Oh Manchester, so much to answer for

1sttatt

 

I have neglected this blog like a red headed step-child for far too long. My excuse has been striving towards some semblance of a university degree; but now school’s out for the summer and I figured it was as good a time as any to restart things here.

So I thought about what I could write by way of some introductory/ground work posts, and I thought maybe some background on certain important artists which have shaped my musical life; who have been vitally important and who I admire most. So I thought I’d write a little about what these artists mean to me, my favourite songs and albums that they have done, and also any disappointments, or gigs I have attended. Anyone who knows me probably knows how painfully predictable I am and could guess that I would always start with Morrissey.

My love affair with Morrissey’s music dates back pretty much as far as I can remember. So long as I have had memories Morrissey’s music has pretty much always been a part of them. I was introduced to his music from a very young age when my Dad used to play his albums all the time. Dad tells me he first heard Suedehead on the radio (imagine that happening in 2014!) while he was painting our front fence and so he rushed out and buy more Morrissey music. It must have been 1987 or 1988; Morrissey had only just gone solo and Suedehead was his first solo single after The Smiths broke up in 1987. I would have only been about 3 or 4 years old. Some of my most fond memories were of cold winter nights over 1988, 89 or 90, when Dad would sit in the lounge room next to the stereo system and listen to Morrissey and Smiths records, and I would play with my toys in front of the heater. They feel like incredibly safe memories, happy family memories. Warm, loving, fun, and so I guess through association, Morrissey’s voice became that for me as well. Even now, his voice is a caress; especially anything from “The Queen is Dead”, “Strangeways here we come”, “Viva Hate” or “Bona Drag”, as they were the ones that Dad played most. Even now, anything from those albums has the ability to transport me back to those days and make me feel incredibly comforted and safe.

This is sort of ironic in since Morrissey’s music is almost universally considered drab, sad and depressing. I’ve never really felt that way about it; it’s always been so comforting. The sound of his voice has always made me feel that way; however, I also found the lyrics just as comforting once I was old enough to understand and appreciate them. Dad often reminds me that I used to sing “tickley me, tickley me, tickley me” during I started something I couldn’t finish, rather than “typical me, typical me, typical me”. So I am glad that once the subject matter of the songs became clear to me that it didn’t turn me off – “you mean that comforting Mancunian crooning is actually a moaning, sad diva??”. Well, he may be, but at least to me his lyrics always brought amazing joy. He has such wit in his lyrics – “And so I broke into the palace | with a sponge and a rusty spanner, | she said “I know you and you cannot sing” | I said “that’s nothing, you should hear me play piano”. “Nothing’s changed, I still love you, I still love you | only slightly less than I used to” . Although it shouldn’t come as a surprise really when you consider that for years before a Smiths song was written, Morrissey would lock himself away in his bedroom and read as much Oscar Wilde as possible; his humour is knee deep in Wilde. However, it’s undeniable that his lyrics can also be incredibly bleak too; but to me, that is uplifting. It’s comforting when someone can put your most awful feelings into words so much better than you ever could; he took the mundane in life and made it heroic. He said once that The Smiths only happened because he walked home in the rain once too often, and it really feels that way. His lyrics don’t bring me down like others say it does to them; they feel empowering. The problem with writing lyrics that do deal with heavy topics is that it is very easy to get them wrong, very easy to make them cheesy and lame; it is a testament to the genius of Morrissey’s writing that he is able to handle such topics with unmatched poetic grace. It feels wrong to quote a Gallegher, but Noel summed it up perfectly when he said of Morrissey, “Whatever you put down in a lyric to define your love or hate for someone..he’ll do it one better”.

To compliment this, Morrissey had Johnny Marr, and they were The Smiths. They were, to me, the greatest song writing partnership in the history of music. They complimented each other, dare I say it, like a hand in glove. Marr is equally genius with his song writing as Morrissey is with his lyrics; he created the canvas for Morrissey to work on. Marr was never the sort of guitarist that would leave you with your jaw dropped wide open with blistering solos on stage; his strength lay in his ability to actually create a song. His jangly, upbeat, fun and quirky riffs to songs such as This Charming Man, Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others, The Boy With a Thorn in His Side, Ask, Panic, and Bigmouth Strikes Again (I could go on and on really), really seem like they should be the exact opposite of what Morrissey should be using for often such bleak lyrics; however the chemistry is undeniable. Marr adds the little bit of sugar that is needed when Morrissey is in danger of getting a little too bitter. I don’t know of another guitarist that can make me feel as much emotion with such simple arrangements; his guitar tells stories, the music alone without words is heartbreaking, or makes you smile, and when you add lyrical genius on top of that, you get The Smiths.

