Elissa Van Poznak, The Face, 1984
The Morrissey that greets me in the doorway of his
genteel Kensington abode is without his familiar voluminous D.H. Evans
outsize shirt and beady accountrements. He is also more than 275 miles
away from the ebulliently effusive creature I'd met last January in his
group The Smiths' former Manchester HQ, but he was six months younger
then, six months less famous. In a tight white jumper, he looks
tremulously thin and the ultra-high pollen count is making him struggle
for breath, in spite of which the front room he leads me into is crowded
"Get rid of them? How can I," he sighs, "they're an extension of my
body!" Ah yes, the flowers...
Seldom has a nation capitulated so swiftly and so adoringly. And to what?
A quartet of couth Mancunian youths as classical as a string ensemble;
elfin guitarist Johnny Marr, drummer Mike Joyce and bass player Andy
Rourke, all 19 or thereabouts. And Steven Morrissey, the 24-year-old
wordsmith, possessor of the voice and flinger of flowers.
Suddenly, after years of teenage trauma and monastic introversion, alone
in his room with the Compleat works of Oscar Wilde and every Sixties
kitchen sink drama ever filmed, not to mention a self-imposed celibacy,
everybody wants to be Morrissey's friend. Last Christmas in Manchester,
Morrissey couldn't open his door for carollers singing
Man, The Smiths' second single on Rough Trade, the independent label to
which they have plighted their troth. That single with its "cover
star" Jean Marais - Cocteau's youthful lover, gazing aesthetically
into an Orphean pool - was the turning point. It also spotlighted
the dreamy, often sexual, ambiguity of Morrissey's lyrics which drop
in disconcerting metaphysical imponderables without so much as
ruffling a hair on Morrissey's finely-tuned James Dean quiff.
A bunch of lotus-eating narcissi pounced upon in the heat of the
moment or something greater? Methinks the latter. So does
Morrissey, who is usually the first to say so. Yet, all this
charmingness has taken its toll.
"He's far too accommodating," says friend and confidante, writer Jim
Shelley. "The other day he gave 24 interviews, topping his previous
record of 16 and sometimes I think he just invites me around to
answer his phone."
"He's exhausted," says manager Scott Peiring, recounting a typical
gruelling week of business meetings, let alone appearances on Pop
Quiz and Eight Days A Week. Rolling Stone have been and gone;
Penthouse (Penthouse!) are waiting in the wings; the new single,
Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now
has gone straight into the charts at
19 and Top Of The Pops must be countenanced once more. The platinum
disc for 300,000 copies sold in the UK of the debut album, simply
should be arriving any moment to join the gold
one on Morrissey's mantelpiece.
By the time you read this, The Smiths will have headlined a 10,000
capacity festival in Finland, where they've trekked despite a morbid
fear of flying, followed by the GLC Jobs For A Change rally in London
on June 10, followed by the even newer single,
William, It Was
Really Nothing. Give this man a holiday!
Instead, he gets another interview, possibly his last for a long
You once quoted Fran Lebowitz: "Polite conversation is no conversation".
Are you prepared to talk dirty and tell the truth, the whole truth... ?
MORRISSEY: I am and promise to throw myself upon the mercy of the
You seem a little subdued today, are you miserable now?
Your phone is constantly engaged or unobtainable.
Yes, it has been quite strange these last three weeks.
Perhaps it's broken, let me listen
now (picking up the phone). No, it's alright but it
definitely has its moods and that suits
me fine because I've had to change the number. So many
people phoned that I was on it 24
hours a day. (The phone pings momentarily and Morrissey visibly
Sorry, that was my bangle hitting the phone. Do
you do all your interviews here, you seem a bit agoraphobic?
Yes-no. Initially I did but then there was
such a flux of journalists coming in and out, I
suddenly felt naked, Everyone would come in
and bound all over the place. People were
beginning to get too close and know too much
which must sound paranoid and neurotic but... Richard
Jobson, who lived here before me, told
me that he never allowed anyone connected
with the music industry in. I couldn't
really understand then. Now I do. I don't do most
interviews here. In fact I'm thinking of stopping them completely.
