Every Day Is Like Morrissey
I first heard the Smiths whilst living in a cold & dirty bed-sit in Leamington Spa around 1983. I was working for Nine Mile Distribution (Red Rhino South) at the time, & had been given a white label promo hot off the Rough Trade presses. I had heard little about this new group. I knew that their singer, Stephen Patrick Morrissey, had once been infatuated with the New York Dolls - & had a high profile on the Manchester Punk scene - but apart from that I had fallen for Billy Bragg & the new realism - & was now bored to death with the dark side, the colour black & anything vaguely industrial.
The first time I played "The Smiths" I began to realise that there was a future for the 'spirit of independence'. The second time I played it - Dave Tibbits, Charlie Furness & a host of hangers on joined us for hot knives & further critical analysis. To say that our world took to the Smiths like cocaine runs down a footballer's nose is probably an understatement.
The subsequent development of the Smiths became one of the fairy stories of the mid-80s. On paper it should never have worked - fey romanticism, celibacy, gladioli - but one of the most distinctive English voices ever to grace the upper reaches of the BMRB official charts was elevated to the level of genius when attached to Johnny Marr's eclectic jangle. The Smiths became the biggest group in the UK in less time than it took The Stones Roses to record their second LP. Morrissey became a 'matinee' idol in a way Franz Ferdinand can only dream of. The devotion Mozzer inspired in his fans became ever more intense. Word of mouth launched Morrissey the Smiths - the NME completed their ascension - ordaining him the high priest of contemporary popular music. His interviews were always fascinating, his self-belief almost God like - & his constant dismissal of those he considered unworthy or unequal was nothing less than ruthless.
Musically, the Smiths rarely put a foot wrong (although they were never going to match the icy splendour of their seminal debut LP). The reality was that the Smiths were basically a singles group (& therefore, intrinsically, a pop group 1st & foremost) in the grand tradition of the 60s stalwarts (The Who, The Stones & The Beatles). They were competing directly against the likes of Madness, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Dexy's Midnight Runners & a full compliment of 80s chart stars - & matching them punch for punch. In the minds of the legions of Moz worshipers throughout the UK (& by this stage, the rest of the world as well), The Smiths stood for integrity, taste & romantic idealism. It was suddenly important to realise your intellectual capacity & read up on Joe Orton.
By the time the wheels fell off in 1988 the quality-ometer had been faulty for some time. Apart from 3 collections ("Hatful Of Hollow", "The World Won't Listen" & "Louder Than Bombs") - & the critically lauded "The Queen Is Dead" - the 12" side of things had always been a disappointment with the Smiths (told you they were a singles group). Maybe that stunning debut was just too magnificent - destined never to be beaten - just a cursory listen to "Meat Is Murder" is all the proof you really need.
Inter-group relations soured during the last couple of years of the Smiths life. Drug-habits, line up changes & compromised royalty distribution, painted an entirely different portrait of the group than the carefully chosen words of their leader. A court case was inevitable - the judge's summing up of Morrissey as an intrinsically untrustworthy manipulator who had diddled his group was a slightly less foreseen development. The struggle for justice subsequently undertaken by Marr, Joyce & Rourke was eventually as unrewarding as it was time consuming & expensive to fight. Needless to say, Morrissey shouts & Morrissey screams - oh Stephen, you'll never be a man - & you'll never see home again. Oh, Manchester, so much to answer for.
Morrissey's subsequent solo career was dogged by criticism. The material - often weak & forced - seemed laughable when compared to the jewels of the Smiths crown. Flirtations with both the Union Jack & right wing politics left Morrissey increasingly isolated. He flirted with skinhead culture, wrote dubious songs about ethnic minorities' footwear, the NF disco & the celebration of the blood of an 'English' heart. He even elevated his Celtic heritage to the fore in an attempt to justify what was in fact dangerous subversion. The lost souls who had once held up Jimmy Pursey as a viable spokesperson for a generation now found a new friend in Mozzer - & a new side to the argument.
The crunch came in an NME interview in the early 90s. The nation, sidetracked by Britpop, Baggy & the dance/rock cross over, were becoming increasingly indifferent to an ever arrogant Moz. The NME, keen to prove it could still kill off anything it had built up, shot him down in flames, ending a partnership of mutual appreciation that had lasted a decade. This was not only the death of Mozzer - it was also the death of the Old School NME. Things would be altogether less cerebral from here on in.
It's 2004 - & the Moz is back like he never went away. The hair is the same (though thinner), the clothes are the same (though larger), the song remains the same (God, how true is that?), the attitude hasn't altered (as swarthy as he is portly) - except there's a hatful of hollow sitting where the enigma used to reside. These days Morrissey is calculated - a trusted media brand made from bits of the past - he even employs break beats & state of the art production. His recent concerts have sold out in record time - sales of his new LP are buoyant - I do hope Marr, Joyce & Rourke are now solvent.
Everyday is like Morrissey - devious, translucent & boring. Bent, but not brave enough to be gay. Celibate & safe - hidden away behind tasteful screens. Bathed in the orange glow of a follow spot.
I don't care how many old groups he nails back together in the name of his punk rock credentials - trust is like respect - it's not a given.
Jean Encoule - tMx 15 - 06/04