Steven Patrick Morrissey was born on May 22, 1959. From his early
years in the rough suburbs of Manchester, he grew increasingly brooding
and bookish. "I despised practically everything as a child," he recalls,
"which does limit one's weekend activities." When he was seven, several
children from his home area were tortured, killed, and buried on the Lancashire
moors by Myra Hindley and Ian Brady in a case known as the Moors Murders.
This gruesome event had a great impact on Morrissey (he later wrote Suffer
Little Children about it); as a formative experience, it ranked alongside
the separation of his parents. During his teenage years he
lived with his librarian mother, left school without academic qualifications,
and spent six years, by his own account, "sealed in a vat of introspection."
In these unemployed years, he poured his energies into various obsessions:
first as a student of Oscar Wilde's work,then as a letter writer to the
music papers under his nom de plume, Sheridan Whitehead, then as the author
of James Dean Is Not Dead, and later still, as president of the New York
Dolls fan club. His idols were either dead or controversial,
usually both. The first record he ever bought, when he was six, was Marianne
Faithfull's "Come Stay With Me" ("She was a right goer"), and he recalls,
"The whole idea of David Bowie being this despised person I found very
Meeting Johnny Marr and forming The Smiths in 1982 finally dragged him screaming from his bedroom. During their six years together they became one of the most influential and innovative English guitar bands since the Beatles and achieved a massive following. And while Morrissey's lyrics were steeped in Englishness, they also challenged conventional maleness. "I've always felt closer to transsexuality than anything else," he explains. "A lot of male followers are, as far as the eye can see, natural specimens who have very anguished and devilishly rabid desires in my direction. And I find that quite historic." His sexuality is as obscure and open to interpretation as everything else about him. Though he's aware of his popularity among gay men, he surely understands that declaring a sexual, rather than asexual, preference would make him more accessible, less enigmatic.
Morrissey has made it clear that what makes him heavy is not his sexuality but the music he's made since he first became a Smith. Given the importance of the Smiths to Morrissey, it's remarkable that he's managed to survive as a solo artist at all. He once said, "The Smiths are like a life-support machine to me." That may sound melodramatic, but the fact is that the band's enduring legacy in the U.K. has left Morrissey-as-solo-artist continually being compared with and often overshadowed by Morrissey-as-Smith. Though Viva Hate, his first solo album, was a lyrical triumph and commercial success, many critics claimed the tunes penned by his then writing partner, Stephen Street, were mediocre compared with Marr's compositions. Bona Drag has been viewed as artistic water-treading while he struggled to complete Kill Uncle.
Even so, Morrissey seems to enjoy the negative reactions he is capable of eliciting. "If you don't have 100 percent passion for every move I make, then I'm the most irritating person you could hope to hear of. I know this, because people write and tell me. It's usually parents who write, 'Every time I walk past my daughter's bedroom I hear this person having their legs sawn off, which ultimately leads me to the stereo and it turns out to be you singing.' They say, 'I don't like it. I don't want it in my daughter's life.' I still have this unsettling edge, and I think it's a strength. Morrissey believes that art, like beauty, is "that which the bourgeois call ugly." To that end, Morrissey claims he is most proud of "November Spawned a Monster," a wretchedly beautiful song written from the point of an ugly, deformed, unlovable child confined to a wheelchair. That song, says Morrissey, is a more accurate self-expression than anything else he's done. In the video Morrissey, true to his contradictory nature, dances and slithers around the rocks of Death Valley in a chiffon chemise, acting rather more like Madonna that he may care to admit.
"I know I've reached the stage where other artists would bleach their hair or buy a fancy costume, but, inexcusably, I can only be me, which is a full-time occupation and causes terrible backaches. But there's a famous quote in Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd where Bethsheba Everdene says, 'I shall be breakfasted before you are afield. In short, I shall astonish you all.' It has no relevance, of course, but I honestly believe that once they've raked away all the nonsense, I'll still be here."