On July 29th 1992, Nicky Crane – National Front/British Movement skinhead and roadie for neo-Nazi band Skrewdriver; who featured in the same Nick Knight photo essay as the V-flicker on a Morrissey t-shirt – came out as gay on a UK Channel 4 documentary, Out: The Skin Complex, that explored gay skinhead subculture. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25142557
On August 22nd 1992, the NME spent 5 pages denouncing Morrissey as a racist – for holding a Union Jack for 3 minutes and using an art print of two skinhead girls as a backdrop – while supporting headliners Madness, at Finsbury Park, on August 8th 1992, after he cut his set short and cancelled the next day’s appearance, due to the crowd throwing missiles and heckling homophobic abuse. https://illnessasart.com/2020/11/26/nme-22-august-1992/amp/
NME, 22 August 1992
Select reported the homophobia while blaming Morrissey for it.
Bad move one: he appears in front of a backdrop featuring two androgynous skinhead girls – one – perversely – resembling Carrie Fisher. The men’s men in the crowd offer the opinion that Morrissey is a “poofy bastard” and elevate many a middle finger. It’s boneheaded bullshit, sure, but nothing you shouldn’t be able to weather. Bad move two: Moz produces a Union Jack which he brandishes throughout “Glamorous Glue” as an art statement. This is a spectacularly stupid stunt, given the unwelcome right-wing following Madness always tried to get rid of and the putrid characters milling around outside. Thank God they can’t understand the words to “National Front Disco”… But contrary to his press statements, there was no hail of shrapnel to force a cancellation of the Sunday slot – just a reception that didn’t suit. Gallon Drunk stuck it out, didn’t they? Somewhere in the distance, you can hear The Farm, who would have gone down immeasurably better on this lads’ day out, laughing up each others’ sleeves. Who can even be bothered to feel sympathy for Morrissey? Perhaps we’ll see an end to his terribly modish flaunting of skinhead imagery. Perhaps he’ll learn that you can treat your fans with cavalier disdain once too often (most of the unfortunate Moz kids have bought tickets for Sunday – Glastonbury part 2). Or perhaps he’ll just emigrate. (Select, October 1992)
He certainly got a hard time from the homophobes, but nothing the most acid tongue in pop couldn’t handle. (Select, January 1993)
The Independent didn’t pick up on anything untoward with his imagery – but blamed the crowd’s negative reaction on his lack of masculinity.
…to the gold lame flounce of Morrissey, who, having replaced The Farm, was accorded the proverbial ‘mixed reaction’ for his trouble. But then, Morrissey has never been exactly the most blokeish of performers. (Andy Gill, 9th August 1992, The Independent) https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/rock-cracking-the-nutty-boys-beery-nostalgia-laddish-boisterousness-and-a-bunch-of-ordinary-blokes-andy-gill-on-madness-in-finsbury-park-1539470.html
From the start of his career, he rejected or invented labels for his gender and sexuality – and in the early/mid 1980s he said he was celibate.
Prince says he isn’t… Michael Jackson says it’s a sin. Elton John is married… David Bowie says he was never even bisexual… Lou Reed is maritally heterosexual… Little Richard [and] Donna Summer are on the anti-gay trail… music… has gone homophobic… And there’s also Morrissey, who’s … yes, gay... ensconced in a corner of Salisbury, a gay London pub… Morrissey, spoke with THE ADVOCATE: What do you mean by the fourth gender? I think labels are too restrictive. Like everyone is either heterosexual or homosexual. People are simply sexual. Do gay musicians say they’re celibate to appease the homophobic segments of the public? It may well enter into that, if it’s a lie. Certainly celibacy has a spiritual attractiveness… like a little halo. Is it harder to get into the media if one is gay, rather than noncommittal? It is more difficult. What was your childhood like? Wonderful… the teenage years were rotten… hormones divided us into camps, and as any gay person knows, that’s the time you start losing friends – or those you thought were friends. And then those professional heterosexuals, those people in those boxes, are closed to you for life. (Morrissey, interviewed by George Hadley-Garcia, the Advocate, 16 October 1984) https://illnessasart.com/2021/07/13/the-advocate-16-october-1984/
His imagery was often coded as gay.
In 1991, he toured with the Jewish, lesbian, singer, Phranc.
In a Facebook post in 2021, his guitarist and co-songwriter, Alain Whyte, wrote that the crowd hated Morrissey because they thought he was queer.
The NME’s hit piece made a direct link between sexuality and racism, with one paragraph echoing publicity surrounding the Channel 4 gay skinheads documentary.
