Sexually Ambiguous: Finsbury Park

The Sun, 30 July 1992 – ‘Lots of people I knew used to go gay-bashing but I never got involved. Ronnie Kray was an inspiration to me. He’s gay but nobody calls him a faggot. He’s probably the hardest gangster ever and that helped me cope in the difficult times’.

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

Nicky Crane. Children of the Sun by Max Schaefer, is based on his life. https://muswell-press.co.uk/product/children-of-the-sun/

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)

Morrissey at Madstock, 8th August 1992

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.

As Oscar Wilde himself once said – Jesus bleedin Christ!!!… And… the whole thing is punctuated by shots of rather hunky young schoolboys whose commendably formal uniforms are augmented by six-inch-high-heel shoes! (Danny Kelly, NME, 1 April 1989)

In 1991, he toured with the Jewish, lesbian, singer, Phranc.

Morrissey and Phranc, 1991

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.

Alain Whyte, Facebook post, 27 October 2021

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.

Sally Gunnell, winning Gold in 400m hurdles, 6 August 1992, Barcelona Olympics

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)

Cover of Your Arsenal, often described as “homoerotic“, the album’s track listing included the National Front Disco & We’ll Let You Know.

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)

Nicky Crane on Psychic TV : https://timalderman.com/2018/04/30/gay-history-a-contradiction-in-terms-nicky-crane-and-kevin-wilshaw-gay-neo-nazis-part-1/

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.

https://www.gale.com/binaries/content/assets/gale-uk-en/export/primary-sources/nicky-crane-case-study-_-political-extremism.pdf

Morrissey, left-wing GLC leader Ken Livingstone, singer Mari Wilson http://transpont.blogspot.com/2013/12/nicky-crane-and-1980s-se-london-nazis.html : https://pasttenseblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/today-in-londons-radical-history-striking-miners-anti-fascists-beat-off-nazi-attack-on-glc-festival-1984/amp/

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)

In 1999, the BNP, nail bombed the Admiral Duncan, a gay pub in London, Soho. Three people were killed, but the law in the UK was so homophobic, that it wasn’t prosecuted as a political act of terrorism, but was classed as a personal animosity to gay men. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-47216594

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

NME Caption: Morrissey “Jacks off” (slang for sex acts, usually performed on/by a male), NME, 22 August 1992

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).

NME caption: Stop this shit now, Morrissey! NME, 22 August 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 crowdhe’s a very sad and mixed-up man.” (NME, 1992)

Oi, Oi, not how “the lads” behave, NME, 22 August 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 ‘racist imagery’ , Morrissey, at Madstock, 8 August 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)

The National Front exploited conflict in Northern Ireland. Skrewdriver’s album, Boot and Braces/Voice of Britain, released in 1990, contained the songs White Power and Smash the IRA.

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

Blood and Honour, a neo-Nazi group set up by Skrewdriver, from their magazine 1998 https://www.channel4.com/news/ian-stuart-donaldson-a-legacy-of-hate

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)

Madstock, NME, 22 August 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’) wroteIt’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)

A picture taken in Dublin is used to label him a Little Englander, NME, 22 August 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/

Johnny Adair, on the far right, National Front march, 1980s : The NME’s coverage of ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland: https://journals.openedition.org/etudesirlandaises/10464?lang=fr

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)

Pro-Enoch Powell, anti-immigration march, 1972 https://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/explore/online-exhibitions/windrush-day/windrush-day-enigma-arrival/4-caribbean-resettlement

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)

Angelic Upstarts, a skinhead band, playing to an audience of skinheads, with a Union Jack.

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)

Ian Stuart Donaldson, lead singer of Skrewdriver, on the left, Suggs, lead singer of Madness, in the middle, 1970s https://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/article/43221-madness-frontman-suggs-tells-life-story-at-2012-edinburgh-fringe/

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.

Our Ste’s looking a bit weepy… Them daffs’ve got a touch of the Larry Graysons, haven’t they? But he bought them, mind. He didn’t pick them from Piccadilly Gardens. Look at them sequins! You just can’t keep him from meddling in his Mam’s sewing box. (NME, 24 March 1984) Larry Grayson was a camp comedian. https://www.camdennewjournal.co.uk/article/people-used-to-think-being-gay-meant-you-were-larry-grayson

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.

Bona Drag, 1990. The title means good outfit, in Polari, a secret gay/theatrical language used when homosexuality was illegal. The song Picadilly Palare, is about male prostitutes, and palare is alterntive spelling of polari. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20180212-polari-the-code-language-gay-men-used-to-survive

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)

Sounds, January 1989

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)

NME caption: some of the 1, 200 kids waiting to meet Morrissey, 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)

Sad, young male, Morrissey fans, NME, 22 August 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.

