posted by davidt on Monday May 10 2004, @01:00PM
An anonymous person sends:
Bigmouth strikes again
9 May 2004
The Sunday Times
(c) 2004 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved
He's Manchester's gobbiest son, back from LA to head up the Meltdown festival and blow a trumpet for his brand-new album. Robert Sandall meets Morrissey (again?)
A shaky start. As soon as he claps eyes on me, Morrissey brusquely announces that we have met before. Which is disconcerting: first, because he is wrong; and second, because he is a more intimidating presence than expected - unusually tall for a rock star, and thicker-set, not the droopy ironist you hear singing those droll and bitchy songs in a roughed-up Noel Coward-like voice.
As per the image on the cover of his new album, You Are the Quarry (out on May 17, on Attack), he is dressed like an old-school East End villain, in dark fitted suit, black shirt, fat-knotted white tie. At the age of 44, he looks less like a conventional rock star than ever. With his lantern jaw, beetling brow and receding hairline, which has taken its toll on the old rockabilly quiff, Morrissey would not seem out of place among the locals in a Dublin bar -were it not for the fact that he's still recognisable as the vaudevillian eccentric who lit up the grey world of indie rock, first as the singer with the Smiths, then as leader of his own band, before disappearing off to Los Angeles, where he still lives.
As the small talk withers in the sitting room of his suite at the Dorchester, I quiz him about that phantom interview. He gives this approach a steely, no comment stare and wanders over to the window, slowly muttering, in a soft but emphatic Mancunian brogue: "Did ... I ... really ... mean ... so ... little ... to ... you?" This sounds uncomfortably like one of his more personal song titles -think of William, It Was Really Nothing, or The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get. Morrissey, let's not forget, once composed the memorable couplet "I bear more grudges/Than lonely High Court judges", and his furrowed brow suggests he might be brewing up another one right now.
Then again, wrong-footing interviewers is his speciality. Many journalists have found him leading the conversation rather than simply responding to inquiries. One reports being severely taken to task over his choice of shirt. The effect is always the same: subtle deflection. Suddenly, it's the interviewee who is making the advances, posing the questions -as in, why am I now pretending that he and I have never met?
Well, let's park that. We are meeting to herald Morrissey's first album since Maladjusted bombed in 1997. With Oasis and Britpop in full swing and him in LA, at that point he looked out of the race. Last year, however, the Smiths were named the most influential band of all time by NME, Channel 4 aired a documentary, The Importance of Being Morrissey, and he and his band played some of the most rapturously received British concerts of his career.
The 18,000 tickets for his homecoming show in Manchester on May 22 -his 45th birthday -sold out in 90 minutes.
In June (11-26), he is the guest curator of London's Meltdown festival of alternative music at the South Bank, where he will be performing on the same bill as the Libertines and -wait for it -the 1970s Oi! band Cockney Rejects. Other surprise bookings include the specially re-formed New York Dolls, Nancy Sinatra and the playwright Alan Bennett.
You Are the Quarry, meanwhile, bristles with loud, thrusting guitars and arresting song titles, notably All the Lazy Dykes and The World Is Full of Crashing Bores.
The opening track, America Is Not the World, rubbishes the Bush administration's foreign policy. With all these attention-grabbing moves in play, Morrissey sounds as if he's on the comeback trail. With characteristic contrariness, he denies it: "I'm not coming back to anything," he says haughtily, "but a lot of people might be coming back to me."
Some of them may be wondering what he has been up to for the past seven years.
"Most people can't explain their own lives," he says wearily, "so why musicians should be expected to is a mystery." The big mystery is why he left England, a curious move considering he had frequently claimed he could never live anywhere except rainy, grainy Blighty. Statements such as "I'm the only person I know who can take a day trip to Carlisle and get emotional about what he sees", or "I'm persistently on some disused clearing in Wigan -I shall be buried there", did not square with somebody holed up just north of Sunset Boulevard.
Morrissey says that he left because of the bad publicity he received as a result of the High Court case brought by Mike Joyce, the drummer with the Smiths, who claimed that he had been underpaid on his royalty share of the group's recordings.
In his summing-up, Judge Weeks praised Joyce for being "straightforward and honest", called Morrissey "devious, truculent and unreliable when his own interests were at stake", and ordered him to stump up Pounds 1m. On one of the tracks from Maladjusted, Sorrow Will Come in the End (not on the British release), Morrissey hit back with a number of digs at judges, and the reflection: "Someone I know who cuts throats has time on his hands."
He denies that he left the country to make it harder for Joyce to pursue him for the money. Still, why La La Land? He echoes the question. "I'm hopelessly British.