Last week you had 24 interviews lined
up for just one day, including one with
Yes, though we haven't actually done it yet and I can't see
wanting a straight interview. They're probably quite brutal and get
straight down to the 'Were You A Horny Teenager?' thing.
Were you a horny teenager thing?
Oh definitely (giggle), can't you tell?
Would you pose naked if offered enough money?
Probably. I have nothing whatsoever to hide.
Who last saw you in your natural state?
Almost certainly the doctor who brought me into this cruel world.
When was that?
Some 24 or so years ago.
You looked a little uncomfortable wedged between Tony Blackburn and Wham's George
Michael on telly the other day.
Yes. It was quite painful. Eight Days A Week was considerably
easier than Pop Quiz for some unknown reason.
What did you have stuffed into your ear on Eight Days A Week?
I'm afraid it was the old prop, the old hearing aid
implement to gain audience sympathy, if
such a thing is possible. I did feel that
ultimately the whole thing was pointless; three
individuals talking about films and books they hadn't read or watched.
Didn't you do your homework?
I tried but most of it was so strenuously bad
that I was unable to proceed beyond the first
five minutes, then I was expected to give
an absolute critical essay on the whole thing,
which is so unfair. Pop Quiz was unbearable. I
realised it was a terrible mistake the
moment the cameras began to roll.
Why did you do it?
I had this groundless idea that modern faces in
music should really break through these
barriers and change things. I realised that Pop
Quiz was ultimately impenetrable. You
can't change it, everything is cemented, the jokes are rigid, the movements are so severely
staged that nobody could make any difference. I just squirmed through the programme. I
went back to my dressing room afterwards and virtually felt like breaking down, it had been
so pointless. I felt I'd been gagged.
Isn't it a bit like the charts in general; where do The Smiths fit in?
I'm not sure we do. Ultimately we're misfits, though Pop Quiz have asked me back which is
Were you at all surprised at The Smiths being voted the best new group in the New
Musical Express readers poll?
Not really, it all seemed quite natural, I would really have been surprised if we were still
playing in Dingwalls.
With all these interviews and media attention, do you feel you've been
It seems I've been extremely overexposed because of the nature of the interviews. They get
very personal, even if you do just one big interview where it gets embarrassingly personal,
you seem entirely overexposed. It's a dilemma, I don't know quite what to
Isn't it an object lesson: to be less personal in
I can't be interviewed and talk in light, wispy terms. In throwaway interviews where people
ask me basic things, I feel an absolute sense of worthlessness. You can do a hundred
interviews and explain absolutely nothing about yourself but I tend to get asked very
serious questions and to give very serious replies. When I talk about my childhood, it
always comes across as being severely humorous or so profoundly black that's it's
embarrassing drivel but it always has a strong effect on people. Some unwritten law states
that you're not supposed to admit to an unhappy childhood. You pretend you had a jolly good
time. I never did. I'm not begging for sympathy, but I was struggling for the most basic
friendships. I felt totally ugly. (Morrissey is sniffing
Oh don't cry.
No, actually I'm dying of hayfever.
So, it's not a heavy coke habit?
Not yet, I'm working towards that.
Did you read Julie Burchill's piece in the Sunday Times
in which she argued that youngsters were a bunch of
ungrateful whingers who had no right to expect life's mod cons on a silver platter?
No and I don't agree. I always found young people to be uncommonly satisfied and placid.
If I ever got angry and dissatisfied as a child it was because there was never any angst
from anybody. Personally I was very unhappy but in general, the reason I felt strange was
because no-one else was saying, "I'm really miserable, I can't stand being
nine years old,
when are things going to change?".
You joked that Dorothy Parker, the acerbic wit, was your spiritual mother.
Oh, I wish she was.
How does your real mother feel when you talk about your unbearable childhood?
She takes it very seriously and reads my interviews religiously. I know it upsets her
sometimes but it's not something she doesn't already know about. We have ploughed through
it several times, many years ago. But I really can't help it, if somebody asks me a
question, I answer it, I can't lie.
What do your parents do?
They've always had very straightforward jobs.
You never talk about your father.
My parents got divorced when I was 17 though they were working towards it for many years.
Realising that your parents aren't compatible, I think, gives you a premature sense of
wisdom that life isn't easy and it isn't simple to be happy. Happiness is something you're
very lucky to find. So I grew up with a serious attitude, but my parents weren't the basis
of my neuroses.