NME, 20 March 1992

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.

The Guardian, May 1992. Love Music Hate Racism, an anti-racism charity, used Madstock to claim he a long history of supporting Far Right organisations: Morrissey might have just been looking for some temporary credibility from Love Music Hate Racism. Certainly, the long history of support for racist and far right organisations speaks to something else. We certainly wouldn’t be taking any further donations from Morrissey‘ (Zak Cochrane, the Guardian, May 2019) 

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/

Jason Donovan, leaving the High Court, 3 April 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.

Morrissey and Jake Walters, 1994. Following the revelation of his first serious relationship with a man in his new book Autobiography, Morrissey has issued a clarification about his sexuality. “Unfortunately, I am not homosexual,” he wrote from Sweden in a note posted on fansite True to You. “In technical fact, I am humasexual. I am attracted to humans. But, of course, not many.” (Guardian Music, the Guardian, 21 October 2013)

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] sensibilitiesdid 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——.”

Eric: https://genius.com/Red-saunders-letter-to-the-uk-music-press-regarding-eric-clapton-annotated

David: http://www.chalkiedavies.com/blog/b9wr8hr5mr79wkkbx83lf8cd7p54f7

Elvis: http://www.elviscostello.info/wiki/index.php/New_Musical_Express,_October_30,_1982

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.

Brand Britain: Milk Bottle, British Airways Advert, Vimto Sparkling Fruit Juice mascot, skinhead fashion.

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.

NME, 6 August 1977

Betrayed: Idiot Fans and Conned Collaborators

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, uged 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)

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“, NME, 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.

They’re cringing in the corner when the guy in open-toe sandals and the Morrissey T-shirt comes rushing over. “THEY WERE UNF-INGBELIEVABLE! DID YOU HEAR ME? AFTER THE FIRST SONG, I SCREAMED BRETT WILL YOU MARRY ME?’ I’M SORRY BUT I DID!” He’s hysterical. “THEY TRAMPLED ALL OVER THE CORPSE OF MORRISSEY PUT THAT IN THE NME!” (Steve Sutherland, NME, 26 June 1993)

… 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 Guardian, July 2018)

The Guardian tried to contact everyone Morrissey worked with on California Son – as usual, ripping remarks out of context, neglecting to mention that Morrissey had clearly stated that he thought the press had lied about For Britain, that he was against fascism and racism, smearing him as right-wing – only one person talked to them, but they still went with the 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‘:

David Stubbs, the Quietus URL, July 2019

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)

He’s never supported Nigel Farage – but a couple of quotes have been the excuse for relentless guilt by association.

The LA Times trusted The Guardian’s misleading coverage and stated in their headline: 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)
https://www.nme.com/big-reads/blossoms-cover-interview-2022-ribbon-around-the-bomb-3200842


Black Music Conspiracy

In July 1986, in an interview on Canadian radio, Morrissey explained that he thought the Smiths were being excluded by the broadcasting establishment, and that the line ‘hang the DJ’, in the song, ‘Panic’, was about UK radio DJs.

I notice, and I’m sure it’s not an accident, that as the times that we live in become more serious and more critical, popular music, which is such a ferociously fierce and strong art form, goes further and further away from reality. And I almost feel, that it’s almost a political thing. That is, there’s a whitewash occuring, that the nonsensical and useless bland artists are being pushed forward and we’re being force fed. And any groups who dare to confront very real issues, in a very realistic way, are silenced, are gagged. So this is something that we constantly have to fight against. I mean, the Smiths, in England have had 10 consecutive hit singles, and we’ve had huge LPs, and yet, we still are never played on national daytime radio. They will not play the Smiths. I mean, even this week, today, we were the highest new entry in the top 100 with a new single called, Panic, came in at number 18, and they won’t play it. So what can you do? You have to suspect that there’s some, um, fierce political, um, canoodlings occurring… Hang the DJ is a recurring line in the new single, Panic, and once again, as ever, we’re finding problems. I can’t think why, but, um, as I say, this single, Panic, has entered really highly and they won’t play it, because of this line, ‘hang the DJ’. They say it’s offensive. I can’t really imagine why, because when we sing ‘hang the DJ’ live people are ecstatic. This is what they want, to get rid of all these old, boring, middle-aged non-entities, these mediocre people, who are all really controlling the airwaves, and, uh, 50% of the daytime disc jockeys in England are absolutely detested by the people in England. They hate them, and yet here they are controlling our, um, our earlobes, practically. So I’m all for hanging certain DJs. So, watch out. (Morrissey, CHRW London Canada, 29 July 1986)