So what would I be doing walking around LA? I had absolutely no interest in living there, and suddenly, as you do, I found myself in a house." Where, he insists, he lives on his own, has few visitors, no sound system ("I love silence") and only one television, in the bedroom, which he seldom watches. He isn't interested in beach culture and has not taken up golf. The only bars he visits are Brit themed pubs. By his account, Morrissey's LA life verges on the monkish.
The living isn't all easy, however. Stalkers are more of a problem for him now than they were in London. "People here are much more restrained," he says. "Over there, I've had the police at my front door on a number of occasions." He has had nutters in cars maintaining 24-hour vigils outside his house in the baking heat - a couple, he believes, kicked in his Jaguar XK8. "I'm not moaning. If people can't get your attention by being supportive, they have to be destructive."
One aspect of LA living that might appeal to him, you would imagine, is its gay scene. Morrissey is widely presumed to be gay, though he has never said so directly. "The girl of my dreams/Well, there never was one", a line from I'm Not Sorry, a song on the new album, is about as close as he has ever got to outing himself. He has been seen around with a number of male companions, notably a photographer, Jake Walters. But nobody has ever kissed and told. "They probably think I'm some sort of sex-crazed monster," he said in 1985. "But that's okay, they can think what they like. I'm only interested in evidence, and they can't produce any evidence to spoil my character."
Two compelling reasons emerge as to why he has stayed put in LA. The first is that he has become inexplicably popular with Mexicans. "Why? Is it the passionate spirit of the songs? In many cities in America, my audience is exclusively Mexican. It's a phenomenon of sorts." He sounds oddly unimpressed, although, when he and his band played in Mexico City two years ago, they sold out a 10,000-seat arena that Oasis could only half fill. In southwest America, his audience is full of young Mexican men with Morrissey tattoos on their back. "When I look out, I can't see a Caucasian face anywhere. It's baffling," he adds.
The other big draw for him in LA is his house. "It's quite decayed, but all the more interesting for that. It remains in the condition it was in when I stepped into it. The paint is peeling, and I've had a few floods." It is, in fact, a place redolent with Hollywood legends and decades of partying, known to movie historians as "the gayest house in Hollywood". Its most famous occupant was Clark Gable, who bought it for his wife, Carole Lombard. It was designed in the 1920s by William Haines, a silent-movie star whose acting career came to an abrupt end when he was found consorting with a sailor in the Los Angeles YMCA. It was subsequently owned by F Scott Fitzgerald and more recently by the gay British director John Schlesinger.
Interestingly, Morrissey's previous house, on Regent's Park Terrace, in London's Camden, was also designed by Haines, for the American actress and flamboyantly bisexual socialite Tallulah Bankhead. Given that he describes spending his teenage years "as a rather pathetic collector of obscure photographs" -often of Hollywood stars -and that he was preparing a book about old screen idols before he joined the Smiths, it's small wonder that Morrissey likes LA. He is living in the home of his boyhood dreams.
His approach to singing has always been resolutely theatrical. "I never wanted to play an instrument," he says. "I never wanted there to be anything between me and the audience. Musicians are always looking down. Singers can't look away. I enjoy that." Morrissey, a modesty-free zone, says the acclaim that greeted the Smiths in 1983 was "because of me, and my persona".
By the time the Smiths fell apart in 1987, Morrissey had become a noted controversialist. He perplexed the guardians of political correctness by turning up on stage swathed in the Union Jack. The cheerleaders of multiculturalism he disconcerted even more with songs such as Bengali in Platforms and The National Front Disco. In 1992, he was branded a racist by NME, a charge he rejects as "baffling". He says he is just a supporter of "the disappearing world of Britishness, which, as far as the working classes is concerned (sic), is being allowed to pass away".
One of the reasons he was not unhappy to leave Camden, he says, was because of the way it became trendy around the time of Britpop. Bands such as Blur began talking up the local bars, "which was disturbing, because the pubs in the area, which had a flavour of the past, were suddenly full of trendy foreign students. It was shocking".
Camden was "a lively time in my life". He recalls first bumping into Alan Bennett while posting cards on Gloucester Crescent in a letter box that stood right opposite Bennett's living room. "After that, he would knock on the door at nine o'clock at night, which was exciting, because I had always been a huge fan of his." And still is. The first person he booked for Meltdown -oddly, since he doesn't do music - was Bennett.
There is something piquant about the coming together of these two northern ironists. Both are deeply private, subtly camp exponents of non-personal disclosure. Although he sings on the new album about "a wild man in my head", Morrissey hasn't let him out to play today. Contrary to his reputation for moodiness, he reports being "extremely happy. The passing of time isn't a problem for me". But it can play funny tricks. As he sees me out, Morrissey is still going on about the time I went round to his house.