Article written by Sebastian Suarez-Golborne
Translation by Erik Reh� ([email protected])
The Moz fans all over the world are in my opinion the closest you will ever get to the specie Nietzsche referred to as he spoke about the ��bermensch�. If someone is a Moz fan on a credible foundation, you can assume this person is intelligent and beautiful with a good sense of humour � and that all these features are most probably imbued by a profound hatred against mankind and an everlasting self hatred.
Erik Georgsson is one of thousands of citizens on the planet of Morrissey. He is one of those who go on a pilgrimage to every concert within reach, always with a bunch of flowers under his arm and every single obscure lyric fresh in mind.� He is one of all those thousands who celebrate Morrissey's birthday on May 22 every year and knows every line in Shelagh Delaney's play �A Taste of Honey� by heart. He is one of all those who have asked me if they can get a copy of my interview tape. He is also a member of the Gothenburg based group whose song �A New Girl Born� was renamed �I Have Forgiven Jesus.mp3, and thus creating a massive state of shock among all internet connected Moz fans all over the world � until somebody revealed the truth that it was not a song from Morrissey's coming album �You Are the Quarry�.
Erik is not the only Swede who loves Morrissey, even if not everybody shows their love in the same manner. If something has happened in Sweden during the last seven years since Morrissey released his last album, it is that the overwhelming need for The Smiths got so big that it eventually exploded all over radio channels and venues. H�kan Hellstr�m happened and Weeping Willows happened, Franke popped out of nothing, looked around and turned back immediately. In the music of these artists, the philosophy �talents borrow, geniuses steal� is not a mere intellectual pose, but rather simple love. For thousands of Swedes Morrissey is always present. Some of them carve his name into their arms with a fountain pen, others use his lyrics in the same way that little-understanding NRJ-listening (a Swedish commercial radio station) work colleges grab lines taken out of �Friends�.
It may seem predictable to start off an article about the biggest ever-lasting hero of the indie world by writing about his fans. On the other hand, there is no artist who is loved in such an unreserved manner, no other artist who is so intimately defined by the listener. I am not one of them. But it's easy to understand them.
Morrissey's relationship with pop mucic has always been dead serious. At the age of thirteen, whenever The New York Dolls, T. Rex or David Bowie had their way across Manchester, he used to arrive at the venue long before anyone would even dream about showing up, just to get the best possible spot right next to the stage. Having taken that spot, he grasped the fence so tightly that �an industrial crane couldn't move me; you would have to blowtorch me off the front of the set if you wanted to move me�. He was sat watching �Top of the Pops� every weekend, wrote loads of letters to all papers who just wouldn't understand anything, he wrote books on The New York Dolls and James Dean, and built his very own imperia in which Oscar Wilde was the father, James Dean the son and Johnny Thunders the Holy Spirit. All his enormous love for pop music was channelled into his own music. Therefore, The Smiths' debut single �Hand In Glove� sounds like an outrageous attack on a world that just won't understand, using music as his weapon. (�Hand in glove I stake my claim/I'll fight to the last breath/if they dare touch a hair on your head�).
The success of The Smiths was followed by the much appreciated solo debut �Viva Hate� in 1988. After that, luck made a U-turn. Among the albums that would follow, only �Vauxhall & I� 1994 succeeded in reaching out to an audience that was not merely made up of old fanatics � that album is also considered as the most successful project he's been involved in during the whole of his career. �Southpaw Grammar� from 1995, is a bit of a tricky story � two ten minute long tracks, a three minute long drum solo, and brushy literary references scared away the newcomers. Eventually, when �Maladjusted� was released in 1997, it sold less than a hundred thousand copies in America, and left Morrissey without a record deal.
Though this has not meant that the relation to his fans has become less intensive in any respect. Between the hopeless record label meetings, he has sold out arenas in just a few minutes. Finally he signed to Sanctuary who has become famous for collecting all the good material in the world of music that the record companies waste as they are cutting down on the expenses. Morrissey was particularly happy about the fact that Sanctuary makes use of the reggae-label Trojan and asked them to bring life to another reggae-label, Attack, on which �You are the Quarry� is produced (not bad for a guy who said that �reggae is vile� in the 80s).
