Interview by Adrian Deevoy
Q, September, 1992

The lighter side of football violence. The death of pop music. Getting the urge for sex. Being racist. The TV star who is "a pig in a man's body". The loathsome comedian. The author who ought "to die in a hotel fire". Morrissey's views may seem a couple of bus-stops short of reason. "But that doesn't mean I'm some great twit who lives in a hut and eats straw," he reassures Adrian Deevoy.



Morrissey on the horns of a video purchase dilemma in Pigalle, Paris, July, '92.




"Monsieur Morrissey?" puzzles the well-preserved concierge. "Eez a pop group, non?" Upstairs in his room on the third floor of this cloyingly plush Parisien hotel, Monsieur Morrissey, pop group, has just taken delivery of the finished artwork for his new long player, Your Arsenal. Its cover is a live photograph of the singer, tongue out, shirt asunder (stomach scar courtesy Davyhulme Hospital) suggestively waggling his microphone at fly-height.
The thought-provoking sleeve of Your Arsenal which showcases the new fuller Morrissey physique.

Morrissey studies the sleeve intently, then holds it at arm's length and squints inscrutably - or could it be myopically? - at its cover star.

"What do you think?" he asks eventually.

Can we use the word "homo-erotic"?

"Is that how it appeals to you?" he enquires, arching an amused eyebrow. "You're the first person who's said that and it's nice that somebody has." He frowns pensively, "But what are you really asking me?"

Well, you were once the thinnest man in pop and suddenly you developed this muscular physique. What did you do?

"I did nothing," he shrugs coyly. "It just suddenly and miraculously happened. I didn't go out and do a course of cybergenetics. It was just nature, for once, being reasonably generous."

Judging by the title, you're still a student of innuendo.

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."

Your Arsenal, indeed.

"Surely you're not going to ask me what it means?" he says sniffily, then concedes. "In a small way, there's something about innuendo that's entertaining. I like to think it's sometimes done fairly cleverly. It's by no means stupid."

And is widespread sexual arousal the sole aim of the album cover?

"Really," he sighs, summoning a typically Morrithetic punchline. "What would be the point?"

Morrissey is en France and on form. He's now been a solo artist for fractionally longer than he was a Smith. Sometimes, he says, it feels like all he's done for the last 10 years is write, record and perform songs. But in doing this he has become one of Britain's most lauded songwriters and surely our finest lyricist.

His past life - which has served as a seemingly bottomless well of inspiration (although he would theatrically claim it was more like desperation) for his songs - has recently been subjected to a thorough rummage for an unendorsed biography-of-sorts, the grandly titled Morrissey & Marr The Severed Alliance: The Definitive Story Of The Smiths. Prior to its publication, Morrissey issued a characteristically two-bus-stops-from-reason pronouncement demanding the immediate death of the book's author, Johnny Rogan, in a motorway pile-up.

Today, as the sun shines upon the city by the Seine, Morrissey is in a forgiving mood. Just as long as Rogan dies slowly and painfully, he smiles, he'll be happy.

 

Q: It's been a long time since you've granted an interview.
Give the public what they want. That's what I always say.

Q: Do you think this new record will broaden your appeal?
I'd put a pound on it.

Q: You seem to have a very shrewd sense of who your market is.
Well "market" is a horrible word. you make me sound like Pete Beale.

Q: But you're aware of your size?
Not the exact dimensions (laughs).

Q: Do you feel over-protected? You're very hard to get hold of.
Well I do live in Primrose Hill. The bus service is atrocious. I'm a very personal and protective person. I've got no notions of being a rock star, I don't go shopping for yachts with a minder. No, that's simply me. That's my personality.

Johnny Rogan's unendorsed Smiths biography.

Q: To fend people off?
Not to fend people off, but I'm not in a desperate hurry to attend any parties, shall we say ... I don't get any invitations but that's by the by.

