When we are teenagers, music, more so than at any other stage in our existence, plays an integral part in who we are, and provides a soundtrack to our lives. Two bands featured very prominently in my teenage “soundtrack” — Joy Division and the Smiths.
That influence is permanent. When we write, play music, or create our own art, the music we listened to, the words we heard, play a very large part in our own creative development. How can it not? It’s the time our body and mind is expanding the most; our world is changing and we are filtering sights and sounds around us, trying to make sense of the person we will become.
So the Smiths. So you sit alone in your bedroom, read books, comics, draw, paint and write and feel like the most unattractive person in the world who no person could ever fall for. Unloveable. Then the Smiths write a song called “Unloveable”.
“I know I’m unloveable
You don’t have to tell me
For message received
Loud and clear
Loud and clear
I don’t have much in my life
But take it – it’s yours”
There have been enough humans alive throughout history that every thought has now been thought and every feeling felt, by others, exactly the same as you. This is the reason that music (and writing, all art really), can connect to an individual and speak to them. Those feelings you go through, whether happy, or sad, the singer or writer has gone through too. Just like thousands of others across the planet, across time. Nothing is totally original – and this is the reason a certain piece of music gels. We know we’re not alone.
Morrissey‘s Wellington concert. I have to admit I have a somewhat mixed set of feelings towards him today. Perhaps because his songs were so important to me in the past, I’ve been even more disappointed by his often patchy solo career. I’ve always tried to like his post-Smiths work, but then some of it is pretty unlikeable — in particular albums full of anemic material like “Kill Uncle” or “Ringleader of the Tormentors”, and his recent clutch of new songs like “People are the Same Everywhere” are among the most tuneless, melody-less pieces of “music” I’ve ever heard performed by anyone. Maybe part of it is because he was once amazing, fans tend to expect more and their disappointment is deeper.
Yet as he walks out onto the stage, all negative thoughts fade. He is a star, a REAL one — of course there may be manufactured elements to the Morrissey persona, but you can be sure as hell it’s he who manufactured them, not a record company or Simon Cowell.
It strikes me how amazing it is that until he was 23, he was a loner, a shy outsider who had few (if any) relationships or friends, who lived with his mother, and largely stayed in his room reading and writing. Not a million miles from my own beginnings to be perfectly honest. Then suddenly, Johnny Marr, knocked on his door, and they formed the Smiths – the rest being history. Sounds very easy.
Today his demeanor suggests knowing confidence, and to walk out in front of a crowd of adoring fans and chat freely must encourage and breed this. I think there’s an aspect of when you’re ignored – to desire to be adored… and he — to his lasting credit — achieved it. I wonder what would have become of him if Marr hadn’t knocked on his door? I wonder if Morrissey ever thinks of this?
Perhaps so, if he relives the feelings in some of the songs he wrote when he was young, and many are played tonight; among them “I Know it’s Over” is particularly poignant. It’s unarguably one of Morrissey & Marr’s greatest moments — a song that ebbs and flows like a tide, diving depths of despair, yet crashing in truly uplifting waves as he sings “It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate — it takes guts to be gentle and kind.” I don’t know if more important words could be suggested for us, on a global or personal level.
Yes, his band of essentially session musicians (excluding the faithful Boz Boorer; tonight soldering on despite having fallen off a roof according to Morrissey), do lack subtlety, and it’s more apparent on the softer songs, and on Marr’s more complex arrangements, yet they do also add as well as take away. They add a consistency and indeed do manage to make some of the songs their own. They pull together quite diverse material, adding a rock edge to the pure pop songs Morrissey wrote with Stephen Street immediately after the Smith’s breakup. “Ouija Board, Ouija Board” benefits most; what is pristine and fey on record, is dragged kicking and screaming into a more alive, organic, rock mode. The heavier songs — they play with gusto and flair — “How Soon is Now” and “November Spawned A Monster” are white hot sheets of guitar noise with percussive, impassioned drumming.
And then the voice: I wonder if he took singing lessons at some point later in life? Those who say he always sounds the same are simply lazy. His voice today is a much more tuned, musical instrument that it was in the Smith’s days — particularly the first album. As a singer, he’s now polished and sounds better than ever. It’s not only a voice to love or hate, but a voice to fall in love with, and when you see and hear Morrissey live, it’s easy to see exactly why fans fall in love and are so passionate over him.
Perhaps seeing him in concert, for the second and perhaps last time, I fell in love again with his music. It reminded me how great he really is, and how much the songs meant to me in my younger years, and to be honest those songs are always there — so he can make more bad songs if he chooses and I can simply not listen and celebrate their non-existence.
I’m wondering if there’s one lasting influence I took from the Smiths songs – essentially Morrissey. When he passed the mic around, one girl commented that his music changed her life, and another said she is a vegetarian because of him. I’m a vegetarian – though that’s not down to Morrissey. That’s largely down to seeing a large and beautiful animal that escaped from a meat works, chased around a field and murdered when I was a child. Yet it’s amazing Morrissey has had this effect on people so far away, for the better.
His lasting influence for me is the importance of being an outsider. It’s the celebration of not being one of the “cool” crowd, one of the masses. It’s the importance of not fitting in, not going with the tide, not saying yes when you mean no. It’s that being “uncool” is actually very very cool.
Morrissey at 53, is very very cool.