When The Smiths split up and Morrissey went solo it was a huge test for him – would he be able to survive without Marr’s backing? He absolutely did, but it wasn’t the same. However, unlike many people who either only like The Smiths and hate Morrissey’s solo stuff, or put his solo stuff far behind The Smiths; I think that enough of his solo worked reached Smiths-like heights for me to see them as level pegging. It’s true that his solo work is more hit and miss then The Smiths. In The Smiths basically every single song was wonderful, but The Smiths only lasted 5 years and a handful of albums. Morrissey as a solo artist is ongoing now for 25 years and so inevitably logic dictates there are more room for stinkers in there. Morrissey’s first solo album, Viva Hate, and the compilation album, Bona Drag, both written with Stephen Street, offer some of the best pop songs I’ve ever heard; utterly brilliant stuff. He lost his way a little with Kill Uncle, it was quirky, and perhaps a little too quirky, however the rockabilly stylings of Your Arsenal and the utterly delicate heartbreaking beauty of Vauxhall & I steer him back on the right path. After his 7 year record contract-less exile from the music industry between 1997-2004 he came back with what I think were 3 incredibly strong albums in You Are The Quarry, Ringleader of the Tormentors and Years of Refusal, all showing a new maturity in his voice and also a slightly more rock-based sound overall. His B-Sides dating back to The Smiths days up until the present are the envy of bands all over the world; if bands were able to write their best songs as strongly as the songs he deemed not good enough to be on proper albums or singles; the music industry would be a far better place. Just some of the songs that are unbelievably only B-sides include Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, Rubber Ring, Asleep, Half a Person, Sweet and Tender Hooligan, My Dearest Love, The Never Played Symphonies and Nobody Loves Us.

I’ve been lucky enough to see Morrissey live 3 times, twice in Melbourne in 2002 and 2012, and once in Dublin in 2006. The first time I saw him in 2002 wasn’t ideal as it was part of an awful festival; but I was too young to get into his side show gig; so I had to go to Livid Festival to see him. The Show was fantastic with a early solo period influence on the set-list including songs like Alsatian Cousin, Little Man What Now?, Suedehead, Late Night Maudlin Street and Hairdresser on Fire. He was without a record contract at that time, but I was lucky enough to see early versions of songs which would make You Are The Quarry 2 years later in First of the Gang to Die, Irish Blood English Heart, I Like You, and The World is Full of Crashing Bores.
In 2006 I was living in Ireland at the time and traveled down from the north to Dublin specifically to see the show. It was absolutely amazing and I got mere feet from the stage and close enough for a handshake during his cover of Magazine’s A Song from Under the Floorboards. That gig had highlights such as Still Ill, Reader Meet Author, Trouble Loves Me, Life is a Pigsty and Girlfriend in a Coma. And in 2012 he was back in Melbourne (could probably do without another 10 year gap before another tour though!) for a fantastic show at Festival Hall including highlights I Know It’s Over, Speedway, Sweet and Tender Hooligan, Still Ill, November Spawned a Monster and How Soon Is Now?

