Controversial??

Worm

Taste the diffidence
I think he makes it very explicit what he thinks of the rhetoric of the NF in the song. He basically allows them to condemn themselves out of their own mouths. Quotes like wanting the day to come sooner, settling scores, showing what you're made of are all poking fun at the ridiculous machismo of such organisations. Anyone who thinks Morrissey is being neutral when they hear those lines doesn't know much about Morrissey's aesthetic or his general views on gender politics.

He does explicitly mock the NF but as I said one possible reading of the lyrics is that the speaker is essentially a nationalist who thinks the NF is silly. (Here in the States I've seen many racist/nationalist idiots whose hatred wasn't diminished just because they also thought the KKK was a joke.)

And a small but important note: in a thread where people are hanging a lot of meaning on quotations marks ("England for the English") I'd like to point out I encased "neutrality" in quotes. I don't think he is neutral either. But as you yourself say, Jones, to understand how and why the song isn't neutral you have to "know about Morrissey's aesthetic" and "views on gender politics". Which underscores an aspect of something I said above-- what you, Morrissey and I see in "NFD" isn't the same as what the rest of the world might see. While we have a right to say, "Who the f*** cares what the rest of the world sees?" to some it might not be so easy to dismiss.
 

Jones

Senior Member
He does explicitly mock the NF but as I said one possible reading of the lyrics is that the speaker is essentially a nationalist who thinks the NF is silly. (Here in the States I've seen many racist/nationalist idiots whose hatred wasn't diminished just because they also thought the KKK was a joke.)

Sorry Worm, I don't think that interpretation makes any sense at all. The song deals with someone joining the NF and it mocks and laments that choice. He's also not just mocking the choice of that particular organisation but the whole philosophy behind it. The empty machismo and the dreaming for something that will never happen.

It may be in America that there are warring factions between the extreme right with different philosophies but that isn't true in England. They tend to fall out over personal differences rather than political divisions.
 

Worm

Taste the diffidence
Sorry Worm, I don't think that interpretation makes any sense at all. The song deals with someone joining the NF and it mocks and laments that choice. He's also not just mocking the choice of that particular organisation but the whole philosophy behind it. The empty machismo and the dreaming for something that will never happen.

Here's the basis of my interpretation. I'm ready to be proven wrong because it would set my mind at ease.

David and the speaker have something in common. Verse one: "David, the winds blow bits of your life away". Verse two: "David, the winds blow all of my dreams away".

But though they have something in common the speaker points out how they react, which is different. The meaning of the word "still" in "I still say" is important. It means that the speaker is saying "Even though your life and my dreams have blown away, and we are in the same boat, I still refuse to join the NF".

So are the speaker's "dreams" and David's "life" similar? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe they are both angry nationalists. Or maybe they are united in simple human disappointment coming from different sources: David lost his job to an immigrant while the speaker is lonely and unloved. Maybe the speaker is just saying "Don't lose your head, life is all about disappointments so get used to it and don't make an ass of yourself"-- a very Morrissey-like sentiment, no? (And, in fact, my final interpretation of the song.) But without really understanding where the speaker and David are coming from, the question remains unanswered.

But what's this "thunder"? Thunder to me sounds an awful lot like an image used in race war rhetoric, in which case it's possible that the speaker thinks the NF is a joke not because of what they stand for but because they will never actually deliver on promises of thunder, i.e. restoring racial purity. What about the "we"? Is that an editorial we, used as ironic nudge, or "we" as in "You and I, David, who harbor similar beliefs"?

It may be in America that there are warring factions between the extreme right with different philosophies but that isn't true in England. They tend to fall out over personal differences rather than political divisions.

Forget the analogy to America. You've never met anyone who, let's say, thought the NF were clowns but also had firm views that could be described as racist or nationalist? A personality type who might have such beliefs but thinks joining any kind of organization is foolish? I'd be surprised if you hadn't.
 
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2-J

Member
Here's the basis of my interpretation. I'm ready to be proven wrong because it would set my mind at ease.

David and the speaker have something in common. Verse one: "David, the winds blow bits of your life away". Verse two: "David, the winds blow all of my dreams away".

