Morrissey, the former lead singer of the Smiths, is perhaps the ultimate love him or hate him character in the history of popular music. He inspires terrifying devotion and pathological dislike in equal measure. I recall Morrissey appearing on a talk show, Jonathan Ross I think, and my wife having to leave the room within seconds. “He’s so pretentious,” she said as she left.
So where do I fit in on the Morrissey spectrum then? Like most characters who elicit such binary responses, I sort of like him and sort of don’t.
I’ll start with the stuff about Morrissey that isn’t so likeable. He’s wrong about almost everything. Every time I think I’ve ever read a Morrissey quote regarding a contemporary issue, I’ve either disagreed with him or found that he’s made the argument we both share so unappealing I wished we disagreed as usual. He rails against pretention whilst being one of the most pretentious people ever to have lived. I empathised with my wife for not being able to watch him being interviewed; Morrissey is one of the all time most grating people to watch in such a format. He always gives off this ever so thirteen years of age, “Oh, I’m so above all this pop star chicanery!” vibe the whole time, and if ever the questions are in the least bit insightful, he acts as if he’s being persecuted beyond all description.
In his day job, he wears his misery (about nothing particularly striking as well) like a badge of honour, as if being depressed about nothing much was somehow cool in and of itself (a posture unfortunately taken up by many amongst his legion of fans).
So what’s to like about a faux depressed, pretentious windbag? Morrissey’s band, the Smiths, were pretty great. Some detractors of the man like to say that this was all down to Johnny Marr, but that’s bullshit. Morrissey has one of the most distinct voices in the history of pop, a genuinely hard thing to pull off. When he wasn’t trying to so hard to pretend he was depressed, Morrissey could also write some moving lyrics (“Asleep” and “Back to the Old House” are good examples). When he has explored sadness over the sort of nihilistic glumness that is his usual stance, he has been artistically successful almost every time. Which sort of makes you annoyed that he pisses around so much, but we’ve moved on from the stuff about Morrissey that’s irritating.
Morrissey also demonstrates the age old rule of art that its better to figure out what you’re all about and then just go for it; no sense in trying to please your critics, just do it for the fans. He also exemplifies the other golden rule: endurance is everything. There are more than a few writers, singers and sculptors working in offices right now that could be legends, if only they had stuck it out. Having said that, not everyone wants to be a legend; some people who fly too close to the sun actually just want a nice, comfortable, quiet life in the end. Not everyone wants to be Morrissey.