November 11, 2006

Saint Morrissey: A Portrait of this Charming Man by an Alarming Fan, by Mark Simpson.

I was […] watching a pop-music program called The Tube on Channel 4 while I waited for my tea. Then, without warning, this pale, emaciated James Dean double, clearly much more in need of my fish-fingers and chips than I was and wearing some woman’s blouse, a plastic necklace, a pair of jeans two sizes too large, and a head three sizes too big, leaped out at me with his mouth open.
He was singing at me, right at me, in the most indecently direct and alarmingly fey way. He’d singled me out for his warped attentions, I could tell. And it wasn’t just any old pop lyric you could hear at that time — the sort of thing that’s a bit pretentious, like the Associates, or daft, like the Cure, or kinky and daft and pretentious, like Soft Cell, but basically harmless. Oh, no. It was, well … bloody poetry. How are you supposed to get over that? [pg. 8]

Of course, Simpson didn’t. And I haven’t, either.

But whereas Simpson was infected in 1983, I remained sadly unscathed until 2005, when I happened upon a Morrissey music video on the net (while playing with a Mac notebook at CompUSA!) with the incredible title, I Have Forgiven Jesus [iTMS pre-link]. What?! And goddam if Morrissey didn’t make a case for passing the sins of us filthy humans back onto the Creator!

As Simpson asked, How are you supposed to get over that? You can’t! I was hooked.

Simpson resisted and resisted and resisted, until, finally, in 1994, after hearing the album Vauxhall and I

I abandoned all hope. And of course did what anyone would do in such circumstances: I became a writer.[pg. 23]

Well, at least I had him beaten at that by a few decades!

Simpson, however, knew his life had been completely and forever ruined by Morrissey:

This was intolerable. So I resolved to expose him. To write a book about him. Or, rather, to write a book about what he did to me and millions of others. With words. It was to be my revenge. Paragraphs taking on blank verse, prose assaulting bloody poetry. Pathetic and hopeless, I know, but satisfaction of a kind — the only kind available to me.[pg. 23]

He then goes on for a total of 250 pages — with an insert of photos! — in the most rollicking, hilarious, and even serious, vein; dissecting, analyzing, inveighing against, and even praising and explaining and excusing and defending the object of his emnity and adoration.

Some people — some very unfortunate people — reading this have never heard of Morrissey. He is, of course, a singer and lyricist. In the 1980s, he was singing in a group called The Smiths. The Smiths (“the band that is now almost universally hailed as the greatest group of the eighties”), despite never having any airplay in their native England, became a worldwide cult phenomenon, inciting devotion on this scale:

In 1987, a distressed young man in Denver, Colorado, held his local radio station hostage, insisting, at gunpoint, that it play nothing but Smiths records. This they did — for four hours — inflicting Morrissey on the good Christian people of Colorado, who up until that point had been for the most part blissfully unaware of his existence. Eventually, the police besieging the building persuaded the unhappy young man to give himself up.

This was both an unhinged, impotent romantic gesture and a dangerous, revolutionary act. If any music ever had a chance of changing the world, or at least giving it some seriously bad dreams, it was the music of the Smiths. The fervent zeal of this mad lad who forced the Denver radio station to saturate the airwaves of his hometown with records by this obscure, depraved British band was, in its own casualty-free way, more “murderous” and ambitious than the rage of the two young shallow nihilists who went on a shooting spree many years later in their high school in Littleton, also in Colorado.[pg. 106}

That was also the year The Smiths disbanded.

Since that time, Morrissey has, as a devotional website is titled, gone solo. He continues to confound his critics, his detractors, and even his fans by producing albums of brilliance, with lyrics never before heard in songs. Lyrics that are steeped in his matrix of obsession and which include James Dean, Sandie Shaw, Shelagh Delaney (especially her play, and the movie based on it, A Taste of Honey) — and, as a guide for his stylish persona, Oscar Wilde:

I’m not a phone person. I can’t quite get usd to the telephone.
[Interviewer:]Why? Lack of intimacy?
Lack of interest. There’s usually a person on the other end.
— Modern Rock Live, 1997

Simpson dissects Morrissey in just about every possible way. Since this is the first book I’ve read about Morrissey, I have to take it on faith that his facts are (no pun intended) straight — and that his broad suppositions are what most other Victims of Moz would conclude. Still, there is nonsense here too, but it only spices the delicious fun.

But no matter how many books are eventually written about Morrissey, he will remain an enigma. And that’s as it should be! Even this book, as detailed as it is, really only adds to the fog that surrounds Morrissey. And that’s as it should be too!

It’s like this:

It’s fantastic working with Sandie Shaw–it’s like meeting myself in a former life.
— Morrissey, 1984

In short, it’s like Morrissey doing an autobiography by proxy!

[Excerpts Copyright © 2003 Mark Simpson. Excerpts used without explicit permission under the Fair Use provisions of Copyright law. CopyNazis can go fuck themselves.]