Michael Imperioli: ‘I still give Morrissey the benefit of the doubt’
"Loved your shows on NTS radio a few years ago. You played solo Morrissey tracks on each of them – what do you love about him, and his post-Smiths songwriting? And have your feelings towards him changed since he’s made some dubious comments in recent years? Pete Thorn
He’s uncompromising and very true to his art, to himself. As a lyricist, he’s on the level of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed to me: his intelligence, his wit and point of view. I think that’s why so many people connect to him, people who feel like outsiders. When they hear his lyrics and see him perform, they feel less alone in the world. I didn’t discover the Smiths until after I was finished with high school. I was very clueless musically. But when I was 17, I was in Manhattan and I had friends who quickly exposed me to the good stuff like the Smiths. I went from being in high school to going to acting classes with people in their 20s, 30s, 40s. In some ways I was happy to do that. But in other ways, I felt very much like a kid, straddling two worlds. I had moved in with my grandparents outside the city. I had a couple of friends and I enjoyed being in the city but I really didn’t feel like I belonged there. In many ways, I felt very alone. It’s a time of trying to figure out your identity. As a young person who wanted to be an artist, I felt I was looking for a certain freedom to express, and those other artists made me understand that that was possible.
I thought what he wrote about Sinéad O’Connor was spot on and brilliant – how easily she was abandoned by the music industry. He was as well. Bonfire of Teenagers was dropped by the label and still hasn’t come out. He’s on the edge of controversy a lot and they shy away from that. I’m not sure how racist the things he said were. To me they weren’t flagrantly racist. I’ve never met Morrissey but I do know a lot of people in the current band and people who have played with him in the past who are very smart, and the least racist people you could imagine. They adamantly express that racism is not a part of who he is, by any stretch of the imagination. I still give him the benefit of the doubt. I know a lot of people don’t, but somehow I still do. As an artist, considering what he’s done, he should always have the advantages of having a label promoting him. I think [his situation] is similar [to O’Connor’s] in a lot of ways."
"Top 5 albums of all-time? Screamadelica1
It’s so hard. The Wedding Present’s Seamonsters is tremendous. In Utero. There’s a two-disc Lou Reed live record, Take No Prisoners, from the Bottom Line [in New York, 1978] that is very revealing of who he was, especially at that point in time – he talks a lot through it. But also the performances are quite exceptional. Loveless is a towering giant of a record. I love Green Mind by Dinosaur Jr. The Smiths, all their albums. Vauxhall and I was my favourite of solo Morrissey. [Patti Smith’s] Horses is tremendous. The first Television album, Marquee Moon. The first New York Dolls album. So Alone by Johnny Thunders. I’m over the limit here but it’s too hard! [David Bowie’s] Hunky Dory really got me when I first heard that one, it was before I heard Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs – my other two favourites. I got to meet Bowie backstage during the Reality tour, which was pretty thrilling. He was wonderful – friendly, present and kind. It was brief, but for me it was extremely important and memorable."
The actor, writer and musician answers your questions on Buddhism, The Sopranos and his musical heroes
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