Firstly, many thanks to a workmate of mine who asked me for my thoughts on this issue.
I’m a big fan of Steven Patrick Morrissey and much of his work as an artist.
He has written a collection of songs, most notably from the mid 1980s to the early 1990s, which spoke on behalf of those who felt that the rest of the world had forgotten them. Despite his enormous commercial success and critical acclaim with the Smiths and then as a solo artiste, he took it upon himself to act as a representative of society’s misfits and disenfranchised (insert your own joke here). This takes balls, and Morrissey the man is someone with many more admirable qualities than he is sometimes given credit for.
A tremendous interview subject with a wicked sense of humour, his glass half-empty outlook on life is sometimes dwelt upon to the point of making him a one-dimensional miserablist. I believe this to do the man a terrible injustice (I’ll attach his interview with Jonathan Ross in 2004 and invite you to make up your own mind).
All that said, I’ve been coming to the conclusion for a couple of years that it is now past time for Morrissey to hang up his microphone.
There were two main reasons for this as of last week.
Firstly his output since 1995 has been, if we’re honest, not particularly good.
1994′s Vauxhall and I represented the work of a man who appeared to have finally created a separate identity from that of his past with which he was comfortable. It is truly a superb record from first bell to last, with Radiohead in particular acknowledging its influence on their subsequent works.
Southpaw Grammar, released the following year, was by contrast an attempt to break new ground that failed to come off. With a casually brutal guitar sound aiming to compliment Morrissey’s new ‘hard man’ image, it appeared and sounded contrived, leaving the listener with a sense of deflated anti-climax. 1997′s Maladjusted managed to sink even lower, with terrible numbers such as ‘Papa Jack‘ that would never have got to the serious recording stage but a few years earlier.
After a seven year hiatus, Morrissey announced his comeback with You are the Quarry and managed considerable commercial success, scoring his highest ever singles chart position when Irish Blood, English Heart reached number 3.
How much of this owed itself to general goodwill and the sense that mainstream music had reached new depths is unclear. But listening back a few years later I heard a record that was ok as opposed to the work of genius that many made it out to be at the time. There are some very good songs along with several that could best be described as mediocre. It was in short, not an especially good or bad album. Ringleader of the Tormentors, released in 2006, had the advantage of a sound inspired by Tony Visconti. It is easily the best thing to appear under the Morrissey banner since his return from the wilderness.
It is not a spectacular or brilliant recording, but contains some gems such as the centrepiece, the deliberately mis-spelt Life is a Pigsty.
By contrast, 2009′s Years of Refusal was a truly dreadful work laced with clumsy guitars, hackneyed lyrics and the ill-advised decision of Morrissey to embrace the synthesiser. It was the first record featuring Morrissey that I did not rush out and buy immediately, and the less said about it the better.
He seems to have become many of the things he once claimed to hate in a multitude of ways.
The numerous ‘Best of – Most of’ compilations under his name have made a mockery of the brilliant Smiths tune Paint a Vulgar Picture – “re-issue, repackage, re-package, re-evaluate the songs. Double pack with a photograph – extra track and a tacky badge”.
We’ve had Bona Drag, the Best of Morrissey, the Greatest Hits and now the Very Best of Morrissey. A similar butchering having been carried out on the Smiths back catalogue by those “at the record company party” too.
Then there are the live shows which bring back echoes of his song Get off the Stage, the B-side to 1990′s adorably catchy Piccadilly Palare. In this number, Morrissey waxes lyrical, “you silly old man, you’ve made a fool of yourself. The song you just sang sounds exactly like the last one, and the next one”.
One of the great aspects of watching him live was the sense that it made one feel somewhat younger than they actually were. In 2004, the novelty value of seeing him back in action was sufficient. But now Morrissey is in danger of becoming one of the ‘rock dinosaurs’ he poked fun at all these years ago.
For my money, the Stretford bard has fallen a long way since his 1985-1994 heyday.
There is no shame in that, and Morrissey has enjoyed a period at the top of his profession that would be envied by the vast majority of aspiring singers or musicians. For the quality of his work in partnership with first Johnny Marr, then Vini Reilly and Alain Whyte, he deserves the recognition that he receives as arguably the finest lyricist of his generation.
