The phone rings at the Sunset Marquis Hotel, Los Angeles.
"Hello, is Morrissey there?"
"I'm sorry, sir, we don't give out that kind of information."
They don't give out that kind of information. This is becoming a mantra
for all enquiries concerning Steven Patrick Morrissey. Supposing I told
you this: that in 1998 the pop icon known simply as Morrissey apparently
has no record contract, no publishing deal, no manager and no band and
is seen by some as being on the verge of retirement.
None of this may be as far-fetched as it sounds.
Morrissey's last British album, Maladjusted, was released last
year on Island Records and sold poorly. In a phone call to Island, they're
uniquely cagey and seem unsure whether he's even still on the label.
It finally becomes clear that Morrissey was never actually signed to
Island and that Maladjusted was licensed from US label Mercury.
Despite repeated requests, nobody at Mercury will confirm whether Morrissey
is or is not on the label. His name has been removed from their web
site list of artists. Rumours persist he's been dropped. But some friends
insist *he* dropped the label. Others suggest he is about to sign a
new two-album deal with an unspecified label.
Earlier this year, Morrissey sacked his manager, Vicky Wickham, who
also looks after Dusty Springfield. His previous manager, James Todd,
is dead. At the moment, Morrissey is apparently not managed by anybody.
His song publishing deal with Warner Chappell has expired and hasn't
been renewed. Warner Chappell refused to comment, and put me on to Russell's,
a firm of solicitors they tell me now represent Morrissey, except Russell's
no longer handle Morrissey. It emerges that Morrissey as since been
looked after by Harbart & Lewis, who handled his affairs when he was
successfully sued by former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce in 1996, except
Moz no longer uses them.
The intrigue deepens. Simple enquiries to RCA Records as to why (prior
to Island) he only recorded one album for them are met with silence.
Even Island (who are basically unsure whether Morrissey will ever record
for them again) communicate with the singer through faxes, and get scant
replies. According to one of them, Morrissey's band of the last few
years (featuring Alain Whyte, Boz Boorer, Spencer Cobrin and Johnny
Bridgwood) is "definitely still together", although sources close to
the band gingerly refute this. Whatever the truth of that one, guitarist
Whyte and drummer Cobrin are playing in a new band, Lorca.
Why the web of intrigue?
Morrissey is an icon - like Brando or Garbo - whose influence dwarves
his actuality, whose importance, at least until recently, was matched
by his record sales. And, like many icons, he now appears to have much
Right now - as usual - Morrissey is invisible, reclusive. He's back
in Manchester after having spent much of the year idling in Los Angeles.
In June, he appeared in London at the Ivor Novello Awards, where he
was presented with an award for an Outstanding Contribution to British
Music, which he dedicated to "John Maher of Whythenshawe". His
sole other public words on the occasion were to say, "He [Johnny
Marr] brought me where I am today. Which begs the question, "Where
He won't be interviewed. He has "no plans".
Morrissey has always been unpredictable. When his first solo album,
Viva Hate, went to Number One, he disappeared for a month,
uncontactable even from his manager. Even close confidants go ages without
seeing him. They assume the friendship is over, then suddenly a fax
will arrive. One of his closest friends is described by another as "a
complete c***. The sort of person who thrives on making trouble."
If the record companies are one thing (at one point it seemed that to
ask "Can you confirm that Morrissey was in The Smiths?" would result
in a firm "No comment"), Morrissey's friends and associated are another
thing entirely. Getting them to talk is an ordeal. Even the many excommunicated
by the singer exhibit a strange loyalty. Or is it just loyalty?
"Morrissey can be very vindictive," said one.
"I don't really want to put him down," said another.
"He's evil in a way damaged people are," said a recently cast aside
Is this really that same man who brought us flowers and The Smiths?
insider spoke of an "intimate" friendship: "It was really close and
then the phone calls stopped." Some people close to Morrissey agreed
to talk on principle and then suddenly went to ground. Sometimes, the
people you'd expect to have little to lose from talking about him were
most steadfast in their refusal to talk about the singer's pathologically
guarded life. But, equally, some of the people who it seemed certain
would not talk did talk... and word got back.
After 10 days of shenanigans, stonewalls, brick walls and private investigations,
I received a return call from Michael Bracewell, author of the superb
book, England Is Mine, which includes several insightful sections
on Morrissey. More to the point, Bracewell is one of the few who remain
in Mozzer's inner circle - he lives in Manchester with Linder, the former
Ludus singer who is virtually unique in remaining Morrissey's friend
since his pre-fame days and is perhaps his ultimate, closest confidante.
A call from Bracewell was a direct line from the Morrissey nerve centre,
and it became obvious that it had been made with the knowledge (if not
under the instructions) of His Master's Voice when Bracewell tried to
ascertain just what story we had, what revelations we'd uncovered.
"I'm being very coy, aren't I?" he admitted, as he aimed and dodged
bluff and counter-bluff in an enjoyable investigation game. "The thing
with Morrissey is that he is everything his writing and his music suggest
he is," said Michael at one point.
And of his closely guarded personal life?
"There's really nothing there," Michael told me. "I think the closest
comparison is with Warhol. His power stems from a concentrated emptiness."
This was a particularly pointed comparison - anyone familiar with Warhol
would know that his own secret life contained more skeletons than a
This, then, is the untold story of Morrissey and The Smiths... 15 years
of bitterness and brilliance.
is they had any idea what was ahead of them when they blazed out of
Manchester in 1983 with the Rough Trade single, "Hand In Glove", a soaring,
immediate anthem in a sleeve bedecked with a nude filched from gay pornography.
"The sun shines out of our behinds," sang Morrissey, cheekily,
unforgettably, and a movement was born.
Proudly Mancunian and with an almost Olde English traditionalism allied
to frequently radical philosophies, The Smiths were always much more
than a band. There was Marr, the Roger McGuinn-fringed chiming tunesmith
who seemed to drop instantly classic songs like normal people crap;
there was Morrissey, the bequiffed, overcoated, Oscar Wilde, Sixties
pop and New York Dolls - obsessed wit who sang with primeval emotionalism
rarely heard since early Elvis Presley.
Morrissey was instantly a celebrity because pop had never seen anything
like him. He sang about repressed desire and yet professed to be celibate.
He loathed the sex and drugs and no-intelligence culture of rock'n'roll.
He espoused literature, feminism, vegetarianism and left-wing politics,
and wrote songs equally at ease with sensitivity and brutality, brimming
with darkly humorous abject misery. He was the unearthly amalgam of
Marc Bolan, James Dean and Charles Hawtrey. He was shockingly handsome
yet sang (only half self-mockingly), "I am sick and I am dull and
I am plain", and "16, clumsy and shy, that's the story of my
life." He was not unathletic and yet had endured a dark adolescence
of schoolday regimentalism, isolation, bedroom fantasising and romanticised
"Morrissey set himself up as the ultimate patient and, because of that,
the one sympathetic analyst a person can have," says Michael Bracewell.
"That's why there was a mass transference with the whole fucking audience.
They fell in love, and he was playing with it. "I am sick and I
am dull and I am plain." That just made them want him even more."
"Manchester's answer to the H-Bomb" is how Morrissey claimed
he would like to be remembered and this seemed entirely reasonable.