To go along with the love of his music, he is one of very few artists that I find fascinating when he’s off stage also. He is extremely outspoken and never censors himself, which gets him into trouble a lot, and many of his views I flat out don’t agree with. He is about as hardcore a vegetarian as you can imagine, and I just love meat, so, what are you gonna do, really? But I do agree he has a point on game hunting; killing an animal for absolutely no reason other than for the sake of the kill is barbaric and pointless. But I don’t agree with his stance on treating someone who eats meat as a murderer. That is my main conflict of interest when he comes to him, I guess there is always a fly in the ointment. His flakiness of cancellations of shows is pretty poor also. Dad unfortunately was a victim of that while on his way to see him in 1991 for the Kill Uncle tour, but I’m glad Dad got to finally see him last year. But he must rack up more cancelled concerts than some artists have gigs that go ahead successfully. He hates the British Royal Family, I mean he hates them, and never misses an opportunity to stick the boot in; and while I agree with him for the most part, that they are utterly useless in 2013, sometimes it just gets a bit much and you think “OK Mozza, shut up now”.
But his interviews are often works of art in themselves, he’ll blatantly contradict previous claims he has made and lie purely for the sake of boredom on his part; as he says, being asked the same questions over and over again, sometimes you just want to give different answers, even if they aren’t true. He’s always on another level to whoever is interviewing him, always ready with ready-wit. I’ve probably gone through and read just about every print interview he’s done and video interview he’s done in my time of following him, some are absolutely hysterical; especially his rapport with recent friend and long time fan Russell Brand.

Morrissey recently released his long awaited Autobiography in October 2013; this had been in the making for many years and was published as a Penguin Classic on it’s first edition (which is proving to be a wise choice with it’s dominance in the best sellers charts in the UK and Europe). He has such a unique style of writing that you always knew when he eventually put his life onto paper, that it would be an incredible read, and, for the most part it is; but isn’t without criticism. The thing about Morrissey is that he has spent his life in the public eye, yet remained a complete mystery. He rarely gave anything away about himself, and anything he did give away, he would later contradict so as to cause more confusion; as he stated, it’s not really anyone else’s business. His Autobiography was hailed as the moment he would finally “set the record straight” on so many things, his sexuality probably being the top of the list; and in some ways that is answered. But for the most part, it seems like Morrissey has written an Autobiography that doesn’t really tell you anything about his life … which is just so typical Morrissey, a troll to the end. And to further his trolling, it was announced that Morrissey was going to record the Autobiography for an audio book, it was only just later revealed it was to be David Morrissey doing the recording, not Steven Patrick, himself.

The book does allow you to read between the lines and work out a few things; that he is bisexual (although I think he calls it human-sexual, or some bullshit); he talks about relationships with a couple of men and a couple of women and even drops the bomb shell that at one point he was on the verge of starting a family. But his book frustratingly doesn’t really tell you much else, which I can only imagine is completely intentional. He speaks endlessly and tirelessly about The Smiths court case, and he presents a really compelling and strong argument that he (and Johnny Marr) should have won that case against Mike Joyce (The Smiths drummer) in a pretty much open and shut manner. It’s hard to argue with his assessment of the case, and his bitterness and nastiness is at full mast against the judge, Joyce, the prosecution, Marr (for not aiding properly where he could) and many others … which is quite the spectacle in itself, and quite justified; but did it need to be 50 pages long? He is also utterly obsessed with chart positions, the amount of talk of what albums/song charted where and why it was the record company’s fault for it being 14 instead of 12 gets quite tiresome. He talks about how he came from a very poor background, then moans about how his album “only” reached number 2, you’d think if anyone got the number 2 album in the country that they would be overjoyed; OK a little miffed you didn’t get number 1, but still! But then again, that is just Morrissey, and somehow through its tiring ways, it is quite charming. Frustratingly, the last portion of the book is very choppy. He goes from writing at length about certain eras, to reducing the last decade to a series of paragraphs, not always in chronological order. He mentions a kidnapping attempt in Mexico after a concert where he literally had to jump out of a moving car on a dirt road. This incredible story gets about 1 page and you’re left going “I want to hear more about that, not 50 court room pages!

