Reggae is vile

In the February 1985 edition of the NME, Morrissey answered a questionnaire.

BEST NEW ACT: Shock Headed Peters
BEST SINGLE: ‘Nu Au Soleil’ – Ludus
BEST LP: ‘Fried’ – Julian Cope
BEST SONGWRITER: Don’t be silly
BEST DRESSED SLEEVE: ‘Jean’s Not Happening’ – Pale Fountains
TV SHOW: ‘Victoria Wood As Seen On TV’
RADIO SHOW: Richard Skinner
FILM: ‘The Dresser’
REGGAE ACT: Reggae is vile
PROMO VIDEO: All videos are vile

It was a joke answer, but a year later, in the Melody Maker, September 1986, Frank Owen had written:

“Pop has never been this divided,” wrote Simon Reynolds in his much-lauded, recent piece on the indie scene, referring to the chasm that now exists between indie-pop and black pop. The detestation that your average indie fan feels for black music can be gauged by the countless letters they write to the music press whenever a black act is featured on the front page. It’s a bit like the late Sixties all over again with a burgeoning Head culture insisting that theirs’ is the “real” radical music, an intelligent and subversive music that provides an alternative to the crude showbiz values of black pop. Morrissey has further widened this divide with the recent single, Panic  – where “Metal Guru” meets the most explicit denunciation yet of black pop. “Hang the DJ” urges Morrissey. So is the music of The Smiths and their ilk racist, as Green claims?

There was no evidence at all that Panic was about hanging Black DJs and disco could mean any nightclub or school dance. It’s also not clear how much of the paragraph was part of the conversation, or what exact question Frank posed, but this was Morrissey’s answer:

“Reggae, for example, is to me the most racist music in the entire world. It’s an absolute total glorification of black supremacy… There is a line when defence of one’s race becomes an attack on another race and, because of black history and oppression, we realise quite clearly that there has to be a very strong defence. But I think it becomes very extreme sometimes… But, ultimately, I don’t have very cast iron opinions on black music other than black modern music which I detest. I detest Stevie Wonder. I think Diana Ross is awful. I hate all those records in the Top 40 – Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston. I think they’re vile in the extreme. In essence this music doesn’t say anything whatsoever.”

This was seen as evidence that Morrissey hated all black people, as if all black people are compelled to like reggae or Janet Jackson.

In fact, I’m not sure how journalists can claim that it’s racist to hate a genre of music without it occurring to them that it’s racist to associate a genre of music with everyone who shares a skin colour.

Aside from that – there had been concerns about Rasta associated reggae:

Next only to punk shot-by-both-sides political platitudes… the major omen of the genre’s hoodwinking was its espousal of Reggae… Not even pre-punk reggae music… no punk junked up any Rastafarian connection it could score, becoming so addicted to Rasta in toto that throughout 1977 and 1978 every “punk” show was preceded by interminable Rasta music… Hatred of women is the foundation of fascism, but for sheer vitriolic venomous malignancy, the misogyny of the Rastafarians surpasses even that of Hitler’s Nazis. (Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons, The Boy Looked At Johnny, 1978)

Much of the Rastafarian movement’s success in galvanising the hearts and minds of West Indian youth in the 1970s was due to its effective definition of membership through its identity and exclusivity. It was able to amplify its distinctiveness and preserve its insularity. One of the outcomes of this was that others regarded the Rastas as adhering to a doctrine of racial superiority… ‘They’re nothing but a bunch of racists’ (middle-aged West Indian). ‘Racial lunatics’ (Jamaican in his 20s)… Homosexuality on the other hand was stringently decried as ‘unnatural’ and ‘ungodly’ as was birth control, a clever device of the Babylonian conspiracy to prevent the multiplication of black men… The Rastaman’s preservation of his male superiority was a way of insulating himself against the infectious forces of Babylon. (Earnest Cashmore, Rastaman, 1979)

It did, sometimes, preach that white people are inferior and black people are destined to rule the world.

And in the turmoil of the 1970s civil rights movements, it had a few grifters on its fringes, like Michael X, a minor criminal, who was deported from the UK for inciting racial hatred of white people and went on to be hanged for murdering two socialites in Trinidad in 1975…

It also had a homophobic side that would become more and more overtly violent as the 1980s and 1990s wore on.

Shabba Ranks wanted gay people to be crucified.

The homophobic murder of a gay man in London was linked to Sizzla, then touring the UK, whose lyrics have included the phrase “Shoot queers, my big gun goes boom”.

An edited version of the black supremacy comment was conflated with Morrissey’s joke about Reggae being vile, and his ‘detestation’ of black modern music – defined by Frank Owen, as anything danceable in the charts, and exemplified by Morrissey as 1980s Diana Ross, 1980s Stevie Wonder, 1986 Janet Jackson and 1986 Whitney Houston – and editorialsed as if he was saying that black people are repulsive and should stay in their place.

But he didn’t hate Reggae.

I once said Reggae is vile, did I? Well, several tongue-in-cheek things were said in those days, which, when placed in cold print, lost their humorous quality. This track, along with Double Barrel and Young, Gifted and Black, were staple necessities to me. (Morrissey, Word, June 2003)

When he curated a list of influences, he included ska track, Swan Lake, by the Cats.

And picked Young, Gifted and Black as one of his favourite singles of all time.