Pop music is nostalgic in its bones – it is part of Morrissey’s gift always to have known this – and fans who adhere to its magic are in love with something that was passing as soon as it was made. True fans live in exile: that is their nature, their glory and their tragedy.Andrew O’Hagan, London Review of Books, 4 March 2004, https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v26/n05/andrew-o-hagan/cartwheels-over-broken-glass
From the very beginning of Morrissey’s career, homophobic journalists tried to get his fans and colleagues to ditch him.
In 1983, Garry Bushell, in his Jaws column, urged the BBC and Rough Trade to dump the Smiths because of their “sicko songs”
The Beeb have finally rumbled the unpleasant truth behind ‘hip’ Manchester band, The Smiths… whose repulsive repertoire includes perverted paens to child moslesting… To the anger and embarrassment of many Sounds staffers, the band’s songs were first brought to the world’s attention, and in fact praised, by David McCullough, who described them as ‘the kind of ultra violent grime rock n roll needs’. Try telling that to the mother of the six year old Brighton boy recently mob raped by paedophiles… Rough Trade should ban Smiths’ records… Beeb bosses should keep this perverted filth off the air. (Jaws, Sounds, 10 September 1983)
Later, his homophobia was more explicit.
Garry Bushell is a member of Mensa — an organisation for people who declare themselves to have above-average IQs. In Mensa’s latest journal he says that homosexuality is a “sad, dead-end perversion” and that people working in TV are promoted “solely because of their sexual preference”. (Media Watch Gay Times, February 1992)
Sometimes, journalists cloaked it in concern that Morrissey was exploiting his fans by ‘pretending’ to be vulnerable.
Ah, Morrissey. Clever, clever, shrewd Morrissey. Cunning, manipulative, exploitive, smug, irresponsible, Morrissey. This letter [Backlash letters page] makes me sicker than he could ever pretend to be. It’s so hopeless and passive and give up the ghost. Which means the orgy of duping, the career structure of the con-man rock star goes on. When twits like Mr S [a “fan”] top themselves, will you be there in the nick of time, Stephen [Morrissey] after a few quick changes of mannerisms in a handy phone booth? And if you’re so weak and timid, how come you’ve never had the slightest reluctance to show off? (Chris Roberts, Melody Maker, 26 March 1988)
Sometimes it was pure abuse:
Your hero [Morrissey] is in the twilight of his creativity… The public can see right through Old Flowery Twat. (Dele Fadele, NME, 19 May 1990)
In 1990, Steve Sutherland, decided that Morrissey was a threat to children because he looked gay in the International Playboys video.
The faint hint of homoeroticism around “The Last of the International Playboys”… opens a whole different can of worms. Is the tee shirt thing a sick joke – the celebrated celibate getting his kicks sticking to the sweaty skin of every boy and girl in the hall? From “Playboy”, with Mozzer like a stripper constantly tugging at his neckline and threatening to expose a nipple… [to] barely able to sing “Sister I’m a Poet” for the boys invading the stage and embracing him… (Steve Sutherland, Melody Maker, 26 May 1990)
video, The Last of the International Playboys, 1990
In the next edition, fans were encouraged to throw darts at the homoerotic nipple.
I’m talking about Morrissey fans… You’d scarcely credit there being any left in the early nineties, especially, when thank the Lord, you can be inoculated against everything… anyone who is still devoted to a camp, ageing parody of a would-be icon like Morrissey, deserves nothing more than a kick in the pants. These people are sick in the head… We’ve set up a poster of Morrissey and we encourage them to throw darts at his face and his exposed nipples… We’re hoping to raise enough to hire a hitman, so that we can really get to the heart of the problem… (“Thora Hird“, Melody Maker, 2 June 1990)
Melody Maker, 2 June 1990
In 1992 – building on the fallout from Frank Owen’s racist interpretation of the ‘Hip Hop Wars’ that saw Morrissey accused of racism for trying to answer his loaded questions – the NME accused Morrissey of inciting a homophobic hate attack against himself, at a Finsbury Park gig, by touching a Union Jack (for less than 3 minutes). They split his career into The Smiths (acceptable asexual) and solo (toxic homoerotic). And tried to bury him.