The Autobiography is absolutely wonderfully written, his way with words is on another level and there are moments, where, as you would expect, it’s almost laugh out loud funny. He just gives you little snippets of things that happen, little musings of his meetings with different people, or he’ll suddenly go off on a 6 page review of Lost In Space, and you can’t help but get swept along with it. You find that his style of writing is so enchanting that, just like his songs, he makes the mundane seem heroic and enticing. The first part of the book dealing with his childhood and adolescents is captivating, even though very little actually happens. He talks about his family in a way that you begin to see these people as characters, and when he talks about how his Grandmother (“Nannie”) moves house and puts the cat in a brown paper shopping bag to bring on the bus to the new house, you somehow find yourself chuckling and going “oh that is SO Nannie!” even though you have only known her for a handful of pages. He speaks of being a surprisingly gifted junior athlete, although never good enough to impress his Father who coldly tells him “you didn’t win” when he ran fourth in a race; he follows that up with “Perhaps I didn’t win, but it didn’t help anyone to point it out, and life decomposes in a bucket”.  It’s sad, but he has a way of making you smile at it. He talks of the brutal school system he was brought up in (which spawned many-a song), the beatings that were handed out, and his character assassination of these teachers who are probably long dead by now, he mentions his raft of unsavory jobs he attempted to keep with humourus disdain, of fights with bullies and his doctor who prescribes him antidepressant medication  which the doctor assures him is helpful because he himself takes it; Morrissey returns to the clinic soon after to find the doctor has died, and he’s hardly surprised.
All in all, the book probably was exactly what I was expecting, it gave us glimpses of his life, but in the most Morrisseyesque way possible, a captivating read.

It’s hard to really put into words exactly what his music means to me, it’s deeply person, it’s uplifting, its comforting and soothing, its funny and intelligent. It’s bare bones, it feels as if he’s read your diary and then gone off to make songs that you were on the verge of writing yourself.
He is a true original, a one of a kind, there will never be anyone else like him, and he doesn’t fit into any kind of mold where you can say “Oh Morrissey is like…..” there just isn’t really any comparison. You can argue that Lady Gaga (who presents herself as original) is just an updated version of Madonna, who herself is an updated version of Grace Jones (is she the original?); whereas Morrissey is an original of the species. There are definitely others who have attempted to fit his profile, but really, who was he modelling himself after? The closest you can come to is some kind of amalgamation of Oscar Wilde and James Dean, neither of who were musical artists outside of their showers; so it leaves to stand he is just simply, Morrissey.

Top 20 Smiths tracks and their stand out lyric:

* There is a light that never goes out (“And if a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side, is such a heavenly way to die | and if a ten tonne truck kills the both of us, to die by your side, well the pleasure and privileged is mine”)

* I Know It’s Over (“Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head, and as I climb into an empty bed, oh well, enough said”)

* Still Ill (“England is mine and it owes me a living, | ask me why and I’ll spit in your eye”)

* Rubber Ring (“Don’t forget the songs that made you cry, and the songs that saved your life | yes you’re older now, and you’re a clever swine, but they were the only ones who ever stood by you”)

* The Boy with a thorn in his side (“The boy with a thorn in his side, behind the hatred there lies a murderous desire for love”)

* The Queen is Dead (“And so I broke into the palace | with a sponge and a rusty spanner, | she said “I know you and you cannot sing” | I said “that’s nothing, you should hear me play piano”)

* This Charming Man (“Why pamper life’s complexities when the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat?”)

* Bigmouth Strikes Again (“And now I know how Joan of Arc felt | as the flames rose to her Roman nose and her Walkman started to melt”)

* Asleep (“There is another world, there is a better world, well there must be”)

* Half a Person (“And if you have 5 seconds to spare, then I’ll tell you the story of my life”)

* Hand in Glove (“Hand in glove, the sun shines out of our behinds, no it’s not like any other love, this one is different because it’s us”)

* Nowhere Fast (“And when I’m lying in my bed, I think about life and I think about death, and neither one particularly appeals to me”)

* How Soon Is Now? (“There’s a club if you’d like to go, you could meet somebody who really likes you | so you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home and you cry and you want to die”)

* Sweet and Tender Hooligan (“Poor woman, strangled in her very own bed as she read, but that’s OK, because she was old and she would have died anyway”)

* Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before (“I smelt the last 10 seconds of life and crashed down on the crossbar, and the pain was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder”)

* Cemetery Gates (“So we go inside and we gravely read the stones, all those people, all those lives, where are they now? | With loves, and hates, and passions just like mine, they were born and then they lived and then they died”)

* You just haven’t earned it yet, baby (“If you’re wondering why all the love that you longed for eludes you, and people are rude and cruel to you | I’ll tell you why, you just haven’t earned it yet, baby”)

