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Johnny Marr Is a Fan First and a Musician Second - Esquire
The Smiths cofounder opens up about his new memoir, the music that inspired him, and his relationship with Morrissey.
Well, a lot of people would not have wanted to collaborate with Morrissey. He's an unusual guy, and you were young—young guys are pretty unforgiving. But you didn't see him as odd, or see the things another young person might see and not like about him.
I didn't really care about any of that. I just wanted a singer. We had a really, really strong friendship, right away. Let me put it this way: You don't just manufacture luck. If you're just sitting around fucking talking about it, it won't happen. I did actually have to go and find out Morrissey's address. I had to go back to the projects, and I had to knock on the door of strangers to get his address. And to get to that address, I had to get on a fucking bus, and ride for forever.
I knew it was ballsy. But I had this spirit of rock and roll in me. It was this sort of rock and roll idealism, but I was by no means naive. I did plenty of walking around the streets at night kicking cans with nowhere to go. That happened a lot. And that kind of desperation can dampen your spirit, and I had to fight against it all the time. So I kept the juice going on a natural optimism. When my friends were shooting each other up, I had to just buck up and be on my own. That was tough. That was year zero, you know? That was pretty bleak. So, you know, I was putting my faith in magic. But I'd been through plenty that I knew what bleak was. I'd watched my dad everyday digging fucking holes in the road, and my mates with no jobs. And the only thing I had going for me was my guitar and positivity and my girlfriend.
Any Smiths fan reading this would kill me if I didn't ask about your meeting a few years ago with Morrissey.
I get it. What was great about writing about it was that, I think by accident, in just telling how it was, I almost demystify it. Because there it is, just two old friends sat in a pub. Very ho-hum.
But to any fan, that story is apocryphal. It's, "Oh my God, where are we headed?" But actually, we're not headed anywhere, and it turns out it is just two old friends catching up.
That's what I mean about demystifying it. I understand how people might see it, but I never went to that meeting with Morrissey with any intention or even notion that we were going to be talking about the band coming back together. But I was intrigued. And it was a really, really interesting conversation, and I was really, really pleased that we connected, and we did what we always did: We talked about what records we liked. There he was, talking all about Shocking Blue, who are a Dutch band, and I couldn't get him off that subject! And then I was talking all about Portland, Oregon—because that was a big subject for me at that time—and all the other bands I was into at the time.
Well, that was always the basis of the relationship.
Right. That's the thing we'd always had in common. Our personalities are still so different, though, so I guess nothing's changed. But it's one of the things people want to know about because it's an interesting story and for me to write my life story and not put that in the book would really just be fuckin' weird. And I'm glad to actually share it with people.
For me the story feels like a period, but to other people it probably feels like "dot dot dot." I guess that's the difference: It's what people take away from it. To me it feels as though, even while you're telling it, you don't want to go backwards.
Yeah, that's right. Musicians understand that. Sometimes fans don't. So I can understand to the outside world—to fans—that really what they would want to have next is for us to start sitting in meetings with a bunch of business people for about five months planning albums and tours, but that's just not going to happen.