Caucasian Rut: “A child in a curious phase…“? (NME, 22 August 1992)
Being gay or bisexual was (and sometimes still is) described as a phase. https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2020/12/25/being-gay-is-just-a-phase-show-them-this-viral-twitter/ )
At one extreme, Kylie Minogue miraculously transforms herself from the jovial girl-next-door to a strutting nymphet who cavorts lustily with black ‘dancers’ to suggest risky sexuality. And, at the other extreme, Steven Patrick Morrissey undergoes a gradual metamorphosis from a miserable, loveless outsider with a sense of humour to a miserable, loveless outsider who flirts with racist imagery. (NME, 1992)
Dr Dinesh Bhugra, a psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry, speaking on Skin Complex, the Channel 4 programme to be screened on Wednesday, argues that gay men adopting the skinhead image is not surprising. In a society that is producing a tremendous amount of homophobia, you have to try and protect yourself by whichever means you can and if, in order to do it, it means you are identifying with the oppressor then people will do that in order to survive. (Independent, 26 July 1992)‘
Let’s not forget that the adolescent Morrissey used to be chased through the streets of Manchester at night by leering beer-boys, some of whom may have held NF sympathies, simply for being ‘different’. And he definitely spent a lot of time in Whalley Range, a multi-racial area. Is he now identifying with his former oppressors? Has he changed from the persecuted to the persecutor? Or, is he fascinated by the idea of racism, by the look of violent skinheads, to the extent of being oppressed so much he falls in love with his oppressors? (NME, 22 August 1992)
We’ll Let You Know’ is ostensibly a love song to football hooligans, casting them as “the last truly British people you’ll ever know”, which wouldn’t be that irritating if you didn’t realise that a significant percentage of them are also NF or BNP affiliated. (NME, 1992)
A review in the Melody Maker falsely claimed that Morrissey was holding the Union Jack while singing the National Front Disco as supporters shouted Sieg Heil – so the NME’s admonition that he had racist friends and liked outsider trappings could come from that – or it could point to Nicky Crane.
Morrissey is, despite all hopes, despicable… Look, Steven, if you’ve just run 100 metres in 9.98, you can have some sort of vague, if dubious, claims to wearing a Union Jack around your shoulders. If you’re singing the National Front Disco and getting too scared/weary to put inverted commas around the England for the English bit, while Sieg Heils butter you up down the front, don’t expect much sympathy… (Paul Mathur, Melody Maker, 15 August 1992)
For what it’s worth, I don’t think Morrissey is a racist. He just likes the trappings and the culture that surround the outsider element. He has some racist friends. And if he carries on this way, he’ll have thousands more. (NME, 1992)
A gay skinhead fantasy had appeared in Square Peg, a queer interest magazine, published by a collective of gay men who met at a gay nightclub, The Bell, in King’s Cross, where Morrissey, Derek Jarman, and Nicky Crane were also, at one time, regulars. https://www.gayinthe80s.com/2017/09/pub-bell-kings-cross-london/
Why I’m a Skin: I grew up in remotest and desolate suburbia… Untidy, shy and eccentric, I was first bullied, then ignored… I discovered… what respectable men did with each other in toilets. I joined in with enthusiasm. At school I was Charles Laughton. In the cottages I was James Dean… The skinhead is beyond fashion and cannot be assimilated… This animal’s only secondary sexual characteristics are his braces worn up to exaggerate the width of the shoulders, down to emphasise the curve of the bum… He is pure sex… He is an anarchist, not because he rejects the rules, but because they cannot be applied to him. (Square Peg, No 12, 1986) https://tenderbooks.co.uk/products/square-peg-magazine-a-complete-run-with-related-ephemera?variant=39743140561080
I just felt towards all these figures in popular music who were trying to be gay and outrageous – why does it always have to be so shocking? I think ‘This Charming Man’ was the most revolutionary single in popular music in that area – I’m really quite convinced of it, because it was all just completely natural about male relationships, it was nice and natural, but it wasn’t banal. (Morrissey, Square Peg, No. 6, 1984) https://illnessasart.com/2020/01/06/square-peg-no-6-august-1984/
In 1981, Nicky Crane’s picture was used on the cover of a compilation album, Strength Thru Oi, that was released by Sounds magazine, causing a scandal over his neo-Nazi connections, and the allusion to the Nazi slogan strength through joy. He also appeared in gay porn films and worked with Genesis P-Orridge.
NAZI FARTSY : Earsay’s snippets (Channel 4) on Genesis P-Orridge et al featured an unexpected guest – a certain Nicola Crane. Crane, the neo-Nazi who by a series of errors made the front cover of ‘Strength Thru Oi’, turned out to be one of the ‘stars’ of a Psychic TV video film. Let’s hope the media are as quick to condemn this obviously deliberate airing for Crane as they were with that accidental airing three years ago. (Sounds, 22nd September 1984)
In 1984, Nicky led an attack on left-wing skinhead band, the Redskins, at a GLC benefit gig. The Smiths were on the bill. He was also working for, Gentle Touch, a firm that provided security for left-wing and gay events. In 1986, he marched at gay pride, under a ‘gay skins’ banner. When asked, gay organisers said they felt it was ok because he’d been seen kissing an Afro-Caribbean man.
The National Front/British Movement/BNP were violently homophobic, assaulting and murdering gay people, attacking and bombing gay events and venues. And had been rocked by gay scandals.
Those naked Nazis: I am somewhat pleased to see the National Front arseholes scratching each other’s eyes out over the Martin Webster scandals. John Tyndall is so so upset about Webster’s homosexual image that he’s formed a breakaway NF organisation and is openly slagging Webster in his publication, Spearhead. It seems he accuses the Front of being full of queers and morally corrupt and that Webster is giving the Front A BAD NAME! It’s okay to smash someone’s head in, but it’s the biggest crime of all to be gay. (Zipper, 24 October 1980)
When Crane came out as gay, he was disowned.
It just goes to show that nationalism and homosexuality do not fit in together, because Nationalism is a true cause and homosexuality is a perversion. Nicky Crane left, and I think that it was the best thing he could have done, but he should have left a hell of a lot earlier. He was living a lie for all of them years. I’ve got no respect for the bloke anymore. (Ian Stuart Donaldson, lead singer of Skrewdriver, Last Chance fanzine, 1992) https://amp.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/05/skinheads-christmas-far-right-archive-1985
After the Madstock gig – Morrissey’s press office blamed “projectiles” thrown by a “National Front skinhead” for his refusal to play the next day. Morrissey reportedly said it was “too dangerous” (NME, 22 August 1992).
