I have been thinking a lot about Morrissey lately.
Before you start worrying, this is O.K. I like Morrissey. It is not a sign that my struggle with ongoing depression has suddenly spiralled out of control and I am now collapsed on a pile of rotting gladioli weeping into a Meat is Murder t-shirt at the futility of my life.
I actually find Morrissey very uplifting. I’ve always thought The Smiths were incredibly funny. Brilliant too, but definitely funny.
Tilly has recently become a fan. She is a real Eighties music girl. Her friends coax her into the modern world with this and that, but her heart is in the Eighties, and she has started to listen to The Smiths because of Derek.
Derek, you see, hates Morrissey with a passion. Whenever one of The Smiths’ tracks comes on to Absolute Eighties, which is our radio station of choice while we are cooking, her ears go back, her spine bristles and her tail bushes out. If, as I did, you push the boundaries of Derek’s detestation by doing Morrissey style dancing, she tries to bite you, she is that enraged.
It does not matter to her that Mozza is a great fan of animals in general, and ones which don’t deserve to be eaten in particular. We have explained all this to her. She HATES him.
As a result of Derek’s antipathy, Tilly started listening more when The Smiths came on, and it turns out that she is as delighted with them as me. FOR THE SAME REASONS!
This is a moment of true wonder in my parenting journey. We may find out that we diverge wildly about everything from this point onwards, but we can always bond over Mozza. I owe him a debt of gratitude. Possibly a letter from: ‘Delighted of Knighton’.
A couple of days ago, Tilly and I were in the car listening to her Best of the Smiths CD. As we sang along we pondered just what it is that makes Mozza so Moztastic, and what we would say to Derek to try to get her to change her mind.
Here are our thoughts in the classic top ten styling:
1. He is a top notch yodeller. Nobody can yodel like Moz when he’s at full belt. He yodels at all kinds of insane pitches and in odd places, songishley speaking. This may be why Derek gets upset. It probably resonates in a feline way that humans can’t hear.
Yodelling is not something one would usually associate with popular music combos, but Moz totally knew when to yodel, and more importantly, when to not yodel. It is masterful.
2. He is brilliant at using excellent words like humdrum and gruesome and frankly and plundering. Absolutely awesome.
3. Then there are the lines. Whole lines of geniusnessness:
Punctured bicycle, on a hillside desolate (the woe. The sheer woe)
I was detained, I was restrained, and broke my spleen, and broke my knee (Not the spleen. NOOOO)
The devil will find work for idle hands to do (how can you not love someone who puts this line in a song? How?)
Now I know how Joan of Arc felt, as the flames rose, to her Roman nose, and her hearing aid started to melt ( Quoi? Hein? Je suis enflamme. Parler plus fort!)
But now you make me feel so ashamed, because I’ve only got two hands, Well, I’m still fond of you (even though I’m a useless, two handed freak, and no, I’m not going any further than ‘fond’ if it’s all the same to you).
Writing frightening verse, to a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg. (Terrifying image)
This is quality work. Quality. They probably paid him by the line for this stuff.
4. But not content with words, and then lines, he even creates entire songs which are utter, utter perfection. It is my opinion, now shared by my daughter, that there is no finer pop song in the English language than Girlfriend in a Coma. There is not a single thing wrong with that song. At all. I defy you to find fault with it.
It literally makes me weep with laughter every, single time I hear it, and yet I can also dance to it. Two for the price of one. A veritable BOGOF of pop perfection. (How Soon is Now? runs it a close second).
5. We are thrilled at the utter pessimism of the oeuvre. Nothing good ever happens to Mozza. He enjoys ill health, poverty and dourness in a way that is peculiarly British and entirely heartening. He’s always suffering. Suffering is big on Morrissey’s agenda, and he does it so well. Even the titles are miserable: ‘Still Ill’ and ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,’ spring to mind. That peculiarly British saying: ‘It’s bein’ so cheerful ‘as keeps us goin” needs to be stickered onto their entire back catalogue.
You want to stand next to Mozza in wedding photos. No matter how gloomy you are, you cannot be as gloomy as him. Even Eeyore seems like a ray of sunshine in comparison. He also made it acceptable to be bored, and allowed you to turn it into a fashion statement. Given that I spent large parts of the Seventies and Eighties bored out of my mind it was good to have a legitimate outlet for it. Thanks Mozza.
6. The entire output of The Smiths is also desolately, miserably Northern in a Seventies/Eighties grinding poverty sort of way. This was very cheering if you came from anywhere north of Watford. Even in the songs about London they’re always running away to the YWCA and applying for jobs as ‘back scrubbers’. There’s no hedonism there. Nobody goes to The Groucho Club for a grappa and a cigar. It’s all run down working men’s clubs, cobbled streets, TB and phlegm. You can hear the rain falling. You can smell the soot. You can feel the total boredom of Wednesday early closing and the horrors of the brown, swirling carpets. I am not at all surprised that Morrissey now mostly lives in Los Angeles, and I like to imagine what his non-English fans make of his songs. It is a form of auditory culture shock.
It’s a bit like realising Gregory House and Prince George from Blackadder are one and the same.
7. Sartorially Morrissey made it cool to a) steal your dad’s clothes, b) steal your granddad’s clothes and c) raid charity shops and jumble sales. This was infinitely preferable for a teenager on a budget than having to buy Azzedine Alaia dust coats or sell a kidney to get to Camden market. All hail Morrissey and the incipient aroma of moth balls. Also: terribly fitting cardigans, gladioli in pants and hearing aids as fashion accessory. Top work.
An addendum to this would be the legitimisation of flailing as a dance form. Morrissey always danced like epilepsy was a cat’s whisker away. Terrible dancers everywhere rejoiced that they were able to get back onto the dance floor without having to pretend to be Earth Wind and Fire. Falling over was now cool.
8. The songs may be utterly, utterly woeful, but the tunes are sheer joy. They are effervescent, twingly, spangly things that speak of gossamer and sparkles. The juxtaposition of the lyrics and the music is just class.
9. The artwork for the records is fantastic. Apart from New Order, it’s the first time I was ever interested in a band because of the look of the material as well as the music. The grainy black and white pictures and careful curation of the images was way ahead of its time.
10. Morrissey, of course, must be credited with the reason why the totally top game: ‘What is Morrissey’s first name?’ came about. Remember – So good they named him twice.
All of these things mean that we will forgive his obsession with fat people, his foppish hair and his raging ego.
Derek still doesn’t like him though.