On my way to gather the latest thoughts of Chairman Mo, it
was clear that the honeymoon between the press and The Smiths had
After a period when a thousand hip typewriters clattered in united praise
of the Whalley Rangers - the blue-eyed boys, the real thing, the new dawn,
the only ones - a calm descended.
And, as the band became public property and public faves, new lines were
drawn in the ink, new stances struck.
Some were reasoned. These took a step back, listened to the music for
signs of stagnation (or greatness) and examined the words of Morrissey and
Marr for pointers, clues and insights. This was the attitude of the
questioningly raised eyebrow, a necessary and healthy balancing of the
For others it was not enough. A stream of hacks with suspicious minds and
third class degrees in homebrew psychology beat a cynical, salivating
trail to Master Morrissey's door. Their mission was to prove The Smiths
over-rated and samey, just another rock band, and Morrissey a fake, a
charlatan and an exploitative merchant of misery.
For them it wasn't a case of terminating the honeymoon. They wanted
Meat Is Murder
is a brilliant record - a catherine wheel of inspired
language nailed to a shifting, sometimes unnervingly evocative and
beautiful guitar music - and The Smiths' first major tour, culminating in
a fraught, celebratory night at the Royal Albert Hall, was sold out,
thronged with an unusually healthy mix of age and sex.
So while the affair between the band and the press has cooled - as
passion inevitably must - the pop public got on with the business
of voting The Smiths the best group on the whole bloody planet!
So the vehemence of some of the realignment (call it a backlash if you
will), the need to tarnish and sully, baffles me. I'll be straight: I
love the music of these Smiths.
They've had me vice-gripped since the very first time I heard
Charming Man in a shabby shop doorway. It was an experience - we've all
had them - like my first encounter with Marvin's 'What's Going On', or
'White Riot' or 'Shipbuilding,' one of those moments when a vivid,
electric awareness of the power of music is born or renewed.
The Smiths continue to billow into the senses, reminding the hardened
heart of the desires and fears that the passing of time - school, dole,
work, home, shattered dreams and bitter romances - drive deep within us,
to be outwardly replaced by a defensive shell of knowingness, of would-be
The spell cast in that dusty doorway remains intact.
But loving The Smiths is not the same thing as loving Morrissey. In the
past six months the son and heir of that famous shyness has maintained a
profile marginally lower than the Telecom tower. He's spewed forth his
none-too-humble opinion on every subject he's been asked about, and many
he's not, taking the butcher's knife to such sacred cows as the Royal
Family and the Band Aid project. Thus he's kept that chinny visage and
that gleaming torso glaring from a myriad newstands.
The irony is that the same seemingly endless fountain of pronouncements
that makes him fave interview [material] have also started to grate, to get under
people's skin, and to render him (and the band) less well regarded. The
manic motion of Morrissey's motor mouth is simultaneously The Smiths' best
friend and their worst enemy.
We meet in Manchester's hilarious Britannia Hotel - the Palace Of
Versailles furnished from Woolworth's home 'n' wear. He is somewhat
shorter than the six feet claimed in the tour programme, and sports those
national health specs and an old-fashioned leather briefcase.I'M THE FACE, BABY, IS THAT CLEAR?
Settling into a room booked for the day - he now lives with his mother in
a newly acquired house in the Cheshire stockbroker belt - he's in obvious
high spirits. He's having one of his good days - "it's a constant source
of amazement to me" - and every word from his mouth is wickedly sarcastic
or self-deprecatingly humorous.
So much for him being a perpetual miserygob.
He takes a tape recorder from the valise and sets it going next to mine -
a little monument to misrepresentation - and drinks arrive. Mine is a
large glass of orange juice, his is an ornate silver samovar filled with
So much for him not being a practising eccentric.
Close up, he speaks with the throwaway theatricality of some actors: the
small, soft hands in constant motion, the brain always searching for a
more risque or witty or cutting word. He probably thinks it's all very
Oscar Wilde, but Frankie Howerd, Dame Edna Everage and Russell Harty are
in there too.