You spent a lot of time cloistered in your room, what was it like?
Quite strange really. I had a very small bedroom and I remember going through periods when
I was 18 and 19 where I literally would not leave it for three to four weeks. I would be in
there day after day, the sun would be blazingly hot and I'd have the curtains drawn. I'd be
sitting there in near darkness alone with the typewriter and surrounded by masses of paper.
The walls were totally bespattered with James Dean, almost to the point of claustrophobia
and I remember little bits of paper pinned everywhere with profound
Oh, newspaper clippings like "Fish Eats Man". Probably the most important quote was from
Goethe: "Art and Life are different, that's why one is called Art and one is called Life."
But strangely, whenever I've returned to the house and the room I just couldn't make the
remotest connection between how I felt, how I was and the room. It sounds dramatic, but at
one point, I thought I could never possibly leave the room. It seems that everything I am
was conceived in this room. Everything that makes me is in there. I used to have a
horrible territorial complex. I would totally despise any creature that stepped across the
threshhold and when somebody did, or looked at my books, or took out a record, I would
seethe with anger. I was obsessive: everything was chronologically ordered - a place for
everything, everything in its place. Total neurosis. My sister only ever popped her head
around the door. But now, it's totally foreign. It's strange how things that seem to mean
so much, ultimately don't matter.
Did your mother ever manage you in The Smiths' early days?
No, but she was instrumental in engineering
the way I feel about certain things. She instilled Oscar Wilde
into me and when The Smiths began, she was very strong-willed
and business-minded. Frankly, she always let me do what I wanted. If I didn't want
to work she said fine. If I wanted to go somewhere she said
here's the money, go. If I wanted a new typewriter, she'd provide it. She always
supported me in an artistic sense, when many people around her said she was entirely insane
for allowing me to stay in and write. It's this working class idea that one is born simply
to work, so if you don't you must be of no value to the human race. Because I didn't work,
it was a cardinal sin. But everything has worked out well - it's all proved to have some
value and she feels as great a sense of achievement as I do. It's nice to have the last
Did you keep your poetic inclination quiet at school or were you laughed at?
No I didn't keep it quiet and yes, to a large degree I did get hooted at. But the one thing
that saved me in spite of my uncommon perversions, liking Cilla Black and Oscar Wilde -
being a working class person from Manchester it really doesn't help being obsessed by Oscar
Wilde - was my ability at athletics. I was a model athlete and they are the treasured
students who can get away with anything.
Did anyone fancy you at school?
Not demonstratively. There were whispers but since I was such an intellectual idiot, people
were convinced that if they talked to me I'd quote Genesis and bolts of lightning would
descend from the sky. So I never was kissed behind the bicycle shed.
When did you lose your virginity?
I wasn't aware that I had.
So, is virginity a state of mind?
Well (chuckling) let's just say that you helped me out of that
Did you enjoy being that obscure wretch Steven Morrissey, whose sole mission
seemed to consist of sending letters about the New York Dolls to the New Musical
No, that was a horrible period and I hate The Dolls now. I was 16 or 17 and went through
this mad period of trying to break into music journalism. I also wrote to everyone. I'd
receive about 30 letters a day from no-one in particular. I'd enter competitions. I spent
every solitary penny on postage stamps. I had this wonderful arrangement with the entire
universe without actually meeting anybody, just through the wonderful postal service. The
crisis of my teenage life was when postage stamps went up from 12p to 13p.
I was outraged.
Are you dismayed that your James Dean book has been re-pressed by Babylon Books?
I hate it, it's a cash-in. The book's been reissued in a way that could only attract
Smiths fans. It has a new cover and a Smiths picture of me which does sour the whole
thing. I'd rather leave the book, if it can be called such a thing, in
Is Steven Morrissey dead?
Yes. When The Smiths began it was very important that I wouldn't be that horrible, stupid,
sloppy Steven. He would have to be locked in a box and put on top of the wardrobe. l
needed to feel differently and rather than adopt some glamorous pop star name, I eradicated
Steven which seemed to make perfect sense. Suddenly I was a totally different person. Now
when I meet pre-Smith people who call me Steven, I sit there and wonder who they're talking
about. I always despised the name Steven, though being spelt with a 'v' rather than a 'ph'
made life slightly more tolerable. But it was very important that Steven
be drowned nonetheless.