Madstock’s promoter, Vince Power, blamed the backdrop and the Union Jack, “in a way he got the audience he was looking for” (NME, 1992).
Peter Hooton, thought it was payback for his band, the Farm, being dropped from the bill, for not being “manly” enough, “I was amazed at the Morrissey camp’s reaction. He’s dealing with contentious stuff, flirting with right wing views in front of a Madness crowd… he’s a very sad and mixed-up man.” (NME, 1992)
Flowered Up’s keyboard player, Tim Dourney, said Morrissey was “asking for a bit of trouble. Maybe he thought he could win over the skinhead contingent but you’re going to put backs up prancing around like that.”
Derek Ridgers worried that the girls who WERE racist imagery (to the NME) were being used in a distasteful or demeaning way. “Being a Morrissey fan I thought he’d use them in a tasteful way. My main concern was that it wasn’t going to be demeaning to people in the picture.” (NME, 1992)
The NME admitted that the National Front was in London on the 8th of August to confront a Troops Out march – but deliberately skipped over the National Front’s hostility to Irish Catholics and Irish Republicans, didn’t mention that Morrissey had expressed Irish Republican sympathies, gave the wrong impression that his ‘ethnic group’ was English (he’s Irish Catholic), and used the skinhead backdrop and the Union Jack to directly connect him to the National Front – with their skinhead membership and their Union Jacks.
Morrissey’s affection for the skinhead and nationalist imagery was given its most public display ever at Finsbury Park. With Derek Ridgers’ skinhead photos used as a backdrop, he waved and wrapped a Union Jack flag around his torso. Meanwhile, outside the park’s perimeter, Union Jacks were also brandished — by National Front and British Movement supporters congregating to confront a Troops Out march. (NME, 22 August 1992)
… could the same writer harbour such seemingly ignorant thoughts as “‘England for the English'” (his inverted commas) considering his beloved England’s past colonial adventures? (NME, 1992)
A feature of the Bloody Sunday marches was that the far right (BNP etc.) often mobilised to oppose them, so that in the pubs and streets surrounding the demonstrations there would be skirmishes between anti-fascists and racists. In 1990 for instance, three Anti Fascist Action (AFA) members were jailed after notorious Nazi skinhead Nicky Crane was dragged out of a taxi in Kilburn in the vicinity of the Bloody Sunday march. (History Is Made At Night, 30 January 2012) http://history-is-made-at-night.blogspot.com/2012/01/bloody-sunday-1972-forty-years-of.html
The NME invents a variety of motivations for the crowd’s hostility – all of which blame Morrissey – one of which implies that he’s a gay man trying to join the National Front and getting the violence he deserves.
It almost doesn’t matter who pelted him offstage (NF skins who don’t want his glitter-shirted type diluting the ‘movement’, Farm fans disgruntled at his alleged part in getting them chucked off the bill, ordinary Joes and Jos disgusted by his toying with nationalist imagery, people who just never liked The Polecats!); the fact remains: given all the above, it was almost inevitable. (NME, 1992)
While positioning themselves as ‘right-on’, ‘compassionate’ and ‘liberal’ – concerned that Morrissey has chosen to incite violent racism and genocide.
In agitated times when the twin spectres of fascism and ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ are sweeping across Europe, and when there’s been a return in England to the horrifying incidence of burning immigrants out of their homes, we must wonder why Morrissey has chosen this precise moment to fuel the fires of racism by parading onstage with a Union Jack and writing such ambiguous dodgy lyrics as ‘The National Front Disco’ and ‘We’ll Let You Know’ on his recent album. Is he so starved of lyrical ideas that a touch of controversy is the best way to cover-up ‘writer’s block’? Is he completely fed-up with the liberal consensus in the more compassionate side of the media that he’s resorted to baiting the right-on crowd? Is there a sizeable degree of irony at work? (NME, 1992)
In contrast to Morrissey, who is now the opposite of ‘gentle and kind’ (this trope is still wheeled out – he’s mean, he’s toxic, he won’t talk to journalists and yet HE IS ALWAYS HAVING OUTBURSTS).
Equally, his recent response to the publication of Johnny Rogan’s Smiths book The Severed Alliance, was at best distasteful, at worst illustrative of a severe lack of perspective… Morrissey, while admitting that he’d never even read it, condemned the book, and said that he hoped Rogan died in a car smash on the M3… Is this the same man who, in The Smiths’ finest moment (‘I Know It’s Over’) wrote “It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate, it takes guts to be gentle and kind“? Sadly, yes. The same man but now displaying a cruelty and lack of deftness that makes his golden days seem light years away. (NME, 1992)
They try to firm up the accusations by bringing up the ‘hip hop wars’, fabricated by music journalists who were excluding black artists from rock music.
1992 isn’t the first time Morrissey has been accused of fanning the flames of race-hate. When The Smiths released ‘Panic’ in 1986, at the height of what’s now known within NME as ‘the hip-hop wars’, certain writers at this paper branded Moz a ‘racist’ because of the sentiments “Burn down the disco… Hang the DJ” expressed therein, seeing the song as an all-out attack on dance music and therefore black people. (NME, 1992)
The National Front’s most violent organiser, Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair was a fan of reggae band UB40 and his paramilitary loyalist gang would kill Catholics while listening to rave. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/the-uda-killer-nicknamed-top-gun-behind-a-dozen-sectarian-murders-1.4628830 : https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2000/aug/27/northernireland.henrymcdonald1 : https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/news-analysis/how-loyalists-got-out-of-step-with-fascism-28657619.html : https://ansionnachfionn.com/2011/09/16/fascists-neo-nazis-and-the-british-unionist-minority-in-ireland/
They interpreted Bengali In Platforms as an anti-assimilation diatribe – so they could conflate him with anti-immigrant-anti-Irish-Catholic, ex-Tory, Ulster Unionist MP, Enoch Powell.