… excised from the hearts of many, horrified by the messy “flirtation” with racist imagery… the fact that this…man generates any interest at all this far down the line of lackluster albums and gallingly ambiguous behaviour is a mystery… Morrissey is an adoration junkie, plain and simple… his devoted audience has no such excuse… Times are hard, and yes, you’re going to need someone on your side. But at this point in the century, it really shouldn’t be this man. (Victoria Segal, the NME, November 1999)
… he has been tainted with accusations of nationalism and racism since he wrapped the Union Jack around himself at a Finsbury Park gig in 1992. Two weeks ago, the NME listed his crimes in anticipation of his British tour this week, and advised its readers to “brick” the singer offstage… Once the initial shock of Morrissey’s professed celibacy had abated, he was subject to… nasty innuendo and speculation about his sexuality… Despite all the evidence to the contrary the bittersweet eulogies to Handsome Devils and Sweet and Tender Hooligans, the iconoclastic images of male beauty that fill his record sleeves, the huge backdrops of skinhead boys [actually, girls] at his ill-fated gig in Finsbury Park in London, and quite apart from his slightly camp persona, we shouldn’t expect an imminent announcement that Morrissey is out and proud. (Sean Smith, the Big Issue, 15 November 1999) https://www.morrissey-solo.com/content/interview/big1199.htm
I would say ’97 felt bleak: racism was mentioned in nearly every Maladjusted review. The ’99 tour was accompanied by an NME article inviting readers to ‘brick’ morrissey offstage. Things didn’t get any warmer until 2002, when a new enthusiasm for The Smiths seemed to give Morrissey a bit of purchase. But even the 2004 NME interview was represented (by Steven Wells) as Morrissey grovelling for forgiveness. Things didn’t feel on an even keel until 2006. And we all know that lasted mere days. (“Hovis Lesley“, Morrissey Solo, 13 October 2021)
… he is a more intimidating presence than expected – unusually tall for a rock star, and thicker-set, not the droopy ironist you hear singing those droll and bitchy songs in a roughed-up Noel Coward-like voice… like an old-school East End villain… a soft but emphatic Mancunian brogue… characteristic contrariness… widely presumed to be gay… inexplicably popular with Mexicans. (Robert Sandall, the Times, 9 May 2004)
After a brief respite; in 2007, Tim Jonze, rehashed the 1992 homophobic hit piece, using mild remarks about immigration as the pretext. When Jonze joined the Guardian in 2010, he used its clout, credibility and connections to chip away at the fanbase, and slander Morrissey within the music industry.
Morrissey deserved to be marginalised:
If Morrissey can’t make a living out of playing to an audience as large and vociferous as the foam-flecked fundamentalists who follow him, there can be little hope for anyone else. But in some respects Morrissey is the author of his own marginalisation… Meanwhile the public persona that used to provoke and entertain – “Reggae is vile”, wishing unsanctioned biographer Johnny Rogan death in a car crash, “Cook Bernard Matthews” – became predictable, bitter and knee jerk. Likening Anders Breivik’s massacre at Utøya to a day at KFC, describing the Chinese as a sub-species, and blaming the royal family for the suicide of nurse Jacintha Saldanha all tried the patience of any but the most committed Morrissey sycophants. (Andrew Harrison, the Guardian, 22 July 2013) https://www.theguardian.com/music/shortcuts/2013/jul/22/morrissey-light-finally-gone-out?CMP=gu_com
He’s only worth ‘perverse lolz‘:
Morrissey, aloof as a queen, smug as a cat… As far as Morrissey concerts go, the one immortalised in his latest film Morrissey: Live isn’t the best. It saddens me to say it, but my love affair with Mozza is well and truly over… The low-point of the movie shows Morrissey handing the microphone to a selection of front-row fans who compete to give the best impressions of lobotomy patients… To hear him sing “For once in my life, let me get what I want” after several fans have done everything short of offering themselves up to him for sacrifice is ungrateful at best, disingenuous at worst. Ever decreasing circles of co-dependency with the ‘fans’ whilst the wider, more critical Audience either left long ago or now only go, like me, for the perverse lulz. (Ryan Gilbey, the New Statesman, 20 August 2013)
