An anonymous person writes:
This is the article by Siobhán Kane Morrissey referred to
at the last Dublin gig. Thanks to www.eventguide.ie
The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get
When The Smiths disbanded in 1987, many were devastated. Leaves withered; there was no harvest that year, and statues of the saints wept. But there was a second coming of sorts, and Stephen Patrick Morrissey stepped into a different kind of light. He is one of the few artists who inspires endless fascination and frenzied analysis of lyrics and meaning. Every century has its share of romantic heroes and anti-heroes and Morrissey is both in equal measure, and he is ours. Not simply because he is ours as in Ireland’s – but because he has also given himself over to this world, yet retains something otherworldly.
At one point he found his own fame a metaphor for prison, and a living violence that rained on his every thought. He has weathered the storms of the critics’ eye, (“my critics are very dedicated – they will stick with me ‘til the end”) and a decade-long feud with the NME ended in 2004. The NME had rapaciously supported The Smiths (jokingly sometimes known as ‘New Morrissey Express’) but turned against Morrissey when they opposed some of his new work. This was one of the biggest mistakes the publication has surely ever made; misreading Morrissey’s work and motivation. They particularly objected to the song ‘Asian Rut’ which details the murder of an Asian man by white racists. However, with lines such as ‘it must be wrong, three against one’ - Morrissey is quite obviously sympathising with the victim in the song and exposing racism at its most incendiary. He was ahead of his time - when Asian Dub Foundation deals with the subject of racism in a similar way, it is (rightly) seen as social commentary.
He has a long-standing relationship with anti-racist and human rights organisations including Amnesty International and his song ‘Mexico’ (2001) explicitly supports Mexicans living in the face of anti-immigration backlash, ‘if you’re rich and you’re white, you think you’re right. I just don’t see why this should be so.’ On ‘America is Not the World’, he sings, ‘where the President is never black, female or gay and until that day, you’ve got nothing to say to me.’ As well as this, ‘I Will See You in Far-Off Places’ (from his most recent album) empathises with Middle-Eastern victims of American bombing campaigns.
His views have gained him the unwelcome attention of the authorities, with his first experience from ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’ (an attack on Margaret Thatcher from ‘Viva Hate’). The British police searched his home and made him the subject of an official investigation, although it ended with many of the officers asking for his autograph. He also encouraged people to vote John Kerry in 2004, and this year spoke out against the American and British governments (calling George Bush “a terrorist”), which led to him being interviewed by the FBI and British Intelligence (quite how ‘intelligent’ is debatable). He was quoted as saying “they were trying to determine if I was a threat to the government, and similarly in England. But it didn’t take them very long to realise that I’m not. My view is that neither England nor America are democratic societies. You can’t really speak your mind and if you do, you’re investigated.”
Thankfully, it hasn’t deterred him. Morrissey is controversial – but why should that word carry such negative connotations? After all, in the world we live in, if you’re not obsessed about weight, or aren’t motivated by money, you are deemed controversial and therefore suspicious. Morrissey is controversial over substantial issues that actually mean something, because he is articulate and argues both passionately and persuasively. Even if you do not agree with some of his views (disapproval of Band Aid, rap and teenage pop stars), he is a true delight to listen to and read about. His ardent support for animal rights is admirable, (he has been a vegetarian since he was a teenager) and he was awarded the Linda McCartney Memorial Award at PETA’S 25th Anniversary Gala in 2005 and boycotted Canada on his ‘Ringleader of the Tormentors’ tour in protest at their annual seal harvest. However, Boy George recalled that he once ‘took tea’ with Morrissey and found him to be lovely but quiet. Perhaps it is because he is a Gemini - ‘the wild man’ in his head that he sings about on ‘I’m Not Sorry’, versus the polite dinner guest.
And then there is the music. With his sardonic humour (“the audience I am trying to reach are champion figure skaters. I think they need me the most”) he is one of the key lyricists of his generation. So many bands hail his influence, and his subjects have surveyed; child murder, gang violence, domestic abuse, racism, drugs, terrorism, assassination – essentially the foremost concerns of humanity over the ages. His parents moved from Dublin to Manchester shortly before he was born to find work at a time when there wasn’t any in Ireland. They found a city that was already ‘home’ to many Irish and enjoyed a comparable wit to Dublin’s in Manchester’s earthy vowels. Morrissey’s ‘Irishness’ is partly contained in this idea of the ‘outsider’, a fascination with writers including Oscar Wilde, his black wit, and as he has says - “Ireland has always been a very credible and very poetic place, with no-one under any illusions about themselves – we all end up in the same bucket etc. This manifests itself within me by the fact that I’d obviously like some success with what I do, but I’m also slightly embarrassed to be singled-out. Silly, isn’t it.”
