bloke in a wig may have described Morrissey as 'devious, truculent
and unreliable' but what the old bugger forgot to add was that he's
also got more one-liners than a Camden coke dealer.
he says at one point, smiling "... especially on Friday
nights." And then, of course, he says absolutely nothing more about
It's called Being Morrissey.
And in fact we've all thought about Being Morrissey. The bands
- some, like Gene, obviously, and some, like Radiohead, not - who wouldn't
have been quite the same were it not for his songs of defiant self-love
and self-loathing. The professional tough guy Henry Rollins, who's been
mocking him so long you start to wonder if it's actually envy. The journalists
impressed, exasperated, and outfoxed by the weary grandness with which
he controls the game every time a tape recorder is switched on. The
hundreds of fans at a recent gay and lesbian Morrissey convention which
culminated in a mass singalong of "The Queen Is Dead" at Buckingham
Palace gates. Every introspective teenager ever, or at least
circa 1982 to the present. And, erm, Vic Reeves' Morrissey The Consumer
From the sublime to the ridiculous. And then me.
which makes meeting Morrissey himself - seven years after he last spoke
to The Maker - all the more unnerving. And here he is, larger than life.
Unexpectedly tall, unexpectedly handsome, unexpectedly fit-looking ("most
people my age look dreadful; I'd say I'm probably 'not bad'") lounging
opposite me, and speaking softly in the manner of someone used to being
And he's on form. He's got a new set of record labels in the UK and
America. He's got an effortlessly lithe and quite clearly Superior Quality
Moz new single called "Alma Matters" on the radio, where it sounds great,
and in the charts. And he's got the imminent new album, "Maladjusted".
(The devoted and the nosey might wish to note that there's a slightly
different track listing in America, where it includes a song that might
very well be about former bandmates. It isn't particularly forgiving.)
Two things strike me. The second is that I'm determined not to burst
into tears, even when I joke that he really should have a trapdoor to
get rid of interviewers who stay too long and he says sweetly, "Well,
there is one, but it didn't work; I've been pressing the button for
the last 15 minutes."
The first, of course, is how good Morrissey is at Being Morrissey. Meticulously
gracious; carelessly articulate; effortlessly self-mocking... and sharp
as a case full of stilettoes and never missing a single trick. He smiles,
laughs, dispenses small tokens of praise - "you're absolutely right,"
he nods indulgently, at one point - and then interrupts me with an unnervingly
peremptory, "What was the question?" Or smirks, as I
try to draw conclusions from his comments, and says, "Yes, but my
reasoning was much more interesting."
Which, Being Morrissey and all, it probably was.
"But I am box office poison here," he
says when I ask why he applies the term to his UK status, despite a
10-year solo career - never mind the five in The Smiths - that includes
two Number One albums and a busload of chart singles. "I sell, but
not a great deal, compared to your average Top 20 person. A lot of people
expect the worst of me, and that's why I'm box office poison. Though
God knows it's a great thing to be. If I was in the pack there wouldn't
be room to move. I'd hate to be everybody's friend. I'd hate to be in
Melody Maker every week photographed with someone, smiling, somewhere.
I always liked artists who remained aloof and who felt somehow superior."
I ask if he has sympathy for the people who play that fame game.
"I don't have sympathy for anyone," Morrissey tilts
his head back. "It's such a wasted emotion. I'd rather keep it all
for myself. God knows I need it," he adds, Being Morrissey
But surely your songs wouldn't have meant as much to so many, if they
hadn't been imbued with sympathy?
"Well, maybe they mean more than they're meant to mean,"
he retorts. "Anyway, I prefer good old-fashioned spite."
And what of the song "He Cried"? When did you last cry?
"Not for a long time. I used to cry very regularly. And it's a fantastic
cleansing process; I feel three stone lighter afterward. But I haven't
recently. I've had cause to - we all know that," he says, Being
Morrissey again. "But I truly haven't cried in a long time."
Do you cry alone, or in front of other people?
His eyes widen. "Alone, of course. I have some dignity."
But I'm sure there are people who would comfort you.
"Yes, but they're all on death row."
Ah. But aren't the airmail stamps to America costing you a small fortune?
"You've tried it too, obviously," he smirks.