With Marr and Morrissey ably backed up by Andy Rourke ("the bass guitar")
and Mike Joyce ("the drums"), for the first two years - if not their
entire career - virtually everything The Smiths did was a seminal moment
"I remember us discussing doing "Top of the Pops" from the very start,
but it wasn't like a dream," remembers Mike Joyce. "It was if we knew
we were going to be doing it."
If their florally-festooned appearance for "This Charming Man" on TOTP
provided one of the enduring images of the Eighties, it was not alone.
From the off, Smiths gigs were about wonderment and revenge and beauty
and ugliness and ... theatre!
"Morrissey just started throwing confetti everywhere," says Joyce. "That
was fantastic. Y'know, everyone always had this thing about "Dour Mancunians".
But there was so much humour with us, at the gigs everybody was laughing.
People hugging each other, and this was without E."
At the Hacienda, the group ordered 20 boxes of gladioli. Another defining
moment was provided when Morrissey hurled the colourful flowers into
the greyness of the Factory club and Manchester's then industrial culture.
The Smiths broke rules almost daily. Early in their career, they even
tore down the backstage "no access" culture to provide access to hundreds
"We were running around kissing each other, kissing ourselves," recalls
Grant Showbiz, Smiths' soundman. "What, we're doing this?"
Although the band presented a united image, Morrissey had assumed to
role of bandleader early on. Joyce remembers a turning-point at an interview
"It was a total shambles," he says. "Mozzer kept pretty quiet. I think
he was a bit shocked at some of the things we were saying. After that,
it was deemed that he, or he and Johnny, would do the interviews."
The Smiths were four different people, the connection was the music.
Andy, Mike and Johnny clicked like mates. Morrissey was more solitary.
"When the sticks went down and the microphone went off, Mozzer kept
himself to himself," says Joyce. "Maybe we should have dragged him out
a bit more. He did have some friends, but nobody else would know them.
Very arty. I felt very inadequate, as if they couldn't wait to get away
and talk about great authors! Andy felt that way too. Johnny maybe less
so. But Morrissey could be very funny, a very witty guy."
"The thing that was unusual about him right from the start was that
he had a very strong sense of this was how he was going to be," says
Andy Catlin, who photographed Morrissey for many years. "The way he
dressed and presented himself, the way he talked. He wasn't egocentric
in the way some rock stars are. he was one step detached from the rest
of the world."
As Morrissey's witty repartee and controversial opinions lit up the
music press in a way they never would be again, his acute perfectionism
and ambition showed - to some - a distinctly darker side.
Early Smiths producer Troy Tate was edged out by Morrissey, who, according
to some, felt that the former Teardrop was becoming too close to Johnny
(the official reason was that his sessions - for the eponymous first
album - weren't good enough, although many now maintain they can't tell
the difference). A stunned Tate left the music business shortly afterwards,
never to recover. The cracks widened when original manager Joe Moss
(who again was close to Johnny) announced his withdrawal from the group's
affairs, an unexpected hammer blow that would have extreme consequences
"I think he had a nervous breakdown," says Grant Showbiz. "That or Geoff
Travis [Rough Trade boss] cynically edges him out. He was in Manchester.
The record business in London could see The Smiths could be really,
really massive. Joe had depressive problems. I think he was probably
rocking slightly and somebody gave him the final push."
Like Tate, Moss left the business.
the Morrisseyean traits that has endured to this day is the differing
opinions of Morrissey between those who have worked with him or encountered
him casually, and those who managed the almost unachievable feat of
becoming a friend.
Ben Marshall worked as a translator for Morrissey in Italy during the
1985 Meat Is Murder tour, and paints a critical picture of
Morrissey at this time that hints at xenophobia on the singer's part.
"I didn't like him very much as a person," Marshall admits, "I found
him very remote, very distant. He had a horribly lofty attitude. In
Rome, we went to a lot of shops together, and my job was to translate
so he could buy stuff. But he had this snooty attitude...
"You know that awful expression, 'The Wogs start at the Channel?' We'd
be walking around and people would be dead nice. They'd be happy to
have him in the store. He wouldn't even speak to them, he would not
even look at them. He'd say, 'I want the RayBans, Ben.' And they'd have
to be handed to me."
Marr, Joyce and Rourke, on the other hand, were happy to sit around
"Lovely guys," says Marshall. "Mike Joyce and Johnny Marr were interested
in Rome. I remember somebody else remarking, 'Christ, Morrissey in a
Roman fairground!' But he was totally disinterested in Rome. He reduced
The Smiths' PR girl to tears within about 12 seconds because she'd booked
a hotel - a really nice place - but Morrissey and Mike Joyce thought
it was too downmarket. Marr - given his dope all day - probably didn't
Marshall's fairly damning portrayal is countered by Jo Slee, who worked
in the Rough Trade production office before becoming The Smiths' sleeve
designer and eventually Morrissey's personal assistant and one of his
"Morrissey?" she asks, "I thought he was a natural." Unnatural? "Probably
that as well! He was instantly a celebrity. I thought he was very funny.
I think the first time I spoke to him was when they first did TOTP.
They were pretty terrified and Morrissey asked me in a whisper if I
could cross the road to get him a can of hairspray. He was very shy.
"In the early days, I was just one of many Rough Trade minions. When
I started having more personal contact with him, I found him incredibly
responsive and decisive, very clear. Very easy to deal with. He was
acutely perfectionist. He cared about every detail."
point, press and public alike became interested in the more minute details
of Morrissey's sexuality. Declaring himself celibate had been a masterstroke.
He had simultaneously laid down a (real or imaginary) gauntlet to the
fans, while making all his (male or female) relationships at least appear
platonic and still being able to sing hilariously dangerous lyrics like
"A boy in the bush is worth two in the hand / I think I can help
you get through your exams."
"Did he get propositions?" ponders Mike Joyce, "I'm sure he did. But
he'd set out his stall. I mean, you could ask him. But he wouldn't tell
you. There was no reason for us to think he was putting it on."
Jo Slee insists that as late as '92 Morrissey's relationships were "few
and far between, virtually non-existent. His sexuality? I couldn't possibly
Strong rumours suggest an "intimate friendship" with a journalist around
1984-5, and that this person was the subject of "That Joke Isn't Funny
Anymore." Nowadays, that person steadfastedly refuses to talk about
Morrissey. Other talk suggests the 1985 single, "William, It Was Really
Nothing", was a paean to Associate Billy Mackenzie. Mackenzie's colleague,
Alan Rankine, later penned a song entitled, "Steven, It Was Really Something".
Unsurprisingly, he is now unavailable for comment.
"Morrissey seems to have this effect even after he's rejected people,"
says one insider. "They still hold some kind of loyalty towards him,
even though they've been shat upon from a great height."
Another observer points to similarities with the English comedian Kenneth
Williams, veteran star of the Carry On... movies, who always
insisted he wasn't interested in sex yet wrote about "well-oiled builders"
in his diaries. In a famous incident, the young Williams was given a
pair of boxing gloves by his father and told they'd "make a man of him."
His reaction was to say, "Oh no, father, I don't think so." Morrissey
sang, "Will nature make a man of me yet?", and in interviews
even more self-mockingly quipped: "Before I joined The Smiths, I had
a medical problem."
