Morrissey and Me
Four Stranger Writers Hold Forth on the Pope of Mope
The news made a number of Stranger writers leap in the air: On November 8, Morrissey would be playing Seattle's Moore Theater as part of a "greatest hits" tour to commemorate his nearly 30 years in the music biz. Between the size of the venue (small!) and the promise of the set list (Smiths-ridden!), anticipation was higher than Lisa Dank on Twitter. Then came the awful news: Due to his need to be with his ailing mother, Morrissey was canceling/rescheduling all remaining dates on his tour, including our coveted November 8 at the Moore.
Our first impulse was to kill ourselves. But then we realized Morrissey would want us to go on, and live, and hopefully buy his next 16 compilation albums (Morrissey: Songs in Alphabetical Order!). We also realized the best way to cure sadness over not getting to see Morrissey was to obsess over Morrissey. So please enjoy...
by Derek Erdman
There was a time in the late 1980s in Cleveland, Ohio, when admitting to liking Morrissey was sufficient reason to catch a beating. Admiring a man who wore gold lamé and writhed on rocks in the desert didn't go over well with teenage alcoholics with absent or abusive parents. Chains were appearing on wallets, studs and beer patches on denim vests. I somehow landed in a group of "tough kids," and although I wasn't very good at fighting, I got into a lot of fights.
My grandmother managed a decrepit bowling alley that became the last diversion for civilized behavior. My friends and I spent half of a summer there, bowling for free when we were 17. We had access to giant rusty American cars, handed down or purchased for less than $300—poor and careless, we huffed glue and destroyed everything that we could. I was going into my senior year of high school and sometimes worked as a telemarketer—I had a sinking feeling that I was at the beginning of the wrong path.
Everyone I knew who liked Morrissey or the Smiths seemed somehow clean to me. You'd hear tapes being played at parties, their cases littering suburban bedroom floors next to striped tights and poetry notebooks. Those people shined in a way—they had good posture and good hair and knew the difference between right and wrong because they somehow had a choice.
I remember the exact night when things changed, though it didn't seem important then. It was the first Tuesday in October of 1991; I had to write a paper on Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. My English teacher was a nice woman with wild gray hair and a stern voice—the first person at school to make me care about what I was learning, and I fell in love with English literature. The punkers planned to pull an ATM scam and buy meth to try for the first time. That sounded a lot more interesting than writing about sin and morality, but I opted to stay home to study and listen to a record I bought earlier that day. Two weeks later, half of the punker crew was arrested for petty larceny and possession. By that time, I was obsessed with Strangeways, Here We Come by the Smiths—immersed in the world of Pinkie and Dallow while listening to "A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours" on repeat. There are so many weird and wonderful things about Morrissey. The back pocket gladioli, the unneeded hearing aids, adhesive bandages over the nipples, flirtations with fascism, a Twinkle cover song, obsessed Latinos, fans that emulate everything about him, lawsuits, seclusion, and tantrums.
I used Morrissey and the Smiths for the next two years as a way to make myself as clean as I could. I wore oversize cable-knit sweaters and learned about manners. There was something about the Smiths that made it feel like being smart was good, and that being gentle and kind was a thing to strive for. It wasn't extreme like the straight-edge movement, but positive in a more genuine way. You could eat a ham sandwich while listening to Meat Is Murder without somebody attempting to beat the absolute shit out of you (maybe because they couldn't).
I first saw Morrissey in 1992. It was in Cleveland, and during the third song I did that thing that people sometimes do at Morrissey shows: I climbed onstage, fought through the bouncers, and hugged him.
by David Schmader
In 1984, I was a 15-year-old closeted gay kid living in El Paso, a far-west Texas terrain that schooled me thoroughly in the reprehensibility of my homosexual affliction. Knowing that I was deeply and unchangeably gay, I assumed my future held only the grim, lonely life of the sexual invert: rest-stop trysts, bottom-shelf alcoholism, suicide.
