He Insulted Tony Wilson

In 2021, Paul Morley published a book about Tony Wilson*. Most of the Morrissey mentions now come with de rigueur defamatory labels – toxic, nationalist; Paul adds in Imperialist by comparing him to Rudyard Kipling, a poet Morrissey bears no resemblance to.

We also get the obligatory sexually ambiguous:

Some remember Morrissey in those last years of the 1970s as once adolescently infatuated with James Dean and the New York Dolls, somewhere between messed-up mummy’s boy and eternally disappointed, sexually ambiguous attention-seeker, and with vague, far-fetched ambitions to be something that would either take him to writing scripts for Coronation Street or becoming a flamboyantly obscure pop singer big in a town or two in Italy. Others dismissed him as the very embodiment of a disturbed, persecuted loser.

Is he ambiguous though? Or would he rather not discuss his sex life with hacks who think he’s punishing himself for latent homosexuality:

Antonella Black, Sounds, April 1985

Wanted him to be bricked off a stage for being coined off a stage by homophobes:

Big Issue, 1999

And wanted him to fancy women under 30 when he was in his 40s, but called him a predatory creep for a chaste line about teenage boys in a novel that took inspiration from his own adolescence:

Ashley Heath, I-D, May 2004


We learned in Autobiography that Morrissey has had partners. We learn from List of the Lost that his attitudes towards sex remains odd: it is associated with death, for one thing. It seems to be predatory: older men feed upon the young. Which makes it all the odder that Morrissey writes about his track team in such a fetishising way. “Imperishable, they train insatiably, companions in pleasure and passionate in sentiments, they are the living picture of the desired physique.” (Ask yourself if a 56-year-old man writing in that manner about women in their teens or early 20s would be considered anything other than a bit creepy.) – Michael Hann, The Guardian, September 2015

And Paul thinks Tony’s dig about Morrissey’s sexuality and gender identity might be a compliment – but Morrissey’s reply – about Tony Wilson, a straight, white, cis man who was born in Manchester – is evidence of his hatred of immigrants and women.

Wilson once said, possibly as a compliment, ‘Morrissey is the Jeanette Winterson of pop music, a woman trapped inside a man’s body.’ Morrissey replied, camp, cutting bully versus camp, cutting bully, heightened bitchiness tipping over into the nativist misogyny that would increasingly isolate him thirty years later, ‘Tony Wilson is a man trapped inside a pig’s body; the day someone shoves Wilson in the boot of a car and drives his body to Saddleworth Moor, that is the day Manchester music will be revived.’

Tony, a Catholic with a Scottish surname, had a German Jewish maternal Grandfather who settled in England in 1901. Morrissey’s entire family is Irish Catholic; his parents came over in the late 1950s at a time when there was still widespread anti-Irish racism and he grew up living between Manchester and Dublin. Nothing he said could reasonably be interpreted as nativist or misogynist.

He might have been more hurt than Tony intended, since he showed signs of body dysmorphia and gender dysphoria:

I’m ugly. (Morrissey, Hot Press, May 1984)

I’ve always felt closer to transsexuality than anything else. (Morrissey, Blitz, April 1988)

And his defence mechanism was to one up Tony – if I’m a woman in an ugly male body, your male body is shaped like a pig – plus his usual hyperbole about death; killing, being killed, wanting to be killed and killing yourself.

On the other hand Tony had a habit of belittling Morrissey by using his deadname.

This isn’t about Factory, this isn’t about Tony Wilson or Steven Patrick Morrissey; it’s about Manchester, and Manchester only. (Tony Wilson, letter to Morrissey, Summer 1986, quoted in Autobiography, 2013)

When the Smiths began it was very important that I wouldn’t be that horrible, stupid, sloppy Steven anymore… I needed to feel differently and rather than adopt some glamorous pop star name, I eradicated Steven… it was very important that Steven be drowned… (Morrissey, The Face, July 1984)

*From Manchester With Love, The Life and Opinions of Tony Wilson by Paul Morley.