Q: Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance. Have you read it?
Well a friend of mine had a copy and I squinted at it across the room for three days and then curiosity drove me to the index. Just to see who'd blabbed.

Q: Were you shocked?
Certain things shocked me. It's promoted as the definitive story of The Smiths. Of course, the only definitive story of The Smiths is my story, if ever that's told. It seems like he - Johnny Rogan - has interviewed anybody who basically bears a grudge against me. Any of the people who've been close to me over the past decade he has not got near. So I saw more reviews and I felt very sad because they were saying, At last! Here is the truth! The level of information that this person has unearthed! Basically, it's 75 percent blatant lies. The rest is reasonably factual.
I made a statement when the book was published which said, Anybody who buys this book wants their head tested. As far as I can tell, according to sales figures, a lot of people need their heads tested. A lot of people have bought it and, of course, a lot of people will believe it. But I hope, more so, that he dies in a hotel fire.

Q: Presumably you were approached to participate in the book?
Well of course Johnny Rogan has been explaining to the press that he had a conversation with me. I've never met him and no conversation has ever taken place. One night the phone rang and he said, This is J... and I put the phone down. He wrote me a series of letters over a three-year period, all of which I scarcely opened.

Q: Did he approach your mother? The book isn't too flattering about her.
Yes, he did. But she didn't speak to him. He didn't speak to any of my family. He spoke to people on the periphery of the whole thing and he spoke to Johnny Marr. Later, after the interview had taken place, I spoke to Johnny Marr about it and he regretted having done the interview enormously.

Q: Did your mother read it?
No. Suffice to say, if she had such things as a bargepole...

Q: The book was similar, in a curious way, to the Princess Diana biography.
Oh, that was just the covers. They're virtually interchangeable.

Q: Lyrically, you seem less neurotically self-conscious on Your Arsenal. Is that due to changes within the author?
I don't know, I'll go and ask him. But yes. I didn't want to use a lyric sheet. I wanted to make as physical a record as I possibly could instead of constantly being curled up in a little ball at the foot of the bed.

Q: How do you go about making a more physical record?
You just unbutton the buttons on your shirt and ... (laughs) Well, if you don't know now you'll never know.

A little leg-cocking live action with guitarist Boz Boorer (left) and drummer Spencer Cobrin.

Q: Are you more at ease with yourself?
Yes. I am actually half way towards being 66. I can't be categorised as being especially young. Time has passed and I'm not really the person I once was. I think I've changed in certain ways. Perhaps the world I live in isn't as narrow as it once was. You'll notice I said "perhaps". I'm not entirely convinced (laughs).

Q: You've always been obsessed by the onward march of time, haven't you?
Enormously. All of us are working against the clock in our own way. I tend to... have a cheese butty and sit back and relax. Everything eventuates. Time will pass. The day will arrive when you and I are not on this earth. I think people who have a sense of time and therefore urgency are quite fascinating people.

Q: How has your attitude towards death changed? You've been accused of being flippant about the past.
More than that, I've been accused of paying too much attention to death generally. I've belaboured slightly on the subject, but what's wrong with that? It's a pretty serious matter. Especially when you're lying under the wheels of a double decker bus.

Q: Once again, as with Bengali In Platforms and Asian Rut, you have flirted with racism on the new song The National Front Disco.
Well I like to feel, in some small way, that I'm not actually restricted in anything I wish to write about. Of course, within the exciting world of pop music, the reality is that we are restricted. Whether you chose to write about wheelchair-bound people, November Spawned A Monster, or the subject of racism, The National Front Disco, the context of the song is often overlooked. People look at the title and shudder and say, Whatever is in that song shouldn't exist because the subject, to millions of people, is so awful.

Q: Do you think people are innately racist?
Yes. I don't want to sound horrible or pessimistic but I don't really think, for instance, black people and white people will ever really get on or like each other. I don't really think they ever will. The French will never like the English. The English will never like the French. That tunnel will collapse.

