FROM BEDSIT-LAND TO BAYWATCH
Gary Crossing, The Big Issue, July 1997
Los Angeles isn't the sort of place
you'd expect to find Morrissey. A superficial,
wilfully kitsch city of bronzed, rock-hard torsos,
swimming pools, big cars, Hollywood stars and gangsta
rappers, it hardly seems suited to the needs of a
bashful, bookish, rapier-witted and quintessentially
Yet the elusive, rarely-interviewed pop
star is here at West Hollywood's Sunset Marquis
Hotel, a palm-tree shadow away from Sunset Boulevard, a
brisk Harley ride from Beverly Hills. U2 and Courtney
Love sometimes room here, Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan
overdosed here. A Sunset regular himself, Morrissey has
been to LA six times this year already. "I'm
extremely familiar with Loose Angela," he chuckles.
Yes, there's a huge contrast
between LA's lavishly-oiled hedonism and drizzly
Manchester, the inspiration for Morrissey's
angst-ridden and witty songs, both solo and with cult
Eighties indie outfit, The Smiths. But the Oscar Wilde of
rock has made the move from bedsit kitchen sink to the
land of the drive-in and the drive-by with elegant ease.
Very much the Englishman abroad, he is
untouched by LA life. A handsome devil, he looks the
picture of health. Charming, polite, eloquent and funny,
with no trace of a Californian twang, he speaks in
lyrical Northern whispers.
"If you can stay here comfortably,
it's remarkably glamorous," he says. "The
blind consumerism is extremely enjoyable if you can
afford to ride its coat-tails, although I'm aware
that millions can't and that LA can be a frightening
quagmire of filth. Initially I had a naive view of
America. I hated the fact that it seemed to have so much
while I had nothing. I feel differently now. Guess
why?" he laughs.
One of the main reasons Morrissey
spends a lot of time here is a desire to be where he is
liked. And he's very popular across the pond. The
singer's last US tour in 1992 ended with two
sell-out shows. Record sales are ever on the up
Stateside, yet his last few singles barely pierced the UK
Top 30. So, while an ungrateful UK gives him the cold
shoulder, America runs to him with open arms. When he
parted company with RCA, no other British label wanted to
know until Mercury US signed him.
Last year Morrissey even tried to move
to LA. He lasted two weeks. "The fact that I had
left England completely shocked me," he says.
"Yes, England drives me insane, but I can't
ever imagine leaving it." At the moment he is
between homes. He has sold his north-London dwelling and,
although he owns a house in Dublin, says he has never
lived there. His heart remains in London. "Even when
I hate London I love it," he says. "I love the
good and the bad, the barren and the plush."
The late-Nineties Morrissey is in limbo
between two cultures. His days have no shape either:
"It's fascinating to wake up and have no idea
what's about to happen," he says. "I
can't imagine standing at a bus stop at 10 to eight
every morning. Tea, books, a sofa ... that's a great
way to live."
Despite devout British fans filling out
venues and giving his albums respectable chart positions
Southpaw Grammar made No 4),
Morrissey is under no illusions about his current status.
"I'm in exile. I'm box-office poison as
far as I can gather," he says. "I'm simply
a roadside curiousity. I don't know whether a hit
single would change things."
Sparkling new single
Matters, and forthcoming album
Maladjusted, are easily the strongest, most
confident Morrissey material since his 1988 solo debut
Viva Hate. But he doesn't hold much hope
for them on home shores. "Once the tide turns it
turns," he says. "And unless you have the wind
in your sails there's very little you can do."
Bad British feeling towards Steven
Patrick Morrissey came to a head last year. Former Smiths
drummer Mike Joyce took him and ex-sidekick Johnny Marr
to court to claim 25 per cent of the millions made by The
Smiths through hit albums like The Queen Is
Morrissey and Marr, who penned the bulk
of the songs had awarded themselves 40 per cent each of
the royalties, while Joyce and guitarist (sic) Andy
Rourke who settled out of court each had 10
per cent. A High Court Judge found in favour of Joyce and
singles out Morrissey as "devious, truculent and
unreliable". The tabloids thought it was Christmas.
"I've never spoken to anybody
about the case," says Morrissey. "Anything
that's been written has been other people's
views so obviously I haven't come out of it well. It
was presided over by a judge who has no knowledge of the
music industry. He had to have 'Top of the Pops'
explained to him. The whole point was get Mozzer in the
witness box and grill him. It was horrendous. If I had
any faith in the British legal system before, I
Morrissey is very bitter about the
judge's summing up of the trial. "His words
could have ruined my life. But he wanted to do that
because he knew the press were writing about it, and all
judges want to be famous. It makes me feel that if you
ever come up against a judge or have to stand in a
witness box, the best thing to do is lie. Don't
bother with the truth."
But Morrissey's love affair with
England had begun to sour years before this. In 92,
at a Madness concert at Finsbury Park, he was bottled off
stage for performing a song draped in the Union Jack.
Racist allegations were firmly denied. "I can't
imagine why anybody would want to be racist," he
says. "It's so beyond me I feel unqualified to
talk about it. So many people have used the Union Jack
since then, with the eruption of Britpop. Nobody else has
been pilloried for it."
Made during a "recurrent mood of,
certainly despair, bordering on elation,"
finds Morrissey once again in the
role of misfit. "The writer Michael Bracewell
recently described me as the outsider's
outsider," he says. "That rang true.
Whatever's in vogue isn't me. That's not
enforced rebellion, it's quite natural. I can't
think of any other pop artist for whom it seems to be
It's out there hovering on the
edge that Morrissey has done his best work. And those
feelings of insecurity aren't fading with age.
Morrissey is 38, "two incredibly long and tedious
years to go" till he's 40. "There has been
no significant change in my character. I'm slightly
more at ease. But the main shortcomings we have stay with
us. We either learn to hide them or deal with them."
He's not worried about his age and
can't think of anything worse than being 22 again.
"That's abhorrent to me. At 22 I felt like
something that had died seven years previous, so the
prospect of being 40 is a doddle really."
Neither is he bothered about
maintaining his creative edge. "There's an
enormous gravity in my life, and I don't think that
I write songs in a superficial way," he says.
"I haven't been swept away by a massive wave of
popularity. If I had it would be difficult to maintain. I
don't face the dangers of instant evaporation. I can
withstand the fact that I don't sell as well as I
used to. The people who buy my records do so for the
right reasons. That's important because it means
you're not a fad."
Having just finished the video for
Alma Matters, Morrissey spends his time
lounging poolside or driving around LA. It's hard to
imagine this gentle soul being aggressive enough to get
behind the wheel, but he finds "the demon car a
Morrissey is currently looking for a
house in north London with a garage.