On my way to gather the latest thoughts of Chairman Mo, it
was clear that the honeymoon between the press and The Smiths had
After a period when a thousand hip typewriters clattered in united praise
of the Whalley Rangers - the blue-eyed boys, the real thing, the new dawn,
the only ones - a calm descended.
And, as the band became public property and public faves, new lines were
drawn in the ink, new stances struck.
Some were reasoned. These took a step back, listened to the music for
signs of stagnation (or greatness) and examined the words of Morrissey and
Marr for pointers, clues and insights. This was the attitude of the
questioningly raised eyebrow, a necessary and healthy balancing of the
For others it was not enough. A stream of hacks with suspicious minds and
third class degrees in homebrew psychology beat a cynical, salivating
trail to Master Morrissey's door. Their mission was to prove The Smiths
over-rated and samey, just another rock band, and Morrissey a fake, a
charlatan and an exploitative merchant of misery.
For them it wasn't a case of terminating the honeymoon. They wanted
Meat Is Murder
is a brilliant record - a catherine wheel of inspired
language nailed to a shifting, sometimes unnervingly evocative and
beautiful guitar music - and The Smiths' first major tour, culminating in
a fraught, celebratory night at the Royal Albert Hall, was sold out,
thronged with an unusually healthy mix of age and sex.
So while the affair between the band and the press has cooled - as
passion inevitably must - the pop public got on with the business
of voting The Smiths the best group on the whole bloody planet!
So the vehemence of some of the realignment (call it a backlash if you
will), the need to tarnish and sully, baffles me. I'll be straight: I
love the music of these Smiths.
They've had me vice-gripped since the very first time I heard
Charming Man in a shabby shop doorway. It was an experience - we've all
had them - like my first encounter with Marvin's 'What's Going On', or
'White Riot' or 'Shipbuilding,' one of those moments when a vivid,
electric awareness of the power of music is born or renewed.
The Smiths continue to billow into the senses, reminding the hardened
heart of the desires and fears that the passing of time - school, dole,
work, home, shattered dreams and bitter romances - drive deep within us,
to be outwardly replaced by a defensive shell of knowingness, of would-be
The spell cast in that dusty doorway remains intact.
But loving The Smiths is not the same thing as loving Morrissey. In the
past six months the son and heir of that famous shyness has maintained a
profile marginally lower than the Telecom tower. He's spewed forth his
none-too-humble opinion on every subject he's been asked about, and many
he's not, taking the butcher's knife to such sacred cows as the Royal
Family and the Band Aid project. Thus he's kept that chinny visage and
that gleaming torso glaring from a myriad newstands.
The irony is that the same seemingly endless fountain of pronouncements
that makes him fave interview [material] have also started to grate, to get under
people's skin, and to render him (and the band) less well regarded. The
manic motion of Morrissey's motor mouth is simultaneously The Smiths' best
friend and their worst enemy.
We meet in Manchester's hilarious Britannia Hotel - the Palace Of
Versailles furnished from Woolworth's home 'n' wear. He is somewhat
shorter than the six feet claimed in the tour programme, and sports those
national health specs and an old-fashioned leather briefcase.
Settling into a room booked for the day - he now lives with his mother in
a newly acquired house in the Cheshire stockbroker belt - he's in obvious
high spirits. He's having one of his good days - "it's a constant source
of amazement to me" - and every word from his mouth is wickedly sarcastic
or self-deprecatingly humorous.
So much for him being a perpetual miserygob.
He takes a tape recorder from the valise and sets it going next to mine -
a little monument to misrepresentation - and drinks arrive. Mine is a
large glass of orange juice, his is an ornate silver samovar filled with
So much for him not being a practising eccentric.
Close up, he speaks with the throwaway theatricality of some actors: the
small, soft hands in constant motion, the brain always searching for a
more risque or witty or cutting word. He probably thinks it's all very
Oscar Wilde, but Frankie Howerd, Dame Edna Everage and Russell Harty are
in there too.