Viva Hate’, his first ‘solo’ LP, contained the charmingly titled ‘Bengali In Platforms’, a convoluted diatribe against assimilation: “He only wants to impress you/Bengali in platforms/He only wants to embrace your culture/And to be your friend forever/ … Oh shelve your Western plans/ … life is hard enough when you belong here.” And where does this somewhat gentle ridicule leave the Bengalis who were born in England? On the next boat captained by Enoch Powell? In the lurch? The main complaint Little Englanders have about immigrants is their seeming abhorrence of the host culture and feisty determination to cling to what they know and understand. But here we have someone who won’t let them do the opposite either... (NME, 1992)
All of this is a smokescreen – they even tell the reader how it’s constructed. They charge him with being a nationalist, right-wing, violent and a racist – then accumulate ‘problematic’ associations: Panic hates black people. Rusholme Ruffians hates Asians – who ‘duffed Moz up’ – his songs are literal and autobiographical. Suedehead is black-hating and gay-bashing, which makes Bengali In Platforms, Asian Rut, We’ll Let You Know and The National Front Disco, black-hating and gay-bashing. He’s ambiguous – he causes unease and disquiet – he’s always carping about black people – it’s accelerating now he’s solo – he’s a danger to gullible and suggestible fans – he’s unwholesome.
Let’s deal with the first, and infinitely more difficult of these charges, the whole ugly grab-bag of nationalism, right-wingery, violence and racism… The Smiths’ ‘Panic’ could be construed as an attack on black music and therefore, by extension, black people. But the unease predates even that. One Mancunian music journalist has voiced disquiet that the ‘Ruffians’ on ‘Meat Is Murder’ — who duff up the Moz at a funfair — should be from ‘Rusholme’, the only part of Manchester that might be identified as ‘Asian’. It’s since the advent of Morrissey’s solo career, however, that misgivings about some of his chosen subject matter, lyrics, imagery and associations have begun to accelerate. His very first solo single, ‘Suedehead’, was named after the black-hating, gay-bashing post-skinhead gangs glamourised by Richard Allen’s notorious 1971 novel of the same name. Since then there’s been ‘Bengali In Platforms’ (from ‘Viva Hate’), ‘Asian Rut’ (‘Kill Uncle’) and, most recently, ‘We’ll Let You Know’ (with its line about “we are the last truly British people you will ever know”) and ‘The National Front Disco’ (from ‘Your Arsenal’). Nobody is denying Morrissey’s right to write about what the hell he likes and nor are any of these songs intrinsically problematic, but not all of his audience are as smart as him and the constant, unfocused, reference to these delicate matters, allied to Morrissey’s steadfast ambiguity in interviews (see quotes) does have a cumulative effect. Add to this his constant carping about reggae, disco and any other music that’s usually prefaced with the word ‘black’ (and the ‘Panic’ provision, that hating black music doesn’t mean to hate black people, still applies) and you can see how the gullible or suggestible fan, or the suspicious critic, might start to build up a pretty unwholesome portrait of the artist.
The skins are Nazis – but also male – and there are homosexuals about.
The original skins were about working class (primarily male) solidarity and an alternative to the stultifying mundanity and bullshit of everyday life, recurring themes in Morrissey’s writing. But they were also, despite their taste in ska and early reggae, generally racist, nationalistic, chauvinistic British bulldogs, proud wavers of the Union Jack and standard bearers (at a time when Enoch Powell was talking about the race ‘problem’ turning Britain’s streets into “rivers of blood”) of the Keep Britain White fanatics. Richard Allen’s Skinhead chronicles are full of sickening accounts of violence against blacks. And, for that matter, homosexuals. As the ’70s progressed, the skinhead faction began to shrink, boiling down to the hardcore rump of the ‘Oi’ movement, overtly racist nutters served musically by groups like The 4-Skins and Skrewdriver and responsible for the Southall riots when an Asian pub was fire-bombed. And although the cultural signals of shaving your head and wearing boots have remained confusing (no-one’s calling Sinead a fascist!) it’s undoubtedly true that in recent times, the skinhead has enjoyed a new lease of life in France, Italy, Scandinavia and especially Germany, as the vanguard of the post-Wall revival in Nazism. Are their flag-waving certainties and xenophobic imagery fit icons for him to be playing with, however cleverly?
The language used throughout the article is leading, loaded, and sexualised – the NME wondered how far his infatuation had gone, hoped his thrills with Mensi, a good guy, were only vicarious, but feared he was there to meet his desired skins in nail varnish. The shadowy iconography could be innocent, but, like his sexuality, it’s ambiguous. He could be actively seeking a less pleasant new image; he won’t let them near to find out.
How far has his infatuation with the skins and their paraphernalia gone? (NME, 1992)
He’s still got the rockabilly quiff, sure, but recently, as the pictures scattered around these five pages show, he’s taken to presenting himself with the iconography of the shadowy nationalistic right. Union Jack badges … Union Jack flags … cross of Saint George T-shirts … Oi T-shirts … suedehead backdrops; all innocent enough in their own right (or at least safely ambiguous) but, again, collected together they present a sorry and worrying spectacle. He’s also spent time recently with Mensi from right-on skins the Angelic Upstarts who, as a decidedly good guy, perhaps provides the Moz with a safe route to vicarious skinhead thrills. (NME, 1992)
And finally, given Madness’ sad and unwanted link with the National Front skin faction, why did he choose to make his only UK appearance so far this year at the Finsbury Park bash? Precisely to address his desired new congregation of ‘skinheads in nail varnish’?