Invariably the opening topic of conversation is interviews
themselves. I tell the wordSmith that if the law of the land wasn't so
specific about premeditated murder, I'd like to stealthily lace his hot
chocolate with strychnine and then, the fatal brew drank, tell him that he
had two hours to live, two hours to cut the crap, to articulate whatever
the hell he's trying to tell us in his stream of broadcasts.
He seems unperturbed by the prospect and even giggles a little. He's
heard all the threats before.
"I realise that interviews are fraught with difficult contradictions but
it's better than being a pot-holder."
Fair enough, but why do you do so many of them?
"Because there's a lot of things that we don't do. We're never
on television, or the radio, so without interviews we'd have no sort of
presence at all."
But don't you ever get sick to death of the sight of your face, your
skinny body, your words everywhere?
"Oh, don't be silly, don't be silly, of course not. I'm dramatically
under-exposed. I demand more attention! I'd like to do a bitter
commercial or something."
Yeah, or a chat show no doubt. Morrissey's saturation of the media -
revenge for his rejection as a journalist? - reminds me in some way of the
fate of Ian McCulloch, Boy George, Kevin Rowland, and Joe Strummer, pop
stars who could be relied upon to shoot their mouths off; Pavlov's dogs
before tape recorders, autoquotes.
"Oh, that's both nice and nauseating at the same time. People love to
have their little scapegoats, people willing to walk the plank for
In a wider context, the Bishop Of Durham is performing much the same
The Morrissey brow knits at this. "People always ask me if I'm
religious, I don't know why."
Well, you were born into a Catholic household weren't you?
"Quite vividly Catholic. Then it become vaguely Catholic."
Kids like Steven Patrick Morrissey see to that.
Recently the majority of interviews have been terribly confrontational.
When people come to attack you, to pick your locks, to examine your
undies, how do you feel?
"I understand it really. If you've got a grain of intellect you run the
risk of making your critics seem dull. So people feel the need
to adopt the most violent attitude, even when they like you. So I don't
mind too much, I know what's happening."
Maybe people are antagonistic because it's hard to believe that you're as
snowdrivenly faultless as you make out.
"Perhaps. Because I say that I'm a stainless individual, and because I
say it so often, so frequently and so loudly, I suppose people really
don't have much choice. They have to consume those words somehow."
It's human nature. Everyone believes that everybody else harbours a
cupboardful of skeletons.
"Oh, I know, one just throws up one's hands in wide-eyed
innocence. All these interviews are a constant battle of wits. People
think that in some former life I was a debauched rugby player, or that
I've got a stream of illegitimate children cluttering up some home on a
Is there anything you've regretted saying?
"I can't think of one sentence!" he exclaims, his body racked with
The hair trigger tongue apart, the reason for Morrissey's
position as Britian's most interviewed face is the sheer popularity of The
Smiths; a popularity bolstered this year by their major, often tense, but
ultimately successful tour. What had been his feeling about the
"It was long, very, very long and very exhausting. Some of the dates were
quite religious and some were quite difficult. It's just fascinating to
see those people, and of course it was an endless triumph."
To many the most amazing (some would say amusing) incident occurred when
Morrissey was hit full in the face by a half pound of sausages, each one
with the legend
'Meat Is Murder' etched on it. The recollection of this
close encounter of the skinless kind screws the bony mug into contortions
of Munch-like horror. Eventually he gathers himself.
"I think it was done out of affection, misguided affection. They hurled
it so accurately that I actually bit into it in the action of singing the
word 'murder'. I thought at first that it was something else,
something extreme... I fled the stage, a grand exit."
You looked pretty unhappy at the tour's culmination in the great high
culture temple of the Royal Albert Hall.
