Bengali In Platforms

This needs to start with Morrissey’s experience of immigration – which is erased in media narratives about him. His family were all Irish, apart from Morrissey and his sister Jackie, who were born in Manchester.

Nannie remains of Moore Street, in Dublin, of astounding memory and continual disgust… from thereon self-deflationary battles with life’s important truths, plus the usual Irish companions of shame, guilt, persecution and accusation… We are stuck in the wettest park of England in a society where we are not needed, yet we are all washed and warm and well-fed…

Ernie was my true Uncle, my mother’s favourite… Throughout his short and angered life he ached, like most people, to find something of value to do, and he cursed Manchester, and he cursed England through mists of pain, and he cursed the Christian Brothers who had blackened his eyes once too often in the name of heavy-handed holiness. Ernie sank into the army for identity, but lost his, and returned home to Manchester unhappily…

Bustle and fluster pad out these Dublin days, but as each year passes my sister and I are less willing to leave Manchester. Ireland is our soaring past – ruddy and cheerful, yet somehow the past. My parents will never let go, and it is not difficult to understand why. All around us the Irish deputation mourn the loss of the land, and how British liberality hobbles in comparison to the hearty warmth of Dublin’s outstretched arms…

Sometimes Jackie and I are the refugees, as Rita flits in and out of her secretive social whirl. There is only ever a sense of change and of slipping away, but never a sense of security or stability. Tomorrow is already a jigsaw…

We had waved goodbye to Mary at Manchester Airport, a US emigree in her nineteenth year, and to never again be a Manchester lass. We all cry uncontrollably as Mary’s flight is called – a much loved branch hacked away. (Morrissey, Autobiography, 2013)

It’s easy enough to accept or reject someone who arrives in a country – it’s not so easy to cope with being accepted and rejected, as well as everything that’s been left behind, and what this means for who you are now.

In the UK even arts hacks are in the pulpit & punditry business. They expect clear moral commentary & when faced with none, they assume it must be in code. If it’s in code it must be socially unacceptable, ipso facto, Bengali In Platforms, must be a racist song.

Especially as it violates the norms of polite society by using the words Bengalishelve your Western plans & when you belong here, routinely summarised as Morrissey saying that Asians don’t belong in the UK.

Further that it’s a terrible stereotype to say someone is friendly, might be wearing an unfashionable item, and might own a cornershop (with shelves) – because under the English class system what could be worse than being ordinary?

And if that fails to convince, even if it’s not racist, it’s patronising and condescending, as if a man who was mocked as a prat, as old-fashioned, as embarrassing, from the very beginning of his career could condescend to anyone.

The Guardian, 1983

So what’s in the song?

A gauche, eager innocent going somewhere new & trying to fit in.

Bengali, Bengali
Bengali, Bengali
No no no
He does not want to depress you
Oh no no no no no
He only wants to impress you
Oh…

Bengali in platforms
He only wants to embrace your culture
And to be your friend forever
Forever

Similar to Half A Person:

Call me morbid, call me pale
I’ve spent six years on your trail
Six full years of my life on your trail

And if you have five seconds to spare
Then I’ll tell you the story of my life
Sixteen, clumsy and shy
I went to London and I
I booked myself in at the why W.C.A.
I said I like it here, can I stay?
I like it here, can I stay?
Do you have a vacancy for a back-scrubber?

She was left behind, and sour
And she wrote to me equally dour
She said in the days when you were hopelessly poor
I just liked you more

Harsh reality in the form of someone telling him life is hard & his plans won’t work out.

Don’t blame me
Don’t hate me
Just because I’m the one to tell you

That life is hard enough when you belong here
That life is hard enough when you belong here
Oh…
Shelve your Western plans
Oh…
Shelve your Western plans
‘Cause life is hard enough when you belong
Life is hard enough when you belong here

Similar to You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby:

If you’re wondering why
All the love that you long for eludes you
And people are rude and cruel to you
I’ll tell you why
I’ll tell you why
I’ll tell you why
I’ll tell you why

You just haven’t earned it yet, baby
You just haven’t earned it, son
You just haven’t earned it yet, baby
You must suffer and cry for a longer time
You just haven’t earned it yet, baby
And I’m telling you now

An unsuitable object of desire – the platform boots

A silver-studded rim that glistens
And an ankle-star that…blinds me
A lemon sole so very high
Which only reminds me; to tell you
Break the news gently
Break the news to him gently
“Shelve your plans; shelve your plans, shelve them”

Like the platform boots dowdy Morrissey hadn’t dared to wear in 1970s Manchester:

Jon Daley walked along Great Stone Road towards the Hardrock wearing silver knee-length boots… So striking is he that a passing lorry slows down beside him and gruff voices call out in order to throw Jon off balance (well, this is the North) – a compliment of sorts, since it proves just how much you are getting at people, pinging their own self-doubts… my own slavishly dull school uniform is wretched compared to Jon’s intergalactic grace… Jon has no friends at all. (Morrissey, Autobiography, 2013)

And fame itself that pulls a Mancunian to London, to America, and makes them tour the world:

If you’re wondering why
When all I wanted from life was to be Famous
I have tried for so long, it’s all gone wrong
I’ll tell you why
I’ll tell you why
I’ll tell you why
I’ll tell you why
But you wouldn’t believe me

You just haven’t earned it yet, baby
You just haven’t earned it, son
You just haven’t earned it yet, baby
You must suffer and cry for a longer time
You just haven’t earned it yet, Baby
And I’m telling you now
I’ll tell you why
I’ll tell you why

Today I am remembering the time
When they pulled me back
And held me down
And looked me in the eyes and said
You just haven’t earned it yet, baby
You just haven’t earned it, my son
You just haven’t earned it yet, baby
You must stay on your own for slightly longer
You just haven’t earned it yet baby
And I’m telling you now

Time that binds:

Bengali, Bengali
It’s the touchy march of time that binds you

Morrissey’s attitude to time is bleak. It takes us from the safety of home, past early promise to failure & death. From My Hurling Days Are Done:

Time will mold you and craft you
But soon, when you’re looking away
It will slide up and shaft you
Oh, time
Oh, time
No friend of mine

Mama, mama and teddy bear
Were the first full firm spectrum of time
Now my hurling days are done
And there’s no one to tell and there’s nowhere to run

& what binds us? Family, friends, history, community, love. Morrissey is Northern, English & Irish Catholic. His work struggles with the themes of attachment to people and places verses the want for autonomy & control. And with the relationship between the country of his birth & his old country.

In Back To The Old House:

I would rather not go
Back to the old house
I would rather not go
Back to the old house
There’s too many bad memories
Too many memories there

When you cycled by
Here began all my dreams
The saddest thing I’ve ever seen
And you never knew
How much I really liked you
Because I never even told you
Oh, and I meant to
Are you still there or have you moved away?
Or have you moved away?

In A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours (which is often added to his list of racist crimes):

A rush and a push and the land
That we stand on is ours
Your youth may be gone
But you’re still a young man
So phone me, phone me
So phone me, phone me, phone me

In The Queen Is Dead:

Oh! Take me back to dear old Blighty,
Put me on the train for London Town,
Take me anywhere,
Drop me anywhere,
Liverpool, Leeds or Birmingham
‘Cause I don’t care,
I should like to see my…By land, by sea.

Farewell… to this land’s cheerless marshes
Hemmed in like a boar between archers
Her very Lowness with her head in a sling
I’m truly sorry but it sounds like a wonderful thing

In Mountjoy (an Irish prison where the British who ruled Ireland executed Irish Nationalists):

What those in power do to you
Reminds us at a glance
How humans hate each other’s guts
And show it given a chance

We never say aloud the things
That we say in our prayers
Cause no one cares

Many executed here
By the awful lawfully good
But the only thing that makes me cry
Is when I see the sky

Brendan Behan’s laughter rings
For what he had or hadn’t done
For he knew then as I know now
That for each and every one of us
We all lose
Rich or poor, we all lose
Rich or poor, they all lose

In This Is Not Your Country (about the troubles in Northern Ireland & often added to his list of racist crimes):

We’re old news
All’s well
And thirty years could be a thousand
And this Peugeot ad
Spins round in my head
British soldier pointing a gun
And I’m only trying to post a letter
A short walk home becomes a run
And I’m scared, and I’m scared, I am scared

Old news
All’s well
BBC scum
You’ve got more than the dead, so zip up your mouth
Zip up your mouth

& in Irish Blood, English Heart (sometimes adapted to Racist Blood, English Heart in articles featuring his list of racist crimes):

Irish blood, English heart, this I’m made of
There is no one on earth I’m afraid of
And no regime can buy or sell me

I’ve been dreaming of a time when
To be English is not to be baneful
To be standing by the flag not feeling shameful
Racist or partial

Irish blood, English heart, this I’m made of
There is no one on earth I’m afraid of
And I will die with both of my hands untied

I’ve been dreaming of a time when
The English are sick to death of labour and Tories
And spit upon the name Oliver Cromwell
And denounce this royal line
That still salute him and will salute him forever

Only an Irish person would care about Oliver Cromwell, or be that angry at the Royals. They’re the villains of Irish history.

