st Century. Sextexts, definitely. Subtweets, possibly. Subtexts, not so much. Who has the time? Who can even be bothered with having a subconscious? Subtexts are so analogue. […]
Inside Spornosexual Pride
Mark Simpson goes to BodyPower, the UK’s biggest fitness expo, & tries not to stare too hard. Even though staring is…
Stripping Down the Male Body
Disability charity Scope have been airing a cheeky ad this summer designed to encourage people to donate clothes. It’s a…
Union Street Blues: Plymouth’s Last ‘Run Ashore’?
Mark Simpson goes in search of a drunken sailor in Devon's historic, salty Naval port. […]
1983: The Last Summer of Synth-Pop
From the gender-bending antics of Eurythmics and Culture Club to the propulsive synthpop of Depeche Mode, New Order, and the…
I’d F*ck Me: Mirror Man-Love
Top Gun Turns Thirty – How Did It Get So Gay?
Mark Simpson on the (self) sexualisation of today’s male body & why straight young men crave gay adulation
How young men fell out of love with the motor car
Captain Kirk’s Bulging Trousers
The pointed queerness of the original Shatner/Nimoy Star Trek series – & the PC limpness of all the spin-offs.…
From Metrosexual to Spornosexual – Two Decades of Male Deliciousness
‘Metrodaddy’ Mark Simpson on the evolution of male vanity
The Rise & Fall of Monosexuality
Ten Iconic Car Ads
Ten unforgettable car ads that transcended both cars and advertising and came to symbolise an age
You & Your iPhone: The Perfect Relationship?
Imagine the perfect relationship. Imagine a relationship so perfect that it will be the only one you need. Or have.
The Swishy Villainy & Psychodrama of Skyfall
Mark Simpson fondles the pecs and thighs of James Bond’s latest ‘outing’
Quentin Crisp & Hurtian Crisp
The Naked Civil Servant is the best and funniest TV drama ever made. And I’m sorry, but it’s a scientific fact.
How The Prostate Came Out of the Closet
Pietro Boselli – Spornosexual Philosopher
Mark Simpson sits at the feet of ‘The Bona of Verona’
Keyless Entry & Male Versatility
“I call him lollipop” The sexualisation of the male body probes new, perfectly-rounded depths
‘Bare Thrills’ Strips Masculinity Down To Its Skidmarks
Maybe I suffer from what Freud described as man’s tendency to devalue what he desires, but I find anything touched by TV…
The crusade against ‘fapping’ is eerily reminiscent of the anti-masturbation movements of the 19th century says Mark Simpson (Originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph 29 April, 2016) Those annoying porn ‘pop-ups’ are impossible to avoid these days. Especially when browsing serious newspapers. PORN HORROR! headlines zoom repeatedly into our sightlines, warning us that pornography is ‘addictive’ (despite an inconvenient lack of evidence), ‘ruins relationships’ and ‘rewires men’s brains’, turning them into sex zombie automatons. Whether or not it’s addictive for people who watch it, porn […]