Morrissey and Me


Not a review

I went to see Morrissey play the Hydro in Glasgow last night.

This isn’t a review of the night. More of a reflection. It may seem self-indulgent, which is one of the things that I may have criticised Morrissey for recently, but I’m in danger of dwelling too much on this and overthinking it, so I just need to get it off my chest and move on. That may seem melodramatic and yes, to an extent it probably is. But I’ve experienced what overthinking and dwelling too much on things does to me, and those who have to live with me!

You see, I’ve been a fan of Morrissey/The Smiths for 34 years and last night was the first time watching or listening to Morrissey that I felt no emotion whatsoever. Nothing. Over the years of being a fan I have felt elation and joy, sadness, even anger and embarrassment. But last night was different. I felt nothing at all. Like I just didn’t care anymore.

I am probably going to sound like a cliché in a lot of what I say, but I only write it because it is true.

The Smiths soundtrack my life

Music is important to me. It is ever-present. It soundtracks my life. There are songs and bands that will always be important for different reasons over different periods of my life. The Smiths and Morrissey are different. For some reason they seemed like more than that. Their songs spoke to me about my life. Yep – cliché…

I wasn’t there from day one. I didn’t get into The Smiths until “Hatful of Hollow”. I had a record token for John Menzies, I don’t remember if it was a birthday present or what, but I do remember going into the shop and seeing Hatful of Hollow with its “Pay no More than £3.99” sticker on the cassette cover. I think I bought something else at the same time but that pales into insignificance as it was “Hatful of Hollow” that changed things for me.

I had heard The Smiths before then, but it wasn’t until I bought this and went home and put the tape in my battered ghetto blaster that I really heard the Smiths.

That was the start of an obsession that influenced me in many ways in the subsequent years.

Morrissey’s influence on me

Everyone that loves music has that band that has an influence on them more than another. It was The Smiths, or probably more so Morrissey that had that influence on me.

I’d never seen anything quite like him. On Top of the Pops with his magnificent quiff. Yep, that’s when I started wearing my hair like this and it has stuck. It is me now and often I’ve thought about cutting it off, but although it has adapted in length and style over the years, it is part of my identity. Oh, and it won me money at a Smiths night in the Cotton Club once. But not just that, the way he dressed, the way he danced, wearing half a tree out of the back of his jeans.

More importantly, I’d never heard anything quite like him. The way he sang, and what he sang about. Songs that spoke to me. Yes, another old cliché coming up. All the way through my teens I was terrible at speaking to girls. I desperately wanted to have a girlfriend, but in the main, ask me to speak to someone of the opposite sex, especially if I found them attractive, then it was a signal to my brain to make my face turn beetroot in colour and to forget how to string sentences together. I remember one particular occasion in a pub in Shawlands where there was a young lady I quite fancied. My friends persuaded me after much cajoling to go and talk to her. I think I managed to walk towards her, freeze, hold up my hand on a pathetic wave, said “hi” in a squeaky voice, went scarlet and continued past as if I was going to the toilet. That was the last time I spoke to a girl for a long time. How Soon is Now? was a song I played over and over again in my room. “There’s a club if you’d like to go, you could meet somebody who really loves you, so you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own and you go home and you cry and you want to die”. Been there done that…

My quiff did reach immense proportions at some points. As someone who was cripplingly shy in many social circumstances, my Dad once asked me why I drew attention to myself with it and wearing mostly charity shop clothes. The way I saw it was completely different, I saw it as feeling part of something. It gave me the confidence (along with several lagers) to talk to like-minded individuals. How did I know they were like-minded? I didn’t really, but I spoke to anyone with a quiff and that dressed like me, more often than not they were like minded. But I also met some other great people, like an exceedingly friendly psychobilly in a pub in Aviemore. We talked and drank for the rest of the night. That was probably the start of my love affair with The Cramps and the like too.

Years all blur together. But after buying Hatful of Hollow, I obsessively bought all the Smiths records. Then Morrissey when the Smiths came to an early end. I nearly wore out my VHS copy of Hulmerist I watched it so often.

Despite this, I never saw The Smiths live, something I always regretted, but I just didn’t start going to gigs until 1986.

Morrissey Live

Which brings me onto the Morrissey live experience. Fast forward a few years and the first time I saw Morrissey live was in the Caird Hall in Dundee. I was excited about it for weeks, nay, months in advance. The day came and it was a road trip from work through to Dundee in my mate Stephens’s car. We had brought daffodils, but if I remember correctly we left them in the car as we weren’t sure if it was the right thing to do?

Anyway, by the time we got to the venue, I felt sick with anticipation. I was probably shaking. My memories of the gig are vague. I think I’d got myself into such a state of excitement that the whole evening is a haze. Phranc came and went. Then he was there – live onstage in front of us. Then just as quickly it seemed, he was gone. Ina pre-curser to more recent years, he was ill and had to leave the stage. My Moz cherry was popped, but the bubble was burst at the same time!

We were supposed to see him again in Glasgow the next day. I was working in the Clydesdale Bank at Glasgow Tech on that day, complete with Moz badge on my suit jacket – what a rebel – haha. I took a walk down to the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall where the gig was supposed to be. All I saw were despondent people with quiffs sitting on the steps. I knew the gig was cancelled at that moment, but also spoke to people that day that I have still kept in touch with on and off over the intervening years.