Q: The song We'll Let You Know seems to sympathise with football hooligans. Is this the case?
Well they have such great taste in footwear (laughs). I understand the level of patriotism, the level of frustration and the level of jubilance. I understand the overall character. I understand their aggression and I understand why it must be released.

Q: Are you suggesting you've had first hand experience of this?
I'm not a football hooligan, if that's the question. You might be surprised by that. But I understand the character. I just do. I've got a computer at home for such things.

Q: Is this not just Morrissey picking up on another controversial theme?
It's hard to believe but no, it isn't. I can't fully explain. When I see reports on the television about hooliganism in Sweden or Denmark on somewhere, I'm actually amused. Is that a horrible thing to say?

Q: It could be construed as such.
As long as people don't die, I am amused.

Q: You're still mourning the death of Englishness on this record.
Well aren't I always? That's just me. It's a part of my overall psyche. It's not unique to this record. I supposed a few years ago I would have spoken more morosely about this great, dying tradition. Well, now it has died. This is the debris, now.

Q: What exactly do you think has died?
Basic identity.

Q: Do we need a war to re-establish our identity?
I think we already have one. I don't want to be European. I want England to remain an island. I think part of the greatness of the past has been the fact that England has been an island. I don't want the tunnel. I don't want sterling to disappear. I don't want British newscasters to talk in American accents. I don't want continental television. But that doesn't mean that I'm some great twit who lives in a hut and eats straw. I'm not a thing from another age. (laughs) I'm actually quite modern in some respects. But there' s no hope of anyone marching around Westminster with... well you complete the sentence.

Q: As a long-term fan of pop music, what do you think about its current state?
It has actually died. Pop music has ended.

Q: Do you no longer watch Top Of The Pops?
It's astonishing to even think it, but I don't. It's astonishing simply because (strikes breast passionately) I love music and I love pop music. And now nothing will induce me to watch Top Of The Pops. My feeling is that Top Of The Pops finished in 1985. I don't feel that it actually exists anymore. Similarly with radio and the Top 40. That shouldn' t and mustn't imply that I have ceased to be interested in music, because I haven't. As I become older I have a keener interest in music. I think a wealth of truly excellent music has been made and a lot of music is there to be discovered which was never popular, never made the Top 40. I feel actually quite happy knowing that I will spend the remainder of my life listening to music and investigating things that I missed.

Q: There's a theory that enough music has been made.
That's right. Because as an art form - and I've truly never seen it as anything else, even the trash element - it has done its bit.

Q: Did dance music do for pop music?
Yes, it really did. And I don't just say that because I hate dance music.

Q: Is there not an argument that simply says you're getting old?
No, I don't accept that. I don't mean to sound silly but part of me was always old, and I'm actually intelligent enough to take that into account. It's more than that. It's real, factual deterioration.

Q: One would think that you'd have sorted out your love life by now.
I expected to, but I haven't.

Q: Have you come close?
Not at all. Not at all. I know that there's an understandable overall feeling that once you pass 21, certain things will fall into place, but by some curious twist of fate I remained on the path I was always on, which has... really surprised me.

Q: Do you understand that people find this hard to believe?
Well, no-one more than me! I often feel that this is the way it must be. It's not entirely up to you whether you have a relationship with another person. It's either a two-way thing or the other person decides that it will happen. And they don't.

Q: Do you get desperate?
I think I passed the point of desperation, quite seriously, about 17 years ago. I slipped into resignation. I'm a human being, I live on earth. I go out, I meet a lot of people but nothing ever, ever, ever happens. More than that I cannot do other than appear on national television in a red suit saying, I am said to have a sense of humour, I enjoy Bacharach/David and I like going for long walks.
It's actually... quite a serious matter. It's something I can't deny has caused me decades of anxiety. People always assume that I'm covered in dust, sat in a corner reading Hard Times. Admittedly in the early days of The Smiths that was something I fostered slightly. But as you know, within the dizzy world of pop music everything is always enlarged beyond its natural proportion. All I seem to hear these days is that I'm "working with a young rockabilly band". They're not young and they're not rockabilly, but everything gets expanded until it becomes a cliche. So part of me has become a cliche also. An unloveable cliche!

