The name Morrissey means a lot of things to a lot of different people, ranging drastically on a scale of icon to moron. Whilst his contributions to music, both through The Smiths and as a solo artist, have been undeniably huge, new levels of exacerbation are reached with every new Mozza interview, public statement or general reappearance he makes.
There's the time he described Chinese people as a subspecies, his complicated relationship with UKIP, and the way his debut novel made sex scenes sound like Edwardian jousting contests (consequently winning the Bad Sex Award). Then there's his recent rather troubling comments about Nigel Farage and George Galloway being “liberal educators”, and don’t forget the new London mayor, Sadiq Khan, who “talks so quickly people can’t understand him”. In fact, it finally seems like there is a level of peak Morrissey occurring, in which many people are finally giving up on him. Among my friends and colleagues, I know people who, years ago, would have fought his corner until they were a bloody ball of pulp and mush, but can now barely muster an exhausted sigh when it comes to discussing or defending him.
In 2015 he suggested he would never play the UK again, stating, "There is absolutely no way that we can generate any interest from record labels in the United Kingdom, therefore the imminent two nights at Hammersmith are likely to be our final ever UK shows.” However, something changed his mind and this weekend past he played a one-off UK show in his hometown of Manchester. So, keen to find out if his fans are still as devoted to him and his music, what keeps them coming back, and how they justify the things he said, I went along to meet some of them.
The first person I bump into is Collette and she informs me that should I have wanted to meet the most hardcore contingent of Morrissey’s fan base then I should have been here days ago because the first person set-up camp outside the arena at 4am on Thursday so they could be the first through the door – which opened 62 hours later at 6pm on Saturday.
You strike me as someone who may have seen Morrissey before?
Yes, I first saw The Smiths when I was 14 years of age in 1984.
And it left a big impression, I presume?
Oh, yes. A lifetime impression.
So, how many times have you seen Morrissey now?
This is my 50th time tonight. 50 solo gigs, 2 Smiths gigs, plus 2 TV appearances.
And what exactly keeps you coming back?
The lyrics, it’s always been the lyrics. The sheer honesty, the fact that he has never given up or given in. He remains very true to himself.
You don't think he ever over steps the mark?
He’s arrogant but, hey, he’s got the right to be arrogant. He’s super talented and I love the way that he has remained a myth even after his autobiography.
KEITH AND JOHNNY
Are you both big Morrissey fans then?
Johnny: Oh yes, from back in The Smiths days.
Did you see The Smiths?
Keith: Yes, in Salford at the Festival of the 10th Summer.
So, you’ve seen him lots?
Johnny: Not as much as some but I am in double figures. We’re in a Smiths tribute band actually: The Smiths Ltd from Manchester. [Hands me business card]
Ah, and you’re presumably Morrissey then?
Johnny: I am and he’s the drummer.
So, what keeps you interested in Morrissey to impersonate him and his music for a living?
Keith: Because he’s the man.
Johnny: He’s like a member of the family, really. He’s like an older brother that has been through all your teenage angst and beyond.
You connect with his public views as much as his personality then?
Keith: Yeah, I don’t really go in for a lot of his politics but every man is entitled to his opinion. I just like his music.
Holy shit. You’ve travelled all the way from America to see this show?
Yes, I have! From Texas.
Wow. Is he not playing in America soon?
Yes, he is and we’re going to see him in Brooklyn, San Antonio, Houston and we’re also trying to get tickets for the Dallas show too.
So, you’ve come all this way just for the novelty of seeing one in the UK?
Exactly, it’s like one of those things you have to do when the opportunity comes up. Take advantage of it!
How many times have you seen Mozza over the years?
About 8 or 9.
And what keeps you coming back? What’s the appeal?
It’s just him. Morrissey. I think he’s got better with age.
So, when did you get your tattoo?
About six years ago. She doesn’t like it. [Points to her daughter]
Had you always wanted one or was it a spur of the moment thing?
I’ve always wanted to get one and I was on holiday with my friend and she just said, “Go for it!” So I did.
Do you agree with a lot of his views and the manner in which he says them?
Some, but not all. I think in recent years he’s gone a bit OTT. But at the end of the day he’s a Manchester lad and he’s an icon.
MARGIE, CLAIRE, MARTIN, JOHNNY
Morrissey in 2016. What’s the appeal for you?
Johnny: There’s not much else out there, is there? Nothing has come along that’s taken his crown, in terms of real lyrics and the things you feel. Music now is all about money – I’ve got this and I’ve got that. I don’t feel any sort of connection to that. It's vacuous and shallow and materialistic, and that’s what keeps me coming back to him.
The whole Real Music argument then. And do you like him as this very outspoken public figure; is that part of the appeal too?
Claire: I think the fact he is like that has made me like him more. He sticks to his guns and he doesn’t do things just because other people are doing it. I like the fact that he’s his own person.
Margie: I don’t agree with a lot of the things he says but you don’t have to.
Johnny: It’s important people have principles because a lot of the time now people have the same view on everything or you’re made to feel like you’re speaking out if you don’t, so you have a lot of people who will say something and then they’ll climb down and apologise for it a few days later. That gets on my nerves because if you actually feel a certain way about something then say it and I think the fact that Morrissey does have his own opinions and he’s not swayed by other people is an important thing.
EVE & KATE
Big Mozza fans?
Both: Yeah, huge, huge!
You guys look pretty young still, when did you get into his stuff?
Kate: I would say about four years ago or so.
Eve: I got into them through her, got into the Smiths and then found and ended up in love with Morrissey at the end of that.
Do you agree with a lot of his views on things in life?
Kate: I don’t agree with a lot of the things he says.
Eve: I find it really funny. I don’t agree with it but I just find it hilarious some of the things he’s prepared to say to people. It’s great.
So you’re happy to watch the video compilation of lots of animals being slaughtered tonight?
Eve: That’s what you buy the ticket for!
Kate: I expected it, yeah.
- - -
Of the fans that I spoke to and asked directly about Morrissey's most recent statements on Nigel Farage or Sadiq Khan, none knew what I was referring to exactly, so it seemed unfair to quote them on something they had no proper background or context to. Although those that had loosely picked up on some of his more iffy and offensive comments over the years tended to gloss over them or find them slightly amusing; treating him like a family member, the one who always says something silence-inducing over the dinner table but ultimately you forgive because, well, he’s old and he's family.
Most of them seemed to have separated the artist from the art. The Morrissey they see chundering out controversial statements in interviews in 2016 isn’t the one they fell in love with. They fell in love with 80s Morrissey, and probably 90s Morrissey too. And to some extent, that’s still the one they see on stage tonight, when there isn’t a journalist’s microphone in his face prying for a decent pull quote.
His fans fire to the front as soon as he comes on stage. Arms outstretch and claw at the chance to touch a mere finger of his. Flowers are given; one guy even storms the stage from the rear to plant a fat kiss on him mid-song. Despite Morrissey’s clear contempt for, well, almost everyone, it’s clear there is a two-way devotion that exists between him and his fans, even now. His chest is bandaged up and some people report seeing blood seep from it. However, whether this is all part of the melodrama or whether he is visibly continuing to fight his on-going ill-health, remains unclear. However, he says to the crowd, sincerely, “Whatever happens, I love you.”
Wherever you stand on Mozza, the level of passion and love he still seems able to inject into fans, be them fifty-plus lifers or teenage newbies, is quite a spectacle to see play out. He's is the sort of artist that projects he would die for his art, so it makes sense that he’d attract the sort of people who appear to be willing to do the same for him.
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