Wednesday 22 November 2017

NEW ENTRY: How To Be A Morrissey Fan In 2017

I'm finally reading the Morrissey autobiography. Sam seems fascinated by it. The other day I caught him flicking through the pages again and asked him what he was doing.

"I'm looking for the bit where he talks about Lightning McQueen."

There Is A Lightning McQueen That Never Goes Out?

Punctured racing car on a hillside desolate?

We Hate It When Our Mater Becomes Successful?

(Dave suggested The McQueen Is Dead: too obvious?)

You might expect that I'd have read this book already: after all, it was published in October 2013 and considering I've been a huge Morrissey fan for most of my adult life...

October '13 though... that was one month after Sam was born. And though I've had the book since then, and tried to start it soon after I bought it, I found it too much for my baby-weakened brain to cope with. Though it appeared well written (and the reviews at the time were glowing: unlike the ridiculous "novel" that followed), there were very few concessions to readers. You know, simple things like chapters... or even many paragraphs. It's a non-stop, Joycean stream-of-conscious ramble through one of the mind of an increasingly bonkers genius. Of course there were no concessions to readers: since when has Morrissey ever made concessions to anyone?

It's been a tough year to be a Morrissey fan. He never makes it easy, but some of the utter bilge he's come out with lately has driven even some of his most ardent admirers to despair. Some (like Gene's Martin Rossiter) even renounced him for good. Not that Morrissey will have given two hoots. I must admit, I came close myself...

And then I bought his new album on the day it came out. In a moment, I'll try to justify myself. First though, a note about the album cover...

Many have commented that the ridiculously reactionary album cover (and, indeed, many of the song titles listed on the back) are a parody of Morrissey. That the man has become a caricature of himself. Well, yes, he has. But surely in this day and age, nobody could get hot under the collar about that cover? Not from Morrissey, of all people? It's over 30 years since The Queen Is Dead, and despite the tabloids trying to cause a stir over that at the time... well, they hardly put him in the Tower, did they?

So how come when I tried to buy the CD in Tesco... then Sainsbury's (don't ask why I shop at two different supermarkets: the answer is scones), the only album cover I could find was this one...?

You can answers that one yourself... I have to get back to my defence.

This is a post about growing older. Aren't they all? You see, Morrissey has played an essential - but ever-changing - role throughout my life.

When I was a teenager, he was the witty miserablist I refused to listen to because everyone told me I'd love him.

In my 20s, when I was often happy in the haze of a drunken hour, he was an essential lifeline...
In my early 30s, he was the only popstar who successfully gave voice to my loneliness and isolation...
I have forgiven you, Jesus
For all the desire,
You placed in me 

When there's nothing I can do with this desire
I think he might actually have saved my life.

As I entered my 40s though, my relationship with Morrissey changed again... I found myself continually having to defend him when the press castigated him for the outrageous and asinine things he said. It was starting to get very tiring.

It's taken me awhile to come to terms with that. But now I have.

Yes, Morrissey is a caricature now. But a caricature is exactly what I need. There's no time left for moping and self-pity. The clock is ticking. We need to enjoy every sandwich. We also need a good laugh. And Morrissey has become the greatest sitcom character ever. Like a demented cross between Larry David, Alf Garnett, Frasier Crane and Victor Meldrew, he's growing old disgracefully... happily putting the cat among the pigeons whenever he's given a lectern to preach from. In lyrics and interviews, he expresses unorthodox opinions that shock and upset the masses... and even longtime Morrissey supporters and apologists, many of them in this little corner of the blogosphere.

On the one hand, you might argue that Morrissey has become so divorced from reality that we can't and shouldn't take his outbursts seriously... his self-loathing egomania knows no bounds... and his views on the world outside his gilded fortress are naïve and blinkered.

But is that the whole story?

In the last week or so, the papers have had a field day about comments he's made regarding Kevin Spacey and the Harvey Weinstein business, comments the newspaper in question obviously went fishing for, because a Morrissey interview is too good an opportunity to pass up: if you can't get him to say something outrageously controversial, you're doing something wrong.