And it’s a sign of how complicated immigration can be that the English media singled out an Irish Catholic to demonise for holding a Union Jack (nicknamed the Butcher’s Apron by Irish Republicans) – leaving him more agonised about his background. The song’s right – life is hard enough when you belong here – because here won’t understand how you feel. And here won’t let you tell them.

As Sands starved to death in protest at being tagged a ‘criminal’ and not a ‘political prisoner’ by the Thatcher government, the Queen sat in her Palace and said nothing. If the Queen had any human feelings for the Sands family or other hunger strikers then she did not express them… The Queen also has the power to give back the six counties to the Irish people, allowing Ireland to be a nation once again. The fact that she has not done so is Fascism in full flow. What else could it be? Name one other European country that is controlled by its neighbour? (Morrissey, Hot Press, May 2011)

https://www.hotpress.com/opinion/the-existence-of-the-queen-is-against-any-notion-of-democracy-7901992

What these songs are doing is asking important questions without easy answers. What are we? How do we fit in? What’s allowed?

There’s really no doubt that Bengali In Platforms empathises with the man from Bengal. What it doesn’t do is put on a cod Indian accent & speak over him, or soothe him – & us – with nice slogans.

So why someone from Bengal & not Ireland?

He was a Loudon Wainwright fan, so could have taken a cue from East Indian Princess:

East Indian princess lives in a western dream
Happy like a child, her mother is a queen
You know she’s safe as a cow on a Calcutta street
This English way of life has got that other life beat

And reading magazines, she sits in straight backed chairs
She’s got a common welfare, she’s got a queen that cares
She’s got meat on her bones, she doesn’t starve at least
Not like the folks back home, not like the folks back east

Yeah, but this Indian is English, no matter how she tries
You know the sari and the sandals, it’s just a bad disguise
She got a mark on her forehead, she got a stud in her nose
Yeah, but this Indian is English and I’m afraid it shows’

Cause you can see her at Wimpey’s and on a movie queue line
Her river’s not the Ganges, it is the Serpentine
East Indian princess, she got the western pain
She got the western mind, that girl has gone insane

Or could have been inspired by film or tv. – A Passage To England (1972, 1975), My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and countless others from the 60s to the 80s.

Or news, like the strike in Brick Lane:

Or he wanted someone who outwardly didn’t fit in, but inwardly was keen to join, to echo the dilemma in Dial A Cliche, also on the album Viva Hate, where the narrator could outwardly ‘be a man’, but he inwardly doesn’t feel it:

Further into the fog I fall
Well, I was just
Following you

When you said, “Do as I do and scrap your fey ways”
Dial-A-Cliché
“Grow up, be a man, and close your mealy-mouth”
Dial-A-Cliché
Dial-A-Cliché
Dial-A-Cliché

But the person underneath
Where does he go?
Does he slide by the wayside?
Or does he just die?

And you find that you’ve organized
Your feelings, for people
Who didn’t like you then
And do not like you now

But still you say, “Do as I do and scrap your fey ways”
Dial-A-Cliché
“Grow up, be a man, and close your mealy-mouth”
Dial-A-Cliché

“The safe way is the only way”
“There’s always time to change, son”
I’ve changed, but I’m in pain
Dial-A-Cliché

Which seems connected to Morrissey’s own search for evidence that men are attracted to other men, while trying to avoid being attacked or shunned for it. Another identity crisis:

Partial disclosures of male closeness fascinate me, because it’s something that is nowhere in the life around me. All males are adversaries in muggy Manchester…

I represent filth. I am forbidden to live – by religion.

(of a PE teacher) he is obsessed with homosexuality – that it should be traced and uncovered, named and shamed. This tirade goes on and on for more years than could be thought possible, and I am not surprised that I am regularly the butt of his bombast… (Morrissey, Autobiography, 2013)

Or if we’re taking a creative leap based on words – the British have been accused of two genocides via famine, in Bengal and in Ireland. A person from Bengal and a person from Ireland would both be trying to belong to a country that tried to starve them.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_01.shtml

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-36339524

We might find out if Morrissey’s notebooks ever become public – but it’s absurd to think that a racist would write a song about a friendly man, who wants to embrace your culture, cruelly being told to shelve his plans by someone who knows this news would make him ‘hate’ him & ‘blame’ him.

A racist song wouldn’t frame the person telling the immigrant to shelve his plans as blameworthy and hateful, and the immigrant as friendly and embracing.

And part of the wincing reaction to the song is probably because it makes you feel sorry for the rejected immigrant, without giving you the moral solace of the narrator being told he’s wrong.

All you get is the pain.

Which is closer to life than a tagged on comeuppance.