"If the truth be known it had been an awful day. Audiences never want to
know about that, about the PA giving trouble or someone shouting things
and making life quite unbearable. They just want you to get out there and
be Bugs Bunny.
"The venue was quite inappropriate but I must say that it did make perfect
sense that The Smiths at the Albert Hall was not a perfect communion,
that there was a tragic element."
Unlike Johnny Marr, you don't give the impression that you like playing
live very much.
"Oh I do, we all really enjoy it. Johnny and I just chuckle away
to each other during the set. It's immensely pleasurable but the
technical difficulties do distract, because we care.
"It's like a play, you can't just skip the words missing from the script
and carry on at the bottom of the page. Everything has to blend... it's
like King Lear to me, it's just..."
What, if anything, separates them from the herd, makes them unique?
"It's hard to articulate. Language here is utterly useless, the situation
is beyond language. You have to see one of our appearances to
understand... people, at the front at least, are so frantic. It's like,
if I die tonight, if I'm eaten outside by a brontosaurus, what does it
matter? I like that. They run towards the stage, throw their bodies
against the stage, jump on the stage. To me this is priceless,
and that's ultimately why The Specials are Smith... why The
Smiths are special live."
Then, as if shocked or frightened by this sudden show of exuberance,
another deep sigh, the face disappears momentarily into the white,
"But after all's said and done, I'm still here, the press are
still not convinced. We're still at the stage where if I rescued a
kitten from drowning they'd say, 'Morrissey Mauls Kitten's Body'. So what
can you do?"
A silence ensues as the question remains unanswered. Then he lifts one
caterpillar eyebrow - the left - and fixes me with a pantomime wicked
"Maybe we should make a record for Ethiopia..."
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL?
And so, Britain is theirs. Next stop America, where their
first two LPs have sold healthily on import and, in Morrissey's words,
"polluted the air a bit... We singed America in 1983 but that doesn't
What's the Morrissey line on the Big Country?
"Em... it's difficult... it's quite a good place if you belong and if
you're not poor. But if you don't belong and if you are
poor, I think it's the worst place in the universe. Obviously it's very
materialistic and all of that. And it's a cultural wilderness, we all
Johnny Marr wouldn't agree.
"Oh well, he might in his sleep..."
In its favour, America doesn't have a Royal Family...
"Oh, but it does. It does. What about the Reagans?"
At least they were elected. We can't change ours.
"Oh, we can. There's such a thing as cyanide.
"Why is Reagan there? I'm sure this is a question that's even foxing
Americans. It's the Daz mentality! I'm sure they'd elect Joan Collins if
she were available."
It's perhaps a puzzle that as English a noise as
The Smiths or
Of Hollow should sell in, or rather infiltrate America. Why people in
"'People in America'? We talk about them as though they were
You're being terribly coy.
"I'm not saying they're models of perfection but diseased orangutans is a
little extreme. I'm sure they're a couple of steps up from that! No, I
mustn't say that. I'm about to be confronted by them."
That'll be no problem surely, given your powers.
"Oh I know." There's a devilish grin now. "But taking on the
whole of America singlehanded... I'd need a lot of cornflakes to do
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
Hit LPs, sell-out tours, adoring masses, America. All is
rosy in The Smiths' garden... except their singles don't sell like hot
- the band on autopilot - was a fine, not
great record, but it didn't even dent the Top 20. Morrissey was
mightily put out, and the unending music biz speculation about The Smiths'
relationship with their record company Rough Trade grew.
The next single will be
That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore,
which though not
the best song on Meat Is Murder,
is the most likely to be played on daytime Radio
"Look, if I was trying to steal a sweet from a child, I'd be honest, I'd
let the child know. Radio One has to be taken into consideration."
There's a hint of anger now glowing through today's good-tempered
Why did the last single fail, commercially?
"There's no earthly reason why it should have. The height of suspicion
surrounds the fate of that record."
What do you suspect?
"Many things. I know for a fact it wasn't played on the radio. The
record's merits are irrelevant here. With our status it should have
automatically had a high profile, but it was blacklisted by the BBC
because I denounced the BPI awards. The sinner must be punished... I'm
slowly edging away from certain issues."
Not likely. Tell me about 'certain issues'.
A deep breath, a quick fidget, and away: "I think Rough Trade released the
record with a monstrous amount of defeatism. They had no faith in it
whatsoever. They liked it but they allowed it to dribble, to
stall. They didn't service it or market it in any way."
How has your relationship with the company changed since you signed?
"When you become successful, people - if they've had even the vaguest
connection with you - claim absolute responsibility for your success. But
I can safely and honestly and loudly say that The Smiths have been
successful without any help from a living soul anywhere on this
You can safely say it, but I don't believe you...
"Please believe me. It's an absolute fact. For a manager-less
group like us to survive is miraculous. The evil forces within this
industry are quite monstrously absurd. The Smiths have done it all on
their own and that makes everything a triple triumph.
"Rough Trade have done their job and no more. They're bored with The
Smiths now. I've seen maximum evidence of this."
So what have you been offered in the line of cars, sex, drugs and undreamt
of wealth to sign for Megabucks International Records?
"We've always been offered moderate amounts, healthy sums, but we've
always said no. But never anything extravagantly uncountable."
There's little hint of displeasure - or of poverty for that matter - in
INVISIBLE, YOU TREAT ME LIKE I'M INVISIBLE
Morrissey, Morrissey, Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Morrissey,
Morrissey, Morrissey. The Smiths sometimes don't give the impression of
being a band at all, just a vehicle for a dozen Morrisseys soundtracked
by someone called, erm, Johnny Marr. The dense webbing of their music
denies it, but the image is hard to shake.
How do you personally relate to the other Smiths?
"Very, very strongly. Let it be said here and now that I'm massively
dedicated to them as individuals, to the point of love.
"Obviously with Johnny, I feel very defensive about our relationship.
Some things have to be shielded, but the dedication I feel to him is quite
solid and impregnable."
But you must be aware that the drone Smiths, the worker Smiths, seem like,
well, session men.
"Yes, but I positively know that they're not as upset about it as people
think they should be."
A moment of concentration. The voice loses a little of its confident
"This is tricky... they have their position and they know what it
is. We all have our roles, our functions and we know how to fulfil them.
We all know our limitations."
So what if Andy or Mike turned up tomorrow morning saying that they'd
written a great lyric for the next Smiths LP. Would that cause a
Another pause. "Yes it would. But then if, say, let me see, P.G.
Wodehouse came with a lyric, that would be a problem too."
P.G. Wodehouse isn't in The Smiths!
"He could've been..."
SONGS FOR WHINING LOVERS
As I've said, The Smiths are by no means universally valued.
There are those souls who detest the band, think them boring, repetitive,
unimaginative, iniquitous. They see The Smiths as whining soundtracks for
bedroom-bound 17-year-old males sulking over a lack of sex.
"Yes, but these people are important. Their desires
matter, all of our desires matter. I mean, who do we sing for,
"In Manchester, particularly, there's a body of people who are very
negative about us but they're the very ones who, if we disappeared in a
blizzard tomorrow, would say 'ooh what a shame'."
There's a massive ego at work here. According to this Morrissey dictum,
even those who profess a hatred for his precious band are actually
admirers deep down.
So what are the real haters (they do exist)... truly estranged,
"They've got used to dance music, to music without the human element and
this strong reality. They've lost faith, they don't believe that anything
can happen anymore.
"There are pop historians who have closed the book. 'Let's remember
Elvis, and Jagger and The Beatles. Let's remember The Sex Pistols and
let's close the book'.
"They've got hang-ups, but then I'm bound to say that, aren't I? I'm not
likely to say that people who dislike The Smiths are rational, intelligent
human beings, am I?"
Let's talk about your much-publicised heroes.
"I'm bored stiff with them."
Tough. James Dean, Oscar Wilde, the fresh-faced working class boys from
late '50's films, all those people are in one way or another alone,
"I'm very interested in what emerges from the ashes of poverty or the
bruises of torture, to see what people are capable of in extremes.
"People who achieve things artistically after persistent public floggings,
after being roasted alive by the critics and after having doors slammed in
their faces, interest me when they come out on top, smiling, in control,
impregnable. That to me is treasurable."
So they're role models, this ragged-arse cast of heroes, and you're The
Great Rejected One come to seek this vengeance?
"Yes, that's undoubtedly true!"
Maybe you're actually more comfortable being persecuted than praised.
Maybe, despite all the whining, you attract the attacks on the band
because you need them, you like them.
"I'd like to risk going through a period without criticism. I'd
like to see what it was like."
When you're in the States will you be visiting any James Dean or New York
"I would like to go to Indiana and mess with James Dean's soil, but so
many others have done it. They've taken away the monument, they've taken
away the stone and they've taken away the grass.
"People have been so greedy. What's left for me?
YOU'RE SO VAIN
Why do you buy so many photographs of yourself?
"Another cruel question... I like them... I like to have a lot of
photographs on the wall. I want to chronicle everything."
Would you agree that you're terribly vain?
"Oh yes, I am vain. If someone punches me in the face and I lose
five teeth then I'm going to be upset, make no mistake about that. Yes,
it's vanity - I care about the way I look, the way I feel and the way I am
- and I don't want to apologise about it.
"People can picture me laying naked in my house, covered in feathers,
rubbing these pictures on myself.
"But that isn't the case..."
THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY
There is a topic from which Morrissey does shy, recoil
almost, and that's his past, the subject matter of so many of those aching
songs. Efforts to prise open the doors of that hidden world - like Nick
Kent's recent piece in The Face - have been thwarted. The beans
remain unspilled. Maybe, but no one believes this, there's just nothing
So why is the past, spotlit and loudly trumpeted in the songs, so
vigorously veiled elsewhere? Silence. It's all very well autoranting
about James Dean, Rough Trade or vanity, but this is Thin Ice. Answers
here have to be waited for, teased out by expectant pauses.
"... it's just that the past is so very important. I don't like it when
people say let's leave the past and go ahead, because a lot of the future
isn't that attractive."
Are you afraid that by sharing your past, you'll somehow lose it?
"No, it's nothing mystical like that, my writing is to a large extent
O.K. So let's observe. What did you actually learn at school?
"I learned that if I ever wanted to be educated I'd have to leave school.
So anything I learned was from outside of the education system.
"I came from a working class background and very brutal schooling, which
is of no use to anyone who wants to learn. So education, quite naturally,
had no effect on me whatsoever."
And to what extent was the childbashing opus 'Barbarism' written from
"Not to a dramatic extent, not from my experience really. It was simply
another recognition that the only channel of communication open to a lot
of parents is violence."
In all this childhood misery, who did you blame for your predicament?
"I think I always blamed myself. I always felt 'these things are
happening because I'm an awkward, ugly, gawky, individual' and that stayed
with me for years and years. I used to believe that if I wasn't
successful in any way it was because I was a totally worthless shallow
Who do you blame now, looking back?
"The same person. In some totally inexplicable way, I still accept a lot
of the blame. Perhaps it isn't right but I do. Guilt and regret are the
most futile emotions in the universe."
Yeah, but guilt is the central motif of Roman Catholicism, so you're bound
to have armfuls.
"Yes, isn't it awful. The Catholic church has nothing in common with
Christianity. I can remember being at school on Mondays and being asked
'did you go to church yesterday?' And if you hadn't been you literally
had the arms twisted off you. It's 'we'll sever your head for your own
good, you'll learn my son'."
But of course he hasn't.
