Sunday, September 12, 2010

Well I wonder

After being honoured to accept the invitation to write for The Art Of Noise, it’s not perhaps the most original way to begin my contributions by declaring The Smiths the greatest ever band; but you can forget the Beatles and the Stones, even The House of Love. Though still embarrassed not to have “been there” from the off and the first Peelite airing of Hand in Glove, I remain captivated by memories of Morrissey prancing to What Difference Does it Make? on Top of the Pops, a curious 1950s vision among the coiffeured commercialists of the age.

I anticipated each single with anxiety and was one of those who helped to create a pattern of high chart placing one week; nowhere the next. The albums were treasured to an even greater degree and the lyrics have still never been equalled in subtlety, at turns oblique and truthful to a suburban 15 year old.

But I’m not a card carrier. Early hair loss as a teenager denied me the opportunity to sport a quiff, I wouldn’t be able to identify a gladiolus under a microscope, and I never bought a single T-shirt. My first weeks at Manchester University in 1987 coincided with the band splitting and I often had to stress to people that I was a proper fan, despite the unfashionable jeans and M&S Polo shirts. When Morrissey produced Viva Hate a year or so later, I taped it from a friend with enthusiasm but the lack of Marr sparkle was already evident and if Your Arsenal and Vauxhall and I remain splendid, I have usually devoured reviews first before any unquestioning purchase of the Mozza oeuvre.

And then there is the controversy. Two years ago, in a New Orleans bar at 3am (things have moved on since 80s Rusholme), my friend Gerschenkron and I stunned our American work colleagues with a stand up row over whether Morrissey is or isn’t a racist (other ding dongs have debated the character traits of Yoko Ono and the true meaning of John Lennon’s Working Class Hero). My indignant contention was that he most certainly is not, that people should understand the notion of a singer acting a part and that he should not have to explain himself to lesser lights, especially intelligent but shit stirring ones like the New Musical Express.

I agree with Tom Clark in giving Morrissey the benefit of the doubt as far as Bengali in Platforms and National Front Disco are concerned: these no more brand the man a racist than that Brass Eye special indicate Chris Morris is a paedophile. I’ll even forgive him cavorting with the Union Jack – nobody has a pop at those Last Night of the Proms denizens, annoying though they may be – it wasn’t the Moz’s fault that a bunch of skinheads showed up at Finsbury Park that day.

But as something of a Sinophile and as someone who has been learning Mandarin for a couple of years now, even I stopped short at his most recent comments; bafflingly aired in an interview with the estimable Simon Armitage in the pages of The Observer recently. Aside from the truculent tone (yes, hard not to echo the phraseology of one particularly lonely High Court Judge), his wondering if the Chinese are a subspecies or not, while fuelled by his admirably tough stand on animals rights, was an ill chosen move indeed. Following on another discussion in the same organ half a decade ago, Morrissey’s public pronouncements are becoming more and more addled and yes, that’s the word I would use.

This may seem soft – I refuse to entertain any praise of Queen because they once played apartheid South Africa’s playpen, Sun City, although I’ll admit that their being dire as a band helps fire my rage. You’ll ask me what Morrissey has to do for me to properly and unequivocally condemn him and yes, I’m having my doubts. But verbal diarrhoea, particularly from one now too used to spending time in his own company and clearly assailed by the ravages of the ageing process isn’t necessarily evidence of deep ill will. John Harris feels that his pronouncements are a symbol of the insularity of indiedom in general and it’s sadly now desirable that Morrissey, as the High Priest of that type of music should probably be kicked upstairs to Akihito style figurehead status now.



Blogger gerschenkron said...

The Smiths was great.

to paraphrase Alan Bennett's description of Christopher Plummer - Morrissey is his own worst enemy, but only just.

5:16 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

I came to the Smiths late, and like them a lot, but can't excuse Morrissey's pronouncements. He's obviously an intelligent man who knows he's been on dodgy ground before, so why reignite the old debate with such verbal carelessness (if that's what it was)? Perhaps it was calculated and he still sees himself as some kind of sainted provocateur - sadly, that's a viewpoint shared by increasingly few. If something quacks like a duck on several occasions, it becomes increasingly reasonable to assume that it is indeed a duck.

7:39 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home