In the mid-Eighties, journalists like Kris Kirk and Richard Smith both
penned articles attacking Morrissey for adopting "gay icons" on his
record sleeves while refusing to come out. Was Morrissey gay? Or - as
he liked to suggest - almost asexual? At the time, his only public cohorts
were celebrity friends such as Lloyd Cole, Pete Burns and pools winner
Viv Nicholson, cover star of "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now".
"I refuse to recognise the terms hetero-, bi- and homo- sexual,"
Mozzer has said "Everybody has the same sexual needs. People are
just sexual, the prefix is immaterial." In one provocative, distasteful
incident, Antonella Black interviewed Morrissey for Sounds, and kept
on asking the "gay" question. Exasperated by the man's denials, she
finally said, "So what if a tall, dark man walked up to you, gripped
you by the back of the neck, bent you over...." Morrissey shrieked:
"Don't!!! Stop, stop now! Stop now!" (A misquote. If you'd like
to read what Morrissey really said, please visit
Sorrow's Native Son.)
question of Morrissey's sexuality" as one journalist later put it ("Who
does it vex? It doesn't vex me," replied Moz) would stalk Morrissey
later on in life. In the meantime, tensions within The Smiths were starting
to approach boiling point. Following the stressful departure of Joe
Moss and the band's move to London, Johnny Marr almost burnt himself
out during the sessions for what would become 1986's classic, The
Queen Is Dead.
This is former Pretenders drummer and close friend of Marr, Fred Hood:
"I'd never seen anyone so under pressure as Johnny was when they were
doing The Queen Is Dead. Johnny was writing all the songs,
then arranging for Morrissey to get to the studio when nobody else was
there, such were Morrissey's stipulations. And Johnny was beginning
to have a good time outside of that, doing sessions with Bryan Ferry
and Billy Bragg, for example. He was beginning to enjoy being in more
normal musicianly surroundings. The Smiths were abnormal because they
were hermetically sealed. I suspect it's possibly how Geri from The
Spice Girls felt towards the end. They had this whole thing of "us against
the world", and I suspect she, like he, probably felt it would be nice
to communicate with a few people."
Morrissey was barely able to conceal his jealously at Marr's extra-curricular
activities, but if a crisis with Marr was looming at that point, nobody
saw it. Instead, the eyes of The Smiths and the world focused on the
bass player. Andy Rourke had dabbled in drugs since childhood, but was
now fully in the grip of a heroin addiction that was affecting his playing.
Out of concern for Andy more than their own careers, the band sacked
him and offered Craig Gannon (ex-Aztec Camera) the bass slot. When,
a week later, Rourke was busted for possession, the band sympathetically
invited him back to clean up, keeping Gannon on as a second guitarist.
To the fans, the shock that a Smith was involved in hard drugs came
as a body-blow to the group's puritanical image and the first public
inkling that anything was wrong.
In the meantime, the cracks were getting wider. The Smiths were extraordinarily
prolific (the collosal "How Soon Is Now?" was originally an extra track).
But they were having problems from their record company. The Smiths
wished to leave Rough Trade, unhappy at what they saw as shoddy treatment
and a lack of promotion. Eventually, a deal would be set up with EMI
which would commence after the band had completed their commitments
to the independent label. The situation wasn't helped by the lack of
a manager, as a succession of caretakers were briskly dispensed with.
Mike Joyce: "Johnny and Morrissey didn't want to relinquish control
- which was good in a way because who knows best?"
It says much about Joyce's naivete at this time that he thought the
darkly sexual and even possibly homo-erotic "Hand In Glove" was about
the closeness between the band. As was now becoming the norm, people
had differing views on Morrissey's true motives.
Andy Catlin: "I think Morrissey started to change quite substantially.
I think he became a bit ... not power-mad, but a control freak. I think
it was a difficult time for everyone. That period was a turning-point."
Jo Slee: "The whole thing was fraught, from the word go. I think they
were unmanageable. The group was Morrissey and Marr. Morrissey was the
management, Johnny was more concerned with the music. Rough Trade felt
they both needed separate managers."
When the company and the group finally split, both parties would accuse
each other of "greed".
"I think there was greed in the group," says Jo Slee. "But it wasn't
coming from Morrissey. In the end, I felt Morrissey was the protagonist
in just getting the record out, irrespective of who was gonna sign to
After six months in a lawyer's vault, The Queen Is Dead confirmed
the Smiths' position at the pinnacle of rock. It was a masterful collection,
packed with humour and brutality, repressed emotion, unquenchable and
unfulfillable sexual yearning. Brilliantly, The Queen... confronted
the times while dripping with rose-tinted images of a quasi-mythical
"dear old Blighty" that offered romantic escapes from the problems of
But things had changed.
"There were a lot of mind games... communication through non-communication
remembers Mike Joyce. Around this time, Joyce was beginning to discover
that not only were Morrissey and Marr the sole names of the Rough Trade
contract, but that non-songwriting money (Morrissey and Marr wrote all
the songs) was not split equally four ways. On the other hand, Morrissey
and Marr were crippling themselves running the group.
"The momentum of the first year carried us through when things started
to break down," reflects Grant Showbiz. "At first it was that classic
thing of the manager, the band and the road crew in the same van, everyone
knowing each other and finding each other's jokes funny. It was like
that and then it suddenly leapt. The original road crew evaporated and
we lost Joe, and then suddenly we went to America and it was never the
Johnny Marr's mental and physical condition on what had proved to be
the fatal American tour of 1986 has always been put down to "alcoholism".
Grant Showbiz: "There was cocaine about, and limitless amounts of booze...
you're wondering how far you can go. I don't think you become an alcoholic
over six weeks, buy yeah, you're drinking every day, and you're drinking
to excess, and you've never done that. Again, you want to see what it
is like, 'Wow, I can still think straight and I've been up for three
days. Whoops I've just fallen over.' It's a learning curve, and I think
all of us said 'OK, let's bloody do it. Let's have the hotel with the
swimming pool on the roof, let's go down the bloody Whiskey-A-Go-Go
and 15 more clubs, and get arrested for trying to beat up a policeman.'
It was insane! I was definitely going to the mixing desk the worse for
wear. But I can't remember Johnny ever being unable to play because
of abuse. I can remember Johnny being very out of it, and Morrissey
being very hard to get hold of. The amount of time it took to get Morrissey
onstage was getting longer and longer. There was this great game he'd
play of wanting to be asked 15 times, if it'd been 14 the night before.
Johnny was like 'Let's Rock!' and Mozzer'd be 'Well, somebody's gotta
ask me another seven times.'"
Mike Joyce: "Bar Morrissey, we were certainly burning it at both ends.
And in the middle."
Andy Catlin: "Mike in particular started to get into drugs and stuff
a lot. There seemed to be more of a separation between all the members
of the band, not just Johnny and Morrissey. There was a very different
pressure on Andy and Mike... the pressure of not having any control
and getting out of it a lot in response to that.
"Mike and Andy were out a lot. I'd bump into them at clubs. They definitely
headed for the underbelly of rock'n'roll. They'd gone into the darkness."
began to feel excluded from and annoyed by the debauchery, his concern
illustrated in an incident with Joyce when the drummer had performed
an encore while drunk.
"We did make attempts to bring him in," insists Showbiz. "I think there's
a sort of Kenneth Williams element to Morrissey, where he wants it,
he wants it, but no he can't have it.
"I have seen Morrissey drunk and I have seen Morrissey out of it, but
not at the same time as we were."