Q: But you seem an affable, warm person...
I am!! Two exclamation marks. Ask anybody! I think I'm just one of those people that God marked on the forehead saying you're meant to do something else. You're not meant to have a happy, fulfilling physical relationship.

A no-holds barred celebrity cuddle-up at New York's Tribeca Grill with chum Michael Stipe.

Q: Your relationship with Michael Stipe seemed very promising at one stage.
Promising?! What did you think we were going to do? Become a Millican And Nesbitt? But, yes. The temperament is the same, the sense of rationale is the same.

Q: Do you think you'll "make music" with him?
(Laughs, raises eyebrows)
I can't think of any reason why! No, the whole joy about the friendship is that music doesn't ever come into it. We don't ever talk about R.E.M. or whatever it is I do. There are other things to discuss.

Q: How did you actually meet?
Well he wrote to me for a long time and I wondered why. I was initially skeptical. I can't remember why. Then I decided that I would like to meet him, so we met and I was surprised that it was so easy and... compatible. It's very nice and, who knows, we may even get a cover on Hello!

Q: Michael and Morrissey invite us into their lovely home!
We can but dream.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on Vic Reeves's creation, Morrissey The Consumer Monkey?
I saw it for a split second and instantly loathed its creator. It was meant to be hurtful. I've met Vic Reeves a few times and it hasn't gone too well. He is a person who cannot close his mouth for three seconds because he feels he'll disintegrate into a bowl of dust. He has to keep going on and on and on. Completely loathsome. Bob Mortimer, I liked. I think he should make a hasty exit from that duo. Can you smell the venom?
It's like Tony Wilson making this statement saying that I am a woman trapped inside a man's body. He's a pig trapped inside a man's body. If one has to be one or the other I know which I'd prefer.

Q: He called you "a cunt".
Well, he has to be the biggest pop star in Manchester and he must trample on anybody who threatens his position. He always has surrounded himself with people who can barely talk and who are no threat to his "personality". The day that somebody shoves him in the boot of a car and drives his body to Saddleworth Moor and leaves it there, is the day that Manchester music will be revived.

Q: Have you severed your connections with Manchester?
Not in my mind. Physically I've been forced to. I had to leave because 24 hours a day people would be at the door, at the gate, banging on the windows, and it became intolerable, so I had to move away. I couldn't think how else I could deal with it.
There's the most vicious sense of competition in Manchester, as well. So many jealous, vile creatures. This is what the song We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful is about. In Manchester, you are accepted as long as you are scrambling and on your knees. But if you have any success or are independent or a free spirit, they hate your guts.

Q: Let's go back in time to 1983 and The Smiths.
Why stop there? Let's go back to 1749.


Bidding au revoir to celibacy in gay Paris?

Q: When you look back on The Smiths now, does it make you proud?
A lot of it I don't actually like. I don't like the visuals, to be honest. I don't like any television footage or videos. I don't like what I see within me. I don't like what I see in the other three also. That's not supposed to sound rude. There's a couple of songs I don't like. In fact, I didn't really like them at the time. Like What Difference Does It Make, I thought was absolutely awful the day after the record was pressed. I don't look back and think we were perfection in everything we did and everything we said. But I do think that just over half the output, to me, is really ... beautiful. Is that a silly word?

Q: Billy Bragg said that it must be hard being Morrissey, this fabulously witty, Wildean character, 24 hours a day.
Oh, I clock off. I clock off and brew up. It must be very hard to be Billy Bragg, but I won't say why! Actually, I retract that, I'm a big fan of his.

Q: But the implication is that Morrissey is a slightly contrived character.
Well I don't slip into a suit and practise a certain tone of voice, no. There's no persona as such. It's just what you see across this table.