I’ve seen Morrissey live countless times since then in venues big and small. Not nearly as many as certain people I know, but I’m sure if my circumstances had been different I would have travelled further afield to see him. I won’t ramble on about them all but some stick out. The Boxers tour was the only time I have gone to multiple nights on the same tour – Barrowland on the Friday, Motherwell on the Saturday and Edinburgh on the Sunday. The whole weekend was brilliant. The people, the band, the music. Great support band in Marion too. Those were the days when it was common place to have fans run the stage. In Motherwell, it was the one and only time I did it. I was one of the many managed to get on stage, gave him a quick hug and ran off before security did. It got out of hand at the end of the gig when there was a full stage invasion when he played “Shoplifters” I think it was. I was happy though, and when I asked my friends if they’d managed to get a photo of me (this was the days before camera phones) they reminded me I had the camera!

Anyway, point being. Morrissey gigs were an event that I looked forward to. Always felt emotional before during and after a gig. As I do at all gigs, the levels of emotion and whether that is positive or negative emotion largely depends on the band but if I don’t feel emotion then it is a bad sign.

Fast forward to last night.

One sign that should have got me wondering was that I hadn’t really been looking forward to the gig. No, rephrase that I hadn’t at all been looking forward to it. Nothing, niet, nada. Even on the night itself I had to make an effort to get off my arse and go out.

As I walked from my car to the venue, still nothing.

When I walked out of the pedestrian footbridge and saw the queues to get in, my heart sank.

Standing in the queue, I almost walked away.

I’d listened to the new album earlier. It still didn’t speak to me. I don’t really like it. I feel that all the subtlety that used to be in his music and lyrics has evaporated.

I persevered and got in to see God Save the Queen on a big screen. Great song, undeniable and later there was New York Dolls – Jet Boy. I had worn a Johnny Thunders – Born to Lose shirt that night so yep, New York Dolls – all good. But. Why no support? I could have watched all these videos at home. I had seen loads before anyway. There would have been numerous young local bands who would have bitten Morrissey’s hand off for an opportunity to support him. I know a lot of people who don’t bother about support bands but I always try to get along to see them. You never know what you might get (I once saw Radiohead support Kingmaker in King Tuts). It felt like an opportunity missed for a band to get exposure on a big stage. The videos just felt self-indulgent (I told you I’d say that!).

I generally don’t like huge venues. I did think I could blame my experience on that. But, I saw Nick Cave play what felt like an amazingly intimate concert at the same venue last year and my emotions were all over the place that night!

Moz and Me

No, the only thing I can put it down to is that my “relationship” with Morrissey the man and his music has just come to a natural fork in the road.

I want to love him and his music, but I just don’t like him very much anymore. Where in the past I would have defended him, I call him an arse. I pre-ordered his new album and have it on clear vinyl and CD along with a tacky badge and t shirt. I just don’t like the album much. The music doesn’t move me. It says nothing to me about my life. The lyrics are sometimes clumsy. The artwork – while I agree with the sentiment is the worst I’ve seen on a Morrissey album. I think I likened the album to Morrissey by numbers in a review.

So, the music doesn’t do it much for me now. The last few albums I could probably say I’ve not loved.

However, it is more than that. Morrissey has always been controversial in his views and often in the past I have agreed with many of those. His stance on royalty for example “I’d like to drop my trousers to the Queen, every sensible child will know what this means”. However, in recent years it seems to me he courts controversy for the sake of it and I feel his views diverge further and further form what I agree with.

I have what seems like dozens of books about The Smiths/Morrissey. I am looking at my shelves as I write this. For me two stand out though in part of my splitting apart from Moz. His Autobiography. The first third was a masterpiece, the middle third was OK. The last third was (back to this phrase again) self-indulgent claptrap. It felt like just a list of him congratulating himself about how great he was and how good this and that concert were.

And his “novel”. The less said about that the better. One of the slimmest tomes I’ve read, but one of the hardest reads. Good god, what a lot of shit that was.

This is turning into a slag Morrissey fest, that’s not really what I intended.

I totally understand why some people thought last night was great, the best they’d seen him in years. His voice was strong. Boz is a great musician. He played a couple of Smiths songs (The aforementioned How Soon is Now? – one of my favourites and still nothing), some of my favourite Morrissey songs – Speedway, Hold on to Your Friends, Jack the Ripper. A pretty good cover of “Back on the Chain Gang”. I think by the time Jack the Ripper had come, I was done though, nothing was bringing me back.

In a lot of ways I wish I hadn’t gone last night. Then I would have remembered all the positive experiences of seeing Morrissey live. But I did, and typing this has got it out of my system. Maybe I should have made more of an effort to get excited about it beforehand. Maybe I should have gone to Strangeways afterwards and met up with loads of friendly faces. Who knows?

Anyway, of course, I’ll still listen to The Smith and Morrissey, after all some of them are the songs that saved my life in a lot of ways. It would be churlish not to listen to some of my favourite music.

At the moment though, I probably wouldn’t go and see him again, but never say never.

To paraphrase him one more time, in my own strange way, I’ll always be true to you…

One thought on “Morrissey and Me”

  1. Cracking piece Neil. It’s a sorry state of affairs when an artist only arouses apathy, and you’ve captured that tragedy beautifully. (Can you arouse apathy? You get what I mean!) Obviously your Smiths fandom was responsible for me (eventually) getting the Smiths, but I never knew that Hatful was your way in – that was my gateway drug too! Specifically How Soon Is Now? Which makes me wonder, perhaps influenced by your piece, that it was Johnny Marr all along who I fell for…

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