The first ray of hope came from "What Difference Does It Make?," the Smiths song I found on the Sire Records compilation Survival Sampler, which provided a spiritual blueprint for how to live despite my inherent wretchedness. Essentially a coming-out confessional, the song finds Morrissey bidding adieu to a friend repulsed by the revelation of Morrissey's deepest secret. "You start to recoil; heavy words are so lightly thrown," warbles Morrissey in his almost-atonal early voice. "Now you know the truth about me, you won't see me anymore. But I'm still fond of you."
Twenty-eight years before the It Gets Better Project, "What Difference Does It Make?" provided the message I needed to save my life. The great thing about Morrissey is that he didn't make me feel bad about being a self-hating homosexual. Of course normal people will recoil from and desert those of us with the disgusting homosexual affliction. Don't worry about it! Morrissey embodied a glamorous pride in his affliction, like someone who's not going to let his autoimmune disease get in the way of a fulfilling life. Recoil all you want, I'll still jump in front of a bullet for you! The sun shines out of our behinds! I have lupus and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does!
This pride in being wrong—as opposed to gay pride's acceptance of homosexuality as something natural and perfectly okay—was my first baby step out of the closet, and I received regular bursts of Morrissey's support throughout 1984. February brought the release of the Smiths' self-titled debut, featuring my beloved "What Difference..." alongside gems like "Hand in Glove," another burning anthem for the love that dare not speak its name. "It's not like any other love—this one is different, because it's us," sang Morrissey, before coming on tough and even hopeful: "If they dare touch a hair on your head, I'll fight to the last breath. For the good life is out there somewhere..."
November brought Hatful of Hollow, the UK compilation gathering early versions of the debut's highlights and all the post-debut singles. The result was a veritable Talmud of the closet, along with tantalizing glimpses of what comes after. "Handsome Devil" dangled the promise of collegiate freedom and opportunity ("When we're in your scholarly room, who will swallow whom?"), "Accept Yourself" threw down the gauntlet for closet cases, and "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" suggested the possibility of satisfaction—even for despised inverts—which was great enough to warrant a minute and 52 seconds' worth of asking.
Morrissey soon deserted his darkly sexual pseudo-confessional style for pop whimsy and Wildean wit; I soon moved past the Smiths' closet anthems to the more integrated gay world of Hüsker Dü (suck dick, love life, rock hard). But I might never have made it past square one without Morrissey.
by Emily Nokes
"Don't you EVER fucking make fun of Morrissey."
We were on tour, drunk, and I was doing my best Morrissey-dance impression (I do it pretty well—swaying around on tiptoe, knees bent, blasé shirt-ripping pantomime). "Seriously, I love him. You don't fuck with Morrissey." I'd pissed off my usually very sweet tourmate, and I was stunned. I hadn't really listened to much of his music, but he was a jerk! Wasn't he? You could make fun of jerks, right?
Let's back up. In 1984, I was born in the only hospital available for a baby-having in Butte, Montana. The vast, landlocked, and disproportionately underpopulated surroundings usually meant that trending culture arrived about 10 to 15 years too late—being "alternative" meant Grateful Dead at best, Hot Topic at worst.
The only non-country radio stations served two "rock" flavors, classic or soft; I swear there was an entire year that MTV only played Korn videos. Without real internet, older siblings, or reasonable music role models (the older kids liked rap) outside my parents, I was left with a complete working knowledge of the Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, and 2Pac.
But music wasn't really a source of frustration; I simply didn't know what I was missing. The real frustration was the hometown that taught the importance of tanning for ladies and sports for men.
Being a little different and a lot stubborn was a bummer combo. I'd never eaten meat—a choice that was a constant source of anger from incredulous peers who literally raised cattle. Being female was also an embarrassment—for a class project, a group of boys talked earnestly about making the roads safer by requiring girls to wait until 18 to receive driving permits. Hunting rifles sat prominently on gun racks in trucks in the school parking lot. The school counselor failed to tell anyone that we would need to take a foreign language to attend college out of state. Gay kids never dreamed of coming out, even to their closest friends, and kept their obvious secrets into adulthood.