Here, Morrissey enters quasi-erotic raptures over the bad-lad fans, and tough-girl followers who constitute his final, uncritical, fanbase. (Andrew Harrison, the New Statesman, 14 November 2013)
The heterosexual one has to save the Smiths:
So it’s time for an intervention. Johnny Marr, protector of all that is right and good about the Smiths, we need you like never before. If you can banish Cameron to the wastelands, forcing him to salvage whatever meagre delights he can from the Mighty Lemon Drops, surely you can do the same to Morrissey. Just one tweet, that’s all it would take. “I forbid Morrissey from liking the Smiths.” That’s it. Then we can band together, Samwell Tarly and all, and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that our enjoyment of a perfectly good band won’t once again be tainted by the lunk-headed ravings of a professional irritant like Morrissey. (Stuart Heritage, the Guardian, October 2017) https://www.theguardian.com/music/commentisfree/2017/oct/03/morrissey-fans-are-about-to-give-up-on-him-johnny-marr-please-stage-an-intervention?CMP=twt_gu
He’s an animal:
Morrissey is a boring old jackass. In his old age, the king of the outcasts has become just like your weird racist Fox News-loving uncle… He cancels so much that many fans wonder if he has some kind of serious illness or mental disorder that would explain his erratic behavior. When he does manage to make it to the stage… straight white men openly weep and fling themselves at him… I wonder what Morrissey’s conservative friends think about that. I wonder what Morrissey thinks of that… My brain won’t fully allow me to disconnect his sickening quotes from the music… So if he doesn’t want to lose even more fans to their consciences, he’ll do what he should’ve done many years ago: Shut his stupid face. (Jamie Lees, Riverside Times, 22 November 2017)
He’s a monster:
… his allegiances can no longer be assumed to lie with the marginalised. Perhaps they never could, and the real shock is not one of Morrissey’s betrayal but of our own (my own) self-deception… One of us has to grow up, I suppose, but that still doesn’t mean I know what to do about monsters either. (Ben Brooker, Overland Review, November 2017)
He must be stopped:
He knows his diehards will continue to buy his records and sell out his shows, so he gleefully goes on — sorry, Morrissey has never done anything gleefully. He stodgily goes on, sowing discord and making deliberately inflammatory statements. (Jed Gottlieb, Boston Herald, December 2017)
In 2018, self-described “former friend”, Dave Haslam, organised a party to protest against Morrissey’s supposed racism – getting positive coverage in the Guardian.
How horribly wrong we were. From the mid-1980s onwards, his utterances have been consistently rabid… It’s always hard to admit you fell for the wrong fella, that his poetry blinded you to his prejudices, that you were well and truly suckered. And that’s what we’re having to do now… For so long we Morrissey fans gave him the benefit of the doubt – surely a man is entitled to not like reggae and soul music, we’d squirm. Even now, we like to believe it is simply Morrissey who has changed. And that is true to an extent. But the warning signs were always there. (Simon Hattenstone, The Guardian, June 2018) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/29/protest-party-riposte-poisonous-parody-morrissey-smiths-tommy-robinson
And because Morrissey was asked about Kevin Spacey, and didn’t think the story he heard in 2017 sounded true, and because Morrissey is widely believed to be gay, Haslam would go on to insinuate that Morrissey is a paedophile –
Stewart Lee would write that he held Morrissey to ‘different standards‘ out of ‘sentiment’ – the other artist that he mentions, just happens to be heterosexual.