Marr's friends on tour included Fred Hood and Guy Pratt, a Mancunian
bass player who was at one point talked of as a replacement for Andy.
Morrissey was increasingly isolated.
Grant: "Was Morrissey comfortable not being comfortable? I think he
sorta liked it like that."
Central to the slow collapse of The Smiths was the complex and intriguing
relationship between Morrissey and Marr.
"I think Johnny understood Morrissey more than anyone else in the world,"
says Showbiz. "I think they were still intimate throughout that whole
tour, although it wasn't a public intimacy. During the day, they were
having conversations on the phone, and certainly Angie [Marr's wife]
and Morrissey were spending time together. It's complicated. I mean,
in certain respects every songwriting relationship is like love affair,
and it does have these pushes and pulls. It was almost illogical, the
gulf that was coming between Johnny and Morrissey, and you couldn't
put it down to any one thing. Again, it was almost like Morrissey living
out his doomed fantasies. I think at some point one of them thought,
"I can't do this. You're saying you want to be on in this stuff but
when I move towards you, you move away. Or vice versa. There's no rhythm
between us." Whereas before, they were finishing each other's sentences.
"At first, it was a very public togetherness. I think their togetherness
went into a much more private thing, and then just seemed to dissolve."
Marr-Morrissey relationship buckling, that September's Queen...
tour cut a determined swathe across the UK. A public diversion occurred
when Melody Maker journalist Frank Owen penned a highly critical
but bizarre article
condemning that month's "Panic" single ("Burn down the disco...") as
"an attack on black pop". Morrissey was sufficiently provoked to claim
that reggae was the "most racist music in the entire world" and "a glorification
of black supremacy". Even less wisely, he suggested a pro-black conspiracy
at TOTP. Nevertheless, the Queen... tour was largely
triumphant, less fraught than America. There was considerable humour.
Morrissey often held a banner proclaiming "The Queen Is Dead". On the
back it said "Two light ales!"
But there were problems involving violence. Shortly after Morrissey
- ever the provocateur - announced regret that Thatcher hadn't
died in the 1984 Brighton bombing, the band were confronted by skinheads
in Preston. "There was an air of violence, of danger," remembers Mike
Joyce. Morrissey was hit by flying objects, the gig was aborted, and
the road crew ended up fighting with the audience. After the final night,
in Manchester, Craig Gannon was sacked via a friend, Marr calling him
"a lazy bastard". Soon afterwards, Johnny piled his car into a brick
wall in Bowdon and was lucky not to be killed. The year ended with what
would prove the be The Smiths' last British gig, at Brixton Academy
on December 12, 1986.
things were further complicated by the recruitment of Ken Friedman,
an American manager.
"He wasn't at all straightforward," says Jo Slee. "I suspect he was
playing off one against the other."
Grant: "The big problem was nobody took an overview. Nobody said, 'Why
don't you take a holiday, guys, because you look knackered and you're
arguing all the time?' It was a heady rush, but nobody realised that
The Smiths wasn't Morrissey or Johnny, but Morrissey and
Johnny. Maybe if someone had done and given them space, The Smiths would
still be going."
The band were still going, but only just. 1987 saw just one - last -
Smiths performance at San Remo in Italy. A split with long-time producer
John Porter was instigated when Morrissey brought in Stephen Street
to remix the April single, "Sheila Take A Bow", with it's tantalising
hints of transvestitism. However, with Street now on board, the Strangeways
sessions were unusually stress-free for most of the group.
Mike: "There was no darkness in the and as far as I was concerned. The
darkness was coming from the music. Maybe we were growing apart. Maybe
it was there in front of me and I didn't want to see it."
On the other hand, the pressure was becoming intolerable for Marr. What
were to be the final Smiths sessions took place in May at Grant Showbiz's
Streatham home studio.
Grant Showbiz: "It was an incredible fuck up. They were all exhausted,
especially Johnny. Rough Trade had this stupid thing that they needed
some B-sides, but the vibes were so bad. It was a heavy scene. I remember
being frightened of Morrissey, which I'd never ever been. He was in
quite a scary state, and everyone seemed to be there at different times.
Johnny'd turn up and the rhythm section'd be down the pub, then they'd
turn up. 'Where's Johnny?' 'Oh, he's gone down the pub.' 'Oh fuck this
we're going home.'
"It was even harder when they were together. I can remember Morrissey
saying 'Let's do it, let's go record the songs,' and Johnny going, 'We
haven't got any fucking songs!'"
They ended up doing a Cilla Black song. Marr was mortified. With Rough
Trade hassling them, no manager and the core of the band barely talking
to each other, it was a situation tailored to collapse.
"Morrissey had this song, "I Keep Mine Hidden" which was basically Morrissey
saying, 'I'm sorry Johnny, I'm a complete fuck up but please forgive
me,'" reveals Grant Showbiz. "With lots of specific references, it was
a very direct song.
"Things were crazy. Johnny had been playing with Bryan Ferry and he
had a holiday booked up in Los Angeles or somewhere. Morrissey had specifically
booked this session so it began to drag into this period. So Johnny
was like, 'Fuck this, I'm gone.' Morrissey just went into nosedive."
What was Morrissey sorry for?
"Well, Morrissey knows that he's a perverse person and he turns people
away from him by not showing caring emotions at times that are appropriate."
This dangerous tendency would overshadow Morrissey's career. Marr's
decision to leave The Smiths was rubber-stamped by a premature and slightly
fabricated NME story that suggested just that. Paranoid and
vulnerable, Marr suspected - wrongly - that Morrissey had planted the
story to force a climb-down. After an initial, typically humorous denial
("Anyone who says The Smiths have split shall be severely spanked
by me with a wet plimsoll"), Morrissey would never talk to NME
again. (Obviously untrue. Just see the Morrissey solo interview
archive... His last interview with the NME was circa 1991.)
"He was just under so much stress I think he thought that all he had
to do to get rid of the stress was to get out of the band," says Fred
Hood of Marr's exit, "and to an extent he was right. He was just so
unhappy. I think he felt he could write songs for anybody, and yet he
was having to write songs with this reclusive, manic depressive.
"And why does everyone see that particular combination as being the
only one which means anything? I think he was worried that people would
only be interested in the songs he wrote with Morrissey."
Johnny Marr would never write songs with Morrissey again, and Morrissey's
own career would arguably never recover.
1988, and following some short-lived sessions with Rourke, Gannon and
Joyce ("We tried to carry on. I know Johnny wasn't too happy about that,"
says Mike), Morrissey plunged into the unknown.
Signed to EMI as a solo artist, he spent the winter of 1987-88 holed
up at The Wool Hall studios in Bath, with Stephen Street, producing
a solo album. Street had constructed some basic chord sequences, but
realised a "muso" was needed to turn the sketches into songs. To this
end, the duo recruited Vini Reilly, virtuoso guitarist with Manchester's
"I think Morrissey was still trying to come to terms with what had happened,"
says Vini now. "But the three of us gelled. We had a very happy friendship
which was based on Moz's gift for mockery. He basically just laughed
"But it progressed from there to exchanged confidences, a lot of trust.
We were physically wrestling with each other and having food fights,
then discussing anxieties or worries."