But though they have something in common the speaker points out how they react, which is different. The meaning of the word "still" in "I still say" is important. It means that the speaker is saying "Even though your life and my dreams have blown away, and we are in the same boat, I still refuse to join the NF".

So are the speaker's "dreams" and David's "life" similar? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe they are both angry nationalists. Or maybe they are united in simple human disappointment coming from different sources: David lost his job to an immigrant while the speaker is lonely and unloved. Maybe the speaker is just saying "Don't lose your head, life is all about disappointments so get used to it and don't make an ass of yourself"-- a very Morrissey-like sentiment, no? (And, in fact, my final interpretation of the song.) But without really understanding where the speaker and David are coming from, the question remains unanswered.

But what's this "thunder"? Thunder to me sounds an awful lot like an image used in race war rhetoric, in which case it's possible that the speaker thinks the NF is a joke not because of what they stand for but because they will never actually deliver on promises of thunder, i.e. restoring racial purity. What about the "we"? Is that an editorial we, used as ironic nudge, or "we" as in "You and I, David, who harbor similar beliefs"?

I'm always interested in new interpretations, but I will take up your challenge of providing an alternative one. This is how I have always seen it.

'The wind' is the thing that blows bits of David's life away and which blows the dreams of the narrator away. What is the dramatic change in David's life that is described in the song? The fact that he has gone away from his friends and family (probably literally, i.e. doesn't see them as much, and metaphorically, he can't relate to them anymore as much). This is the area in which we are told his life has changed, and so bits of his old life have been blown away. What changed his life, (i.e. what blew the bits away?) - it's because he's gone to the national front disco (which is either a direct metaphor for becoming a fascist or is at the very least symptomatic, him being at a NF event, of the state of his mind / life). So the 'wind' then representsthe draw of fascism, or the then-current activities of the National Front itself (which appealed to David).

Yes, the narrator does say that the wind has blown all of his / her dreams away too. But if you look at the song, it's David's friends and mother who say 'where is our boy', i.e. who do the lamenting that he is lost. Maybe it is they whose voice the narrator speaks with there. Particularly, it could be quite right to say 'all' a mother's dreams (or, practically all) might be dashed if her son became that kind of person, so perhaps the narrator is speaking with the mother's voice here (or perhaps a very close friend or girlfriend, someone who valued David in their life that much). I think it's asking too much of the song to ascribe some fascist leanings to the narrator (the focus is on David, there's no extra detail to support conjecture on those lines) so the only fair interpretation is that it's someone actually lamenting David's going over to fascism.

The 'thunder' , continuing the weather metaphor ( wind - thunder, stronger, the violence of the storm in full effect) surely represents some kind of real popular uprising against non-whites in the UK, or mainstream support for the NF. The narrator and his / her concerned associates wonder if it will ever begin (of course, the UK being what it is, on that scale an uprising or support for the NF will be, thankfully impossible and it's ridiculous thank God to think it could ever happen. Hence the scepticism regarding the idea).

I think the 'we' there refers to the narrator and all the concerned people in David's life, who have been listed by this point (so could be included in the 'we' without ambiguity). Collectively his loved ones wonder this.
 

Worm

Taste the diffidence
I'm always interested in new interpretations, but I will take up your challenge of providing an alternative one. This is how I have always seen it.

'The wind' is the thing that blows bits of David's life away and which blows the dreams of the narrator away. What is the dramatic change in David's life that is described in the song? The fact that he has gone away from his friends and family (probably literally, i.e. doesn't see them as much, and metaphorically, he can't relate to them anymore as much). This is the area in which we are told his life has changed, and so bits of his old life have been blown away. What changed his life, (i.e. what blew the bits away?) - it's because he's gone to the national front disco (which is either a direct metaphor for becoming a fascist or is at the very least symptomatic, him being at a NF event, of the state of his mind / life). So the 'wind' then representsthe draw of fascism, or the then-current activities of the National Front itself (which appealed to David).