What about the second contributory strand to Morrissey’s current problems, his apparent decline from blessed and effortless surfer on the golden wave of pop fortune, to unreliable, grudge-bearing seige-mentality curmudgeon? From a distance (and Morrissey doesn’t allow journalists any nearer), it all looks like one of two things: either he’s just lost all sense of judgement and subsequently effective control over his career, or he’s got it all perfectly under control and is actively seeking a new and less-pleasant-than-the-last image. (NME, 1992)
When he was in the Smiths, the press mocked his sexuality – but thought he was sexless.
The Smiths perverse glamour lay in their self-denial… [thier] manifesto of vengeneance on the world through disability, withdrawl and asexuality (it was impossible to imagine that Morrissey actually had a penis) was immensely attractive… It is now widely assumed that most of Morrissey’s lyrics were coded references to homosexuality… the male is invariably feminised… “This Charming Man”, which first aroused the is-Morrissey-gay debate, is way too obscure to fathom… (Simon Price, Melody Maker, 15 August 1992)
By the late 1980s they panicked that he might be a sexually active gay man – with a fanbase of teenage boys – who were desperate to touch him.
The NME warned him that his sexual ambiguity could end his career. Which mutates into an accusation that he’s equivocal about Englishness.
If Morrissey has sinned in his rise to self-styled King of the Western World then it must surely have been indulging in his only weakness, which he himself credited as being a ‘listed crime’… it is Morrissey’s own ambiguity which has led to what many people insist on hinting at as being a somewhat spectacular cover-up… apart from a very early interview with our own Cath Carroll where Morrissey spoke directly about the eroticism of the male body (and an interview in a lesser rag that was littered with tawdry references to public toilets), Morrissey has rarely been questioned about the highly sexual nature of his lyrics… As it is, without wishing to undermine his aggressive challenge to the staid institution of compulsory heterosexuality and monogamy, I find it hard to believe that it is a Crown Prince Of Celibacy who is responsible for such knowing or flirtatious songs as ‘Late Night, Maudlin Street’, ‘Reel Around The Fountain’, ‘Hand In Glove’ and ‘Alsatian Cousin’. Or for the specifically sexual visual control of his image, from the topless NME front cover to the particularly lustful dancing of the young tearaway hoodlum on the new video… Maybe it is this over-enthusiastic curiosity from fans that forewarns him of a more offensive and dangerous threat to the often remarkable relationship with his art and his audience that he has developed – ie from the blood-hungry tabloids. If this is the case, then Morrissey should be wary of the fate that killed off both his heroes Wilde and Dean… (James Brown, NME, February 1989) https://www.nme.com/features/morrissey-talks-sex-stalkers-and-the-smiths-in-classic-nme-interview-756834
How has Morrissey come to this none-too-pretty pass? The answer comes in the convergence of two trends that have intensified as his post-Smiths career has developed. The first is his penchant for clever but equivocal lyrics (and, in fact, interview statements) about ‘Englishness’, ‘Britain’, insiders, outsiders and belonging. Wittingly or otherwise, he has continued to pick away at the scab of race relations in this country. (NME, 1992)
In-coming NME editor, Steve Sutherland, had written a homophobic review of his Hulmerist VHS implying he was abusing his fans via his t-shirts. The NME ridiculously linked his t-shirts to a flirtation with racism.
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)
Morrissey’s flirtation with racism didn’t really begin until The Smiths split and he became a law unto himself, gleefully wearing his own T-shirts, aspiring to be the consummate egotist. (NME, 22 August 1992)
The NME’s concerns about his ‘sway’ over the minds of ‘a generation’ echo social fears that predatory older gay men corrupt children, then playing out in a fierce debate about lowering the gay age of consent from 21 to 16. In Ireland (where most of Morrissey’s family are from) male homosexuality was illegal until 1993.
Firstly, Morrissey has held, and continues to hold, sway over the minds of a generation who take tips from his every utterance, try to model themselves on his sense of fashion and live their lives at least partly according to codes he’s laid down with a flourish (just try imagining the number of people who converted to vegetarianism upon hearing The Smiths’ ‘Meat Is Murder’). (NME, 1992)
At Glastonbury, where this paper was one of the sponsors, kids came to the NME tent and literally wept about Morrissey’s absence. (NME, 1992)
The point about “protecting the young” was made over and over again. Lynette Burrows in The Sunday Telegraph (7 Jun) based her objections to any change on the idea that adolescent boys are easily persuaded to give up their heterosexuality by “predatory homosexuals who would gain most if they were allowed to recruit from among them… One must conclude that the basis for the relentless self-advertisement of many homosexuals is related to this desire to recruit new partners. Many are dedicated to the untrammelled appetite for sex that… often results in degradation and disease. It is… a life-style that can easily be portrayed to a vulnerable teenager as the answer to all his problems of identity and sexual longing.” (Media Watch, Gay Times, July 1992)
They don’t have a snowball’s hope in hell of getting this through… There is a small minority of paedophile homosexuals who want to corrupt and ensnare youngsters. They must be stopped at all costs. (Geoffrey Dickens MP, the Daily Star, April 1992)
Six months before Finsbury Park, the NME had featured a Union Jack on their cover, alongside a celebration of young female groupies.
