April 3, 2023
Morrissey Talks to Fiona Dodwell for Gabfest, April 2023
Some images are included in the original interview, see original post or the archived screenshots.
Morrissey has always been an artist with something to say, yet very often his truth is shrouded by the fabrications of the media, who have long since clung to their own fictional version of him. Through his raw and honest lyrics, to the rich, emotive baritone of his voice, he has been a singer who has spent decades breaking down barricades, tackling difficult issues and wrestling with the dilemmas of modern-day existence. Unshackled by the restraints that many have attempted to place upon him, Morrissey has been an artist of freedom and authenticity – from his early days with The Smiths, right up to the present.
After his recent concert at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, I met with Morrissey backstage, and we acknowledged the difficulties he has faced by not “playing the game” of appeasing the media, or aligning himself with whatever the fashionable movement of the day is. “But you’re not a pop puppet, and you never could be,” I said, and he readily agreed. The truth is, perhaps, that to be the direct and authentic artist he is was never actually a choice. Morrissey is simply himself, fully and wholly, and it is that which likely resonates with his audience, who cling to him in their droves and travel the world for a glimpse of their idol. Truth is not always easy to come by in this world, and when people see it and feel it, they are drawn to it. They want to feel it, up close and personal.
Here, Morrissey talks to me about his latest albums, the media, what drives him, and much more…
F: You’ve just wrapped up a mini-tour of gigs around Europe. The reception to the shows have been absolutely immense, haven’t they? I attended the concert at London’s Hammersmith Apollo and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen. You are still clearly on top form, as the concerts and your new songs attest to. Yet so few mainstream music presses ever dare to credit you…this must be frustrating?
Everyone can see it now, and it is next to incomprehensible. There is disdain for singers who don’t “fit in,” and perhaps it’s an extension of the X-factory vanity-over-talent approach to artists, but all record labels now only seem to want singers whose appeal is only good for one or two years. In fact, being a singer, now, offers a shorter career expectation than just about anything else. Most Platinum mega-stars actually lack the confidence to sing by themselves, probably because they know how bad they are. I know the general trend is still to discredit me because everyone is so falsely politicized and full of hourly outrage to such a degree that you cannot possibly please them, therefore only all-purpose stars are allowed through because their labels are assured that they will never say anything intelligent or useful.
F: You aren’t a part of all that, and that’s a good thing…
I’ve spent my entire musical life avoiding the clapping seals, and I’m unlikely to join them now. This is why I’m admired and disliked in equal measure.
F: The fact that your music is still loved as much as it is, and that your shows sell-out the way they do, must make the issues with getting your unreleased albums signed with a label even more perplexing. It doesn’t make sense. What do you think they’re so afraid of? Why do you think they make things so difficult?
One prominent label said “Yes, it’s a masterpiece … but we don’t sign anyone over 26,” … but I thought it was all about diversity now, and open borders? How selective these words are in reality! I know of two well-connected CEOs in London who go to great lengths to stop my career.
F: That’s unbelievable, that you actually face that kind of barrier
I don’t think any artist has ever faced this. Some industry heavyweights also believe that the quickest way to a Smiths reunion is to block every availability off to Morrissey, and you can now see evidence of this everywhere. I’m not cancelled, but I’m also not invited to the Bar-Mitzvah. But … was I ever? Now, the sudden rise in film directors wanting to document my life is fascinating. The good people understand, and the others … don’t intend to.
F: Have you ever been tempted to just cut out the middle man, so to speak, and release your new albums independently? I’ve seen several writers and fans online put forward the idea that cutting away from the labels and releasing the projects yourself might be an option – mainly because the labels seem to let you down a lot. Does this appeal to you, or would you rather release music in a more traditional way?
I wouldn’t do this because you undertake the same set-up but at a reduced level.
F: How so?
You still need at least six people involved to grind the wheels and be fully in the “now,” but they won’t do anything without a cut. People don’t work for wages alone anymore! Therefore you might as well stay with the established labels, and really, I had the time of my life with EMI, Sanctuary, and in the prehistory days of Rough Trade … which were actually very funny … and I don’t mean that disparagingly. I went over to Rough Trade’s lair every single day of the week … which, yes, was torture for them, but Geoff Travis was discovering just as much as I was in those days, and at least we were both determined to avoid compromise, and that worked very well.
F: It appears to me that there are certain figures (who I won’t bother to name here) who like to publicly criticise you again and again….and again. They can’t keep your name out of their mouths/articles/tweets. Do you find this as utterly confusing as the rest of us, that they claim to dislike you, yet can’t quite manage to leave you alone?
It comes across mostly as sexual obsession. They also strongly allude to an imaginary time when I was somehow their actual flesh-and-blood friend, and this claim allows them full rights to enlightened bitterness. The one who wears Lonnie Donegan’s head and who sees himself as a barking political voice operates no differently from Mary Whitehouse in the 1970s – offended by everyone who he just also happens to be jealous of. A child with no head can see these people for what they are. They cancel YOU because they are afraid of YOU exposing THEM. Obviously I’m an advocate of free speech, but harassment and persecution were once against the law… but not now.
F: I think many would agree with you on that. There’s a fine line and I’d say you’ve experienced harassment from the press and certain individuals for many years…
If you could go back in time, right back to the 80’s, and start your music journey over again, is there anything you would change or do differently, or are you content and satisfied with your journey and how you have traversed the entertainment world?
I absolutely love it. I think the songs are magnificent and after all of the prejudicial crap from the press … my soul is still my own.