What's Steven's middle name?
(barely audible) Patrick. What use does one make of a middle
What would you have preferred to have been named?
Oh something like Troy or Rock, those plastic machismo Fifties names. Rip Torn, imagine
calling your son Rip.
I see that you're the proud owner of Gaute & Odell's Murderer's Who's Who.
Mmmmm. Yes, but I'm never interested in those murders where the wife poisons the husband
and the husband suffocates the wife. Very extreme cases of murder have to be a constant
source of bewilderment; where the police burst into a flat and find seven bodies in the
fridge. It's not amusing, though you titter, it's a magnificent study of human nature
although I wouldn't want to be so close to the actual study that I'm squashed in the fridge
Have you had your palm read?
Yes. It said that in February 1985 I would be in severe trouble with the
Did you cry when Billy Fury died?
Were you dismayed when Terence Stamp, another hero, kicked up a fuss about being
the cover star of
What Difference Does It Make ?
I was indescribably unhappy. I was even more shocked when Albert Finney
refused to be the star of the next single sleeve because he's always been
immensely dear to me and he refused, wouldn't have anything to do with it.
Why use Joe Dallesandro out of Andy Warhol's Flesh for the album sleeve?
Well, I feel a twinge of sadness about that. Up till then everything had an icy
Britishness to it, then I succumbed to the whole Warhol thing - like those modernites who
crave the Factory thing and everything from late Sixties New York which surely was a
depressing waste of time.
Valerie Solanas thought so, she tried to assassinate Andy Warhol.
Yes, he made a misogynistic comment and she took umbrage, loaded her pistol and aimed it at
Andy's delicate little brain.
Do you admire that in a woman?
I do because then she wrote a book about it, which was quite rivetting. I mean how
obstreperous can you get? Shooting Andy Warhol, then going straight home, getting out the
typewriter: Why I Shot Andy Warhol by Agnes Gooch. It's
If I put you in a room with Robert Smith, Mark E. Smith and a loaded Smith and
Wesson, who would bite the bullet first?
I'd line them up so that one bullet penetrated both simultaneously (chuckle). Mark E.
Smith despises me and has said hateful things about me, all untrue. Robert Smith is a
whingebag. It's rather curious that he began wearing beads at the emergence of The Smiths
and (eyes narrowing) has been photographed with flowers. I expect he's quite supportive of
what we do, but I've never liked The Cure... not even "The
Were the Buzzcocks and Pete Shelley in particular, near and dear to you?
Mmmmm. Yes. They had an endearingly confused quality... really Northern, dim and
Are The Smiths making nostalgia for an age yet to come?
I hope so. I wouldn't want The Smiths to be seen as some kind of deranged pantomime, or
just a laugh like Chas'n'Dave. It has to be a little bit more meaningful
than that. I hope intellectually aware people put the right connotations
on what we do.
Are you a Male Feminist?
Well, I wouldn't stand on a table and shout "I'm a Feminist" or put a red stamp across my
forehead, but if one tends towards prevalent feminist views, by law you immediately become
one. Likewise, if you have great sympathy with Gay Culture you are immediately a
transexual. I did one interview where the gay issue was skirted over in three seconds and
when the interview emerged in print, there I was emblazoned across the headlines as this
great voice of the gay movement, as if I couldn't possibly talk about anything else. I
find that extremely harmful and simply don't trust anyone anymore.
Does it bother you that writers always try and probe into your sexuality?
Yes. The interview I just did with Rolling Stone begins:
"Morrissey is a man who says
he's gay," which upset me because of course I didn't say anything of the kind. People make
assumptions but there's no point complaining about it. I came into this business willingly
and I know the pitfalls so I accept them. At the end of the day, sexual terms just
segregate people, it's all monotonous and an insult to their individuality. I don't mind
effeminacy, it's better than being a bottle-it-up type or a Tetley Bitter Man. Men who
drop their defences don't necessarily march about the street crying and reciting
How did your dream date with The Associates' Billy Mackenzie
He walked off with one of my James Dean books, which is a persistent cause of anxiety to
me. I was quite speechless, I watched him walk out the door. It wasn't my favourite book
but these things are sacrosanct. Billy has got this sense of uncontrollable mischief
though I think that's exactly how he wants to be seen.