Which makes their demand that Morrissey explain himself for getting attacked, while dancing in a glittering shirt because it’s markedly different, suggestive.
All this is sad, but not as sad as the day Morrissey appeared on the Madness bill at Finsbury Park, and danced around with a Union Jack draped around his glittering shirt during ‘Glamorous Glue’. For his pains, he was attacked with various minor missiles by an unruly element in the audience, but anyone could have told him that there was a small but vocal contingent of Seig Heiling skins in the audience… Of course, one realises that The Jam used the flag to optimum effect when they were in existence, but they explained themselves by claiming they were reclaiming the flag from The Far Right. In the ’60s The Who were also notorious flag-wavers, but those were markedly different times and both the NF and the BNP didn’t exist in the same form (a vocal micro-minority) then. Morrissey, however, must be aware of what flag-waving means in the Euro-90s… (NME, 1992)
Describing him as a shallow, laughable, eccentric who wants to be a teenager, is less like a violent racist, and more like a gay stereotype.
But then, along with being an English eccentric who wishes he was a teenager in the ’50s, Morrissey has often been attracted to surface gloss, to style-over-content. Is he satisfied, this way? Would he like to be a laughing stock? (NME, 1992)
They demanded an interview. Morrissey refused.
Morrissey was told of both the general gist and some particulars of this piece and asked for his comments and if he was prepared to do a full scale interview. He responded, through the press office, with the following statement: ‘My lawyers are poised. NME have been trying to end my career for four years and year after year they fail. This year they will also fail.” (NME, 1992)
Students protested, beneath a Union Jack that decorated the entrance to EMI.
NME, September 1992
The band Cornershop burned his picture.
27 years later, the Guardian, would use the 3 minutes he held a flag to ask if he was showing his true colours.
Maybe the NME wanted to kill his career:
Moz is history, and we’d all do well to learn it. (Andrew Collins, NME, April 1992)
… a lack of grace and control… seems to have become endemic in dealings with him; a career that once looked effortless, touched by the hand of God almost, has now become characterised by a series of feuds, upsets, no-shows and general tetchiness. (NME, 22 August 1992)
Or ‘out’ him without risking a libel trial as catastrophic as The Face losing to Jason Donovan in May 1992 over their ‘Queer As F*ck’ issue. https://gtmediawatch.org/1965/07/01/gay-times-may-1992/
Or both. Sire had sidelined the Smiths in America after Rolling Stone labeled Morrissey gay.
A piece in Rolling Stone claimed Morrissey was gay, completely contradicting his stand against sexual roles and their divisive consequences. “That brought a lot of problems for me”, he recalls ruefully. “Of course I never made such a statement”, Immediately their American record company, Sire, recoiled from supporting The Smiths. “They were petrified”, he remembers with disgust. “I thought that kind of writing epitomised the mentality of the American music press. That sicking macho stuff. After it appeared in Rolling Stone it ran rife through the lesser known publications, which to me was profoundly dull”. (Melody Maker, November 1984) https://illnessasart.com/2020/01/05/melody-maker-3-november-1984/
In 2001, Andrew Collins thought Dele Fadele being their only black writer justified the homophobia.
The publicity around Out: the skin complex mentioned that some gay black men were angry that it was hard to tell a gay skinhead from a violent skinhead. Morrissey’s quiff & gold lame shirt – as well as the description of him as ‘prancing’ & the fact he was attacked by the homophobic crowd – wouldn’t cause that problem. (Also the irony of Andrew calling him a cultural tourist for holding a Union Jack – the UK’s national flag – after the NME accused him of bile for the line ‘life is hard enough when you belong here’. Morrissey doesn’t belong here?)
I never said the Morrissey witch-hunt issue was ‘real journalism’, Jon. I said it was “real” journalism, ie. closer to real journalism than the shit we usually did. I was at Madstock and the crowd was pretty dodgy… Whether Moz is/was a racist or not was less important than the fact that he was flirting with far right imagery – like a cultural tourist – and not going on record about his real reasons, or his real feelings. He could have stopped that cover story with one statement. He chose to remain enigmatic and distant, compounding his error… At first, as features editor, I refused to get involved, but I was ordered by my boss into an emergency staff meeting, and once the decision was made, it was up to the senior staff (me Danny Kelly, and Stuart Maconie) to get the copy done, along with an excellent piece by Dele Fadele who is black and could therefore give a perspective none of us NME white boys could. (Dele was furious about Moz’s actions and needed no coercion to write.) All I did was compile Morrissey’s faux-racist quotes from every interview he’d ever done, and collate the lyrics… We did our job. (Andrew Collins, Angelfire, Re NME disappearing up its own PR, 26 July 2001) https://www.angelfire.com/super/sotcaabits/forums/nme01.html
The skinhead look is a dominant one in the gay scene at the moment,’ according to Harvey Gillis, fashion editor of Boyz magazine. ‘It’s a fashion statement not a political one.’ Some black gays oppose the trend because of the difficulty in separating violent fascists from the simply fashion-conscious. (Martin Wroe, the Independent, 26th July 1992) https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/reformed-fascist-ready-to-admit-homosexuality-martin-wroe-reports-on-the-conversion-of-a-right-winger-that-highlights-a-thriving-gay-fashion-1535856.html?amp
In the mid-90s, Morrissey was rumoured to be in a relationship with Jake Walters.
The press kept obsessing about his sexual and ethnic ambiguity.
