Morrissey interviewed by Neil McCormick
Hot Press, May 4, 1984
of the Smiths has taken the place of both Duran Duran and the Thompson Twins,
single-handedly wiping them out, at least on my one increasingly [used]
cassette. When I told him whose conversations we were taping over he said,
"Good. I'll talk louder then." Not a man to be taken lightly.
"Behind Joy and Laughter there may be a temperament, coarse, hard and callous. But behind Sorrow there is always Sorrow. Pain, unlike Pleasure, wears no mask. There are times when Sorrow seems to me to be the only truth. Other things may be illusions of the eye or the appetite, made to blind the one and cloy the other, but out of Sorrow have the worlds been built, at the birth of a child or a star, there is pain." - Oscar Wilde, De Profundis
"Heaven knows I'm Miserable Now". - Morrissey (The Smiths new single)
not quite twilight, the day is edging towards gloom. Morrissey sinks into
an armchair in the dullest corner of his living room. Bare, cold light falls
on one side of his face, somehow emphasizing a jaw that seems oddly out
of line. There is something awkward in his presence, he rarely looks you
in the eye. There is none of the casual confidence that decorates the manner
of most pop stars.
He is dressed as you would expect to find him, a sartorial disaster in a thinning, off-white aran sweater and faded jeans. His hair juts up in an awkward and uncomplimentary quiff. All that's missing is a bunch of ragged daffodils. "Regardless of what you do or what you wear or what you say, if you fall into the public eye however you look appears as an image," he says. "If you have no image, if you become popular and people begin to mimic you, how you dress can seem to be something that's quite manufactured and contrived, which of course it never ever was. I think the image trap is just there and everybody goes into it. It strangles most people."
Morrissey's flat is certainly not the pad pop star dreams are made of. It is mutely coloured, very tidy, elegant in an almost old world manner. His living room has a table with a typewriter and neatly stacked paper on it. There is a pleasant three piece suite (sofa, two armcharis) arranged around an empty fireplace. A tightly packed row of books stands on the mantlepiece, including numerous volumes on Oscar Wilde ("I've read everything he wrote and everything written about him and I still find him totally awe-inspiring") and on James Dean ("It's not his acting, actually I think he was a bit of a ham. I get quite embarrassed when I see those films. But I'm fascinated by the way he seemed to represent his time and his generation"). Both are tragic figures, which Morrissey admits he finds appealing.
Above the mantlepiece there is a moody portrait of Mr. Dean. "He had that strange quality that he could look good anywhere, in anything," says Morrissey. There are also around the room three framed photographs of Morrissey, but he makes no such claims for himself. "I'm ugly."
His voice is soft with an almost imperceptible light North of England flatness. He is a second generation Irishman, Manchester born and raised. "I find Ireland fascinating. Maybe I shouldn't say this," he laughs, considering the fact that he's going to be quoted in an Irish paper. "Oh, I'll say it anyway, it's one of the most Catholic countries in the world but it's also one of the most repressed, and I think it's quite sad. But to me it's an immensely attractive place, obviously, with having Irish parents as everyone in the group has, we're all deeply imbedded there. I mean most of the people that I ever cared about in literature came from Ireland, for some totally unfathomable reason."
He recently, with the success of the Smiths, moved out of Manchester and his 'little Ireland' community and came to live in London. "I quite love it here," he says, "but I also liked it in Manchester. People in Manchester are really quite short-sighted and dim on the subject because they feel if you leave the place you defect and you're worthless and you've turned your back on the starving thousands in the back streets of Manchester, and so they spit on you. But really, when I was living there I can't remember anybody that helped me, anybody in the diminutive music industry there, anybody on the club circuit or whatever. Nobody helped me so I literally do not owe anything to anybody in Manchester, which is a very pleasant way to be.
"I still have endless enthusiasm and affection for the place, however, and I'm quite sure I'll return. But for me now London is really quite perfect. I mean, I regret to say it really is as exciting living here as some people who are always considered to be misguided say that it is. I think when you visit London and you only stay for a few days you get a completely obscure vision of the place and it seems impersonal and hateful and synthetic. But when you stay here for a long time, you realize the enormous advantages. It's really quite simple: there are just endless things to do here, and mobility is so easy. In Manchester the entire place closed at 8 pm and you were just totally paralysed, but here you can go wherever you want to, whenever you want to, and do whatever you want to."