Q: Full time?
Unfortunately, yes. Now how would you feel? Talk about trapped!

Q: Why do you think you provoke such extreme reactions? Some people really hate you.
Because I have a specific identity. I have a very clear idea what I want to say lyrically and the approach I have is just far too direct for most people. A song like Interesting Drug spoke about drug culture, and I think the pop establishment can deal with pop drug culture in its present form because it doesn't convey anything. It's very vague and wispy and (lolls tongue out and rolls eyes) uuuuung, unngh. But if you say, Interesting drug/the one that you took/God, it really helped you. That line was just far too direct.

Q: Have you taken Ecstasy?
Yes I have. I've taken it a couple of times. The first time I took it was the most astonishing moment of my life. Because - and I don't want to sound truly pathetic - I looked in the mirror and saw somebody very, very attractive. Now, of course, this was the delusion of the drug, and it wears off. But it was astonishing for that hour, or for however long it was, to look into the mirror and really, really like what came back at me. Now even though I had that wonderful experience, and it was a solitary experience - there was nobody else present - I'm not actually interested in drugs of any kind. I'm not prudish, I don't mind if other people take them, but it's not for me. I just don't have the interest.

Q: As someone who is periodically celibate, what do you do with the urge you must get to have sex?
Well, it'll sound unbelievable but until I was 28 (whispers) I never had the urge. I don't mind saying that but I can understand that it will look ridiculous in print. I never did. Maybe I was too preoccupied with something else.

Q: So what happened when you were 28?
I just suddenly changed. I can't explain why but things are different for me now. I do actually understand that people have physical relationships. And I understand why they need them.

Q: Other than that, do you have anything to declare?
Only my jeans.


"Awright, Moz! Wanna beer?" It's hardly the way you would expect Britain's only Olympic-standard shrinking violet to be addressed. And as guitarist Boz Boorer prepares to order a round in unpolished Franglais, how does his employer respond? "No ta, you Brylcreemed brute, but I'd love a cup of Red Label and a fondant fancy"?

No, he doesn't. Standing on the pavement, with his quiff dramatically silhouetted against the neon-lit Moulin Rouge, Morrissey nods thirstily and heads towards the bar.

Boz and Morrissey are Marc Bolan fanatics for whom no Boppin' Elf minutiae is too minute ("Did you know he wore size five women's shoes?"). Earlier, Morrissey was hopelessly defending Certain People I Know, a track from Your Arsenal which is all but a cover version of Ride A White Swan.

"I don't know if you know anything about Marc Bolan," he says haughtily, "but he took a lot of inspiration from rock'n'roll. If, for example, you listen to early Carl Perkins you'll probably hear," and this is where his argument began to falter, "Marc Bolan playing Ride A White Swan in the background... although I doubt it."

Morrissey suggests we take a taxi to Pigalle to have his photograph taken outside the explicitly-illustrated sex shops. The "one-handed" literature and out-sized rubber appendages, he enthuses (fully aware of how thoroughly un-Morrissey the setting is), will provide a stimulatingly sleazy backdrop.

Throughout the session, he maintains a sitcom vicarish innocence, putting it on hold occasionally to scrutinise an especially gymnastic video cover or savour a fruitily punsome magazine title.

And it is here, in the condom of Paris, that we leave Monsieur Morrissey to saunter between the live lesbian sex shows (Sex-o!) and the "specialist" hardcore backrooms (Porno Shop!). Saying his au revoirs he extends his hand, and, as you reach out to shake, he withdraws it and - in the hilarious music hall tradition - thumbs his nose. How very tres.

"When you reach this age," he sighs, "you have to accept that you are what you are, whatever that may be. Because of the position I have in life people tend to always treat me in exactly the same manner." He exhales dejectedly. "Nobody ever grabs hold of me and says, Let's go down to the red light district, there's something I want to show you."


This article was originally published in the September, 1992 issue of Q magazine.
Reprinted without permission for personal use only.