Morrissey intends to remain undefinable. He’s a conversational escapologist, eluding any attempt to pin him down. Take, for example, his sexuality. It’s 20 years since Rolling Stone magazine described him as gay, much to his annoyance, and he still refuses to specify. Often he denies any kind of sex life at all. That’s his business, but it’s a long time to maintain ambiguity... On his new single, Irish Blood, English Heart, he sings of “standing by the flag not feeling shameful, racist or partial”. He’s referring to his notorious performance at Madness’s Madstock weekender in 1992, when he wrapped himself in a Union flag and was branded a racist by the music press, casting a long shadow over his solo career… Could he not have simply explained his intentions? “Well, you know, I haven’t just arrived from the village,” he snaps. “I did think of all these things. I knew the people I was dealing with and there was no point in reaching out to them. It’s more dignified to step away than to run towards them and say, ‘Please forgive me for something I haven’t done.’ (Dorian Lynskey, the Guardian, 9 April 2004) https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2004/apr/09/shopping.morrissey
In 2002, the NME accused him of giving the illusion of intimacy while never discussing his sexuality, and of being – ambiguous, unambiguous, brutally upfront and distastefully infatuated, with racism.
He fastidiously cultivated his own eccentricities into an iconography. A depressive nature could be a flamboyant selling point… An unspecified sexualality could be ruthlessly exploited, especially when there was speculation of a homoerotic tension between him and his stoic foil, Johnny Marr… Morrissey always chose to be brutally upfront about certain subjects: his hatred of black music for one thing [he didn’t hate black music]... but on matters of sexuality, he was tantalisingly ambiguous… denying that he was a bitter and twisted individual… Here was Oscar Wilde reborn… what was curious was his sense of persecution… “… if I rescued a kitten from drowning they’d say, Morrissey Mauls Kitten’s Body. What can you do?” Milk it, some would say… Only when he began to… offend the liberal [leftist] sensibilities… did the love affair start to founder… In June ’86… ‘Panic’ was both brilliant and newsworthy, pivoting as it did on a chorus of ‘hang the DJ’. After Morrissey’s previous comments on black music [all he’d said prior to the Frank Owen ‘Panic’ interview was: reggae is vile, in a joke quiz, in 1985], certain critics saw the line as implicitly racist, an attack on the predominantly black DJ culture of the time [the DJ culture of 1986 was not predominantly black]… to imagine that Morrissey hadn’t considered the statement’s ambiguity would be to credit him with implausible naivety… a certain discomfort with Morrissey… began to flourish… ‘Bengali In Platforms presented a character study many saw as racially patronising… On August 22 [it was the 8th] at a gig supporting Madness in London’s Finsbury Park… he waved a Union Jack – in spite of the fact that the gig was known to have attracted a number of skinheads who would have interpreted the gesture unambiguously… [an] article calmly examined what it interpreted as a distasteful infatuation with the imagery of British racists… One of Morrissey’s most potent skills was to encourage an illusion of intimacy, appearing to confess, when in fact he was being scrupulously protective of his private life – never openly discussing his sexuality – for example… We ridiculed him, demonised him, accidentally split up his band… but for a few magnificent years, we were bewitched by him like no one before or since. (NME, 20 April 2002)
In 2004, You Are The Quarry, gave him a brief respite.
… excised from the hearts of many, horrified by the messy “flirtation” with racist imagery. (Victoria Segal, NME, November 1999)
… nevermind the shaky accusations of racism… all those years of being Mother Teresa for the clumsy and shy and suddenly he was being reviled for crimes he’d never committed. (Victoria Segal, Mojo, May 2004)
But in 2007, the NME hyped some mild comments about immigration and reprinted the Finsbury Park story. The writer, Tim Jonze, moved to the Guardian and used its clout and his connections to persecute him. https://folk-devil.com/2022/07/05/immigration/
Len Brown’s biography has come under fire in the September issue of Q magazine. Dorian Lynskey, who interviewed Morrissey for The Guardian back in 2004, argues the book is “fundamentally flawed” because of Brown’s “20-year relationship” with the artist. He accuses the ex-NME journalist of “having no flair for narrative” and also complains that Brown “fudges the issue of the singer’s contentious statements about national identity”. The review awards the book three stars but is headlined “Friend Of Mozzer Pens Biography – Thorny Subjects Ignored”. (Anonymous, Morrissey Solo, 9 September 2008)
Dele Fadele died in 2018. In his belated Guardian obituary, Jonze, managed to echo the homophobia of 1992.
I’m surprised that it has taken so long for the press to get round to “The Secret Gay Life of Star Frankie” (Sunday Mirror, 9 Aug). I don’t know who is supposed to be surprised by the knowledge that Frankie Howerd was gay, but apparently the papers find it “shocking”. Of course, as they tell it, the comedian’s gay nature was part of his “dark side” . (Media Watch, Gay Times, September 1992)
[Dele summed up] the dark side of Morrissey... [he] famously helped persuade the magazine’s staff to run its Flying the flag or flirting with disaster? cover story, which called out their most bankable star Morrissey’s dalliance with the far right for the first time. (The former Smiths man refused to talk to the paper for more than a decade after it was published; his reputation remains tarnished to this day.)… It was in 1992, though, that Dele played his most pivotal role. He had attended Madstock in Finsbury Park, the now-notorious gig in which support artist Morrissey draped himself in the union jack, a move some saw as a move pandering to the crowd’s skinhead element… Dele was appalled by what he’d witnessed… “It was Dele’s finest hour,” recalls Andrew Collins, who along with then-editor Danny Kelly reworked the cover around Dele’s critical piece – an arduous process to do at the last minute back then. “He wrote from the heart – and, uniquely among the staff – from an actual vantage point. [Dele was’t gay] This was not a moment to be lily-livered and Dele seized the day. It was a turning point for Moz’s provocations. Dele wrote if not his most important piece, certainly one that gave urgency and weight to an otherwise hand-wringing situation.” (Tim Jonze, the Guardian, September 2020) https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/sep/14/dele-fadele-remembered-nme
For 30 years (and counting) Morrissey has been called a racist because he was the victim of a homophobic hate crime.