So what kind of things does he do?
"Nothing," he says lightly, laughing with self-ridicule. "I really don't do anything. But if I wanted to do something I could. I don't feel any restraint."
There is a melancholy about Morrissey, it's not just a trick of the fading light. He laughs frequently but it's a quiet, almost embarrassed laugh, usually directed at himself and what he is saying. When he sings "What Difference Does It Make?" on Top Of The Pops, he fills the phrase with casual despair. His lot in life he feels is not a happy one. "I used to think success and fame and fortune would make me happy, but now I realise it comes from too deep inside you to be changed by any of that... Not that I've made any money yet."
That laugh again.
came rapidly out of nowhere, the first group in some time to cross that
pop/independent barrier. "I wouldn't like to appeal to one sector and
not the other," says Morrissey. Not so long ago he was a solitary
individual who read so much that he tried to give it up because "I
wasn't actually living. I was just creased up in a chair 20 hours of every
single day," and who wrote constantly, but only for himself: "I
tried to be a journalist, but failed miserably. I used to write songs
but with only nebulous tunes because I couldn't play an instrument."
men have secrets and this is mine
difference does it make?
will find work for idle hands to do
"So, what difference does it make?"
get the impression listening to your songs that you haven't had a very
happy love life," I observed. "I haven't had any love life," said
Morrissey with one of those uncertain laughs. "Yeah, it's been quite
ridiculous, and it's something I'm asked to cover quite a lot in interviews,
and people who don't like me always get the impression that I just constantly
sit and moan for hours on end - but it's quite difficult when you're asked
these questions and if you want to give honest replies, which I always
want to do, then I have to say yes, I'm quite miserable. So why am I laughing?"
many pop stars are not good figureheads. Young people need figureheads,
I know I do, and popular music is the only thing left for them. They
don't read books, they don't believe in movies. Popular music is all
there is, and too many pop stars are shallow and worthless as figureheads,
or else content to be obscure and mysterious. We would never be obscure,
we could never be obscure, because I use very fundamental language in
my lyrics. I use very simplistic words, but hopefully in quite a powerful
way. And by that I mean saying things that people in daily life find
so very hard to say, like 'I don't want a job,' 'I don't want to be
loved,' or 'I am ugly.' I mean things that are really quite simple words
but things that people can never really say. I mean if you say to your
friends or to your parents 'I am very unhappy' it's like scraping open
nerves... it's too close and it just can't be said. So I want to say
these things instead of being very esoterical and other worldly and
mysterious, because I think it's more effective and... I don't think
it's ever been said in popular music. I really don't."
|Just an ugly
streak of misery? Or a brother under the skin, sweeping away the cobwebs
of advice agony aunts spin around young people? There is something in Morrissey's
vulnerability, in the Smiths' contemporary sense of tragedy that an increasingly
large audience like or relate to. It is a million miles from the illiterate
unhappiness of country music, singer songwriter self-pity or post-punk bitterness.
It is something delicate, proud, funny and alive, and it is making the Smiths
the new order on the name dropping circuit (credibility-wise).
"I think people can recognize the integrity of the group," says Morrissey. "I'm quite determined that we'll never lose it. Not as long as I'm holding the reins."
Does the integrity come from you? I ask.
"Quite largely," he replies, glancing down to watch the tape recorder wind on. "Because I am the spokesperson for the group and I am thrust forward and other group members very rarely give their comments, and when they do they're much less serious than mine anyway. They don't really share my lyrical viewpoint. Most of the time they quite like it, but they certainly don't share it. But I don't mind. I mean there's lots of things they do that I don't share." He smiles mischeviously. "But we won't dwell on those seedy aspects of the Smiths. Of which there are many..."
"I suppose my input is more serious. And much more crucially personal. I think that at the end of this experience, if or when the Smiths break up, I feel sure that the other three group members could walk on to something else, but I don't think I could because I fear this is absolutely it for me, and my neck is in the noose, almost. The other three can step back and they can claim disinvolvement. But I never could.
"I'll risk anything."
His light, uncertain laugh drifts into silence.
The above article was originally published in the May 4,
1984 issue of Hot Press magazine.
Reprinted without permission for non-profit use only.