Meanwhile the reviews of his new album have been averagely positive. 3+ stars out of 5 and upwards. Grudgingly so, in most cases. A lot of the reviewers have criticised Mozzer's naïve political stance on tracks such as Israel and The Girl From Tel Aviv Who Would Not Kneel, while most got the knives out the album's centrepiece, an attack on stupid soldiers who blindly follow orders without ever understanding what they're fighting for, I Bury The Living. "What a ghastly man," said one reviewer.

Let's return to our Morrissey sit com for a moment, shall we? There's a scene in a recent episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where misanthropic Moz-alike Larry David is forced to greet an Afghanistan war hero at a party. Everyone else at the party says, "thank you for your service," when they greet the soldier. David just says hello... and then, in true Larry David style, everyone gets pissed off with him for being so rude and insensitive. The point of this scene was, to me, the "thanks for your service" stuff was done because people felt they ought to. It was about confirming to social niceities and the expectations of the crowd... and Larry David never does that.

Neither does Morrissey. Morrissey is an extreme pacifist - of course he would look down on people who kill on order without understanding why. Whatever you might think about modern day soldiers, there's a big difference between what they do and what our grandparents' generation did in the war. A couple of reviewers have said "the land weeps oil" is a simplistic and obvious metaphor for why there are so many wars fought in the Middle East. I think it's a perfect one: succinct and emotive. If Bono had written that line, he'd have been carried high on the shoulders of journalists everywhere. But not Morrissey.

Something else that irreverent comedy shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm or Brass Eye or even South Park do is allow us to hear unorthodox opinions that challenge the status quo. We may not agree with them, but sometimes it's good to hear them, because if all we ever hear are safe opinions, how are we ever supposed to think for ourselves? And a lot of challenging opinions often contain a kernel of truth, or another way of looking at a situation, a different perspective. Because no situation is black or white. There are a million shades of grey.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I support Morrissey's stance on the Kevin Spacey story (however: has any other commentator asked how the underage boy's parents allowed him to be in that situation?), but I know from friends in the gay community that they consider comparing Spacey to Weinstein to be ridiculous, just because of how things work in their circles. (That said, I'm sure many gay men feel differently... but if we only ever hear one side of a debate, we're back to black and white. And - as Mark points out in the comments - my friends have universally condemned Spacey for linking his own coming out to such allegations because of the damage this does towards public perception of their community as a whole.) Morrissey's Weinstein reaction is harder to defend... but imagine it was a comedian making the point that some actresses might do anything to reach the top? Would the outcry have been so vehement? Look at prostitution and the age old argument about who is really being exploited: the women or their clients? Personally, I think any man who thinks it's OK to use power as a way to initiate a sexual relationship is utterly reprehensible. But again, this issue isn't just black or white. Morrissey's comments are offensive, insensitive and really unhelpful right now... but they touch on grey areas no other commentator has dared to approach in this current (social) media witch-hunt. Most people in the public eye these days are far too worried about reactionary twitter-storms to ever speak out of turn. I wouldn't be surprised if Morrissey still thought twitter was what the sparrows in his garden do when they want some more vegetarian seed (no fatballs chez Moz!).

When Morrissey expresses challenging opinions, it forces us to think without a safety net. It forces us to face up to the fact that the world isn't a simple place and we can't just suck on the safe opinions that are handed down to us by the media. This is Morrissey's role in the music industry, and in the media at large now: he is a provocateur. And we need that more than ever. He knows that: hell, that's what his latest album is all about! 
Teach your kids to recognise and despise all the propaganda
Filter down by the dead echelons mainstream media
That's the opening line of the album. And that's before we even get to possibly the most subversive pop song of his career, Spent The Day In Bed, with it's cheerful chorus of:
Stop watching the news
Because the news contrives to frighten you
To make you feel small and alone
To make you feel that your mind isn't your own
This song made it onto the Radio 2 playlist! The biggest radio station in the country (one of the biggest in the world), run by the blessed BBC... and their breakfast show is pumping out a pop song that is openly criticising them!

I'm an English teacher, and one of the most important lessons I try to teach my students when they ask me "what's the point of doing English?" is that words have power. And that there's a big difference between facts and opinions. The media no longer gives us facts: it gives us opinions disguised as facts. And they're mostly safe opinions that convince us to conform and follow the status quo. We need someone who can shake that up and make us think for ourselves. Morrissey does this... and he's always done it. Sometimes he even blends rhetoric with pop song in a memorable way (November Spawned A Monster is a good example, for the unflinching way it tackled attitudes towards disability... while still being a spooky, hypnotic guitar anthem). Other times, the rhetoric just becomes a dirge... and hell, Smiths fans, there's no better example of that than Meat Is Murder. (Give me I Bury The Living any day: for all its faults, it's a more interesting album track than MIM.)