Yes, the narrator does say that the wind has blown all of his / her dreams away too. But if you look at the song, it's David's friends and mother who say 'where is our boy', i.e. who do the lamenting that he is lost. Maybe it is they whose voice the narrator speaks with there. Particularly, it could be quite right to say 'all' a mother's dreams (or, practically all) might be dashed if her son became that kind of person, so perhaps the narrator is speaking with the mother's voice here (or perhaps a very close friend or girlfriend, someone who valued David in their life that much). I think it's asking too much of the song to ascribe some fascist leanings to the narrator (the focus is on David, there's no extra detail to support conjecture on those lines) so the only fair interpretation is that it's someone actually lamenting David's going over to fascism.

The 'thunder' , continuing the weather metaphor ( wind - thunder, stronger, the violence of the storm in full effect) surely represents some kind of real popular uprising against non-whites in the UK, or mainstream support for the NF. The narrator and his / her concerned associates wonder if it will ever begin (of course, the UK being what it is, on that scale an uprising or support for the NF will be, thankfully impossible and it's ridiculous thank God to think it could ever happen. Hence the scepticism regarding the idea).

I think the 'we' there refers to the narrator and all the concerned people in David's life, who have been listed by this point (so could be included in the 'we' without ambiguity). Collectively his loved ones wonder this.

This is a very good interpretation. In particular I like the tying of the thunder to the wind. In the end I'm not convinced and lean more toward Dave's post, but I'm willing to admit you could be right. My first belief, even before intepreting the song, is that Morrissey is most certainly not a racist, so therefore I am sympathetic to any reading that makes him look favorable. Given a question like this one, I will give Morrissey the benefit of the doubt because nearly everything else he's ever written shows that he is not racist.

And really, in breaking down the song's meaning, all I'm really arguing for is that it is a question. Both of our interpretations, as well as still more readings that other fans could come up with, fit the song. (We haven't even touched the music: how would we listen to the song if the backing music had been, say, the music for "King Leer" or "Journalists Who Lie" instead of one of his sharpest, most aggressive, most rousing rock tracks?) I would defend Morrissey against charges of racism until I was blue in the face, I just think we should admit that a defense does have to be made. He is a provocative writer. He takes risks. To his fans he makes perfect sense but the outside world might need some help.
 
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2-J

Member
The wind blows bits of your life away.

Like that past that is getting one step further away each day as England changes from some alleged good old days. When were these times exactly? You know, Morrissey, and any other sentimental person sees their landscape changing and old buildings, old neighborhoods with character changing into new mass produced soulless sameness, and thinks of "the good old days" when we were younger and life seemed simpler, but really, when was this time?

Anyway, I left out my interpretations of "show them what you're made of" and this part about "the thunder". We're talking possible interpretations here, so forgive me. But we've all pretty much agreed that Morrissey in some parts of this song sings as the character, David, or a sympathetic voice anyway.

It is interesting to consider whether the narrator could be someone not actually related to David or his friends, who's looking at this situation from outside. That said, really it is asking a LOT of the song to support the interpretation that the 'bits of life' that are blown away, are these things " landscape changing and old buildings, old neighborhoods with character changing into new mass produced soulless sameness, and thinks of "the good old days" because it's not mentioned in the song explicitly. What is mentioned is the fact that David's life has changed a lot because he's gone over to the NF. Certainly those parts of his life have been changed, we are told directly.

So if the thunder means, as you say "popular uprising against non-whites" (I interpret it as popular uprising against immigrants)

The National Front would deport all non-whites effectively. They would consider them all to be 'immigrants'.



He says

We wonder if the thunder
is ever really gonna begin
oh begin
oh Begin

or as the LASID has it

But David, we wonder
We wonder if the thunder
Is ever really gonna begin
Begin, begin

in any case, he says "Begin" repeatedly, which is controversial because it sounds like he's inciting something.

It could just be his emphasising the terrible nature of what he's talking about, its gravity. Or perhaps recalling David's (presumed, given that he's a member of the NF it would be natural for him to do this) insistence over and over despite what his loved ones tell him, that it will begin.



Here's the dispute for me. I'm not out to say something ridiculous about Morrissey, but I find it difficult not to argue with the assertions that this song is obvious in meaning. Morrissey has or had some sort of interest in the hooligans and racist skinheads at that point, and flirted with all sorts of imagery that was basically rough and violent.

There's more to this fascination with boxers, black eyes, and skinheads than politics, but that's a whole other can of worms. :p

A fascination with (mostly the aesthetics of) thuggery and the violent in no way entails a support for racist or fascist views. Morrissey demonstrably (and admittedly) has had the first, but has denounced the second. And that's not an inconsistent position. It's perfectly understandable and he's been very clear about both things (in particular, condemning racism recently). That's why I don't think that can count as 'evidence' towards a particular interpretation (apart from saying that the song shows a degree of empathy with David, but all parties seem to agree on that).
 
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2-J

Member
And really, in breaking down the song's meaning, all I'm really arguing for is that it is a question. Both of our interpretations, as well as still more readings that other fans could come up with, fit the song. (We haven't even touched the music: how would we listen to the song if the backing music had been, say, the music for "King Leer" or "Journalists Who Lie" instead of one of his sharpest, most aggressive, most rousing rock tracks?) I would defend Morrissey against charges of racism until I was blue in the face, I just think we should admit that a defense does have to be made. He is a provocative writer. He takes risks. To his fans he makes perfect sense but the outside world might need some help.

It's a very interesting point you make about the music. It does indeed change the feel of the song. I'm sure that's part of what has shocked people. It's strident and powerful. I'd argue that it's because he wants to emphasise the gravity of the situation, the strength of feelings involved, and it does lead us to perhaps empathise with David more. Which is surely part of the point.

I agree the song is open to different sensible interpretation, but I do feel strongly that the 'racist' interpretations, all of them, go beyond what we are provided with in the song. Some in more ways than others, but still.
 
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Dave

Guest
A fascination with (mostly the aesthetics of) thuggery and the violent in no way entails a support for racist or fascist views. Morrissey demonstrably (and admittedly) has had the first, but has denounced the second. And that's not an inconsistent position. It's perfectly understandable and he's been very clear about both things (in particular, condemning racism recently). That's why I don't think that can count as 'evidence' towards a particular interpretation (apart from saying that the song shows a degree of empathy with David, but all parties seem to agree on that).

No, I don't think that fascination is about being racist or fascist either. He is clearly neither, and we can use other song lyrics to support this (To be standing by the flag not feeling shameful, racist or partial) . His fascination with thuggery and violence is about something else, celebrating and admiring something negative but masculine. What is his fascination with David? It's the same as his fascination with Sweet and Tender Hooligan, or what leads to lines like "wielding a bicycle chain" and so many more. I don't think it has anything to do with politics.
 

Danny_

Forgot my login!
I think people get the wrong end of the stick with Morrissey's supposed fascination with thuggery.

For example "Sweet and Tender Hooligan" isn't about how great he thinks the hooligan is. It's a sarcastic response to all the people that will make excuses for thugs. He's taking the piss out of the middle class response to try and understand and make excuses for the hooligan. It's the same with David in this song. He's ridiculing his attraction to this macho world while trying to explain it.

And it's the same in every song where he deals with this subject. He says, yes it holds some attraction, but really it's all a bit silly and destructive.
 

2-J

Member
No, I don't think that fascination is about being racist or fascist either. He is clearly neither, and we can use other song lyrics to support this (To be standing by the flag not feeling shameful, racist or partial) . His fascination with thuggery and violence is about something else, celebrating and admiring something negative but masculine. What is his fascination with David? It's the same as his fascination with Sweet and Tender Hooligan, or what leads to lines like "wielding a bicycle chain" and so many more. I don't think it has anything to do with politics.

Okay; but the reason I addressed your point was because it followed on directly in your post from the sentence "I'm not out to say something ridiculous about Morrissey, but I find it difficult not to argue with the assertions that this song is obvious in meaning." as if this consideration (about Morrissey's fascination with the thuggish and violent) could somehow provide material for differing interpretations. I was just making the point that - as far as I can see - every sensible interpretation (well, every one that has been offered in this thread) pretty much agrees on this. Yes, Morrissey is drawn to these figures and to a degree empathises with their struggles. But the point at issue is whether National Front Disco can be interpreted in a racist or fascist way, and the observation that Morrissey has this obsession adds nothing either way to that debate.
 
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Dave

Guest
The real question is whether it is controversial. Let's forget that it's a Morrissey song, because I don't think anyone thinks he is a racist. Just looking at the words of the song, is it fair to say that it can be interpreted different ways? I think the answer is yes. And some of the ways it can reasonably be interpreted are controversial. As Worm said, (sort of) it's often the things that are open to interpretation that are most interesting about Morrissey's lyrics.

Now Danny, of course Sweet and Tender Hooligan is not to be taken 100% seriously. It's a funny song. I disagree with your idea that it's mocking people that make excuses for criminals, though. How many songs does Morrissey have about crime and criminals in which crime is glorified and criminals romanticized? Quite a number of them. An album called "Strangeways, Here We Come". Last of the Famous International Playboys does suggest he might not be 100% in favor of making celebrities out of killers in the news, but then he does just that.

"Outside the prison gates, I love the romance of crime" might be said in a humorous way but it's also true. Hector, Ganglord, the hooligans in "we'll let you know", he's not mocking every single one of them.

It doesn't mean he approves of them, any more than any of us do when we watch Scarface or Pulp Fiction, but these are people that are interesting because they are breaking rules and taking what they want and maybe in some way it's possible to admire that while also believing that it's wrong.

None of that makes him a criminal or says that he promotes crime, but he certainly does not condemn all lawbreakers and mock those that would have a kind word to say for them.
 

Danny_

Forgot my login!
Hector, Ganglord, the hooligans in "we'll let you know", he's not mocking every single one of them.

He is actually, in every single one of those examples he is casting a critical eye. We'll Let You Know is as condemning as you can get.
 

2-J

Member
The real question is whether it is controversial. Let's forget that it's a Morrissey song, because I don't think anyone thinks he is a racist. Just looking at the words of the song, is it fair to say that it can be interpreted different ways? I think the answer is yes. And some of the ways it can reasonably be interpreted are controversial. As Worm said, (sort of) it's often the things that are open to interpretation that are most interesting about Morrissey's lyrics.

Isn't the song most often alleged to be controversial because it may suggest Morrissey has racist views, expressed in the song? Rather than the fact that the song could be interpreted in a racist way. I do think that is the main way in which 'controversy' has surrounded this song.
 
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Dave

Guest
Isn't the song most often alleged to be controversial because it may suggest Morrissey has racist views, expressed in the song? Rather than the fact that the song could be interpreted in a racist way. I do think that is the main way in which 'controversy' has surrounded this song.

I only wanted to separate Morrissey from the song because we keep repeating that Morrissey isn't a racist. I don't think, personally, that the song could be considered controversial because of how it might make me think about Morrissey's views, but because the song itself is open to interpretation. That's why I meant to look at the song separately from Morrissey, but you're right about why some find the song controversial. I think that is the reason that some people refuse to believe it could be controversial in any way, because they are secure that Morrissey does not have racist views, and so therefore the song can't be controversial.


He is actually, in every single one of those examples he is casting a critical eye. We'll Let You Know is as condemning as you can get.

But still romanticized. That's all I mean. And that's one of the more critical songs. Some, like Ganglord and First of the Gang to Die seem to be talking about the title characters as heroes, at least to some people.
 

Worm

Taste the diffidence
Remember these images? [Thanks to Comtesse and her excellent site for some of these.]









No, I'm not proclaiming that in 1992 Morrissey really was "flirting with fascism" with this imagery. I've posted them to remind everyone of the actual imagery used-- mostly together, around the same time, along with "Your Arsenal" and interview remarks about various things such as his enjoyment of "Romper Stomper"-- and to point out that his use of these images is more or less exactly the same as his use of all the other images we associate with him or The Smiths: Pat Phoenix, James Dean, Elvis Presley, Shelagh Delaney, pictures all used on tour backdrops or record sleeves or used as props in a photo shoot. And when we think of this whole galaxy of images he has associated with himself and his music, we think of them fondly. They all come to have rich meanings and associations. Sometimes we look at the cover star and think of the music, other times vice versa. (I wonder if any of us thinks of "Meat Is Murder" without also seeing the soldier from "The Year of the Pig".) As Jo Slee said in Peepholism, "The pictorial images he has chosen-- whether for a record sleeve, a t-shirt or a stage backdrop-- offer a beguiling and ambiguous subtext to the main event".

