1992 08 29 Morrissey NME
EDITED BY IAN McCANN
SURPRISE, SURPRISE! THIS WEEK, A VERITABLE MOZ SPESH!
An open letter to the NME and Morrissey from Johnny Rogan
THE MOMENT Morrissey unfurled that Union Jack I knew he was in trouble. I assumed that the ‘Is Morrissey A Racist?’ debate was a discredited old chestnut, but now it's back, bigger than ever. The allegation is dangerous and insulting to Morrissey, especially when you consider that he has never publicly espoused racist views. In the aftermath of the unfortunate furore over ‘Panic’, the Smiths played an Anti-Apartheid gig. a fact which deserved a passing mention in your round-up. However, the NME is right to stress the alarming cumulative effects of Morrissey's flirtation with right-wing imagery. It is extremely disconcerting, and the Madness debacle provided a salutary lesson for Morrissey, as well as ourselves.
What the NME's five-page article really underlines is the contradictory and capricious nature of Morrissey himself. Yes, he was fascinated by Suedehead and its lurid tale of violence against blacks and homosexuals, but don't forget that as a kid he had a strong affection for gore and horror in general. He clearly enjoyed the vicarious thrill of reading about grisly murders and thoroughly enjoyed The Murderers' Who’s Who. One might have expected a sadistic Nightmare On Elm Street lyric to emerge from such interests, but instead he wrote the wonderfully moving 'Suffer Little Children’ and later made a point of condemning Myra Hindley.
Such surprise twists and seeming contradictions are typical of the man. By contrast, his most romantic song ('There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’) eulogised violent death as the perfect goal. His work, image and public pronouncements still veer wildly from pacifism to violence, from obsessive love to profound hatred, from commendable sensitivity to unrestrained cruelty. He wants me dead, of course, but there have been other targets in the past, like Thatcher and high street butchers. Conversely, he retains a gallery of obsolete idols, whom I’m sure be will love forever. The fan and the fanatic are almost interchangeable. It’s hardly surprising then, that we get confused by the signals he gives out - now more than ever.
My gut reaction is that Morrissey is NOT a racist. Despite the catalogue of comments, there is precious little in his past or present to support such a contention. He moved quickly from the pulp of Suedehead to more healthy tomes such as Sex And Racism and Diary Of A Harlem Schoolteacher. Enlightened stuff - and fully supported by Morrissey. I’ve seen evidence of his denouncing racial prejudice in others, and it greatly impressed me. We would all do well to remember that, and not transform a debate about right-wing imagery into a witch hunt. That said I've also been taken aback by Morrissey’s oddly derogatory remarks about Pakistanis as an 18-year-old and, without dwelling on them, I must say I found such flippant adolescent observations infuriatingly inconsistent with his general world view. Even now, it seems a strange contradiction, but not a sinister one.
But that was all a long time ago, wasn’t it? Perhaps, in retrospect, I was over-kind in interpreting the offensive 'Bengali In Platforms’ as a belated working through of petty teenage bigotry. A harsher critic would have gone for the jugular and claimed that this was a blunt reiteration of those dormant adolescent prejudices. I still give Morrissey the benefit of the doubt on this, even though his backward looking ‘patriotism’ makes me stop and rethink. The NME stresses Morrissey’s comments about the vileness of reggae and black music in general. It would have been prudent to add his long-standing love of Tamla Motown to qualify that viewpoint. He certainly doesn’t hate all black music. In any case, the correlation between musical tastes and racial prejudice is a complex argument - the ska-loving skinhead brigade prove that.
I find Morrissey’s latest ‘racially inspired’ songs to be uncontroversial compared to ‘Bengali In Platforms’. ‘The National Front Disco’ is such a self-evidently silly title and the sentiments and tone so obviously satirical that you’d have to be pretty blinkered to be offended by it. ‘England for the English’? If Morrissey can’t be allowed to write in the third person using a character, without people automatically assuming the views expressed are his own, then we’ve got problems too.
It’s the other trappings that I find irksome - particularly the Union Jack. Perhaps he regards the flag as a suitable prop to emphasise the sentiments of ‘Glamorous Glue’, but he well knows its other connotations. Morrissey’s irony loses its appeal when he messes with such a powerful symbol. I’m sure Morrissey is arrogant enough to believe that he can reclaim the Union Jack and even the entire skinhead movement for his own ‘little England’ fantasies and subtly satiric purposes. If so, this is a sad delusion.