Do I support everything Morrissey says - in lyrics and interviews? Of course not. Much of it is utter tosh. Occasionally it is even outrageously shocking and offensive. But it makes me think. It challenges me in a way few other social commentators do these days... except certain comedians and comedy shows. And a lot of the time, I think there are kernels of truth in there. Things that - if you filter out the self-publicising, outrage-for-outrage's-sake bullshit - nobody else is saying. I've listened to Low In High School almost nonstop since I got it last Friday and no other record has made me think as much - or as hard - this year.

Larry David. Frankie Boyle*. Todd Solondz. Chris Morris. Bill Hicks. Trey Parker & Matt Stone. Morrissey. (The only other musician I can think of who comes close if Mark Kozelek, but hardly anyone knows who is, whereas Morrissey is virtually a household name.)

The most subversive people we have in our society are often comedians. Or their creations. Morrissey is one of them. I won't be defending him any more. I don't need to. He is exactly what the world needs right now. Long may he continue to horrify us.

 (*I hate Frankie Boyle: but I accept that he fits the criteria I'm talking about above to a tee.)


  1. Interesting re Spacey; most gay people I know are really angry with the revelations coming out regarding him as - and especially with his cack handed apology - he seemed to imply that his homosexuality is comparable to feelings for children, which is the kind of crap a lot of gay people have had to put up with from the gutter press in the 80s to Putin in the present day. Friends I know aren't thankful that, in Spacey's attempt to turn an apology into a 'pity poor me' statement, he drew such an unnecessary and harmful parallel.

    Morrissey's comment regarding parental consent in the Spacey allegation does hold water, but whilst we could ask what a14 year old child actor's parents were thinking letting a 26 year old actor go into his bedroom, and we could ask where they were (in much the same way we could ask why the mother of the girl Polanski had sex with allowed him to spend the night with her or where she was on the previous incidences where she had drank or taken drugs. We could even ask what Mandy Smith's mum was thinking letting her go clubbing with her at just 13 years of age when she met Bill Wyman,) we are potentially ignoring the fact that people did do stupid things back then when the fear of paedophilia was less in your face. I read the Dan Davies book In Plain Sight last year about Savile and was staggered to read that, in the 1960s, when opening a fete in one Yorkshire town Savile asked for the prettiest teenage girls of the town to be allowed to spend the night with him in a tent up a hill...and people agreed to it, including the mayor himself who volunteered his daughter! Whilst all of these questions are theoretically valid and potentially quite right to apportion some blame, the real blame must always be at the offender's door.

    As For Moz, I think he's now caught on a hamster wheel of his own creation (well co-creation, as the press who ridicule him are just as implicit in this strange bedfellow partnership) where he seemingly thrives on making ridiculous, 'controversial' comments to keep him in the public eye and coincide quite happily with the new stuff he's releasing and promoting.

    1. No, you're right about the way Spacey handled his coming out, linking it to the child allegations - my friends have similarly castigated him for that. The point they've made though is that the media is lumping Spacey in with Weinstein when they see it as a different case. They're angry at the media for making the comparison as they see it as a different kettle of fish. I tried to explain that subtlety of difference rather cackhandedly myself above... but subtlety is the issue I was trying to emphasise, the grey area I kept banging on about.

      Agree completely that "different times" is not a defense and that ultimately it is the offender who is in the wrong.

      And yes, Morrissey knows that there's no such thing as bad publicity and is implicitly colluding with the press: they are each using the other. Which is a analogy Morrissey much surely appreciate given his comment about the Weinstein actresses. In his own way, he's allowing himself to be fucked over by the press to further his own career.

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  3. An interesting and thought provoking read Rol
    I've never been a huge fan of Morrissey but like the occasional song.
    He seems to be getting more provocative as he gets older.
    How much he means and how much is for effect I wonder
    Whatever he is becoming less relevant and moore and more like an embarassing nephew

    1. I prefer to think of him as an embarrassing granny who you love but cringe whenever they open their mouth in public for fear of the offensive, antiquated dogma they might spout.