Ah, the vagaries of fame. When was the last time you met someone who
didn't know who you were?
"Possibly two days ago. I was trying to rent a car and was asked
what my profession was. A lot of people don't know why they know me
but recognise my face. I don't strut around hoping people recognise
me. I don't walk down the street trying to score points seeing how many
people recognise me and I don't burst into tears if they don't."
Does fame induce agoraphobia?
"Slightly. There are certain days when it seems that people are really
looking at me. And when you have that for 35 minutes in a day, you begin
to think, 'Well, should I go there, should I wear that hat, should I
get on this bus?', and eventually you think, 'To hell with it,' and
go back home. There's something about eye contact on the street that
if you're staring at the people coming toward you, you think they think
you're looking at them wondering whether they recognise you. So you
begin to avoid people's face and eye contact."
"Maladjusted" has one of the all-time great, swirling, angel-voiced
Morrissey Songs on it, "Wide To Receive". It's a love song, isn't it?
"Yes, it's supposed to be, but I'd never dash out on a limb. It's
supposed to be an internet song. You know, lying by your computer waiting
for someone to tap into you and finding that nobody is, and hence being
wide to receive. How awful, of course, to be wide to receive
and finding there's no reason to be."
Do you have a computer?
"That's a trick question, and I refuse to answer," Morrissey
Any interest in computers?
"I'm a Luddite," he retorts.
But even Luddites know...
"No, they don't," Morrissey contradicts.
So you've written a song about the internet, but you won't tell me if
you have a computer.
"I'm not going to cater," he says, mildly incredulous.
Is it just possible that you're always conscious of what things you
do that are Being Morrissey-like, and which aren't, and only giving
me the Being Morrissey bits?
It's not just anoraks who use computers, you know. Some good-looking
people own them as well.
"I've yet to meet one," Morrissey snickers.
Time to log out of that area, then.
enjoying getting older? Or at least more than you expected?
"The beauty of being 17 is that you can never believe that time flies
and that soon, very soon, you'll be 38. I never expected to get this
old, but it's very comfortable... in an edgy sort of way."
Is there anything you feel too old for?
Morrissey sighs a very well-timed sigh.
"Yes, I felt too old for Britpop. But maybe I just
didn't like it. The Little Englandness stuff of, 'You're too old to
be here,' even though people in their 30's are getting younger is all
part of British snobbery, isn't it? 'Where are you going?' 'You're not
allowed to be there.' 'What right do you have?' They'll say it about
age, and they'll say it about using the flag," he adds, referring
both to the inflated "Is Morrissey A Racist?" controversy of a few years
back when he performed onstage with a Union Jack backdrop, and to the
subsequent lack of controversy when a host of later artists from Noel
Gallagher to Geri Spice employed exactly the same emblem. "I wasn't
the first to use it, and I certainly wasn't the last,"
he observes pointedly.
And he's got a point.
I have colleagues in the music press, who seem to believe that 17-year-olds
should only listen to 17-year-old musicians.
"Oh yes, that sort of snobbism is extraordinary," he shrugs.
"When I was younger, should I therefore have felt that I had nothing
to say to people who were older than me? That just wouldn't make sense.
If you were simply singing for people who were all born in the same
month and the same year that you were, what a very narrow aim."
But it's still easier to feel a closer affinity to people in your own
age group. Would you be alarmed at the prospect of going out with someone
much older or much younger?
"I'd be alarmed at the prospect of ever going out with someone. So
that ends that question," Morrissey retorts, lightning
fast and suddenly very, very alert.
But you must be breaking someone's heart by saying "I've never gone
out with anyone". There must be someone out there who will read this
and say, "But I saw him for four years - how can he say that?"
There's a chilly pause. "There's nobody living on the planet who
can say that. So there..."
Well, I don't believe you haven't ever gone out with anyone,
"Well, I haven't, so put that in your Sony cassette and..." He
laughs sharply, almost harshly. "I really haven't."
But you're a human being.
"You've got no evidence of that," he rejoins. "Artists aren't
really people. And I'm actually 40 percent papier mache."
Have you been in love with people?
"Oh yes. Real people with flesh and bones and eyes. But I'm so used
to fantasy and everything being rock 'n' roll, I could never quite come
out of the cinema and relate everything to the hard world. It was always
at a distance. Always a dream. And I'm used to that now. I understand
the life of books and films and music."
When's the last time you walked down the street holding someone's hand?
"I've never done that."
"No! My mother, when I was one, perhaps."
When's the last time you snogged in the cinema?
"Never. You really do overestimate me, don't you? Can you really
see me sitting in the back of the cinema snogging? Well, you should
stop reading Cosmopolitan. It's not one of my strong points. You may
bang your head against the hotel wall but there's nothing to
tell. Nothing at all."
Fairly icy silence.
Did you friends ever suggest that by the time you were in your late
30's you'd want to settle down?
I'd think they'd want to see you happy.
"Maybe they do. I don't know. But they don't say."
Because they're not that crass?
"That's it. They're not that crass." He pauses and looks at the
ceiling. "You know, this conversation has devolved dramatically."
we might talk about being - sorry, about the new album - "Maladjusted,"
"The process used on this record was very, very spartan," Morrissey
says, still Being Morrissey, of course, but enjoying himself more. "And
what's always been most important to me are the vocal melodies, even
more so than the lyrical content. That's really the key to the songs
surviving. For better or worse what I do is distinctive. And that's
a very unusual thing to be able to say in Nineties pop, because most
people sound exactly the same, and you can be with somebody and they
can be speaking in a perfectly normal English accent and as soon as
they stand behind a microphone they develop this swirling West Coast
twang. They can't just sing as they speak. And I completely
sing as I speak."
And you must feel you're growing stronger as a vocalist.
"Yes. When I listen to the early records, they sound very thin and
shrieky and the voice sounds marginally hysterical, like I was balancing
on a ledge. But now my voice is so much stronger, and I'm sure it has
something to do with the oesophagus. Or physical strength; in the days
of yore I was extremely undernourished. Though that didn't impede Edith
Piaf, I suppose."
It's a more soulful voice than it was.
"Oh yes, I think so too. And I don't mean, 'I think it's the best
record I've made this week.' I know I've made quite a few stinkers,"
he adds. (When I ask him later, he'll admit to "Pregnant For The Last
Time" and a few other "pretty ropey" singles.) "But this,
I think, is the best of me. And people inevitably say, 'Ah, but The
Smiths...' I think that's so tedious, so boring. Nothing against The
Smiths, of course, but I have been away from them for a decade."
But why don't you sing any Smith songs live? They were great songs.
"They are great songs," he amends meticulously. "You
know, occasionally, as I'm rolling out pastry, I find myself singing
'Death Of A Disco Dancer'."
I suspect both of us are pleased at how very deliciously Being Morrissey
that last line was.
But why deny your back catalogue?
"I'm not sure. It's certainly not a pained decision. I don't close
the curtain and say, 'I'm not singing any of those horrible old songs
that belonged to The Smiths.' Because I feel that those songs are still
me. But I like to sing the songs I've recorded recently, because I think
they're wonderful. If I met a complete stranger today and wanted them
to hear the best of me, I would quite truthfully play 'Vauxhall And
I', or 'Maladjusted', or 'Your Arsenal'. I actually wouldn't play 'Meat
Is Murder'. And that really is the truth."
us to another prickly topic. Much to my relief, however, Morrissey's
much happier having his say about the law and specifically the judge
who called him "truculent and devious" - than he is talking about dating.
Was the court case in which Mike Joyce successfully sued you and Johnny
Marr for a greater share of The Smiths' profits a matter of finance
"Well, it was both. It was entirely to do with finances on Mike Joyce's
part. He says it's nothing to do with money, but I'm sure he won't donate
any of his gains to charity. Really, I'll never forgive him and to a
lesser degree Andy [Rourke], because it was horrific. I thought it was
shocking, and if I was a weaker person or less intelligent, it would
make me despise The Smiths and everything they stood for.
"And the judge was horrendous, and all the scrawly snivelling little
extremely physically ugly people involved, who viewed me as some kind
of anarchic, and semi-glamorous if you don't mind me saying, free spirit."
Was it a case of "He thinks he's better than anyone and we'll knock
"Exactly. It's actually that simple. It's pure unadulterated jealousy,
nothing more, nothing less."
And Mr. Marr?
"The court case was a potted history of the life of The Smiths. Mike,
talking constantly and saying nothing. Andy, unable to remember his
own name. Johnny, trying to please everyone and consequently pleasing
no one. And Morrissey under the scorching spotlight in the
dock" - Morrissey is warming to the narrative, as you might
have noticed - "being drilled. 'How dare you be successful?'
'How dare you move on?' To me, The Smiths were a beautiful thing and
Johnny left it, and Mike has destroyed it.
"There were so many creative ideas around The Smiths that came from
my head and no one else's. Apart from singing, creating vocal melodies
and lyrics, and titles, and record sleeves, and doing interviews, there
was always more to consider. Most of the pressure fell on my shoulders.
And this is what the judge couldn't possibly have comprehended, or didn't
want to. And was totally unaware of how pop music works. Didn't understand
the word gig. Had never heard of 'Top Of The Pops'.
"It was like watching a plane crash. And I'd look down at Johnny's face
and I would look at Mike and Andy and think, this is probably as sad
as life would ever get.
"There is no justice, I'm afraid," Morrissey adds, very quietly.
"I came away from those courts feeling more convinced of that than
Perhaps not in a court of law. And I'm not sure if Morrissey, the man
fond of spite and not at all fond of sympathy, would consider poetic
justice to be an adequate replacement for legal justice. But if there's
any consolation at all, it's worth remembering that Morrissey's still
here, a decade after The Smiths. Still making records of wilful greedy
grace which, even if greater familiarity will always make them less
astonishing than "Hand In Glove" was at the time, are still things of
And with better vocals.
And what's more, the awkward, introspective, "undernourished" boy Morrissey
looks, well, like a lithe, healthy and self-assured man. You know, you
look "comfortable dans votre peau", I tell him impulsively.
"Hmmmh!" he exclaims, faintly surprised, in his best "well-I-never"
fashion. "I don't speak Arabic, actually," he adds, but not unkindly.
It's French. For "looking comfortable in your own skin". You look at
ease with yourself.
Morrissey, Being Morrissey, is either touched or gracious enough to
pretend to be.
"Thank you. That really is kind."
I have a theory, you know, I say as I pack up, that we'll always judge
your recorded work more harshly than anyone else's because you've always
meant so much more. Because, in some way, you broke all our hearts and
never said sorry.
"That's because I never was sorry."
Are you a bad man?
I look at the man who not only invented Being Morrissey but is still
the unchallenged world champion. And I start to laugh. You're really
good at this, you know, I giggle helplessly.
Morrissey rolls his eyes. "Ohhh, you can't keep an old pro down."
MOUTH STRIKES AGAIN
The Mouth on:
MM: "Are you flattered by what Martin Rossiter does?"
M: "What does he do?"
MM: "He's the singer in a band called Gene."
M: "Well. God bless all who sail in him. In her. In it.
"Actually, I think he can sing. That might sound like a very simple
thing to say, but most people in pop music can't sing. But he can actually
sing, so he deserves more attention than most."
M: "I'm not one of them."
MM: "Do you see them as..."
M: "As competition? I'm hugely indifferent. And we don't have the
M: "I'll never be one of them. But I liked 'Charmless Man'."
M: "We definitely don't have the same hairdresser. I think the single
is... almost awful. Very disappointing. At a time when they have the
spotlight of the world on them, they should have made the most revolutionary,
creative record and instead it's practically awful. For a song which
is trying so hard to create hooks, it doesn't really have any. Apart
from the 'Pictures Of Matchstick Men' by Status Quo middle - am I the
first or the last person to say that? - there's nothing there. I liked
'Round Are Way'. But I like music which is slightly more anarchic, violent,
confrontational. Oasis are very tame to me. God bless Noel; I'm sure
he'll always have a spot on 'Bob's Full House,' but I search for something
with more bite and rage."
& THE BUNNYMEN
M: "I can't think of a reformation that's ever worked. Can you? Well,
there's your answer."
M: "They're astonishing. I went to see them recently and it was one
of those gigs of a lifetime. One you never forget. They're really special.
I wouldn't like to praise them because the press will hate them if I
like them. Possibly. But that's the way the hamster wheel turns these
above interview, graciously donated by naomi was
originally published in the August 9, 1997 issue of Melody
Maker and is reprinted without permission for non-profit