It isn’t silly, rather quite modest. This modesty morphs into his support of Irish artists including Sack and Damien Dempsey (“I am the world’s biggest Damien Dempsey fan”) and owes something to his own hard-won efforts. Morrissey found his teenage years depressing and left school early. He worked briefly for the tax office, but eventually went on the dole, sequestered himself in his room and tried to write. He wrote novellas about two of his heroes - James Dean and The New York Dolls and daydreamt about conquering the world. Part of Morrissey’s power is that we can see ourselves in him; daydreaming, hurting, and hoping. He became an icon for brooding youth. Now he is a little older and greyer - he is what brooding youth grows into, and it is still powerfully poetic.
When Johnny Marr presided over the end of The Smiths, he inadvertently enabled Morrissey to move on. Morrissey had never learned an instrument because he had wanted to fully engage his voice. (Although at fourteen he had a drum-kit and wanted to be like Jerry Nolan.) His poetic partnership with Johnny Marr, and the subsequent fall-out and solo work required him to be braver than before, relying even more on his spectacularly gorgeous voice.
‘Viva Hate’ (1988), the Stephen Street-produced album contained the outstanding ‘Suedehead’ and ‘Everyday is like Sunday’. ‘Your Arsenal’ was released in 1992 and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Alternative Album which he followed with 1994’s ‘Vauxhall and I’. After a few other projects, he went under the radar and ‘lived life’. He has lived in Dublin on and off, but in the late ‘90’s moved to Los Angeles. There he found a Hispanic community who had been quietly infatuated with him. The talented Irish photographer B+ (Brian Cross) has beautifully captured some of Morrissey’s Hispanic fanbase (which you can view at www.mochilla.com).
After a few years of mowing his ‘lawn’ and enjoying the sun, the millennium saw Morrissey produce some of the best work of his life. Sanctuary/Attack announced a deal with him in 2003 and ‘You are the Quarry’ was released in 2004. The first single - the searing, political ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ reached the highest chart position he ever had as a solo artist or with The Smiths (number three), which must have been hugely satisfying, especially because it contains the lyric – “and spit upon the name Oliver Cromwell.”
There was that article Lois Lane wrote about Superman once she thinks he is gone forever - ‘Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman’. What she eventually realises is that she has spent the past five years looking for him in the sky, willing him to come back to save the world, or perhaps not even that, to simply exist. When she tries to write another article out of love rather than anger (‘Why the World Needs Superman’) she is lost for words. This is probably what the bashful Morrissey might hate to hear, but all of this is true for him too. Those of us who love his work were willing him back, yet happy enough for him to simply exist.
After the release of that album, he moved to Rome - “Rome has struck me as being a very safe city, and not at all uptight, which is a contrasting relief against the pressures of Los Angeles.” This year saw the release of ‘Ringleader of the Tormentors’ which went straight to number one – it seems that the older Morrissey gets; the more people are interested in what he has to say. It was recorded in Rome and produced by the amazing Tony Visconti. Morrissey also collaborated with the legendary Ennio Morricone who provided his epic talent on ‘Dear God Please Help Me’ with astonishing results.
Many suggested he had found love on this record. It still amazes Morrissey that people care about his private life and refuses to be drawn on it. But Morrissey and The Smiths have inspired such fascination for years, and they have influenced so many things – from literature (Douglas Coupland’s ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’, Willy Russell’s ‘The Wrong Boy’) to film and musical theatre. “It’s exciting because it means I’ve had some effect or influence, which is dazzling for me because I see myself permanently standing outside the stage door.”
This is no better evidenced than in his relationship with The New York Dolls. He ran their fan club when it was a thankless task, and lists them as one of his three musical loves (the others are Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra). Then ‘New York Doll’ was released in 2004 - Greg Whiteley’s documentary about Arthur “Killer” Kane, the band’s bassist. It tells the story of how, on the brink of success they were brought down in a spiral of drug abuse. Three of the bandmembers died, two went on to modest success and Kane, after a hellish time in Los Angeles, became a Mormon and worked at the sect’s Family History Centre Library. In the film’s climax, Kane gets his guitar from a pawnshop and reunites with his former (remaining) colleagues at the Morrissey-curated Meltdown Festival in London. Morrissey, Bob Geldof and others speak about the event as something approaching sacred. What Morrissey does not seem to grasp is the pivotal role he played in making this happen - he is forever the teenage fan. It reflects a lot about the man, and what makes it more poignant is that Arthur Kane died of leukaemia one month later, and that the Dolls have just released a greatly acclaimed new album – ‘One Day it Will Please us to Remember Even This’. I’m sure it pleases Morrissey.
Morrissey is a warrior (“a traveller to the grave”) who continues to pursue the simple pleasures; Maureen Dowd’s writing, John Betjeman’s poetry, Chopin’s ‘Nocturnes’ and Lior Ashkenazi’s acting – while struggling to disseminate the powerful, humane thoughts that he is synonymous with, and that we need to hear.
“I’m still at the stage whereby I have absolutely no idea where I’ll be in seven days time. Face down in the gutter?” – Siobhán Kane