He’s been dehumanised, demonised, and made a pariah.
His public image has fused with Nicky Crane – a bad gay – toxic, vicious, fascist. His moving solo work synonymous with Skrewdriver.
Side Note: My Favourite Worst Nightmare – Morrissey & Madstock
Of course, I was only through the Park gates for a few moments when a lager-swilling huddle of bovver-booted neo-Nazis spotted my quiff and garb and blew poisoned kisses in my direction, tweeting, ‘ooh, Morrissey, Morrissey!'” “Meanwhile, Morrissey, a Liberace shirt slung over his skinny frame, is waving these fascist-spawned monsters’ Union Flag at them while relating the experience of Davey, the young man who went to the National Front Disco’; if ever there was an sudden irony failure at NME, who’d slated Morrissey’s solo work for not treading on the taboos of old’, it was right here. Only a couple of years later, they would laud Britpop and the reclaiming of the British flag, yet here, it was Morrissey, and not this foul minority in Madness’s audience, who they cast as the racist.” “Morrissey finished his otherwise triumphant set early and failed to show for day two; Suggs never mentioned, nor was he ever quizzed upon, his band’s neo-fascist supporters’ behaviour that day. Meanwhile, me and my fellow Moz heads made our tremulous way to the tube station, well before midnight, in blissful ignorance of just how this story was about to be spun by the popular music press we’d supported for years; so long as we remember exactly what took place that day, the chroniclers and revisionists can simply get on with glossing over the inconvenient truth.” (Johnnie Craig, State, 11 October 2009) https://web.archive.org/web/20131027211741/http://state.ie/features/archive/my-favourite-worst-nightmare-morrissey-madstock
Side Note 2: the artistic closet
“Outside” effectively marked the end of George Michael’s career as a serious artist. Not because “coming out” turned the straight world against him, but because, paradoxically, it meant that he could no longer write about “inside” feelings honestly. He could only be a spokesperson. (Mark Simpson, Salon, 30 April 2004) https://www.salon.com/2004/04/30/morrissey/
Side Note 3: Homophobia has never been taken as seriously as racism – and racism has been used as a reason for ignoring homophobia. In 1992 Buju Banton released a song with lyrics about torturing and killing gay men. The Guardian accused gay rights campaigners who complained of being racist. And found it easy to accept his explanation that it wasn’t literal.
In the 11 years since Buju Banton released his single Boom Bye Bye, which appeared to advocate shooting gay men, the singer has done much to shake off the controversy that surrounded him… Banton pointed out that he wasn’t literally advocating murder, but maintained that homosexuality was against his religious beliefs… Banton is fiery enough to make me feel personally responsible for every British injustice towards Jamaica in the past 300 years. (Dorian Lynskey, The Guardian, March 2003) https://www.theguardian.com/music/2003/mar/03/artsfeatures.popandrock
In 2009, Buju would meet with gay rights activists in San Francisco, but went on to blame them for a pepper spray attack: This is a fight, and as I said in one of my songs ‘there is no end to the war between me and faggot’ and it’s clear. The same night after I met with [gay activists], they pepper-sprayed the concert. So what are you trying to tell me? I owe dem nothing, they don’t owe I nothing.”https://www.queerty.com/buju-banton-met-with-the-gays-then-he-spat-in-their-faces-20091016
Side Note 4: the NME’s claim they were just as hard on Eric Clapton, David Bowie & Elvis Costello is untrue.
So why, at the end of all this, is NME bothering? Why are our knickers in such a twist? Well, there’s nothing new in this. In the past, when the likes of Eric Clapton, David Bowie and even Elvis Costello have dipped their unthinking toes into these murky waters, the music press have been equally quick on the case. And Morrissey, unlike, say, a bigoted idiot like Ice Cube, holds tremendous sway over thousands of fans in Britain and is generally regarded as one of our most intelligent rock performers. Therefore when he sends out signals on subjects as sensitive as those discussed above there seems little room for playfulness, never mind ambiguity. In Europe in 1992, with ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ a reality and the new Nazis on the rise across the continent, the need for clear thinking and clear statements is more acute than ever. (NME, 22 August 1992)
Eric sailed past an anti-racist letter appealing to his better self into 1980s rock aristocracy while still supporting Enoch Powell. The worst it got for David Bowie was the NME faking the picture of a Nazi salute that became gossipy rocklore (although it might be significant that he dropped his gay alien persona for something more hetero). And the NME refused to believe that Elvis Costello could mean it when he called James Brown a “jive-arsed n——” and Ray Charles a “blind, ignorant n——.”
Side Note 5: The Union Jack is ubiquitous in UK culture – at no point in our history has it ever been a clear signal of fascism or has it needed to be reclaimed from the far right. Some comrades on the hard left hate it as a symbol of the British Empire, but that’s a minority opinion.
Skinheads were a working-class subculture that spanned the political spectrum and listened to Reggae, Punk and their variants. They had widespread coverage in the press, including in the NME.