Last year, Morrissey told the NME: “I am incapable of racism” which, in turn, prompted me to exonerate him from any underlying racist intent in his work and to conclude, ‘the liberal cycle appears to have been completed’. Perhaps we both spoke too soon. I hope not. If Morrissey is making comments based upon a private mythology, then he ought to realise that a hell of a lot is lost in translation. The fabled golden age of England that he apparently yearns for is merely his lost youth in disguise. Like Michael Jackson, he seems intent on recreating something he never had. In his songs he appears to realise that the dear old Blighty that he glorified has been reduced to a sorry Union Jack T-shirt on a frustrated football supporter. His attitude to England seems terribly confused, as one might expect from a person who despises royalty but brandishes the cross of St George.
Morrissey’s ‘Englishness’ is somewhat ironic when you consider that his parents and his entire extended family only arrived here during the ’50s. As the son of new immigrants, he has experienced his own share of cultural adjustment, a point that’s easily forgotten. And what are we to make of his comments while in Dublin: “It’s good to be back home”. I trust that if he tours Eire or Northern Ireland during the summer he won’t be insensitive enough to parade the Union Jack there.
Morrissey deserves to be quizzed relentlessly on his attitude towards the Asian community, Asian culture, the NF, Britain’s immigration policy, the effects of Irish emigration on the post ’50s generation and the myth of ‘Englishness’. It would be useful to learn how he reconciles his vision on these matters with his work as a songwriter and performer. Having said that, 1 think we should be wary of falling into the trap of dictating to Morrissey what he should write about, or in what tone. I, for one, would still prefer the mocking irony of ‘The National Front Disco’ and ‘We’ll Let You Know’ to the finger-pointing sloganeering of a ‘Margaret On A Guillotine’ or 'Meat Is Murder’. That’s just personal taste. I realise Morrissey’s ambiguity on such subjects as race and sexuality will frustrate those who feel that a firm stance is necessary in the current political climate. Morrissey, of course, prefers arch playfulness and that is his prerogative as a person and a songwriter. Those who play with fire, however archly, must expect to get their fingers burnt once in a while, and when ironic lyrics are allied to questionable public utterances and clearly provocative imagery, then it is reasonable to question the man’s motives and intentions. So, Morrissey - where does fashion end and fascism begin? Do tell.
Johnny Rogan, author of Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance
HEAVEN KNOWS ETC
Yesterday (August 9) was supposed to be one of the greatest nights of my life. I was supposed to see Morrissey again. I had waited 385 days to see him, the one I love. I was so excited, I was actually going to see him, he was going to be there and so was I.
I suspect that people are laughing by now, but I don’t care. Morrissey means everything to me and I’m not bothered by people who laugh at me, I really don’t care, I love Morrissey, end of story. I knew before I went that I would cry that day, but I thought it would be because he was standing in front of me, not because he wasn’t standing in front of me.
When I arrived and was told he wasn’t appearing I was so devastated. It felt as if my whole world had come crashing down on me. I couldn’t believe it, I just cried and cried. People laughed at me but I don’t care. I wasn’t going to see Morrissey and at that point the whole of Finsbury Park could have been laughing and it would not have mattered.
I assume a lot of people will laugh at Morrissey for this and the Glastonbury thing will be dragged up again. I don’t care, Morrissey is still wonderful and I still love him as much, if not more than I used to.
When I was told why he couldn’t play I just cried even more. How could anyone be so cruel? I never imagined Madness fans as being cold and brutal people. How could they do it to him? How could anyone “boo" a person as wonderful as he? I imagine all these Madness fans have never felt an emotion in their entire life. Do they not understand how much people like myself love Morrissey? Whoever threw that orange and that 50p deserves to die in the same M3 pile-up as as Johnny Rogan: they wouldn’t be missed. I love Morrissey, but who could ever love them?
I don’t know if I will ever forgive Madness’ fans: they took away my beloved Morrissey. I can’t think of a worse crime.
Matthew Evans, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear
I can. Concentration camps in Serbia. Starving millions in Africa. War in Northern Ireland. Babies being stolen. Innocent people spending 15 years in prison. An Indian woman being torched at a bus-stop. Is that enough for the time being? - IM
THE MOZ PIT
It’s only a thought, but is it possible that the person who threw the carton of orange juice and 50p piece at Morrissey at the Madness (Madness, not Morrissey) gig was not some National Front yob but someone who felt that draping oneself in a Union Jack - still, like it or not, a symbol of racism - is itself racist?
Morrissey should not be so arrogant as to think that he can, expecting no recrimination or criticism, use racist imagery without anything but the most ambiguous of reasons. “The last truly British people you will ever know,” - some hope, or some despair?