The representative for Sanctuary tells about a Japanese journalist who sat in his hotel room in Los Angeles for four days, just waiting for that call saying Morrissey was ready to see him. Eventually, he went home without an interview. I am seeing Morrissey at a hotel next to Hyde Park in London. He looks the same as he has in years: big in a pair of dark Levi's jeans, and a long sleeved unbuttoned black shirt with florid details, grizzled temples, and clear blue eyes under the contact lenses. A forty-five year old man with an ever more discrete quiff and the only jaw that can compete with Jay Leno for the title �California's most impressive�. Unfortunately he is feeling ill for the day, he is exhausted and wonders if it's possible to shorten the interview. To interview Morrissey has proven to be somewhat of a lottery over the years. His will meet up with journalists, depending on his mood. I'm thinking to myself that I'm at least in a better position than that Japanese feller. Morrissey glares at my Angus Young pin, drinks his tea and speaks so silently that my recorder hardly gets it.
- My position never seems to change. I seem to exist on some lonely planet, in my private world. I'm not a part of anything. I don't seem to have the same interests as other lyricists, I don't invade someone else's territory and nobody invades mine.
Morrissey never fails to accentuate the fact that he is the ever lasting outsider. He seems to feel terribly well � but he will never ever be a part of the same world as us.
The first time I heard �You Are The Quarry� was at a record label office filled with Moz-fans in my business (all past their thirties and nearly all men). Marit Bergman happened to walk past the room and depicted the listening on her website: �A very serious atmosphere. It was like a Killing-movie (Swedish producer, red) or an AA meeting. It looked as if they cried but I didn't get the chance to see, because I closed the door immediately.�
The big debate inside the Morrissey-community in addition to his new album has been the much discussed choice of Jerry Finn as producer, the same person who has produced albums with bands like Bad Religion, Green Day and Blink-182. And it has surely affected the album to some extent, where �Maladjusted� is dark and noisy, �You Are The Quarry� is powerful and explicit. Apart from a few unsuccessful sound effects and some song with mechanical Eros Ramazotti-drums, the change is hardly visible; it still sounds very much Morrissey.
When asking him if he's done a modern album, he does a gesture with his shoulders and says he hasn't got a clue what modern music sounds like. It is performed straight and with a great deal of confidence, a well-intended finger pointing at NME and all those who counted him out during the 90s.
At the same time, the album is far from perfect, the lyrics are extraordinarily simple and less playful than earlier and the melodies are often flat and anonymous, which he is probably aware of � a straight and sharp comeback � but too often it tends to be slightly boring. There are peaks of course: �The First of the Gang to Die� sounds like his biggest hit since �The More You Ignore Me the Closer I Get� from �Vauxhall & I� and on �Come Back to Camden� he sings so beautifully the clocks, as he said, stop. The biggest surprise is presented on �I'm Not Sorry� which is finished with a very long and progressive flute solo.
Are you putting your fans on a test when working together with Jerry Finn?
- No, they probably don't see it as a good idea. But at the end of the day it's up to me. If I constantly took other people's ideas into consideration I'd never have anything done. People always say �No, no, you can't do that�, but you can't listen to what other people think and you must definitely not listen to your own audience, because when you do that you just become one of them. � I don't pray to God that they appreciate what I do�Most of the time they don't like it anyway. Well, at least they pretend as if they don't. They always want to seem so superior and intellectual.
Nothing says �screw the NME� as a long flute solo.
- Do you think it sound ridiculous? Should everything follow the rules of the game? And is a flute always progressive? Some would say no.
The first single from the album is called �Irish Blood, English Heart�, a song that has appeared on his shows during recent years with lines about spitting upon the name of Oliver Cromwell and the most unlikely sing-along chorus �I've been dreaming of a time when/ to be English/ is not to be baneful/ to be standing by the flag� accompanied by shivering power chords. If you are an adult second generation immigrant, like me, it is hard to join in to the singing at first. In school I always got into trouble with clean shaved boys who were screaming �I'm dreaming of a time when to be Swedish means you dare standing by the flag, without being called a racist.�
In Morrissey's case it is of course not the same, even if it's bound with problems to use the same jargon as Ny Demokrati (Swedish national/racist party, red). Flag waving nationalism is just as stupid no matter if you put in the word �German�, �Chilean� or �Swedish� in your cheering songs. But when Morrissey sings about it on �Irish Blood, English Heart� there is no hidden agenda � his chauvinism derives from the oppression of the British working class, something that has affected nearly every single one of his lyrics so far. It feels like a big long finger at NME and all the rest of the British press who were determined to label Morrissey as racist during the beginning of the 90s. On his solo debut song �Bengali in Platforms� he sang �shelve your western plans/ 'cause life is hard enough when you belong here� and on the underestimated �Your Arsenal� 1992 he caused an outrage with the song �National Front Disco� since it seemed to glorify right wing extremism.
Bullshit of course, �National Front Disco� today appears as a rare intelligent comment on what happened in England (and Sweden) in the beginning of the 90's, without cursing everything in blind rage for the sake of being politically correct. Morrissey refused to respond to the charges and thought of it as an unintelligent excuse to get rid of him.
At the same time it's hard to avoid the feeling that �Irish Blood, English Heart� will be faced with similar criticism.
- First of all, if somebody wants to pull me down, they always have that opportunity, no matter what you sing about. But I can't see how anyone will be able to criticise that song, there's absolutely nothing in it that is uncomfortable. To be standing by the flag is not a racist act, just not accepting other people.
When you sing about Oliver Cromwell, is that a comment on the relation between England and Ireland or about the failure of the British parliamentary?
- It's a comment on the whole British monarchy actually, which has a very depressing history. Oliver Cromwell was nothing more than a general, but he behaved like some of them. He slaughtered millions of Irishmen just to get them out of the way. As what concerns politics, you can only make a choice between Tories and Labour and neither of them are spokesmen for the people. It is nothing but an aged and ridiculous circus.
When the British press was stalking Morrissey more than ever he had enough and moved to America and Los Angeles where he had gotten a bigger audience than ever. In 1992 he beat the Beatles record as he sold out the Hollywood Bowl within a short period of time.� He was, strangely enough, embraced by the American Chicano-audience who worship el Moz with the same intensity as pale brits did ten years earlier. Perhaps they were just as passionate about rockabilly quiffs, or perhaps they simply found a pop singer who sang about crying himself to sleep in the same way as Mexican ballad singers do. But it was probably just linked to the fact that Morrissey's lyrics about being an outsider are universal.
At the moment he lives in a house that Clark Gable once built for Carole Lombard, riding his vespa in the sunset, drinks afternoon tea with Nancy Sinatra and watches episodes of �Roseanne� all day long. He writes letters to the local city council complaining about cars that are parked on the wrong spot and during the morning hours he's strolling through a galore of presents left outside his house from his fans and he seems to behave almost like a normal millionaire.
�You Are the Quarry� is the first album where he exclusively sings about his relation to America. On �The First of the Gang to Die� the skinheads from East London are suddenly exchanged for rough Latino gangs in East LA, but it's the same romanticised depiction of the life of an outsider that imbues the lyric. �America Is Not the World� opens the new album, a surprisingly timid attack on American cultural imperialism with the line �You know where you can shove your hamburgers� standing above all.
You live in Los Angeles, how have you managed to escape from all hip hop music?
- You can't avoid it because it's everywhere. It's in the commercials and squeezed in to each and every show. And you hear it from the cars as they thunder by you. But I never seem to get used to it, the more I hear it the less I like it. It's total crap.
Do you know who the biggest rapper in the world is?
- Thank God, I don't. And if I knew I'd be terribly worried. Who is it?
His name is 50 Cent.
- Ah, there you go. Well, there's the biggest talent of our time.
How well do you fit into America, really?
- There are so many things that are so annoying, people are generally very annoying. But the landscape is fabulous; I used to go for a ride in my Jaguar and enjoy the beautiful countryside. Plus I don't have to see a single person for thousands of miles � which of course is very very pleasant.