The last two Smiths albums in particular could be considered masterpieces, and his early solo work pretty much of the same standard. However, the decline of a great writer and performer into mediocre output is never a pleasant sight.
However, there is one more reason for wishing Morrissey to pack it in which has nothing to do with music. It only came to my attention as a result of recent newspaper reports.
Morrissey is a committed vegetarian. His song “Meat is Murder” is believed to have been the most common reason on earth for the abstention of individuals from eating ‘the flesh’.
I was myself vegetarian for a few years of my life, but have never really rated the tune, so probably had a pang of either misplaced fashion sense or temporarily enhanced conscience.
After the Smiths released the album of the same name in 1985, Morrissey is said to have badgered the other members of the group into following his choice of lifestyle. Bass player Andy Rourke once admitted that he had sneaked out for a steak on occasions with the road crew, who had also been instructed that eating meat while on tour was forbidden. When one embarks on a choice based on conscience, be it one of lifestyle, faith or politics, they are invariably faced with a secondary question:
Do I live and let live or make it my mission in life to spread the word of my particular gospel?
Morrissey clearly decided post-1985 to follow the latter path, with considerable commitment. As his solo career developed and brought him name recognition in his adopted home of the United States, Morrissey upped the stakes by taking to banning meat products from his concert venues.
This in itself could be considered a form of tyranny which makes me distinctly uncomfortable, but at least has the plausible defence of “my house, my rules”.
I’m not allowed to smoke in my rented home and therefore respect the wishes of my landlord, I understand that many apply this dogma to their own property, including their cars. Some choose to abstain from alcohol and require others to do so while on their premises.
If you allow the assumption to be made that the venue is, albeit temporarily “Morrissey Island” then one could at least argue that he should get to decide upon these quirks, however totalitarian they might be.
However, Morrissey now appears to have gone beyond the quirky and into the realms of “belligerent ghouls”, to quote one of his best songs.
An attendee of one of his recent gigs revealed:
“As you went into the venue you were funnelled through to the top of some steps where they were carrying out searches. A member of the security staff then went through my bag and told me that they were checking to make sure that I was not carrying any meat products inside”.
Mozzer, have you finally lost what remains of your sanity?
As a man who has been frisked himself by the US authorities in an experience he described as “very intimidating – it’s supposed to be”, Morrissey should know better than to treat his fans in such a despicable way.
My heart went out to that poor woman, and I’m reminded of a quote from Cure frontman Robert Smith in the 1980s:
“he (Morrissey) seems to care much more about animals than he does about humans who eat meat”.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that thus is true – if this is what Morrissey thinks of his paying public.
Choosing a lifestyle is a matter entirely a personal matter, spreading the word is the individual’s right as long as they are not overly ‘pushy’ about it.
Enforcing it in the space of a public concert is at best borderline.
But ordering security to search people for items which do not fit in with your own way of life is disgusting and completely out of order.
I never had Morrissey pegged as a man of Libertarian instinct, as his early 1990s flirtations with racist imagery clearly indicated otherwise. However, one does not have to agree with a person’s politics to admire something about them or their work. I was quite happy to overlook his socialist and anti-immigration sentiments as the mere signs of a flawed genius.
What must be said is that for a man as well read and versed in our history as he clearly is, Morrissey appears to have at best a selective understanding of it, and his failure to understand the offence caused by frisking innocent concert-goers indicates a more serious issue.
Here is a man used to getting his own way, and the recollections of ex-colleagues and producers will stand as testimony of what happens when he doesn’t.
As someone with an ‘individualistic’ disposition, I might have more sympathy with him than most in this area. But imposing one’s choice of lifestyle on others, to the extent that it strips them of their dignity, is crossing a very clear line.
If there is nobody around Morrissey with the courage to correct this foray into tyranny, then this is another, more principled reason for which I hope his live performances will soon become a thing of the past.
I certainly will not be attending any of them.
If faced with his latest show on my television screen, I will change the channel in the name of liberty.
Morrissey Jonathan Ross Interview 2004 Part 1
Morrissey Jonathan Ross Interview 2004 Part 2