I’ve got vintage psychedelic vinyl by actual murderers, and books of poetry by antisemites and paedophiles, who are hard to write out of literary history. And the increasingly reactionary comments made by Mark E Smith in his latter years will not tempt me to part with even the most unnecessary Fall compilation. But somehow, illogically and sentimentally, I held Morrissey to different standards… Suddenly, I just didn’t want Morrissey in my home any more. And I couldn’t imagine any circumstances under which I would ever listen to him again. (Stewart Lee, The Observer, July 2018)
The Guardian tried to contact everyone Morrissey worked with on California Son – ripping quotes out of context, failing to mention that he’d clearly stated that he was against fascism and racism and believed For Britain had been smeared as right-wing (probably based on his own experience of being smeared as right-wing). Only one person talked to them, but they used a misleading headline: ‘I feel like I’ve been had: Morrissey’s collaborator’s respond to his politics’ (Daniel Dylan Wray, The Guardian, 1 March 2019) https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/mar/01/morrissey-collaborators-respond-to-his-politics
Tim Jonze would write that fans felt betrayed – repeating misquotations, using bigoted framing and guilt by association, bringing up Finsbury Park as the keystone, and splitting his career into the now traditional good Smiths (asexual), and bad solo (homoerotic).
To see Morrissey embrace the far right so openly was shocking. But was it surprising? Ever since the early 90s, he has flirted with the far right and fascist imagery – wrapping himself up in the union jack, writing a song called The National Front Disco, making inflammatory comments about immigration… I have to admit, not even a date in the high court, nor accusations of having a “schoolgirl giggle” have put me off listening to the Smiths… although his solo stuff feels too toxic for me to go near… (Tim Jonze, the Guardian, 30 May 2019)
David Stubbs – who wrote a homophobic ‘satire’ about Morrissey in the Quietus – called him the ‘stuff of disease‘:
Sadly, he still has an ultra-loyal phalanx of fans, for whom the word “thickness” certainly does not apply to their skins, who insist that the “real bigots” are Morrissey’s critics demonstrating their “narrow-mindedness”. Like their idol, they view of all of this as random persecution, in which they take a simple, indignant pleasure… Many profess to have no interest in his political views, regarding him solely as a musical content provider, a beat maker, a purveyor of vocals. This is bollocks, of course; they’re clearly hugely invested in him. In any case, if you’re capable of blithely setting aside his views, then there’s something badly missing in you. Morrissey has long since ceased to be worthy of cultural assessment; he no longer deserves to be part of that conversation. He has come to represent, along with the likes of Farage, Waters and Robinson, something nasty, reactionary and dangerous in our culture, a poisonous voice at this critical point in Britain’s island history. Something has hardened like a tumour inside him over the years; what was once whimsical, amusing, pop-culturally apposite, is now the stuff of disease. ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Any More’, isn’t funny any more. He’s not rarified; far too many people think and feel the way he does. And they’re making less and less of a secret of it. It’s frightening. And so, it’s come to this; with apologies to The Specials, if you have a Morrissey-loving friend, now is the time, now is the time, for your friendship to end. (David Stubbs, the Quietus, July 2019)
The LA Times trusted The Guardian’s misleading coverage and amplified it: Morrissey is anti-immigrant and backs a white nationalist political party. Why don’t fans care? (Randall Roberts, LA Times, 24 October 2019) https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2019-10-24/morrissey-anti-immigrant-white-nationalist-hollywood-bowl
Morrissey tried to push back – but by this time his mother was dying, and his own mental and physical health had taken a severe hit:
Given the inexhaustible Hate Campaign executed against me by The Guardian and their followers, I am pleased with the UK chart position for “California son”. BUT WHO WILL GUARD US FROM THE GUARDIAN? No one, it seems. It is worth noting that their chief antagonist in this Hate Campaign is someone I took to court some years ago for writing lies about me. He lost his court battle then, and now he’s seeking his personal revenge by using The Guardian, who have been harassing everyone and anyone connected with my music imploring them to say something terrible about me for print… It is the voice of all that is wrong and sad about modern Britain. (Morrissey, Morrissey Central, 31 May 2019)
Billy Bragg – who uses LGBT+ activism to promote his career, but who joined in with the NME’s homophobia in 1992 – also kept attacking him:
I wish there was a way back for him. As a Smith’s fan and as an anti-racist activist, I wish. I worry that he may have burned too many bridges, though. I think he’s decided that he wants to betray everything he ever said in the Smiths, and he’s broken the hearts of a lot of people… I’ll listen to The Smiths, but I was never into [his solo stuff] anyway.” (Billy Bragg, NME, February, 2020)
Tony Fletcher, who doesn’t seem to know anything about the black writers who have inspired Morrissey’s writing – James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou – urged people read about the blackness in the music of the Smiths (all white, all straight, apart from “the bad one“) in his Smiths book – but shun Morrissey’s current work – made with his Latino bandmates, Jessie Tobias, Mando Lopez and Gustavo Manzur, and including his (then) recent duet with Thelma Houston:
‘The Smiths? There’s more blackness in the music than you might initially perceive. Read about it. Search it out. And then boycott Morrissey’s music because he’s turned into your horrible racist grandfather. Seriously, stop apologising for the guy and stop listening to his recent music. He’s an embarrassment. (Tony Fletcher, his blog, 2020)
Similarly the Quietus called Morrissey’s mostly Mexican band, ‘white-ish’ and their Latino sound, ‘stinking.. trumpets of Old Albion’ and ‘crappy Britain‘.
My girlfriend however, well she’s a huge fan. A quick Google search later and there’s some sputtering…. how could the man who saved the lonely girl from Hull have become this… From its cheap-sounding production to the trebly, shallow musicianship (read: white-ish), to the basic structuring and the crowd samples that sound like fiendish Leave activists at Westminster, to the aesthetically stinking addition of those medieval trumpets of old Albion, this is the crappy Britain of old he conjures. (John Calvert, The Quietus, March 2020)
My guitarist Jesse, who’s been with me for 10 years, is Mexican. One night in Los Angeles the police approached us, spoke reasonably civilly to me, and then said to him, ‘which restaurant do you work at?’ I think that sums it up! One of the greatest guitarists of the modern age, but because his skin is brown, it’s assumed he washes dishes for a living.’ (Morrissey, Hot Press, 20th August 2014)
Because of the press, another ex-fan thinks that Morrissey – an Irish Catholic, ‘humasexual’, immigrant – is a homophobic English ethno-nationalist.
Only recently did I learn that shirtlifter was once a British slur for gay men; the phrase “Shoplifters of the World Unite” may be Morrissey’s play on words… Morrissey lamented the impact of immigration on his homeland: “England is a memory now,” he said… He spoke of how the Chinese could be a “subspecies,” … revisiting his lyrics, I began to find them more vituperative, less empathetic than I’d recalled. A song’s narrator would be woefully misunderstood, but that was because he was surrounded by the dim-witted and distinctly othered: women buck-toothed and monstrous; gay pederasts; Bengalis who don’t belong… I’m not sure there’s a place for (mixed-race, faggoty) me in that mythical past. (Jeremy Atherton Lin, the Yale Review, Spring 2021)
And the NME continues to exclude Morrissey from his own work – refusing to name him when praising the Smiths.
Echoes of the Manchester greats appear throughout ‘Ribbon Around The Bomb’ – namely those of The Smiths. Shimmering, Johnny Marr-style guitars appear liberally on the likes of ‘Born Wild’, a track that also employs haunting ‘Strangeways Here We Come’-era vocal lines as Ogden delivers some of his best, most revealing lyricism to date… (Rhys Buchanan, NME, 8th April 2022)
Naming him to underline that no one decent should ever want to be associated with him.
Considering that the ever-outspoken Morrissey has become pop’s persona non grata, while Marr has unwaveringly upheld the enduring cool of indie’s nice guy, surely most bands would want the praise to come the other way around? (Rhys Buchanan, NME, 8th April 2022)