Morrissey once said it’s easy to be controversial in pop music because no one has anything to say. So off he goes, opening his bigmouth, with zero care for perception, reaction and backlash. And yet, his audience cares little. On Sunday, when he returns to London for a double header of gigs to finish his tour (Brixton Academy, Sunday; Palladium, Monday), the same devoted audience will swoon to touch the hem of his saintly garment regardless of what he says about Norway or anything else.
So in honour of the man himself, a Morrissey fan gives us five reasons to hate and five reasons to love:
1. Since we all know about the Norway comments, how about this one for size? In an interview with a predictably starry-eyed Russell Brand, part of the bonus DVD that came with Ringleader of the Tormentors, he states that the loss of animals is worse than the Holocaust.
2. Ah yes, the ‘Chinese are a subspecies’ comment. In an otherwise spectacular interview with The Guardian, he attacked China for their animal rights record.
3. NME. New Morrissey Express? They’ve had it in for him for decades, after spending years kissing the collective Smiths’ arse. If it wasn’t taking lyrics out of context it was claiming that he was a secret racist – wearing gold lamé, taunting skinheads while on stage supporting Madness, really? After over a decade of NME embargo he finally granted them an audience – only to be stitched up in one of those ‘England’s not like it used to be’ interviews. The legal case is still pending.
4. Was The Smiths Morrissey/Marr and two session players? Morrissey thinks so, responding to Joyce’s court case with some choice words and stating in the 2002 documentary The Importance of Being Morrissey (more of which later) that he ‘wishes the very, very worst for Joyce for the rest of his life.’
5. Finally, as if to prove that he’s not become a grumpy old man in the last few years, here’s a classic Q interview from 1992, where he wishes that Johnny Rogan, author of Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance, ‘dies in a hotel fire’.
So, after all that, what is there to love about this ‘devious, truculent and unreliable’ (a High Court judge’s words) icon of British pop? Well, if the good didn’t outweigh the bad there’d be little to recommend him. So let’s talk about the good stuff…
1. The cult of the Stretford Bard has never been better explained than in 2002 doc The Importance of being Morrissey. Narrated by Chris Eccleston, featuring contributions from JK Rowling, Kathy Burke, Will Self, Alan Bennett, best friend Linder Sterling, Sparks, Noel Gallagher, Nancy Sinatra and more, it’s the ultimate conversion document. Hate Morrissey? By the end you’ll be swooning like the rest of us.
2. He’s described himself as an ‘island’, a man who can’t be reached. He’s alright by himself. One might say the love from his audience (never fans) that he receives when he appears (never performs, ‘only seals perform’) is the only kind he can receive. This beautiful clip, Will Never Marry, lays out both his determination to remain alone and juxtaposes this desire with a litany of stage invasions, which he still encourages to this day.
3. Though later parodied by Harry Hill, you can’t beat the fey introduction that the British public was given to The Smiths.
4. Go to any gig and you might find a couple of fans with tattoos of the band in question. A Stones tongue here, an Aladdin Sane flash there. But go to a Morrissey show and you will find dozens of people with lyric tattoos, elaborate portraits and the unmistakeable childlike Moz autograph scrawl inked in for posterity. So much so that his 2008 Greatest Hits collection used a slideshow of fan tattoos.
5. The songs. Irrefutable. Perfectly crafted pop mixed in with lyrics that make you think that you are him and he is you, the brilliance is endless. Where to start? The Queen is Dead, Meat is Murder, Hatful of Hollow, Bona Drag, Your Arsenal, Vauxhall & I, You Are The Quarry and Ringleader of the Tormentors: every one a nailed on classic. Arguably both the greatest British lyricist of all time and the most important pop icon of the last 30 years, you take the bad with the good. You’ll miss him when he’s gone.