* Ask (“So if there’s something you’d like to try, ask me I won’t say no, how could I? | Spending warm summer days indoors, writing frightening verse, to a bucked tooth girl in Luxembourg”)

* Paint a Vulgar Picture (“Best of! Most of! Satiate the need, slip them into different sleeve, buy both and feel deceived | climber, new entry, re-entry | world tour, media whore, please the press in Belgium, this was your life, and when it fails to recoup, well maybe, you just haven’t earned it yet, baby”)

* Headmaster Ritual (“Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools, spineless bastards all … Sir leads the troops, jealous of youth, same old jokes since 1902 | he does the military two-step down the nape of my neck”)

Top 20 Morrissey solo tracks and their stand out lyric:

* Speedway (“You won’t sleep, until the earth that wants me, finally has me … you’ve done it now | you won’t rest until the hearse that becomes me, finally takes me… you’ve done it now | and you won’t smile until my loving mouth, is shut good and proper, forever”)

* The Last of the Famous International Playboys (“I never wanted to kill, I am not naturally evil, such things I do, just to make myself more attractive to you, have I failed?”)

* Seasick, Yet Still Docked (“I am a poor, freezingly cold soul, so far from where I intended to go, scavenging through life’s very constant lulls, so far from where I’m determined to go”)

* November Spawned a Monster (“Sleep on and dream of love, because it’s the closest you will get to love”)

* Everyday is like Sunday (“Trudging slowly over wet sand, back to the bench where you clothes were stolen”)

* Piccadilly Palare (“It may all end tomorrow, or it could go on forever, in which case I’m doomed”)

* Late Night, Maudlin Street (“Love at first sight, sound trite, but it’s true you know  | I could list the details of everything you ever wore, or said, or how you stood on the day as we spent the last night on Maudlin Street”)

* Jack the Ripper (“Oh you look so tired, mouth slack and wide, ill-housed and ill-advised, you face is as mean as your life has been, so, crash into my arms, I want you, you don’t agree, but you don’t refuse, I know you”)

* Now my Heart is Full (“And everyone I love in the house, will recline on an analyst’s couch quite soon, your father cracks a joke and in the usual way empties the room | tell all of my friends, I don’t have too many, just some rain coated lover’s puny brother”)

* Interesting Drug (“On a government scheme designed to kill your dream, oh mum, oh dad, once poor, always poor”)

* Nobody Loves Us (“All in all, imagine this – nobody loves us, dab-hands at trouble with four days of stubble, we are | never loosen the grip on our hand, call us home, kiss our cheeks, nobody loves us, so we tend to please ourselves”)

* Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning (“It was only a test, but she swam too far against the tide, she deserves all she gets | the sky became marked with stars, as an outstretched arm slowly disappears | please don’t worry, there’ll be no fuss, she was, nobody’s nothing”)

* Come back to Camden (“Drinking tea with the taste of the Thames, sullenly on a chair on the pavement, here’s you’ll find my thoughts and I”)

* Lucky Lisp (“When you gift unfurls, when your talent becomes apparent | I will roar from the stalls, I will gurgle from the circle”)

* Something is squeezing my skull (“I know by now you think I should have straightened myself out, thank you, drop dead”)

* My Dearest Love (“Take me to the place I’ve been dreaming of, where the grotesquely lonely, meet the grotesquely lonely, and they whisper, just very softly ‘please be my dearest love'”)

* Maladjusted (“When the gulf between all the things I need, and the things I receive, is an ancient ocean wide, wild, lost, uncrossed”)

* I’m OK by myself (“Then came an arm around my shoulder, well surely the hand holds a revolver | it’s been so all of my life, why change now? ‘It hasn’t’, now this might disturb you but, I find I’m OK by myself”)

* Reader Meet Author (“You don’t know a thing about their lives, books don’t save them, books aren’t Stanley knives | and if a fight broke out here tonight, you’d be the first away, because you’re that type”)

* Trouble Loves Me (“Trouble loves me, trouble needs me, which is two things more than you do, or would attempt to”)

“I think admiring me, shall we say, is quite a task. Because if you say you like Morrissey, you then have to explain why.”
– Morrissey

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