With a new album on the horizon, Manchester’s most divisive son remains ‘Low in High School.’ But has his truculent tongue bitten us once too many times?
As comfortable wrapped in his enigma as he is exposing his nipples, Stephen Patrick Morrissey has always liked to play his cards close to his chest, even as his outbursts seemed tailor-trim designed to confuse and provoke. A wilful contrarian, and famed perception baiter, he has surely never been accused of being dull. You could scarcely find a more polarising individual to have ever danced whimsically into the popular consciousness, pocket full of daffodils and hearing aid akimbo. People either seem to love Morrissey unconditionally, or they fucking abhor him and the very whiff of his name.
Perhaps some of this is due to the fact that though crippled with shyness, he has never ever been remotely shy of voicing an opinion. Even prior to his Marr-conjoined gateway to the vaunted limelight, he was busy pounding out opinionated screeds on his bedroom typewriter to mail to the lofty scions of the British music press, by turns praising the New York Dolls, and bemoaning just about everything else with the withering wit for which he would become renowned.
“All of the rumours keeping me grounded, I never said they were completely unfounded” he famously crooned on his quintessential solo track ‘Speedway.’ Part confessional mea culpa, part antagonistic jab, it sums up the man’s public persona and fragile alliance with the press (who he seems to simultaneously loathe and utterly crave in equal measure) in a single perfect chorus.
Spin forward to today and his deliciously catchy new single ‘Spent the Day in Bed’ implores his friends to ‘Stop watching the news.’ Perhaps it’s one rule for Morrissey and another for all his friends though, as during recent BBC Live showcase he continued his much publicised twist towards the reactionary with some baffling banter espousing the fact that he was “very surprised the other day to see Anne Marie Waters become the head of Ukip. Oh no, sorry she didn’t – the voting was rigged. Sorry, I forgot.”
As if to puncture the deafening silence that followed this unsolicited assertion, he added “You didn’t get it, did you? You obviously don’t read the news.”
What the fuck Mozz?
Like many of you I was introduced to The Smiths as a teenager. Awkwardly shuffling towards adulthood with the dawning realisation that the adults really didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. To a spotty insurrectionist like myself, Morrissey was a godsend. Uncomfortable in his own skin, unloved and unlovable but with a wicked wink to camera that seemed to say, no scream: “you’re not alone.” He was wounded, he was brave, he was hilarious!
He raised a banner for the bookish and the bewildered, and still I cannot bring myself to dismiss him. His heft is too strong, his legacy too weighty, his voice too sublime. It’s a bit like being in an abusive relationship. And every time I dig out one of his LP’s I know that’s its Stockholm syndrome guiding the platter towards the turntable.
But then the music starts.
When he compared the London Olympics to Nazi Germany I had the music, when he called the Chinese a sub-species I had the music, when he thought Nigel Farage and Brexit were ‘wonderful’ I had the music.
Life is a pigsty.
It’s a struggle that has become increasingly common to those of us who once fell under his juju. The cognitive dissonance and sheer force of will required to compartmentalise the Morrissey of our aching youth with the bloated nationalist he seems to have become.
He has had his bouts with controversy before, even as early as solo debut Viva Hate the track ‘Bengali in Platforms’ raised eyebrows with the line ‘shelve your Western plans and understand that life is hard enough when you belong here ‘. Draping himself in the Union Jack at Glastonbury didn’t exactly help matters, and though at the time the throng rallied to his cause and vehemently denied that this was anything other than being pilloried by the press, it remained impossible not to wonder, even as we sprang to his aid with a battered copy of The Queen is Dead clutched reverentially under our arms.
Like another elder statesman of the disaffected, John Lydon, it seems that he was inconvertibly morphing into caricature as he bemoaned the loss of the England of his youth. An England where, lest we forget belligerent ghouls ran Manchester schools, children were murdered on the moors and the solution to Margaret Thatcher was the Guillotine.
Perhaps it was his self-imposed exile to California that set his nostalgia gland to dribbling. From a distance, obscured by the ocean, the streets of his youth, and the culture that alienated him took on a misty and obfuscated rose tinted hue. Irish Blood, English Heart. L.A. Postcode.
It’s truly puzzling and more than a little saddening. But again though, as I write this, the joyful refrain to ‘Sweet and Tender Hooligan’ sits spinning in my head. Look into his ‘mother me’ eyes!
I’ll probably buy the new album.
We always become the things we hate.