The lyrics are very straightforward, not least on �America Is Not the World�.
- Yeah, no nuances, no ambiguity at all. I didn't care much for being subtle this time. There's just not time for that. And America really isn't the world. If you are opposed to that you will appear as an idiot.
What's the point singing about obvious things?
- Well, at least they can not fail to understand what you sing.
How are we then supposed to interpret all your references to �mooning� on the album, is that something you engage in?
- Oh, yes. It's a very big part of my life, an irreplaceable hobby. It's something I can't stop doing, especially when I'm in a hotel. There's your headline for the article: �Morrissey: I love to moon� in bold black letters.
But you sang already twenty years ago about how you would like to �drop your trousers to the queen� in �Nowhere Fast� from the Meat Is Murder album � Apparently it's an old hobby.
- Mmm, that's true� She took no notice of that, I'm afraid.
1987: A Young man steps in to a radio station in Denver, Colorado. Under the threat of a gun he forces the DJ to play The Smiths for four hours so the whole of Denver get to learn. He wanted them to play something that said something about his life. All Morrissey fans are not that generous. When it was announced that Morrissey will perform on this year's Hultsfred festival people grumbled loudly about how they don't want to share their God with a bunch of disgusting backyard babies-fans who don't understand anything. Never before have so many people kept their fingers crossed for an artist to cancel his performance. To imagine Morrissey on a festival stage is undoubtedly something difficult, but playing at Roskilde, Glastonbury and according to the rumour at the American festival tour Lollapalloza seems to be part of the big plan to reach out to as many people as possible.
Morrissey-concerts usually tend to be revivalist meetings where the audience tries to invade the front set just to touch their saviour. It is no surprise that you don't want to share that experience with a stage diving Linkin Park-dude.
- I suppose it's about time the fans get shocked, it's good for them. It might be hard to believe but the simple explanation to why I haven't done festivals before this year is that this is the first time it has been offered to me. My experience of festivals is extremely limited, I have no idea about what to expect. Is it as bad as you say? And this Swedish festival� Does it have a good reputation?
Many fans feel they don't want to share you with people who simply haven't earned it yet.
- No, but they can start earning it. It would be nice to have more fans.
Are you seeking to convert people?
- Yes, I'd really like that, anyone is ok. I have heard so many odd stories about how people have been heavily in to metal and then gone from metal to me. That's very fascinating.
On the new album you sing �the teenagers who love you/wake up/yawn and kill you�. Is that the kind of fans you want?
- I understand them partly. But yes, I do want them, they are very critical and keep me alert.� It's very strange. So many people have rejected me again and again. And still �so far- there are so many people who want to talk to me. Everything moves in cycles�at least if you're lucky. Something has definitely changed during the last five years and it probably depends on how awful pop music has been. �Pop Idol� has been everywhere and one day people get sick of music that doesn't mean anything.
But you have never competed with �pop idol� artists anyway, have you?
- No, I suppose I haven't. I don't know what it's like in Sweden, but in England they have strangled everything else to death and you simply can't avoid them �never, never, never, never, never, never� I think a lot of people have given up the idea of entering the charts, so if I can make my way there it's surely a victory for intelligence. I still care for pop music, I know how it affected me, and I want other people to be affected in the same way.
Do you think your fans want you to attract millions of new listeners?
- Now they do. Because the last few years have been just as frustrating for them as for me. I hope and believe they think it's time for revenge. No, well, not revenge�something far more serious than revenge.
What's more serious than revenge?
- Murder, ha ha! I think they want to have me murdered by the police.
To have such an ecstatic audience can be something of a double nature.� Morrissey is, of course, the ultimate failure of the market, the fewer fans he's got, the more difficult it will be for outsiders to be equally affectionate � the number of people who spell his name with one �s' has reached a critical low level. There's always someone (with a big nose) who knows more about Morrissey than you will ever do. For people like me whose life has been saved by Moz at few occasions only, there is no admittance to this fellowship. Well, most people never save any lives, so once in a while is a pretty good score.
