A few days ago, my colleague Ned Hepburn wrote a piece called “10 Reasons Morrissey Sucks” for Death and Taxes. In the piece, he accuses the former Smiths singer of being awful based on his unpopular opinions, his unorthodox choices, his haircut and many other aspects of the man’s M.O., many of which I personally feel are either incidents hastily taken out-of-context, opinions I personally don’t share, or in some cases flat out incorrect.
While that post took the opportunity to take some heated digs against the singer, I’m taking this opportunity to address each dig one by one (albiet not in the same order) and offer a rebuttal as to why Morrissey does not actually suck.
What I feel must be addressed first is one of the largest errors in the original post which is over the demise of The Smiths. Contrary to common assumption, Morrissey did not break up The Smiths. Several managerial problems were mounting on the band in the spring of 1987 which brought great strain on the group, but their ultimate end came about when Johnny Marr quit the group that summer.
There is a famous quote published in a 1992 issue of “Record Collector” where Marr disdainfully said “I didn’t form a group to perform Cilla Black songs.” The Smiths however were not in the habit of covering Cilla Black songs and Marr was actually a fan of several ‘60s pop acts similar to Black and Twinkle (he and Morrissey actually jointly resurrected the career of Black contemporary Sandie Shaw in the ‘80s when they played on her cover of “Hand in Glove”). This instance however would become the catalyst for the band’s ultimate breakup. As Marr puts it in the Simon Goddard book “The Smiths: The Songs That Saved Your Life,” “I’m a great believer in the idea that when something has to finish, then events have a way of conspiring to make it happen…That’s the way I look at the end of The Smiths.”
In regards to Morrissey apparently not having released a good solo album since “Bona Drag”… firstly, “Bona Drag” isn’t actually an album, it’s a singles compilation (cue track 1 on Ryan Adams’ “Heartbreaker” for a quick run through of this frequent confusion). Second, and more importantly, Morrissey has cut many good records since 1990 and at least three of them are worthy rivals to any Smiths LP.
Accusations of being childish potentially could be pegged onto Morrissey for numerous outlandish comments he’s made over his long career—that’s for sure, but denouncing the need for men to be macho as pointed out in the original article is hardly a worthy example of it, and is in fact a word of great advice for young men who feel ashamed for not living up to the expectations set out by the stereotypes imposed on them by society. “I think the expectation that men be stoic and strong is so enormous that finally they decide that this is the attractive way to be.” says Morrissey in an interview found in “Homme Alone 2″ by David Keeps. “There’s more to life than being macho – such an ugly word – which is something that I realized at the age of one.”
In regards to Morrissey’s relationship with his fans, he has on many occasions shown his appreciation for them, particularly with his massive Latino following whom he has gone to great lengths to add several South American shows to his tours for or like in this “Hanging With MTV” interview. In the case of the “Fuck Morrissey-Solo.Com” T-shirts that he and his band wore at a show in St. George’s Hall in Bradford, England, this was done as a retort to the fan-website that had turned their back on the singer saying that he “desperately needs a new backing band.” In my personal opinion, Morrissey’s band is the tightest and fiercest it’s ever been and if any publication told me to jettison such a hard-working entourage of my close friends, I would tell them to fuck off, too.
As for this assertion: “Morrissey has the royalties set up so bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce only get 10% each. Morrissey and Marr have four times that amount.” Actually, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce have it set up so that they only receive 10% of sales from Smiths recordings because of the contracts they signed themselves while still in the band. I don’t know the exact amount that Morrissey and Marr make off Smiths sales but I can assure you it’s a lot more than the group’s rhythm section, mainly because they wrote the songs.
The elephant in the room however is the accusations of racism. These have stemmed all the way back to 1988 when Morrissey released a song called “Bengalli in Platforms,” which contained lyrics intending to sympathize with South Asians emmigrating to the U.K. While Morrissey tells the boy to “shelve [his] western plans,” he is saying so not because he wants him out of England, but because he knows that the general public there is racist. The lyrics from this song were misinterpreted though and Morrissey has frequently received racism accusations ever since (a movement spearheaded by the “New Musical Express”).