No-one knows any longer when Morrissey is being sarcastic and when he is trying to awaken us to something. Possibly, as someone new to The Smiths and their legacy, I simply am not used to Moz’s sense of humour but, really, that joke’s not funny anymore.
Paul Woolf, Dudley, West Midlands
Let’s examine why Morrissey might have cuddled the Union flag. One, he might have wanted to show his national pride. Possible, but if I was a BNP yob I’d think he was taking the piss and would throw something, and if I wasn’t, I might throw something anyway because nationalism stinks - keep those ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ concentration camps in your mind. Two, he might have been reclaiming the flag for non-racists. Great, but cue missiles. Three, he might have been taking the piss, provoking the crowd. Here come those coins. Maybe he just likes the pattern on the flag, I dunno. But don’t kid yourself. Morrissey is no idiot. He must have suspected that a Madness gig would attract a football crowd. Even if he wasn’t, he must have been aware that there were some yobs there. To go onstage in the flag is to be a 50p magnet, no matter what it might mean in an ideal world.
Don’t go feeling sorry for him: he has more power than you’ll ever have. He probably relishes this controversy. You’ll have your own battle to fight: let Morrissey fight his. He’s hardly a bloody martyr for being hit by a carton of juice, is he? He’s a pop singer, not Jesus - IM
LAST NIGHT I DREAMT SOMEBODY LOVED ME
In the second week of June 1974 this page (who are you, Marvo the Memory Woman ? - IM) hosted the opinions of a passionate young lad from the North. Ardent and sound. The author of this commentary? Our very own Steven Morrissey. Doubtless enamoured as he was to see his name in print, I hope that now, by use of the same medium, he will understand my thoughts which I sent with equally heartfelt intensity: so where the f— was Morrissey at Finsbury Park on Sunday?
Like thousands of other fans I was truly disappointed at his unannounced withdrawal from the Madness gig. Although I managed to flog my tickets to a couple of touts, this month’s expenditure still leaves 40 quid unaccounted for.
If Morrissey mocks the hand that feeds him, let he himself be mocked by the words that serenade him: ’This is the last song that I'll ever sing— well I've changed my mind again. Goodnight and thank you”-Truly Disappointed’, Morrissey.
Christina Priest, West Midlands
LAST OF THE FAMOUS INTER-CITY PLAYBOYS
Mozza: you’re the one for me, gitty. When will you realise that your fans are the ones who keep your career alive? We’re not going to stop buying your records (always the cop-out - IM) but we’re not going to put up with your childish behaviour forever.
To pull out of the Sunday Madness gig when you did was lower than low. ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday' - I just hope they’re not all as crap as this one turned out to be. I just wasted a whole day to see someone who couldn’t be bothered to turn up.
Steve Wood, Rayleigh, Essex
SWAYED HEAD: THE BOY WITH THE COIN IN HIS SIDE
Gosh, I was so surprised to see skinheads at a Madness gig. That bunch of skins in the moshpit sure showed their true colours with Nazi rallying cries of “Morrissey’s a wanker” and their brown-shirt favourite “OO the f—in” ell are you?” But their best move of the day was throwing that Union Jack over his shoulders. Bet the poor lad didn’t even know it was there.
Rob Mallin, Wandsworth
I wish to congratulate all those people who hurled bottles of piss (It’s getting wilder every letter. I must say I never go out without my handy bottle of piss - IM) at Morrissey - the useless shit deserves it. He certainly shot himself in the foot, pulling out of Glastonbury and playing Finsbury Park. I believe at Glastonbury he would have blended well with the bill: at Finsbury Park he stood out like a sore thumb. People around me stated “Oh hell, it’s that poncy twat from The Smiths that loves flowers.” This response was to be expected.
Sid Barren, Bellingham, Northumberland
Morrissey stood out from the bill in that he’s not yobbish. But otherwise, he fitted perfectly: this was a day of eccentric pop, the last of England. He was a fool to expect anything other than he got, however: surely only vanity could have mode him think he could seduce a mob of Madness fans? And he’s certainly big enough to draw his own crowd, just as large as Madness. How about a free concert, Morrissey? Whatever the reasons for your action, you know it would earn goodwill—IM
SHEILAS TAKE A BOW
Due to the pre-UK release - ha ha - of ‘Your Arsenal’, much is forgiven concerning that dreaded disappearance from Australia last year (He doesn't just do it here then - IM), but a snappy return trip would not go astray in the hearts of the young distraught fans, please please please. . . .I know it's gonna happen someday. We are waiting and trying not to lose faith, but you see we're suffocating. . . . oh my shiftless body.
Rebecca and Gemma, Marenbra, Sydney, Australia