Were you happy with the Sandie Shaw collaboration?
No, I was never happy with the press. I was never happy, because she never said anything
good about me which was worrying.
Was it a case of a private infatuation going public and losing something in
Yes. I always felt like a spotted schoolboy, dribbling and getting
nowhere. Previous to the Sandie thing, all the press I was getting, and
The Smiths, was immaculately serious and very good.
The Sandie publicity reduced me to a quivering jelly.
Is pop music trivial?
How can it be? Songs rule people's lives. People are just waiting for a voice, someone to
say something. There's so much depth in The Smiths' music that when people say to me, you
sang that song and I cried, I'm not surprised. I understand completely, it's happened to
me. I've purchased records that are Biblical; you think, 'this person understands me,
nobody else does'. It's like having an immovable friend.
What is the most Biblical record in your collection?
Undoubtedly, Klaus Nomi's last single before he died. It's called "Death" and it's
incredibly moving. The lyrics go, "'Remember me, but forget my fate".
What would you find in Room 101, the room in Orwell's 1984 where Winston Smith is
confronted by his worst fear?
Could anything be more horrifying than garlic and onions? I have this pathetic phobia
about them, everything, especially the smell frightens me to death.
If eternal youth were for sale, would you buy it?
No. I've always found people of an advanced age most alluring. The
older I get the calmer I become.
So you don't see any parallel between yourself and Dorian Gray?
Not really. I've always been old before my time.
Will The Smiths, so opposed to making promo videos, make a feature film?
You mean, like A Hard Day's Night? Yes, it's appealing.
A Hard Day's Misery. But I don't want to stray
from the initial burning desire to make wonderful records. It's not enough to
make one or two wonderful records. I want an endless stream of priceless singles for people
to caress to their bosoms.
There is a mysteriously bathetic line in
Miserable Lie that goes "What do we get
for our trouble and pain/Just a rented room in Whalley Range". Does Whalley Range
I'm afraid so. It's the little suburb of Manchester bedsit land and everyone who lives
there is an unrecognised poet or a failed artist. Anyone who wishes to pursue their destiny
ends up there and never gets out.
But you escaped and now live in the heart of Kensington, even though you declared
that you'd never move to London.
I know, it's the sorrow of my life. I had to move to cut down on my phone bills. If only
Rough Trade had moved to Manchester. Still I lived in Whalley Range a miraculously short
time and it was nice to be immersed in the low life, living the life of pained immaculate
beauty, walking around the park inhaling the riches of the poor as it were, but the sense of
being entrapped by the DHSS was worrying.
When did The Smiths stop signing on?
We stopped signing on about a year ago. The Smiths had been going a few months but we
weren't earning any money. As soon as
Hand In Glove began to sell, it became too
dangerous. And of course, the DHSS feel that if you've made one record you're just an
enormous international massively rich person, even if your record's 38 in the independent
chart and you owe your record company £30,000.
Were The Smiths hyped in America?
No. We just played one performance, at Danceteria, and the record jumped 20 places. Sire
haven't promoted the group anyway. They released
What Difference Does it Make ? instead of
This Charming Man
totally against our wishes and of course it will fail. I thought
Charming Man the most obviously instantaneous release imaginable.
Are you now a member of the middle class?
Oh no. Really we're all the same people, money doesn't change anything.
And we haven't much anyway.
You mean, you haven't got £50,000 in your bank account, like Phil Oakey?
(laughing) To be honest, I don't have a bank account.
Where do you keep it, under the mattress?
No, truthfully, The Smiths have a group account. We're a cooperative and
everything I earn goes into that.
Once you've said you're miserable what's left for you to write about?
Ooh. There's so much buried in the past to steal from, one's resources are limitless. I'm
not saying everything I write has been written before but most of the way I feel comes from
the cinema. I fed myself on films like A Taste Of Honey, The
Have you now got what you were hoping for all those years in your room?
Not completely, but Oscar Wilde had a few words to say, of which you
should take careful note: "When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers."