But just as there is a comic undertow in a lot of The Smiths' work -
unnoticed by many, friends and foes alike, despite Morrissey's
widely-published fondness for George Formby and early Carry On films - so
too is there a basic seriousness, sufficient to ensure that nothing of
theirs is ever merely camp.
Reared in Northwestern city greyness and still implacably provincial, Morrissey now divides his days between a home in suburban Cheshire: "Greener pastures, quite pleasant, often plush, but very boring" and a flat in Chelsea: "Quite dark, no natural daylight, which I insisted upon, obviously. They've bricked up the windows! No, but it's a very dark place, and ghostly.
"I've grown attached to London now. The experience I have of it is
quite cushioned - I imagine if I lived in a squat in Shoreditch I wouldn't
have such a romantic view of London. But I have. I like just walking
around, inhaling the cosmetic fake glamour of the whole thing."
You are not a great one for the night life, are you?
I think I've been to a club once in the last year, which is not a very good record in trying to impress anyone in that area. Shameful, really. But I still feel The Smiths are quite detached from the great big hubbub of popdom and stardom and wealth. Things haven't changed much in a particular sense.
Are you still drawing on your past?
No, I'm drawing on the present now, which makes me feel slightly uneasy about the future. Because if I was still drawing on the days when I was on the dole and despised by every human on earth I'd feel quite comfortable. But because I'm now drawing on the present, and the themes are still quite similar, it makes me feel quite quaky about the coming years.
Is your present as fertile a source of inspiration as your
Well you won't believe it but I really find the present quite barren and therefore quite fertile, which is something that constantly confuses me because I often wonder that if I found immaculate, serene, unbearable happiness, would I become a window cleaner or something? That's something I look forward to...
What advantages do you foresee in signing to EMI? There's a
certain amount more dosh in it for you, I imagine.
Again you wouldn't really believe it but the dosh is not what most people would consider it to be. In fact I can't even find it. As far as dosh is concerned it isn't a dramatically glamorous contract. But that's just the story of The Smiths' experience really; we've never made enormous amounts of money or even impressive amounts of money. And with the EMI contract most people seem to think I will instantly become a millionaire and live in glamorous places and so on, and I will be removed from anything considered faintly ordinary - which has always been the case in some way, but not financially.
But yes, I'm sure it won't mean I'll be living on luncheon vouchers. More's the pity, really. I do equally envisage higher record sales, higher chart placings, the power of EMI forcing Smiths records into radio and television. I do imagine that with EMI we will perhaps manage, for instance, television advertisements, which with Rough Trade we can't manage because of the expense. I always felt that chartwise the records could have got much higher. I always believed that. If this doesn't happen with EMI, of course, I will be enormously embarrassed!
Won't you be more vulnerable to record company pressure,
though? To make videos or whatever.
I don't really believe EMI want to sign The Smiths so they can completely change the group, turn us into something we aren't. I think they know what The Smiths are - I hope they do - and there's not really any point attempting to hoist us into gruesome manoeuvres which we've dodged in the past, or attempted to dodge. There's no point. We'll just run off.
But their lawyers will run after you.
Well, we're quick runners. We've got bicycles.
As someone who's often been frank about your heroes, how does
it feel to be an object, for some, of a similar devotion?
An object? Yes I've always thought of myself as an object... It's something I juggle with every day, this situation. Through matters of circumstance I very rarely meet people, so it's not as if every night I'm meeting people who are swinging out at me and saying, "Let me have your jacket!" That very rarely happens. But because I'm such an obsessive creature I become so immensely devoted to the people that I like, practically to the point of hospitalisation. I have boxes and boxes at home, cuttings and old books. People who visit me can't believe the streams of documentation I have on the people I like. But because I become so obsessive I can really understand it when somebody writes to me by every post, and sends me their underwear, and feels that enormous degree of painful obsession. I can understand it completely and I wholly encourage it! I'd like it to spread, in fact.
It must become burdensome after a point, surely.
Yes. There are some people who take train journeys to London to try and find me. They ring up the record company and appear at the doorstep and say, "I am here and I am going to lie on the doorstep until Morrissey arrives." There are people like that. I don't disapprove of that situation; they're getting fresh air! (Laughs)
Do they not look to you to solve their personal
Yes, it does happen a lot. There is a style of letter that I receive from very, shall we say, nervous individuals, who are very nervous about their own future. I get a lot of letters from people who don't have jobs, and from back bedroom casualties, if you like, who are very worried because they can't focus on anything in human life that makes them feel comfortable. And I get letters from people who say, "When The Smiths break up I will die, I will make a reservation for the next world." But to me that's not extreme. I don't leap back with shock, because I understand that form of expression, that form of drama. I think it primarily stems from feeling quite isolated and believing that the people who make the records you buy are your personal friends, they understand you, and the more records that you buy and pictures you collect the closer you get to these people. And if you are quite isolated and you hear this voice that you identify with, it's really quite immensely important.
Are you still the same monastic figure you've been portrayed as
I don't really know what monastic means - oh yes, from a monastery...
Well, I suppose I was... This is a yes or no question, really. But yes.
Have you exorcised the ghosts of your past?
Not really. It sounds almost stagnant to admit that I haven't really changed in any profitable ways, but I haven't. I still do the same old things and I still avoid new things.
What are you driven by?
Hate largely. This will sound almost unpleasant but distaste for normality. I've never really liked normal people and it's true to this day. I don't like normal situations. I get palpitations. I don't know what to do. So this obsessive drive against normality - which I know sounds unprintable and unfathomable - that's what it is. That is what it is. You look very confused.
I was wondering what normality is.
Oh, I think we know what normality is. It's all those things that we know. Oh, you know...
Are you materially ambitious?
No, not at all. I like to have food and heat, and I like to live in faintly pleasant surroundings. But otherwise, no. I've got no desire to possess anything at all. I can't fathom the idea of going to Madrid to shop. Which is why I'm not really successful as a pop star, if you like. Quite recently we went to Italy to do these television shows. And there were at least ten other famous acts from England, and we spent about a week with them. It was really intriguing to me because we'd never really mixed with pop stars before, and most of what they did, I didn't understand. I have very humble requirements - they're offbeat and quite damaging at times but they're certainly humble. I don't really want to own anything at all. Not even a moped.
What about respect and recognition. Do you crave these
I'll do anything for respect and recognition. I'll crawl across hot coals! Well, that's an exaggeration. But it is important to me that intelligent people enjoy the records. And it's important to me that intelligent people should have sane and attractive views of me as an individual. I don't mind when idiots call me silly things. I can recognise people who simply want to sneer.
Are your management problems solved yet?
It's an unmitigated disaster. It's one of the things that makes me very depressed. We've been through a catalogue of managers, none has really been suitable. And the last one was a great shock because it did seem for once in our lives that everything was going to be ironed out and the future was quite solid. And he lasted five and a half weeks. And he's not going to go down without a hideous great big dirty fight. It's very depressing for instance to think that he is going to fight for fifteen per cent of everything we earn for the next twelve months. He's not going to get it but fighting him off is going to cost an enormous amount of money and physical hardship. I get depressed by people who simply want the money, who simply arrange their situations so that their entire lifestyle, in every minute detail, is financed by the group. And this always happens, I imagine, with people who surround a successful group. The people in the whole network slyly organise themselves and situate themselves in such a position that you are constantly financing their every move, whether it literally be buying a can of dogfood for their dog. In some way they can make it seem as though they simply have this dog because of The Smiths. It really annoys me because we do pay enormous bills on a monthly basis to people who I don't even know and some people who I don't even like - people just along for the frills.
Are you now looking for a manager? Could you cope without
I can't imagine signing any more contracts because it's been so consistently awful. But similarly, to stumble through without somebody is also difficult. It's an aging process and hard to live with. You wake up at night thinking of lawyers, and certain things they'd said to you the previous day. And when you wake up the next day you instantly see the face of this tour promoter in front of you. Which isn't really very pleasant.
Is there any longer a thrill for you in live
No, for me it's totally, totally gone. Which is something I thought I'd never say. And I don't really know what to do about it, to be honest, because there is great pressure to tour Thailand and things like that. But it's a situation where people can't really advise you because nobody really knows what it's like. Most people do not know what it's like to sing and front a group, so you can only trust your own instincts in this matter. And I no longer feel that it's something I want to continue doing. I wouldn't like to go on a stage if I just felt 55 percent of an interest, and that really is the case. So I don't think I should do it.
You aren't about to tell me The Smiths won't tour again, are
I'm trying not to say that. Because it sounds like a stamping child.
It sounds like David Bowie, or Frank Sinatra.
Yes, lots of people have said it. And weeks later they're arranging 88 date tours of Middlesbrough. It's happened so many times before. So I'm not about to say it. I'd rather maintain a dignified, mystical silence.
I'm just about to let you.
Thank you. I'll just sit here and create my mystique.