F: That’s good to hear.
To have the Smiths as your distant roots gives me pride, and the reasons why we were ridiculed and rejected have now become the precise reasons why so many people love the Smiths in 2023. It’s on the rise! You see, the people are always right. On Spotify, Smiths songs have the same number of hits as Beyonce, yet Beyonce is promoted hourly on every Selfridge’s escalator, yet the Smiths have never had any form of promotion whatsoever. Also, there was a weekly momentum with the Smiths that cannot happen now … every Thursday brought some vibrant Smiths news, and every three months there would be a new 7-inch in Woolworths and Our Price … it was a very British way of doing things and people really enjoyed it. Suddenly Smiths’ graffiti appeared on Coronation Street … but that edge-of-seat way of following a band doesn’t happen now because radio and charts were handed over exclusively to techno dance music.
For me to have moved along with ‘Viva Hate,’ ‘Bona Drag,’ ‘Your Arsenal,’ ‘You Are The Quarry,’ ‘Ringleader of the Tormentors,’ ‘World Peace is None Of Your Business,’ and others … well, who could be happier?
F: How do you like to spend your free time and how do you unwind, when you’re not busy with your music?
I chew on an old pencil. Well, no. I don’t get involved. I’m almost a recluse. I’ve never been on a yacht or on a horse. It’s difficult to move around because of the Smart Phone culture. Wherever I go people want a photo, or are already taking it. But, having said that, I must confess … people are always, always very nice wherever I go. I don’t think Fishy Sunak could make that claim.
F: Very true! I wanted to talk about books now. As an avid reader myself (and someone who has read your novel, List Of The Lost several times!) I’m curious to know what your own favourite novels are?
I turn books around and around in my hands like precious jewels … staggered that someone compiled 600 pages of tiny handwritten words in an Antwerp turret in 1751. To me, it’s the ultimate achievement, and when I hear of the Cancel Vultures trying to rewrite the classics … the room goes dark.
F: It seems that people are forever trying to corrupt freedom of expression and individuality. Even in the arts… perhaps more so in the arts, because those in authority recognise how truly powerful and transformative art can be. So – who are your favourite writers?
I love novelists such as William Makepeace Thackeray, but you have to be in a certain armchair to probe through. I also love Carson McCullers … The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter … the title must always say more than the actual book itself.
F: With the mainstream press being as vicious as it is, and cancel culture rearing its ugly head more and more, I think it must take a great deal of confidence to not “water down” who you are. You could be forgiven for doing so, because you’ve been treated so harshly by the press. Yet you remain strong in who you are. Where do you draw that confidence from, and how do you protect yourself from the effects of a negative press?
I think, in the past, we were saved by critics of serious subjects, but it’s difficult now because there are so many very successful faces in music who are obviously unexceptional in every way, and therefore there’s a certain malnutrition when it comes to inspired music writers. In the past , of course, writers such as Nick Kent or Julie Burchill would tackle off-limits subjects with a certain relish. But who is prepared to do that now? Who wants to take it all on?
F: Very few because so many are scared of being “cancelled” -they’d rather be blandly safe without actually having anything worth keeping safe..
There is a terrible over-dependency everywhere on what the neighbours think. No one seems to live or write by immediate feelings, and consequently the A&R man is right up there with the Pterodactyl, and cancel culture is actually a modern form of lynching.
F: I think the music industry seems to be only about image and gimmicks than about talent in recent years, would you agree?
I think it’s been that way for a long time, and it thrives only on the comparison game, by which I mean, a new band is thought to be incredible if they remind us of Oasis or Radiohead. I am waiting for a band that reminds me of nobody whatsoever! I am sick to death of lobotomized faces … and it’s all about sex but without anyone actually being sexy. Sam Smith is like a female W. C. Fields.
F: Sam Smith and W.C Fields.. Now that’s a comparison I can’t get out of my head.
Oh, I don’t think either will ever be released, but if someone with a degree of power stepped forward and allowed the people to buy the music … I think they’d have a precious place in hundreds of thousands of hearts throughout the world forevermore.
F: It’s devastating to think these albums may never be released…
Who could ever have predicted these times? Capitol will probably release ‘Bonfire’ when I’m dead. Otherwise, there’s no one to rescue it.
F: The media often like to describe you as this perpetually unhappy artist. Some journalists forever using the “Heaven Knows He’s Miserable Now” reference in their pieces. How far from the truth is this?
Did Bob Dylan ever crack a joke? Did you ever see Joni Mitchell bounce on a whoopee-cushion? Or Tom Waits? If Billie Holiday came back from the dead these journalists would probably write ‘Heaven Knows She’s Miserable Now’. Did Nina Simone ever blow a raspberry? Did Lou Reed ever dress up for Comic Relief? But really, the press ALWAYS said those things about me. It’s just suddenly important because I’ve been successful for 40 years and life should be easier now, but instead of handing me an award and celebrating the music I somehow get less press support than Shamima Begun – and she shrugged at severed heads in a wheelie-bin … yet I’m lower than her! Even if you dislike me, this situation is wrong and is a terrible reflection of the arts and culture in modern Britain. But I’m not interested in the negative voices anymore.
F: You rise above it…
The songs I sing have absolute relevance to the world as it now is … and I just don’t think anyone else can match them.
Thank you to Morrissey for his time.
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- Fiona Dodwell: In Conversation With Morrissey - full interview (April 3, 2023) - Morrissey-solo (Apr 03, 2023)