I never feel as lonely as when I listen to The Smiths together with very dedicated Smiths-fans.
- That's very interesting to hear. Do you like that feeling?
It feels like I don't belong around people who don't belong anywhere.
- But the thing is that music is such a private thing. I can listen to silly pop disco and that has its place in my life. But music which is private is very intensely private.
When did pop music become so important in your life?
- It goes way back. As a child I didn't have anything else, as an adult there was nothing else. It has never been replaced by anything really. All of my happy moments come from when I see live bands and buy records.
His biggest passion was dedicated to The New York Dolls, a set of American heroinists armed with lipstick, protopunkenergy and a couple of Rolling Stones chords which they learned as they walked on stage. This caused violent emotional rushes for Morrissey. He filled his boyhood room with clippings and images, he wrote letters to every paper or radio station that just wouldn't understand.
- My first memory of them is from when they were supporting Roxy Music in Manchester in November 1972. And I was at the front set waiting for them to come on stage, but instead I was faced with somebody who announced that the gig was cancelled due to the death of the drummer. That was a terrible experience, I still have the ticket.
You used to bring one of their sleeves to school for everyone to see what you were listening to.
- One day I brought with me the whole album and made my teacher play a song so the whole class would listen. Everyone got to say how they felt afterwards� and they didn't feel too well, I'm afraid. But that was my fault, I shouldn't have done it. That was 1974 in Manchester; I went to a rough school so it shouldn't have surprised anyone that there was an appalling silence afterwards during the break.
Did you want everyone to appreciate The New York Dolls?
- I wanted them to become the biggest band in the world. I simply couldn't understand why they weren't, all their songs sounded like hit singles and they were incredibly funny. Plus they looked incredibly good. What could possibly have stopped them? But times were heavy in England at that time, more or less since 1967. Today of course we are used to the spandex of heavy metal and big fluffy hair, but at that time is was basically illegal for a man to walk down a street dressed like a woman, and because of that The New York Dolls were very revolutionary.
In June Morrissey is due to host this year's Meltdown-festival in London, which has been hosted earlier by David Bowie and Robert Wyatt among others. It's a two week long event which will include everything from music and poetry to arts and theatre. Morrissey made a comment on his chance to introduce his favourites by saying �some of you have ipods, I have Meltdown�. The biggest exclamation mark seems to be a partly reunited New York Dolls.
- The three remaining Dolls, it's indeed very exciting for me and apparently for others as well.
And Elton John will appear as well�
- Yes, at least he's been contacted to perform a few songs by Jobriath.
�Maybe it was not a very smart thing to say that Elton John's head on a plate would be �one of few occasions when meat is not murder�.
- Well, maybe he never heard that remark� or else he did and he won't attend the festival.
The biblical justice in the fact that the world now is ready to cast itself under the feet of Morrissey 2004 is hard to avoid in a time when the record labels have shoved all their money into pointless one-hit-wonders and pale copies of things we heard ages ago. Every new Morrissey album, every sold out concert, and every cover of a magazine depicting this man is a small, small victory for all those who believe that pop music can and should change lives. Mark Simpson, who turned down an invitation to be interviewed in this article saying �Moz is a jealous God�, writes in his intriguing biography �Saint Morrissey� that there was an error in the system, a tiny opening in the 80s that happened to let through the ultimate pop fan and turn him into the ultimate pop idol. It may sound as an oversimplification, but there's no need to analyse the most over-analysed pop icon on earth more than that, the rest is due to Morrissey to explain in his forthcoming self-biography.
Do you read the books about you?
- Oh, no! I never read them, but sometimes I get to read short extracts. All of those books are written by people who have never met me, so what can they possibly know?
And in this moment you are busy writing on your autobiography� is it going to be long?
- Haha, it's going to be volcanic! Writing is just as exciting as making music at the moment. There are so many things that need to be corrected, I've always been in the hands of the press and so much nonsense about me has been accepted as truth. This is my turn. You ought to expect names, photos and fingerprints. Everything shall be revealed.