The Human Daffodil

interview by Andres Lokko
for the January 1998 issue of the Swedish magazine, POP


for more information on obtaining POP, contact [email protected]

translation by Eric Olsson

a note from Eric: differences between Swedish and English grammar should be considered in the translation of the interview.

Also, the introduction has been summarized.

popcover-sm.jpg (16813 bytes)
scan by Christian Arvidson
click to enlarge

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"The Human Daffodil" - photos: Andres Lokko
scan by Christian Arvidson, click to enlarge

On the plane to Salt Lake City, the author, Andres Lokko meets a young filmmaker by the name of Mark Polish. Coincidentally, as Lokko is travelling to interview Morrissey, Polish has just finished a film with the title "November Spawned A Monster". The story focuses on a sixteen-year-old girl who loves The Cure and lives in a religious family. However, as she sees no way out of her life, she kills herself at the end of the film.

Lokko and Morrissey have met before, in Paris 1992, and when Lokko reminds Morrissey about their first meeting, he replies: "I'm good with names but I forget faces."


On the plane here I met a film director who has just finished a film called "November Spawned a Monster".
- You're joking? You're not? That is strange. But at the same time absolutely wonderful. It has happened a few times before, and there is a novel coming out here in the States called "Girlfriend In A Coma". It is indescribably flattering. That someone would come up with such an idea.

You played in Irvine yesterday...

- My God, yes!

...how does it feel to sing your lyrics in front of a crowd of fanatics in Southern California?

- Very confusing, actually. I'm on stage and I see this ocean of young people and the majority of them are Mexicans and all I can think is "How do you know of me?" Because I basically don't have a profile here in the States. Nothing is written about me. So I am fascinated by the fact that people come to my shows. It is a complete and unsolvable mystery.

- But on the other hand, it has always been that way. I am not a creation by MTV, they never wanted anything to do with me. And after the show in Irvine I received so many letters from 14-year olds in the audience and I cannot but wonder how, how, how did this happen?

One explanation could be that the lyrics of "Everyday Is Like Sunday" are as relevant to people where the climate is hot and sunny as to people in the rainy parts of Northern England.

- That is absolutely true. I think it is another degree of monotony, but it also exists there. Everybody is beautiful all the time and that heat every single day... I understand that some people find it unbearable. It really is The Mamas And The Papas all the time. It really is. And if you like The Mamas And The Papas then it is a splendid place to be and many people live there. The world is full of people who do not want to know of shattering realism, world politics or starving countries.

You still seem, at the age of 38, to be obsessed with pop music.

- It is the only thing I am! It really is the only thing I am. I am made of pop music. It is the air that I breathe.

You seldom talk about it in interviews.

- It is because they are always about the same things. I always get the same questions, the same miserable boring questions. And I really do feel ashamed when they are printed. Because the people who read these interviews must think that I constantly want to talk about the same things all the time. And I don't want to. But it is the journalist who asks the questions. It may sound cynical and you may sit there thinking "get real, it can't be true". But it is. It never changes, believe me. I suppose I have said it now, once and for all. I shall be quiet now.

Before every show you play a tape with your favourite songs.

- Yes. And it is something I love to do. And on that tape you heard yesterday, there was even some psychedelic music... British psychedelic music.

Yes, I noticed.

- Fascinating, isn't it? Although it was only one song. Traffic's "Hole in My Shoe". I discovered pop music when I was very, very small. In other terms, a long time ago. During the whole of the 60's and 70's I was completely possessed by pop music. And yes, I loved a lot of soul music, even some reggae and I loved cheap British pop and I still do. But I do not have a narrow, eccentric taste in music. I love rockabilly too. And Nina Simone's voice and Francoise Hardy's "You Just Have to Say The Word". And I love Cajun.

- The only thing I haven't grasped is heavy metal and progressive rock. But now having said that I must admit that there was a track on that tape yesterday which probably must be filed under progressive rock. And it was...

I have no idea.

- Well, you don't. It was a song called "Backstreet Luv" by Curved Air which was a hit back in England in 1972. I believe it was 1972. And I'm afraid I will change my mind about progressive rock. But you should probably listen to that kind of music on singles.

- However the best song, which I play daily, is "Groovin' with Mister Bloe". It is a mystery. I bought it when I was eleven and there was no picture of Mister Bloe on the sleeve and no one ever found out his real identity. It was believed that Mister Bloe was Dutch and that he never recorded anything after "Groovin'". But it is an astonishing record. I recall being fascinated by Mister Bloe when I watched Top Of The Pops. During the chart countdown they used to illustrate every song with a picture of the band or the artist but when they got to Mister Bloe there was nothing. There weren't any pictures of him.

Obviously you spend a lot of time by your record collection.

- Yes, I spend all my time with my records, CD's or whatever you wish to call them. I remember that I owned a silly American sticker when I was 15 or 16 and it said "music is your only friend". And I truly believe it is that way. I can feel absolutely lonely, absolutely miserable but whenever I play certain records I feel as if I'm being lifted from the floor up to the ceiling.

- It is incredibly therapeutical. I mean, music can make so many people happy. That's why there were so many police officers at the show last night. The music rushes through the heads of the audience and in the process young people might lose control. I can fully sympathize with them. In Japan it is more powerful than anywhere else. It is not unusual that music makes people lose total control of themselves and throw themselves through glass windows. It is in all a fantastic sight... yet a painful one. Music can be the perfect drug. Music is better than drugs.

But where do you keep your records? You move around all the time.

- Yes, I do. And if I really like a record I will buy it again and again. Actually, every time I see it. The are some LP's that I have bought more than 20 times.

What was the last thing you heard that lifted you to the ceiling?

- There is nothing at this moment that I'm obsessed by. There are some bands I appreciate but not enough for me to bring attention to them. It is getting more difficult to get that rush of blood to the brain by new music. It's probably because I'm getting old. One becomes skeptical towards newcomers.

Ten years ago I vowed to never utter the words "I've heard it before" but...

- But you have heard it before! That's why I am so worried by the British music press. Obviously there should be new young writers but I cannot - I refuse to believe - that their knowledge in music dates back longer than 1988.

- They have heard it before but they think it is their job not to admit it. It really confuses me. I just cannot understand that anybody should think that Suede is an innovative band. I cannot for my life understand it.

But you like them [Suede]?

- I did. A short while some twelve years ago. They never managed to come up with a second idea, but their first one was good.

Which was your second idea?

- Ha, ha, ha... I have had thousands of ideas but it is just that nobody has noticed them. They come and go.

But Suede was the first band that really tried to steal your audience.

- And I believe that they succeeded and they can gladly keep them. You're welcome. If my audience is so unreliable, so useless, then they can leave me alone. But, yes, Suede tried and they really succeeded but that's OK. They can gladly have those little girls from Essex named Lisa and who spell my name with one single s.

During the last few years we have seen new bands that have been influenced by The Smiths and your lyrics...

- I know who you are referring to! You do not have to mention their names, thank you very much. I used to think it was flattering that the British mini-stars of today referred to me... but it does not happen very often. We know that they are there, we know who they are and above all, they know it themselves. But my influence on pop music today is being kept down by the press.

You are one of the few people who still thinks that the single is the best format for listening to music.

- If I could have things my way, I would only release singles. Five singles a year or something like that. But you can't. The pop single does not exist anymore. And the singles charts, especially those in Britain, are jokes. Everything is controlled by advertising money, so everything that made singles charts so great in the 70's is gone. There has to be a change. Nowadays you can buy your way to number one. It is possible to put someone you have never heard of at the top spot, but in real life this person isn't capable of even filling a phone booth.

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photo: Andres Lokko
scan by Christian Arvidson, click to enlarge

How important is it to maintain the mystery surrounding your personality?
- I don't know. It is an interesting question, people claim that there is some kind of mystery or myth surrounding me and I have no idea where it stems from. It is probably because I have never had an affair with a newsreader and that I have never been truly, truly popular. I have always been someone that people like to point at or someone that people love to hate. But because of that I have never been forced to deal with massive fame.

- None of the things that you are expected to do if you are a recording artist, even if it means the short end of fame - which is exactly what I have attained - interests me.

- And I manage to get away without doing those things. Most people cannot resist them. Some people say that they hate me, but they respect me because I don't get involved in the games as one is expected to. And that is flattering. When it comes to people like that I wish that they would hate me just a little bit more.

A central part of the myth is that you seldom talk to the press. And I fly across the globe to Salt Lake City just because you granted me an interview.

- Hmm...why are we in Salt Lake City? It is strange. But I find it very pleasant that people want to talk to me, because if you take a look at my record sales it is absolutely pathetic. I do not know why so many people would want to talk to me... except here in the States of course since nobody is interested here... and why would I be so interesting?

Maybe because of the fact that those who buy your records listen to them very carefully?

- It's true.

And that's what makes you interesting.

- I would hate to be in a position where I would sell millions of records, among other artists who sell millions of records but that no one really listened to. And the charts are full of them, there are loads of them. And, honestly, we know that no one cares - I mean really cares - about those records. But they are the record industry. They don't give a damn about words such as credibility. Because there is no future in credibility, you cannot base a career on it, because it won't sell multiplatinum. But I prefer artists that are multi... multimonotonous.

What have you achieved in your communication with young people?

- A lot. I've managed to keep my head above water all these years despite a bad relationship to an army of slanderers and evil critics. And they just keep on coming.

- I have made a lot of music that I really love. I have never made music for a record company and I have never made music in the vain belief that somebody out there will like it. I make music for the simple reason that it is the same music I would want to buy in a record store. And that is rare. I have never pampered anyone with my music. It is extremely rare among artists who have worked with so many different record companies as I have. As you know, record companies are keen on getting their money's worth from their "employees". And I have always gotten away without having to defend the things I 've done. With the risk of sounding like the Pope I think I've done pretty well for myself. And I'm not a bad singer.

You have really become a better singer.

- Which means you think that I used to be horrible... but my voice is better. It's because I have matured as a man... ha. I don't know why it sounds better. Maybe because I am more relaxed nowadays. During The Smiths years I could never really relax in a studio. I always rushed in, did what I was supposed to do and walked out. Then I would sit at home, stiff as a poker, hoping that it was listenable so that I wouldn't have to do it again.

Are there any artists alive today that you respect?

- No.

Why?

- Because I believe that all the really interesting people are dead. If we are talking about pop music it is a genre that has lost its most interesting personalities. Those artists that the press pick out and ask us to listen to or read about... my God... I would rather... pfft... play darts.

- Pop music is in such a desperate state that anyone who has something to say is being hailed as a modern Goethe. So if you want to be a pop star today then it's the easiest thing in the world. You definitely do not have to strain your nerves or know why you are doing it. You only have to be at the right place at the right time. There are people in pop music that I would cross continents just to avoid. I would cry if I was left in the same room as them.

- Spontaneity is a word I have always associated with pop music. But it does not exist, you can have a long career with your pension insurance included. The Smiths were a reaction against this, fifteen years ago. So was our record company, Rough Trade.

But nobody learned from it?

- No. It might also have been different if we had signed up with CBS. They might have asked us what we were going to do with those silly little things that we called singles when there was no album to sell. I would probably have shot myself.

Would you like to live in another era?

- But I do. I have been living in another era for a long time and I have absolutely nothing to do with this planet.

Now how does that work out?

- I do not deal with the human race. I have nothing to do with the pop industry, I have nothing to do with art galleries, TV, radio or even skiing.

But you like to swim?

- Have I ever mentioned that I like swimming? And I thought it was the only secret I had successfully maintained. I just keep away... I just keep away... so they can do whatever it is they are doing.

So what do you occupy yourself with in your own world?

- Oh, I do lots of things. It is not difficult for me to stay away from British pop music. I have never ever had any other artist stop by at one of my shows to say a few kind words. I always read reviews of other artists' concerts and there is always some mention of who came backstage to have a snack or whatever. The only one who has ever thanked me for a good show is Tom Hanks.

Tom Hanks?

- Yes, it was shocking. How could Tom Hanks have heard of me, he seems so normal. It made me happy.

Do you want a normal audience?

- I think my audience is very normal... maybe not normal, because normal can easily sound like an insult.

Do you take it as an insult?

- Of course. Just hearing the word makes me think of boring clothes, of people who shop in the most horrible shops and wear thick woolen socks in July. So I prefer to categorise my audience as... healthy. It's a better word than normal. There is the old prejudice that the people who like me are semi-Goths who wear black and drink gasoline. And that is not true. But I do get surprised when I see what an athletic audience I actually have. They do not seem in the least depressed.

It's obvious. They are happy when they meet you or see any of your shows but it's only then that you see these people.

- Well... there may be some truth in that statement. But I do not feel as if that is the case. I think it is the same old attempt to hurt me, to categorise me with "Oh, we know Morrissey and everything he touches becomes depressed". It's not true.

But what kind of songs do you write?

- I only write very human songs. It's the only thing they are. Very human. Simple obvious songs that anyone could take to their hearts. It really is that simple. I just heard the new Oasis single and it went... don't go away / say that you'll stay / forever and a day... and I thought, did he really sing those words? But he did and it is beyond me. And I thought of a song from the 70's with Teach-In called "Ding-A-Dong" that went sing a song every hour / when you're in the shower / maybe it's a big hit. And I just can't for my life hear the difference between "Ding-Ding-Dong" and Oasis. If there is I hope to discover it one day.

You seem to be fond of clothes.

- I wear them.

Come on.

- OK, when I wear them I'm really fond of them... OK... but is it a crime? Yes, I do appreciate anything that has style. As a joke I once told a journalist that I only buy clothes at flea markets and I have had to live with that remark. This coat I'm wearing is as far away from a flea market as you can get. Mrs. Gucci made it herself.

But your taste in clothes has been linked to your music and lyrics.

- Yes, I suppose it has. I possess a very alert brain and it is wide open for new ideas. And style and subcultures are extremely fascinating for someone like me. I'm not saying that I've always been stylish but I have always been fascinated by it. And it's easy to be in England.

Because it's the only place where pop culture still exists?

- Of course! You've said it! But my modesty forbids me to say it. So thanks for that one.

- I find the cultures surrounding music, especially the working class, to be absolutely fascinating. There was a time when you could call them youth cultures but when there are people like me it isn't possible to categorise them as such. And I have had it all served on a silver plate. I was born into a working-class family in Manchester at the right time and I was overwhelmed by British pop culture as it was conquering the world. And I started to get involved when punk music arrived. So that was perfect. It would have been a fate worse than death if I was born in 1974. But I would also have hated to be born in 1930... and believe me, I have spent much time thinking about this dilemma.

So you are not born into the wrong era?

- As long as we are talking about pop music, no. But if we are talking about the Spanish civil war then I was definitely born at the wrong time and therefore they had no use for me either.

Do you update your fascination for subcultures? You have gone through mods, rockabillies and skinheads, which most people know.
Are you going forward in history?
- With punk I was old enough to part of every pivotal event. Whatever reached Manchester... but the music? How much of the music was good or important? Possibly the first album by The Ramones. There isn't much I remember today. The Buzzcocks maybe. And The Angelic Upstarts do not really belong here.

- Punk was a musical movement without much music. And what would the next step be? Acid House? To me Acid House was never about music but a doorway for the drug culture and that people realized that they could take enormous amounts of drugs. Which the English never used to. And suddenly, on one or another, it was part of everybody's lives. It was, if you ask me, the only thing Acid House achieved. The music was rubbish, just as the people who made it.

On "Maladjusted" you have sampled a dialogue from a film called "Cockleshell Heroes".

- Oh, it's just one of those crisp British films that you've probably seen at four o'clock on a rainy Sunday on a channel you never usually watch. It's actually not a very good movie although it is written by Bryan Forbes. It's just a masculine war movie where everyone's a marine soldier and everybody's happy all the time and every officer has a stiff upper lip. They go to war, to Bourdeaux, and return with a couple of limbs missing but they are still as jovial as ever. It's just one of those old films that gives us wonderful insight to merry old England.

How has your view on England changed since you have been spending much time abroad?

- My view of England is still affectionate. I love the country more than anything else. I still do. England possesses an unique nerve that generates such enormous creativity. Sure, the weather is awful and the politicians are useless idiots. But therefore there is always something to fight against and that is important to the soul of an artist. There is always something to hate and kick at and there are no distractions such as beaches or sunbeams. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and do something dramatic. It's the only way to survive. So England is great if you want to be creative.

How did you react when you heard of Princess Diana's death?