    2. I meant uncle but granny is probably better

  4. Superb piece of writing, Rol - really enjoyed the read, could imagine this as a magazine/newspaper article. Morrissey's autobiography spent many weeks in our loo (where all the best books spend time in our house) so I read lots of sections of it in the wrong order but it really didn't seem to matter. He's a bit batty and he says these things but I think the difference for me is that he's not in a position of power - I mean he's not a president or a politician - god knows enough of those in power they say far worse with far more impact. I feel like I know the score with Morrissey and, just as you say about comedians, I agree we need those subversive voices. This censorship, this perception that we have some kind of right not to be offended, is out of hand. I mean, some of the stuff that Bill Hicks came out with - if it had been said by someone in power in a different context - it would've been another thing entirely, but we *get* it because of who and how and when it was said, and a little bit of us likes, and perhaps needs, to feel a bit shocked sometimes.
    So I take Morrissey for what he is, a musician much of whose music I like, who sometimes says things I don't agree with, but sometimes also says things that a lot of people think but don't say because we've got ourselves into a world where the whole notion of anyone causing offence to anyone else with words has become one of the biggest crimes of all (in spite of the real crimes of humanity going on in actions everywhere) and where we're all so anxious and worried about being perceived as having the extreme end of a viewpoint if we merely think there could actually be a little bit of truth in its origin. I think the thing with Morrissey is that he doesn't have that filter, that most of us have and use, and need to use more and more for fear of being misunderstood or misinterpreted. Like you say - it's not black and white - it's many many shades of grey, and those subtle shades are very inconvenient for the media who like to condense everything into a nice, easy, lazy 'good' or 'bad'....
    Not sure I'm articulating all that very well, but hope you know what I mean anyway!
    Thanks for a great thought-provoking piece.

    1. Thank you, C... it took me long enough!

      And you and I seem to be on completely the same page about this.

  5. I can see where you’re coming from Rol. I think the media twisted Morrissey’s words, with a misleading headline ”Morrissey Defends Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey” that many misunderstood. He has freedom of speech, and despite the insensitive nature of his comments, and the shameless self-promotion linked to others misfortune, he, as you say, encourages us to perceive the #MeToo scandal in a different light. Can’t comment on the autobiography or new album. I’m surprised the anti-royal sleeve is considered controversial in 2017, it’s basically retread from 1986. If you ask me, people (in the desire to be politically correct) are overreacting to his statements. I’m glad his music saved your life.

  6. A superbly crafted post, Rol, so much so that I'm wondering if you could submit it elsewhere, and to a wider audience? In a consistently excellent blog, this is a particularly high watermark - nice work.

    Am marshalling my own thoughts on Steven Patrick at the moment, although I might just link to this post!

    I also have the new album on heavy rotation. Oh, and a gig ticket for the Spring. Happy days.

    1. Cheers, Martin. Not sure I would want to open myself up to a wider audience for this one. It's pretty safe here, but I can do without the grief from reactionary knobs, the PC police and the ever-growing army of Moz-haters.

      Look forward to reading your further thoughts.

    2. My thoughts, not as well structured or argued as yours, will be going up tonight. It's turning into a bit of a ramble but hey ho. I may call Moz a bit of a berk at one point...

  7. Would love to have read this at the time and got involved in the debate.

    As you know, long time fan going right back to the earliest pre-fame days. The thing that has annoyed me more than anyhing else in recent years had been the blandness of the music. It put me off going to see his last UK tour, which was the first time ever....this is someone who, outside of Billy Bragg, I've seen perform more than any other musician in my life.

    Nowadays, I can't bring myself to give any time someone who, for whatever reason, be it wishing to draw attention to himself or otherwise, is uttering vile, right-wing xenophobic comments or is loudly expressing his support for those who utter them. It is just indefensible....his statements re multiculturism were just offensive. He's not being an agent provacatuer, he's just being a dick.

    Can you really defend someone who described Farage as a 'liberal educator'??

    It's a great piece of writing Rol....up there with your best. I just can't agree with your conclusions.


    1. Fair enough, JC. I didn't expect to convince you. Thanks for reading it anyway!


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