Morrissey states in his 2007 interview with “NME,” “Although I don’t have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears. So the price is enormous. If you travel to Germany, it’s still absolutely Germany. If you travel to Sweden, it still has a Swedish identity. But travel to England and you have no idea where you are.” While this was a point Morrissey made that he stands by as being “a statement of fact,” Morrissey says he told interviewer Tim Jonze that he does not want to move back to England because of property cost, but this was not included in the original “NME” article. This omission might be one of the reasons Jonze asked for his name to be removed the piece saying “I didn’t want my name on something I hadn’t written,” claiming that the “NME” took excessive liberties with his piece.
At this point, it would be an understatement to say Morrissey has an irreverent tongue, but when he says “You can’t help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies” it’s easy to say that he’s gone too far. That is unless you look at the whole quote rather than the fragment taken from his interview with The Guardian –- “Did you see the thing on the news about their treatment of animals and animal welfare? Absolutely horrific. You can’t help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies.” While his generalization about the entire country of China is of course a hasty summation, you can at least understand where the quip is coming from if you take the time to look into some of the horrific facts about the treatment of animals in China.
Morrissey is a staunch Animal Rights activist and has taken numerous stands against places that are especially cruel to animals like when he boycotted Canada in 2006 for his “Ringleader of the Tormentors” tour in response to the 325,000 seals that were hunted dead in the country that year. This protest could be likened to the Conor Oberst-led boycott of Arizona in 2010 when the state passed the AZ SB 1070 immigration law. Some felt that the Arizona protesters could have been more effective by playing Arizona venues and denouncing the act at their shows while others believed that by avoiding the state altogether, a stronger message could be brought on by their silence. I’m personally an advocate of the former but can understand the desires for the latter on both Morrissey and Oberst’s accounts.
The last point I will address here are Morrissey’s remarks on American punk rock’s sacred cow The Ramones. I like The Ramones. I think they were a great update of the simplistic rock & roll spirit combining sugar sweet pop melodies with a few chords and a great deal of charisma. I however didn’t always feel this way. When I was 17, I thought The Ramones were boring, hackneyed and the least relevant element of the incredibly important late-70s alternative culture. That was the age Steven Patrick Morrissey was when he penned his scathing summation of the band in a 1976 issue of “Melody Maker.” A lot changed for me after that age. I joined a band, started writing and got a job at a record store, all of which helped come to terms with my misguided conception of The Ramones. I just hope no one will hold me to any of the comments I made of the band during those high school years.
When I approached this I was going to make it a post of ten reasons why Morrissey is great but I think to actually go through with the task is an insult to the man. His accomplishments speak for themselves. His words have pulled a generation of awkward kids out the holes that societal norms buried them in and his songs are directly responsible for many excellent artists such as Jeff Buckley, Belle & Sebastian and The Decemberists rising to the challenge and creating beautiful music themselves that have in some cases surpassed that of their teacher. But mainly, Morrissey is great for simply being an original, and while it’s difficult to see eye-to-eye with the man on every issue, to underestimate his greatness is a disservice only to oneself.
Oh, and as for the “same haircut, sound, and schtick for the last 30 years” argument — I say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
UPDATE: Mike Joyce from The Smiths has contested a claim I made in this article that was sourced from a statement Morrissey had released on the True to You zine website in 2005. The statement is in regards to the royalties he and bassist Andy Rourke receive from the sales of Smiths recordings.
Joyce: “Hi Doug, Just need to clear up any confusion on the matter as it seems there clearly is. Morrissey & Marr received 50% each of publishing royalties, and rightly so, because they wrote the songs. Myself and Andy Rourke received 10% of record sales. Morrissey & Marr received 40% each of record sales. There never was a contract, signed or not dictating what the share should be.”