- It was so predictable. It was expected - Grace Kelly, James Dean, bla-bla-bla, and then Princess Diana... my God. She was just such an incredibly boring woman. But the British people fell for the royal family's trick once again. I had expected more of the British people. It's frightening that you can brainwash a nation. My first thought was that this was the ultimate proof, that the flick of a finger would be enough to prepare the whole of England for war. It's so sad. I cannot think of one interesting comment that Princess Di uttered during her life. Not one. And I'm not trying to provoke. She was an attractive woman who loved the life she lived and died exactly as she had lived. Sure, she visited the third world every now and then, but she did it wearing Chanel. I cannot remember that Mother Theresa ever wore Chanel. I maybe wrong, she might have loved Chanel, what do I know? But the fact that both of them died during the same week is a sign from some divine power that obviously wants to tell us something. Diana spent 25.000 a year on make-up. Do saints do the same? I hardly think so. Did Mother Theresa spend 25.000 a year on make-up? If she did she should have demanded her money back.

- But the biggest joke wasn't that the British people wanted to canonize Diana, the biggest joke wasn't that the media fooled a whole nation into mourning an unintelligent woman, the biggest joke is Elton John's "Candle In The Wind".

Do you drink alcohol?

- Absolutely. Yes, it's true. The cheapest terrible beer and the dullest British lager you can imagine. There is a fantastic offering of beer in here in the States, it's not just Budweiser Light and Coors. But you have to make an effort if you want to find those horrible British beers that are made of 95% polyester.

Would you like to sing in a band again or would it be too much of Tin Machine?

- No, I would love to sing in a pop band again. But would anyone allow it? Would anyone give me the pleasure? Probably not. There is a chance that they might refer to them as my records anyway. It would actually be fantastic and it is something I often think about. But I know for sure that the band will never ever be The Undertones.

But the band that you are currently touring with seem to be a real band. You've been together a couple of years now.

- Yes, it is. They have been my band longer than the Smiths were a unit. When I started out playing with this band everybody mentioned that they were so young and that they couldn't play their instruments, but everybody thought they were good looking. And I guess they were right about everything. But nowadays we are a great little combo.

Is your music something one can grow tired of?

- I can't answer that.

OK. There is a period in everyone's life when you are capable of creating an identity, when you devour literature, film and music and hopefully all this leads to a complex individual. Then you need a helping hand and you often turn to pop stars. Or something.

- Yes. But only few succeed at keeping the flame burning. There is music one discovers during those years and it stays with you for the rest of your life. I'm not saying that the artists are the same but the music definitely is. And it's got to do with the feeling that you discover something for the first time in your life. It's not comparable to anything else in life. You hear all these new bands that you hate and you wonder how anyone can listen to this crap, but you have to remember that some of these people that buy these records are buying their very first records.

- You really want to believe that you are part of the book that you read, the films you see and the music you listen to. And suddenly you know everything about the fascinating writers and those bands whose transsexual singers OD on heroin. But you want to be interesting yourself. And it's through these books that you think you will be. It's romantic. But the people... I don't want to call them losers... but those who were not careful with those choices probably listened to Thin Lizzy.

How has your relationship with literature changed?

- Our relationship is still very profound. I want to keep on reading and I buy enormous amounts of books but I end up throwing them away, especially the modern ones. And I'd like to read a good modern novel but I can't find one. I really try, I go through five or six new novels a week. But I never read newspapers. And I've stopped reading music magazines.

Seriously?

- Yes, I've stopped. It was difficult because they were a central part of my adolescence. But they are so predictable that it only makes me sad. I can tell you exactly what a magazine like Mojo is going to put on the cover, and the same with Q. Don't mention the weeklies. There aren't simply any music magazines left. And the US have never been good at music journalism. Pop culture still doesn't exist here. Spin made a brave attempt but they failed in the long run.

Have you made the same journey through literature as you have with music? From A to B?

- Yes, and sometimes you have to choose a book by its cover. I've just read Boy George's autobiography and however absurd it might sound it was the first book in years that I didn't want to put down. I read the last chapters very carefully, I felt so good in their company and I felt such intimacy towards the people that I wanted to be left between the covers. A brilliant book. By the way I actually know some of the people mentioned in it and Boy George is a fantastic storyteller.

Will you write an autobiography?

- In that case I have to mention people I like to avoid. So I'll have to wait until they have passed away. Because it is not possible to portrait an intelligent image of one's life without dragging in these people. So I'll wait.

Do you keep a diary?

- No, I never have. Anything worth remembering I keep in my mind. Diaries are for people with criminally short memories. As I said: I never forget a name, just faces. I lied again.


 

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