The pictures add a lot subtext. That much is clear. And because he has such an unerring eye for provocative images, the subtext they create is both interesting and, of course, by definition, not explicit. You're not really sure what Diana Dors "means" as a backdrop any more than you know what the two skinhead girls "mean", but surely it is apparent that the lack of explicit connection is a little different in one case than the other. But whatever they may be "saying", Morrissey has created a montage of images that fascinate him aesthetically. His imagery is a gallery of his obsessions and as such, I would argue, every fan sees in every image he uses the warm glow of his approval, whether she likes the image or not. To say otherwise is to imply carelessness, and as Jo Slee and others will attest, his use of imagery is astute and always careful. We also know that his allusions to this world of pop stars, actors, writers, and other oddities permeate his words, too. A line from Elizabeth Smart here, a reference to Carry On there, maybe just the names of Italian film directors or French actors tossed in. They all work to suggest meanings that Morrissey doesn't spell out-- subtext. In Morrissey's art subtext plays a vitally important role.

Everything I'm saying here is obvious to fans. I'm repeating what we all know to be true.

I'm repeating it so that when we look at those images again we might understand that there is just no way of wishing them away as "ironic commentaries". If we say that they contain in themselves both proof of his utter fascination with them and also a condemnation of their less agreeable sides we are at least admitting he likes them to some degree. Danny is right that "Sweet And Tender Hooligan" mocks the middle-class brilliantly but in so doing it also betrays some affection for the outsider who shows up society's hypocrisy (one reason Wilde is adored, incidentally). Elsewhere, our taking comfort in knowing he disapproves of football hooligans in "We'll Let You Know" doesn't by any stretch remove the bittersweet note of irony the song closes with: "We are the last truly British people you will ever know". He has a complicated position about his feelings on the changes he sees in England. His thoughts are extremely difficult to unravel because he is expressing them mostly obliquely, either with irony or in some kind of subtext. Very little of it is argued plainly and openly.

As an artist that's his right. As a fan I appreciate the fact that nothing is spelled out. I like that his imagination isn't castrated by a sense of political correctness. In the Eighties, while Bono was waving white flags onstage, It meant so much more to me to work out, for myself, why Morrissey would condemn war rather than having him appear at a charity concert bellowing "Wake up, people, war is baaaaad!" Ultimately, with all these allusions to England, if it gets people asking themselves about how and why the identity of their country is changing, that's a good thing. Asking those questions doesn't mean coming to racist conclusions, it just means confronting the subject, as Billy Bragg has done, for instance. The NME's recent attacks were horrendous precisely because they avoided a "dialogue" about what they claim is their pet cause. But I'll say again: if he is suggesting all these questions using subtext, irony, innuendo, stray allusions, and then totally avoiding any explanations in interviews, it is understandable that this is a problem ("controversy") for people who recognize that any kind of apparent romanticization of racist thugs, no matter how small or mitigated by "artistic license", can have real-world consequences.
 
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Worm

Taste the diffidence
Just wanted to add, for the three people still reading this thread, that my answer above (in case it wasn't clear) was in response to 2-J's point about the interpretation of the song itself versus a wider judgment about Morrissey which happens to include that song.

As I've already said I think an argument could be made that even empirically speaking "National Front Disco" might be taken as a song making fun of the NF but not necessarily hostile to nationalism. Enough about that.

But as I then argued in my post recent post, it's really difficult to argue for interpretations of Morrissey's work that don't take into account surrounding subtexts or, indeed, Morrissey's previous body of work. Although we talk of "characters" and songs as if he were Chaucer or Bob Dylan or whoever, the truth of the matter is that Morrissey has always given us a portrait of his own many-sided, complex, self-contradictory, and above all endlessly fascinating personality. It's one complete, seamless picture, from "Hand In Glove" to "That's How People Grow Up". Almost any useful interpretation of one of his songs will rely on his whole body of work. This is a good thing, because any holistic evaluation of Morrissey as an artist will make the question "Is he a racist?" a laughable one.
 
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