So I didn't have a great relationship with music as a kid, but moving to Seattle changed all that—I was musically dehydrated and thrilled to drink it all in. At 19, there was simply not enough time to dwell on music I didn't like at first listen, and I thought all Smiths songs were like their extremely boring "Back to the Old House." Later, I came across live Morrissey videos. Sheer shirt clutching! Vacant sex face! I gave him a thumbs-down and didn't think about it again for years.
Back to that fateful tour when I realized I was in the presence of a real, actual, for- serious MORRISSEY FAN. She was already my very close friend, and her anger at my Moz-miming struck a chord. She liked him? She loved him? But she had great music taste! I looked into it.
That rainy winter, I sat down and listened to the entire Smiths discography. The lyrics leaped out and squeezed my chest. The melodies were sweet. I read about his various behavioral issues and was suddenly drawn to his ridiculous huffiness. He did not give a fuck about media pedantry. He didn't eat meat! He loved animals! He stood up for things and was openly sad about bullies! He was SO weird! The irony hit me hard—I could have used this growing up, but then if I'd had access to him, it wouldn't have been the same place. Since then, some of my favorite people ever have told me their life-changing Morrissey stories, and even though I never had the chance to have my life changed so profoundly by the old nutbar, I finally understood.
by Charles Mudede
The sun is setting. The rock star sits next to a tombstone. He wears a black hat and overcoat. Snow covers the ground. Some snow is on the withering flowers that surround the tombstone. The look on the rock star's face is difficult to express with words. He is not exactly sad, nor does he seem to be contemplating the deepest of all mysteries: What happens after death? Nothing? Something? Does the soul rise from the body and float on a breeze, float through the leaves, float up into the clouds? This is not what we get from the rock star's face. There are no thoughts behind those eyes. His mind appears to be as wide and empty as a clear blue sky. Indeed, this is the feeling his whole being transmits: Nothing can disturb me in this moment of pure hereness, pure nowness, pure presence.
The rock star sits next to a tombstone of a movie star. Morrissey is the rock star and James Dean is the movie star. The two stars never existed at the same time—Dean was killed in a car accident in 1955 in Cholame, California; Morrissey was born in 1959 near Manchester, England. James Dean was buried in Fairmount, Indiana, the town of his childhood. Morrissey visited this small town in 1988 to shoot the video for the first big hit of his solo career, "Suedehead." In the video, he is an unusual tourist—a British dandy in the American heartland. He walks the empty and bland streets. He has coffee in a diner. He visits an abandoned school. He takes a picture of a blue water tower. He is seeking the sources of the soul who haunts his dreams and waking hours. The video ends with Morrissey in the snow-covered graveyard—the day is soon to end, and the rays of light are fading. The ghost of James Dean rises in the winter air in slow motion. He looks to the left and to the right; he is so young and so dead.
I did not discover the Smiths before I discovered Morrissey. The first album of his solo career, Viva Hate, which was released in 1988, opened his world to me. It looked like nothing I had ever seen before. Also, the movies by the dead star in his "Suedehead" video were unknown to me. My neighborhood video store didn't have any of his movies, and the only thing I knew about Dean was that he died at the age of 24. I also noticed that Morrissey's hair was sort of like Dean's hair—rising like a wave from the back of the head and cresting/breaking above the forehead. What did Morrissey see in Dean? I spent hours looking at magazine images of the last Hollywood star—Dean leaning against a wall, Dean wearing a cowboy hat, Dean in a race car. And what I eventually realized, what Morrissey made clear to me for the first time, is the idea that obsessions must not choose you, but you must choose your obsessions. Why? Because you can't have any old obsession. You need to pick one that has style and, most importantly, can never be satisfied. The most you should ever get out of an obsession is the coldness of a tombstone.