A THING CALLED LOVE
In all Morrissey's bleak urban mindscapes of isolation,
disappointment, iron bridges, razor boys, illness and mistrust the one
word that keeps blinking out is 'love'. Love as an adjective, a noun, a
verb; love with a sigh, a groan, a sneer; love as sustenance, as torturer,
as celebration and desecration.
And yet there's this creature who claims - yawn - to sleep with no one
(thus eschewing the notion that love equals the achievement of orgasm,
rock's commonest definition), so what the hell is he on about? Has he
ever been in love?
"Do you mean actually experiencing relationships?"
No, not really, I mean the spiritual, mental delirium of being in
"Not the physical thing?"
Paranoia is not a pretty sight. No.
"Oh well, in that case I can easily answer. I am constantly in that state
of desire and admiration for things, words..."
What's your conception of this thing called love?
"It's very difficult to put into words because for each individual it's
something quite different. Being in love is something I would never claim
to fully understand."
Now the Morrissey voice is low; these are answers rather than
public notices, words from somewhere other than the tip of his tongue.
You seem to be talking about loving things rather than people.
"Well it's largely things other than people that I do become in love with.
I must say that I'm even more bored than you, bored to nausea, with the
"But I do think it's actually possible to go through life and never fall
in love or find someone who loves you."
You look and sound unbearably sad when you say that. Do you find a lack
of human love a problem?
"I do, but this word 'love'" - the head shakes slowly from side
to side - "people can quite easily say that they love marmalade or they
love mushrooms or they 'love' people."
Oh come on, that's clutching at evasive straws. Don't you wish you loved
people, and that people loved you?
The famous bogbrush haircut tilts back, his eyes fix a spot on the
ceiling. "Yes, yes I do."
Do you think you'd be happier, more content, then?
"Well yes. I'm convinced that once it happens, if indeed it ever does,
there will be a tremendous turnabout in my life and that's captivating and
riveting to me. I'm waiting for it to happen..."
AND NOW, THE END IS NEAR
Let's return to the strychnine, to your imminent death.
You've got three minutes to live. Tell us what it is that you're actually
and endlessly trying to convey to us.
"If I've got just three minutes... I'll say something that you won't
accept... but which I want people to believe... oh stop being so boring
Morrissey... I want people to know that almost everything that concerns
them in their daily lives is of no consequence whatsoever. Nothing and
nobody is really important.
"Oh, this is so negative..."
You've been quite positive so far, this will just reassure people.
"... nothing is important so people, realising that, should get on with
their lives, go mad, take their clothes off, jump in the canal, jump into
one of those supermarket trolleys, race 'round the supermarket and steal
Mars bars and, y'know, kiss kittens and sit on the back of bread vans.
"Whatever makes people happy they should just do it, 'cos time is a mere
scratch and life is nothing..."
THE FINAL CURTAIN
Would you find it difficult to shut up now?
"Yes I would. I've still a few things to say, a few comments to be aired.
My notebooks are still quite bulging and like it or not they're going to
be foisted on the British public."
Whether they're ready for them or not?
"Well, obviously they're not ready..."
And then, this charming man (this outragous, self-centred, witty, sad,
wicked, paranoid, sly, funny, warm, frightened, silly, galvanising or
boring, love-him-or-loathe-him man) is gone.
As I watch him disappear in a flounce of hair, briefcase, specs and baggy
jeans through the huge revolving doors of The Britannia, my mind wanders
to all the doubters, to the Smiths-haters.
I understand that they've got some fair points - it is sometimes hard to
fathom just why this band should command such devotion, and sure,
Morrissey says some of the daftest things imaginable - and, well I wonder,
just what - if Mssrs Marr, Joyce, Rourke and Morrissey were suddenly lost
in one of the latter's imaginary blizzards - we'd put in the place of The
And at that precise moment my eyeline was filled with two members of The
Alarm - it could have been any of a thousand bands - crossing The
Britannia's foyer, and a strange chill gripped my body.