Despite Morrissey's fragile state of mind and "reputation for being
difficult", Vini Reilly paints a fairly idyllic picture of their time
recording together. The residential studio was very luxurious, and the
pair would kill time playing charades and discussing the films they'd
just watched. They'd even enjoy shopping trips into Bath and nights
out at Bristol Bierkeller, when the near-anorexic Reilly took on the
implausible role as bodyguard to the beleaguered star.
Vini: "I used to put my pinstripe suit on, and wear shades, and pretend
I was a bouncer. Which astonishingly enough people actually believed,
and would treat me with great respect, which was hilarious!"
Nevertheless, it wasn't always easy to escape the enormous numbers of
people who - as Julie Burchill once memorably put it - wanted to "touch
the hem of Morrissey's cloth".
"Did Morrissey get recognised? Oh God, yeah," exclaims Reilly. "Everywhere
we went. It was quite scary because we'd have one or two lads who'd
approach, and within seconds it was like sharks, 20, 30. So we had to
pre-empt it; at the first sign of approach be very heavy, and go 'Back
off'. It didn't always work, so then we had to hasten to a car which
was always waiting. It was the height of Mozmania. I do think it got
him down because it was totally impossible for him to chill out."
Despite the light-hearted nature of much of Reilly/Morrissey's friendship,
the sessions themselves were often acutely intense. Reilly particularly
recalls recording "Late Night Maudlin Street", a harrowing confessional
which drew subtle parallels between the dark times of Morrissey's youth
and his uncertain present.
"Going into the night, Mozzer was putting down his vocal, and the whole
studio was affected by the atmosphere. It was absolutely for real, everyone
felt it and just went very quiet and went to bed very subdued. We didn't
play charades that night, I can tell you."
In February, "Suedehead", a single from the sessions, was released and
astonished many by soaring to Number Five, outstripping The Smiths'
successes. A wonderful, flowing single, "Suedehead" (the title inspired
by Richard Allen's Skinhead novels) boded well for Morrissey's
career as a solo artist and was followed by an arguably superior Top
Tenner in the swirling, "Everyday Is Like Sunday". Soon afterwards,
Morrissey's solo triumph appeared complete when the Viva Hate
album went to Number One. Morrissey marked his finest moment with a
display of his increasing penchant for bizarre, extreme behaviour.
"He disappeared on me," recalls Gail Colson, who managed Morrissey at
the time. "He vanished for a month from the day I told him that the
album had gone in at Number One."
Unbeknown to anyone, Morrissey was back in Manchester. According to
Reilly, Morrissey had just had enough of the business for a while.
"EMI had been breathing down his neck all through making that album,
but he's arrive at my flat here clutching some eco-friendly cleaning
Shortly afterwards, Morrissey discovered that Rourke, Gannon and Joyce
were preparing to sue him (and Marr) for monies relating to The Smiths
(the case would eventually come to court in 1996). Morrissey's response
to this was even more unpredictable...
Exactly 365 days after he'd last worked with them, Morrissey (or rather
his lawyer) phoned the trio and suggested a gig. The result was a triumphant
experience for all concerned, with feverish members of the audience
gaining admission with a Smiths or Morrissey T-Shirt. The band played
the material they'd recorded with Morrissey a year earlier (such as
"The Last Of The Famous International Playboys") and a handful of Smiths
songs never played live. However, the backstage environment brought
the curious occasion of a group whose entire membership was suing the
singer. According to Joyce, "It wasn't mentioned".
Morrissey would never play with either Joyce, Rourke or Gannon again,
dumbfounding the ex-Smiths to this day. Morrissey was still playing
mind games, and getting rather good at them.
Morrissey was in another state of flux. He'd fired everybody: Gail Colson,
his manager, as well as his accountants and lawyers.
Yet another run-in (with Stephen Street, which mystifies Vini Reilly
to this day) had ensured that the successful Viva Hate duo,
or trio, would never work together again. Collaborations with producers
Langer & Winstanley, and Fairground Attraction songwriter Mark Nevin
had proved unrewarding, the latter spawning 1991's belated and critically
pilloried "Kill Uncle" ("So Morrissey's over..." declared Steve Sutherland
in the Melody Maker), while Marr was enjoying a productive
career as member of both The The and Electronic.
Morrissey was increasingly hermetic, refusing to tour, and still steadfastedly
refusing to talk to the music press. The music press, in return, was
determined to get to him. A succession of provocative articles took
the ambiguous lyrics of songs like "Bengali In Platforms" to suggest
that Morrissey was a racist (Morrissey has performed for "Artists Against
Apartheid"). To his credit, Morrissey refused to respond. However, this
made the music press equally determined to press for blood. His relationship
with the media began an increasing downward spiral.
Andy Catlin provides an insight into what would become Morrissey's rampant
paranoia as a solo artist.
"The thing with rock photography is, the only time the average person
gets to look at Morrissey in the eye is in a photograph. So the pictures
that people see of you become more of a reality than who you actually
are. I think he became more conscious of that. But that made it much
harder for him to be photographed as time went on. Harder to be exposed."
Morrissey was still doing interviews, laced with wit and humour ("I'm
actually at the height of my powers... as a window cleaner," he
howled to Q), but was giving little away. For many, it was
impossible to distinguish between the mask and the man.
"It goes back [again] to Kenneth Williams," says one insider. "When
did he turn off? Did he sit in front of his friends and do that fucking
stupid voice? You put on the mask and the mask becomes the person. There's
nothing left except the persona. Morrissey had become a c***. Perhaps
he'd always been a c***. But maybe if he wasn't such a c*** he wouldn't
have made the brilliant records he did."
than ever, Morrissey continued an ongoing process of disposing of his
associates and friends. There were 10 people personally thanked on the
sleeve of The Smiths' debut album; all were now utterly excommunicated.
Grant Showbiz (himself by this point persona non grata) recalls
a typical fate, that of sleeve layout person Caryn Gough.
"She just happened to say to somebody, "Oh those covers used to take
me no time at all. I used to slap 'em up." That was it. Literally about
a week later she was excommunicated by Morrissey."
Vini Reilly points out that to some Morrissey may appear to have a huge
ego, but that it hides a desperately vulnerable person.
"He's been betrayed very often by people who should know better," he
declares. "I've actually seen that happen - and it's very painful to
And hard to be on the end of. Vini Reilly got particularly close to
Morrissey - until the phone calls stopped.
"A lot of people think, "I'm going to be the one to get through to Morrissey,"
and they all end up like all the others," says unofficial biographer
Johnny Rogan. "Because they perhaps expect too much going in. He's very
much in control of his life, but that can be a plus or a minus. Basically,
I think a lot of people want to love Morrissey, but he thinks everybody
Grant Showbiz puts Morrissey's fondness for excommunications as down
to a "Power thing. To say 'Fuck you, fuck off. I don't need you any
Why does he have so many fall-outs?
"Well, I could give you a very cheap answer - he's insane!" laughs Jo
Slee. "But no, I think he has very high expectations of people, and
he's very quick to take umbrage, or to feel let down, and you don't
often get a second chance. That's childlike. He's very extreme in his
emotional reactions to people. He's always been intensely suspicious,
actually finding it intensely difficult to trust people. I actually
feel like he's been indoctrinated against trusting people at some stage
in his life."
Revealingly, Morrissey once said he grew up without seeing his parents
hug or kiss. Equally illuminatingly, Slee (one of the few people to
be "re-admitted" to the circle after a falling-out with Morrissey) paints
an intriguing picture of a consummate performer with a crippling lack
"He finds it difficult to receive friendship," she says. "If you don't
learn self-esteem when you're a child, for whatever reason, you have
to work really hard when you're older. And you've got to have a reason
for doing that. He's the type of person who, if people want to keep
in touch with him, they probably need to do it. I don't think he really
believes that people want to be his friend.
The self-esteem problem is interesting because of the connection between
low self-esteem and grandiosity. You could say that Morrissey has plenty
of grandiosity, and he has extraordinarily low self-esteem. And yet
he's a very passionate person. Work that one out!"
As the nineties opened up, the familiar patterns of Morrissey's life
began to re-establish themselves. His childhood had been marked by dysfunction
(the eventual separation of his parents) and upheaval (the family had
removed from a fairly idyllic existence in Dublin to Manchester, and
the painful Mozzer schooldays immortalised in songs like "The Headmaster
Morrissey is uniquely complex. As a free thinker, he is a radical. As
someone for whom change (childhood relocations, the end of The Smiths)
has generally been for the worst, he's an inherent conservative who
often clings to the sanctity of the past and what he knows.
By 1991 Morrissey was again touring (with a four-piece band), and again
delving comfort from the succour of celebrity friendships. As well as
the enduring Linder Sterling, Morrissey's friends at this point included
Tim Booth of James (who'd toured with The Smiths back in '85) and Pretender
Chrissie Hynde, who'd - intriguingly - worked with Johnny Marr.
Morrissey's penchant for celebrities resurfaced during an unbelievably
triumphant first US tour, which then-bassist Gary Day describes now
as "Mozmania. Famous people were always turning up. Sandie Shaw came
to a lot of gigs. Sylvester Stallone."
"Celebrities came up all the time," adds Jo Slee. "But, unless he admired
their work, he wouldn't want to meet them."
Jo cites a mildly embarrassing incident with Moz fanatic Tom Hanks.
She has a particularly insightful view on Morrissey's celebrity fetishism.
"He can walk up to any kind of celebrity - someone who has a public
persona he admires - without fear or shyness," she says. "He can go
into an in-depth conversation as if he's known them for years. But if
he's confronted by someone about whom he doesn't have an image, a sense
of who they are, he's completely lost. He needs to observe people, probably
for several years, before he can open a conversation. When you see children
together, they're entirely contained in their bubble and they don't
speak. When you look at them again, they've stepped out and they're
playing together. I don't think Morrissey can do that. He never developed
struck up a particularly intense friendship with Michael Stipe, another
icon of unconfirmed sexuality, which led to wild industry rumour.
"Michael was great on that first tour," says Jo, carefully. "They met
a lot and used to correspond."
Gary Day: "Michael Stipe? Yeah, he was around. Was Morrissey going out
with anybody? Not that I knew. Anything that may or may not have happened
on that front I don't know about at all. That side of his life is very
private, and that's his prerogative. The less he reveals, the more people
ponder. I was just the bass player. I wouldn't want the pressure he's
Like many of his famous friendships, the Stipe-Morrissey bonding "drifted".
Another of Morrissey's long-term friends on the 1991-2 world tour was
someone called Peter Hogg.
Day: "I detested him. He was a real troublemaker, always sticking the
knife into other people's backs."
But who was Pete Hogg?
"Please don't ask me," pleads Jo Slee. "Let me just refer you to the
'91 tour programme. Peter Hogg was down as "rent-a-chap", and that's
all I can say."
Morrissey's life was increasingly schizophrenic, torn between the bustle
of the road and the sanctity of his hermetic life in Bowdon, near Manchester,
where he often spent time living with his mother. Geographically restless,
Morrissey moved to London, and there was much to be positive about in
Steven Patrick's life. 1992 brought return-to-form album, Your Arsenal,
produced by Mick Ronson, even a clutch of outstanding B-sides (notably
"Jack The Ripper") and perhaps the ultimate compliment was paid when
Moz's adolescent hero, David Bowie, covered one of his songs, "I Know
It's Gonna Happen Someday". [Although Bowie has subsequently declared
"It's me doing Morrissey doing me."] American success was burgeoning.
In fact Morrissey - the old Englander - was increasingly growing to
love Uncle Sam. He was well-loved (one of the few "English eccentrics"
to achieve this Stateside feat) yet could be anonymous. America also
brought welcome light relief.
In England, all was unwell, however. In July, Morrissey was canned off
at Finsbury Park after he supported Madness swathed in a Union Jack.
Subsequently, NME ran a four-page assault entitled, "This Alarming Man",
which attempted to revive the racist controversy. Morrissey again remained
But as his worldwide stardom was growing, the man himself was increasingly
isolated and lonely. The gulf between his public and private self was
He had his band (the core of which
would stay with him throughout the Nineties), but where The Smiths'
vaunted "gang mentality" may have been misleading but not entirely inaccurate,
the new outfit was more of a working, business-based unit. Relations
with Morrissey were amicable, but little more.
"It was the lack of communication," says Gary Day. "If you're going
to be told something, you like to be told by that person - and it was
never done that way. If someone you know asks you to do something, you
might not think it's outrageous or terrible, but if it comes from someone
else it might upset you.
"A lot of things change when you're in that camp; like, you can be expecting
to go on tour, and then the day before you hear that you're not going
on tour. You can be in the middle of a tour, then suddenly you're going
home. But it's his show, and he runs it. I admire that; if he upset
me a couple of times, that's just my personal feelings."
Again, "strange loyalty" to this not always charming man. Morrissey's
management situation was similarly confused. He asked Gail Colson back;
she refused. Just as Morrissey was growing fond of another manager,
Nigel Thomas (who annoyed the band by cutting their money), Thomas died
of a heart attack. Gary Day was sacked. He heard the news from a roadie,
much as Andy Rourke had apparently been dismissed from The Smiths by
finding a sticker on his car.
"He's a total coward in that respect," admits Jo Slee. "Appalling. I
mean, his favourite way of stopping working with someone is to stop
speaking to them. They don't understand why he's suddenly stopped answering
their faxes and stopped answering his phone, and has changed his phone
number. And then they hear from his lawyer or his accountant that he's
no longer working with them..."
Does he realise how harmful that can be?
"I don't think he's able to feel it. Because if he were, he wouldn't
do it. I don't think he's in touch with that sort of emotion. He's not
in touch with the consequences of his actions."
London, Mozzer tried manfully to rid himself of the reclusive habits
that had often threatened to consume him. He became almost a regular
at certain pubs in Camden, Vauxhall and Whitechapel, where he could
be seen cradling a pint in darkened corners. In interviews, he'd even
started alluding to finally understanding the need for physical relationships.
"That time was very good for him," says Jo Slee. Much of the time, Mozzer's
companion was Jake Walters, a diminutive skinhead former boxer with
what insiders describe as a "checquered past". Although Walters is loathe
to speak about Morrissey, he will confirm that they shared a house and
were "best mates".
"The most interesting and fascinating character I've ever met," confesses
Walters, understandably. Jake was never on the payroll, but became Morrissey's
personal assistant as soon as a stressed-out Jo resigned. Morrissey
was also particularly friendly with Murray Chalmers, his press officer
Around this time, Morrissey became publically infatuated with the imagery
of the boxer. He attended fights. Bizarre, unconfirmed rumours spoke
of a procession of "hard-looking" characters beating a pathway to his
door, while Morrissey began to utilise the imagery of the fighter in
his performances, including backdrops featuring skinhead girls. He appeared
in one magazine covered in (fake) bruises. For someone who had retained
a bequiffed, slightly Fifties look since 1983 and was still publically
thought of as something of a "Jessie", this was a major development.
Although she was no longer working with him, Jo Slee understood the
"It was a projection of a part of himself that's inaccessible to him,"
she says. "I think he perceives that as a masculinity which he has always
craved and was never given. If we're not given these things then we
tend to go seeking them in some form. I mean, when you meet him he might
seem very male, very charming, very camp or whatever - but it's not
about how you come across, it's how you are inside. For instance, someone
might come across as a very sexual person, but they might be terrified
Unsurprisingly, many commentators were quick to seize on the supposed
"homo-erotic" possibilities in Morrissey's new aesthetic.
"He said something in an interview which stuck in my mind about his
fascination with skinheads," says Slee. "He said that what he envied
about these people - in a boyish, laddish way - was that they were natural
and un-self-conscious, which I thought was very revealing."
So he's not attracted to violence?
"I wouldn't say that's the over-riding thing there. I remember once
in Australia he was ill,. This is the illest man ever! But he was terribly
ill in bed and eventually struggled out onto the roof of the hotel.
Morrissey was sitting there, swathed in scarves, drinking hot chocolate,
and he suddenly said in a really plaintive voice, 'There's a wasp drowning
in the swimming-pool.' And I swear to God he made me fish it out! And
it sat there cleaning its wings off. Then he was happy."
was often happy in 1994. He was justifiably proud of that year's superbly-received
Vauxhall & I album, his favourite solo album, and possible
his best. Morrissey's new contentment was typified in delighted public
exclamations of a renewal of aquaintance with Johnny Marr.
By 1995, things were changing on all fronts. Now a muscular thirty-something,
Morrissey completed his deal with EMI/HMV and decided on a new company,
RCA, whose famous orange label had adorned his favourite childhood Lou
Reed and David Bowie records. However, the resulting Southpaw Grammar
album (the apex of his boxing obsession) was disappointing and, as with
Kill Uncle, Morrissey found himself touring a substandard album.
His American success (though still impressive) was waning and the British
leg of the Boxers tour was one of the most bizarre in living
memory. Flanked by images of bruisers, Morrissey and the band played
through gritted teeth as hordes of fans trooped ritually onstage to
hug the hero, before filing off politely again. Even Morrissey himself
seemed to be going through the motions: the once master of apparent
spontaneity reduced to grim ritual.
Around this time, the ever-present Jake Walters seemed to fade from
view as Morrissey's sideman (although he insists that - despite rumours
- they never fell out and are still in touch), with Jo Slee again looking
after the singer's personal affairs. Morrissey was given a new challenge
as support (or "co-headline") on David Bowie's Outsiders tour.
However, what should have been a great honour turned into a near disaster,
with Morrissey going on early to half-empty halls and deafening bemusement.
Few were surprised when Morrissey soon pulled out of the tour (citing
"illness"), but accusations that Morrissey found the experience of supporting
Bowie too humiliating were cruelly wide of the mark.
"He was very ill with depression," says Jo Slee. "He wasn't really fit
to go on the road, although I didn't know how ill he was until he really
began to come apart at the seams."
Jo won't say what Mozzer was depressed about.
"I really couldn't say," she insists. "Morrissey's suffered from depression
all his life, more than anyone else I know. It's about repressed feelings,
repressed emotions, repressed pain. It needs treatment. He was taking
anti-depressants at the time because he was desperate to get out on
the road, he really wanted to do the dates. But it was just too much
Around this time, Morrissey was confessing to having dabbled with both
Ecstasy and Prozac. Those unprompted revelations aside, no one has ever
asked him about prescription drugs.
fighting Morrissey. He was never one to shirk from a challenge, and
must have faced the prospect of finally facing his former colleague
Joyce in court (Rourke and Gannon had long since accepted relatively
small settlements) with relish, if some small amount of fear.
When the singer finally took the stand in 1996, he performed well at
first, then became progressively more irritated. Famously, the judge
described him as "devious, truculent and unreliable".
Grant Showbiz: "He completely fucked it up. Johnny said, 'Why don't
I just cut up a million pounds now?' The judge was saying, 'Have you
got another name?' And Moz's going, 'Do I have to tell you?' Every question,
he was like a spoilt little boy, as if he was above it all. Literally,
he must have lost himself and Johnny a million quid in half an hour."
Morrissey insisted he was the wronged party.
"Really, I'll never forgive Mike [Joyce], and to a lesser
extent Andy [Rourke], because it was horrific," he explained
Maker a year later. "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."
Describing the judge as "horrendous", Moz went on to say, "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, being drilled..."
Joyce was awarded �1.25 million from Morrissey and Marr.
"'Devious, truculent and unreliable'? We half expected that to be the
title of the next LP," chuckles Slee.
Instead, 1997 brought Maladjusted, a title which, like most
of Morrissey's art, told it's own story. Associates were shocked by
the news that Morrissey (as opposed to Marr) was determined to appeal
against the court decision (the appeal is heard on July 22).
Fred Hood: "Morrissey's appealing. What an idiot! I think Johnny would
have settled out of court. They say that Morrissey's got the first pound
he ever earned, whereas Johnny's a generous guy, not at all miserly
- and I'm not sure if you can say that about Morrissey."
Grant Showbiz: "I can imagine Morrissey bankrupting himself one day.
He loves tragedy. He thinks the world's against him."
But wasn't it always that way?
us back to the present day. Strangely, several major players in the
Smiths/Morrissey saga are seeing each other again. Rourke and Joyce
are working together again in Pete Wylie's band. Johnny Marr and Joe
Moss used the trial as a means of renewing old acquaintances, with Marr
now producing Moss' new (and not un-Smithsy) charges, Marion. The odd
one out, as ever, is Morrissey.
1997's critically well-received Maladjusted album spent just
two weeks in the UK Top 40 and performed relatively poorly in the USA.
If proof were needed, Maladjusted rammed home the point that
Morrissey would finally have to change.
His affairs are in crisis. In 1998, Morrissey is once again at a crossroads,
a colossal talent in need of a new foil, which may necessitate a new
"Morrissey," says Fred Hood. "He's just doing pale imitations of The
The era of candid memoirs and public confessionals could do much for
him as he approaches 40. Just as the initial "scandals" involving Hugh
Grant and George Michael made their iconic facades seem immediately
more human and welcoming, maybe Moz would do well to shine his own purging
light in his darkest secrets.
"He's becoming more remote from the world and it's such a shame," rues
Grant Showbiz. "When your great skill is writing about the world, how
can you write about it when you keep shutting yourself away from it?"
Everyone has so much love for Morrissey, yet he has retreated further
and further from that love.
"His big problem is this thing about not being able to receive love
from people," sighs Slee. "It's about not ever having been taught to
give it yourself. This is no reflection on either of his parents, but
it's about what the child needs rather than what the child actually
gets, and if it's not what the child needs, the child learns that it
has no value. That means that when people focus their love and affection
on that person, they don't know how to receive it. He can see that someone
really cares for him, in some detached way, but he can't feel it."
This is perhaps the most damning and yet curiously endearing thing anyone's
ever said about Morrissey.
He has tried therapy, finding it impossible to make himself "vulnerable"
to a psychoanalyst's probing. He's "thought about death a lot", says
Slee, but she doubts if this notorious self-preserver would seriously
consider suicide. His staunchest allies (Slee and Reilly) concur that
Morrissey an be incalculably vindictive but, says Reilly, "It hurts
him more than anyone else."
Perhaps the great tragedy of Steven Patrick Morrissey is that however
nasty or bitter he can appear, he is perennially more victim than victor.
He is himself the fly caught in the tantalising web of dysfunction that
has given us his wonderful talent. The question now is whether Morrissey
can rekindle that talent while somehow leading an easier existence.
Whatever will happen to Morrissey?
"I wish he'd end up a chubby with a significant other watching Carry
On movies with a bottle of brandy in his hand," says Grant Showbiz.
"But I suspect it's going to be in a lonely garage with the poison,
cos that's the way he wants to go out. He wants to go over the cliff
in a pink Cadillac."
In the absence of any word from the great man, the final words should
go to Michael Bracewell, his friend and confidant. "I really think he'll
be like the heroine in Far From The Madding Crowd" he insists,
"where she says, "I shall be up before dawn and astonish you all."
Lord knows, it would not be the first time.
Gail Colson was sacked by Morrissey.
"I managed Morrissey during the Viva Hate period, for about
a year. I met him and I found him fantastic. We didn't talk about anything
to do with The Smiths. We talked about the Sixties, Coronation Street,
nothing to do with music.
"But working with him was very difficult. He's hard to contact. I sued
to have to rely on him calling me, cos he doesn't really answer his
phone. There'd be periods of months on end when I never heard from him.
He disappeared on me for about a month from the day I told him the album
had gone in at Number One. That was very frustrating, because everyone
wanted to do interviews, and so on. He's very, very difficult to manage,
but on the other hand he can be very charming, good fun.
"At that time, he never toured and didn't have a band. I didn't try
to get him to tour because I'd seen what happened with The Smiths. He
cancelled enough tours, didn't he?!
"Why did I stop managing him? He sacked me! He sacked me, his accountant
and his lawyer on the same day. No idea why. It was bizarre, but then
again nothing's bizarre with Morrissey. That's why I'm being a bit guarded.
It's so sad. He's his own worst enemy. He's cut everybody out and is
back where he was before fame, only stuck in a hotel room, not a bedroom.
"And he's still got his Mum running everything. Ooh, there's lots more
I could tell you!"
Gail Colson now manages Stephen Street, whom Morrissey avoids.
Johnny Rogan penned the unauthorised
Smiths biography, Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance,
following which Morrissey issued the fatwa, "I hope Johnny Rogan dies
in a multiple pile-up on the M3." (He later upgraded this to "a hotel
"Despite what Morrissey may think, I wrote the book because I love The
Smiths. He said it was '75 per cent lies' before he's even seen it!
It's funny, because when Morrissey was in court over Mike Joyce's contribution
to The Smiths he picked up a copy and said, 'Have you seen the title
of this book? There are only two names on it: Morrissey and Marr.' He
also turned up at one of my bookstore signings in a Cadillac. There
were some great headlines in America - 'Is Morrissey a prowler?' He's
very paradoxical. He's got this beatific serenity about him - he never
shouts and screams - and yet there's this tremendous violence in his
writing and comments.
"During the court case I found myself next to him. He just looked across
at me and said, 'So, this is where it all ends.' Was he talking about
his life, or The Smiths, or in a Wildean sense that the thing that he
loved was now threatening to destroy him? But he was non-confrontational.
I mean, there's somebody here who wants me to die in a motorway crash!
But he doesn't come up to me swinging his bag. I said, 'Do you still
want me to die?' and he was quite reasonable about it. He's incredibly
complex. I don't buy it that he doesn't know how painful it feels when
somebody is rejected by him. Nobody walks away from Morrissey, but the
one that has is Johnny Marr. And Morrissey's not stopped going on about
"In a PR-driven world, Morrissey is an authentic figure. He's always
had the guts to take on the world. As he nears 40 he's increasingly
seen as a sort of Godfather figure, like Lou Reed was for a previous
generation. Stylistically, he no longer seems radical, and in the era
of Jarvis, Brett and the tabloid excesses of Oasis, Morrissey's outrages
no longer compel attention in the way they did. But he's always had
the ability to surprise and knows the pop game so well. Perhaps it's
time he tried something different. It's quite within his nature to do
something completely dramatic."
Johnny Rogan is currently working on a Morrissey sequel, avoids
the M3 and stays only in bed & breakfasts.
Sixties pools-winner Viv Nicholson
adorned the sleeve of "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now"...
"Morrissey phoned me up and asked to use my image on the sleeve. I agreed,
for a fee, which is usual. The first time we met, we walked along Blackpool
seafront. He said he always read about what I was doing and read my
book, Spend! Spend! Spend' every day and it was like a Bible
to him. I said to him, 'If I was younger, would you marry me?' And he
said, 'Yes.' I was amazed. We talked about lots of nice, strange things.
He was very strange, like me when I was younger. He was a bit lost,
so much to give and no one to take it. He said, 'We're too much for
this world at the moment. They're not ready for us, Viv.'
"We met several times. I'd like to have been a lasting friend of his,
and I'd have liked him to be a friend of mine. Why didn't we stay in
touch? Because he's a moody prat! He does know my phone number. I don't
know his phone number. I have written to him, but he never answers.
Why leave your address if you can't be bothered to answer? Also, someone
told me lots of things he was doing about me. I went to a solicitor,
and as it turns out it was the wrong guy! So we kinda fell out, and
that was awful
"He does excommunicate people, yeah, and that's wrong, but you've got
to learn to be forgiving, and I don't think he wants to. It's a shame
because I like him, and I don't want him to end up a sad old man in
a lonely flat."
A stage version of Spend! Spend! Spend! is currently touring the
The wit and genius of STEVEN MORRISSEY
"I sometimes wonder if The Smiths are the last dying breath of that
Sixties working-class grim thing... that one solitary clog left in the
Arndale Centre" (1984)
"I get terribly embarrassed when I meet Smiths apostles. They see
me as some sort of religious character who can solve all their problems
with a wave of a syllable" (1985)
"My genitals were the result of some crude practical joke" (1986)
"Talk about the album? Why, for Heaven's sake?" (to interviewer,
"I'm just an arcane old wardrobe, really" (1987)
"The Roses and the Mondays? The revenge of the daft" (1990)
"I don't want to turn into a 52-year-old lad, but equally I am no
longer strapped to the Women's Studies section of Waterstone's on Kensington
High Street night and day" (
"It's not as if I've sat around in a rocking chair since Strangeways
Here We Come. I have actually kept moving." (1994)
"My past? When you meet David Bowie, do you spend your time talking
with him about the Seventies? Well, yes, I would!" (1995)
"My most unpleasant characteristic? Unlimited self-sabotage, morbid
self-revelation, deadly accurate intuition, barriers of reserve"
"Artists aren't real people. I am 40 per cent papier mache"
article was originally published in the August, 1998 issue of Uncut
Reprinted without permission for personal use only.
Extra special thanks to naomi for transcribing this