Less than 2 months later, in September 1986, he was branded a racist for an interview in the Melody Maker, in which the interviewer, Frank Owen, framed his questions using a racist theory that music was divided into warring factions: Indie, which was ‘intelligent’, and made by white people. And Black Pop, which was ‘crude showbiz’, and associated with black people. He also cheerfully opined that ‘Panic’ was about hanging Black DJs. https://illnessasart.com/2020/03/03/melody-maker-27-september-1986/

representing African-Americans as “shuffling and drawling, cracking and dancing, wisecracking and high stepping” buffoons… https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/links/essays/vcu.htm

https://www.radiox.co.uk/artists/the-smiths/smiths-panic-chernobyl-distaster-inspiration-meaning/

It’s not clear if Morrissey understood the theory, or was taking it seriously, and most of the interview was puriently homophobic, and angled to push him into coming out as gay, which he later found distressing.

As written, it’s also not clear, what was asked or what order. It appears to start with, ‘so, is the music of The Smiths and their ilk racist, as Green claims?’ (Green Gartside was the lead singer of Scritti Politti.)

Morrissey replied:

“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.”

‘Vile’ is hyperbole and Morrissey was airily scathing about nearly everything.

Frank countered that Black music is more subtle because it works on the body via the dancefloor. Morrissey was unconvinced.

“I don’t think there’s any time anymore to be subtle about anything, you have to get straight to the point. Obviously to get on Top Of The Pops these days, one has to be, by law, black. I think something political has occurred among Michael Hurl and his friends and there has been a hefty pushing of all these black artists and all this discofied nonsense into the Top 40. I think, as a result, that very aware younger groups that speak for now are being gagged.”

‘By law’ is a joke. He’d previously used it about himself.

Well, I wouldn’t stand on a table and shout, ‘I’m a feminist’ or put a red stamp across my forehead, but if one tends towards prevalent feminist views, by law, you immediately become one. Likewise, if you have great sympathy with gay culture you are immediately a transsexual. I did one interview where the gay issue was skirted over in three seconds and when the interview emerged in print, there I was emblazoned across the headlines as this great voice of the gay movement, as if I couldn’t possibly talk about anything else. I find that extremely harmful and I simply don’t trust anyone anymore. (Morrissey, The Face, July 1984)

And Top of The Pops producer Michael Hurl, is not black.

Michael Hurl, on the left.

It’s Frank who sums it up as a conspiracy by black artists to keep white people out of the charts, ‘You seem to be saying that you believe that there is some sort of black pop conspiracy being organised to keep white indie groups down.’

Morrissey might be trying to fold in Frank’s words, but his suspicion hasn’t changed since the Canadian interview – he still thinks escapist music is promoted by the (straight, white, male) broadcasting establishment:

“Yes, I really do. The charts have been constructed quite clearly as an absolute form of escapism rather than anything anyone can gain any knowledge by. I find that very disheartening because it wasn’t always that way. Isn’t it curious that practically none of these records reflect life as we live it? Isn’t it curious that 93 and a half percent of these records reflect life as it isn’t lived? That foxes me! If you compare the exposure that records by the likes of Janet Jackson and the stream of other anonymous Jacksons get to the level of daily airplay that The Smiths receive – The Smiths have had at least 10 consecutive chart hits and we still can’t get on Radio 1′s A list. Is that not a conspiracy? The last LP ended up at number two and we were still told by radio that nobody wanted to listen to The Smiths in the daytime. Is that not a conspiracy? I do get the scent of a conspiracy. And, anyway, the entire syndrome has one tune and surely that’s enough to condemn the entire thing.”

It wasn’t an outlandish idea:

I remember John Peel saying he believed that if they played the music he played on mainstream radio, people would like it. And I remember thinking, ‘Stupid twat.’ But he was kind of right, if you take a jerky, quirky group like the Arctic Monkeys – that’s what happened. (Johnny Cigarettes, Record Collector, 29 March 2018) https://recordcollectormag.com/articles/bit-chinstroking

“It’s not just us”, says William. “It’s also people like New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Smiths. The Smiths have got a number two LP but you never hear The Smiths on the radio. Steve Wright said ‘people don’t want to listen to The Smiths in the afternoon’. That’s absolutely pathetic! How does he know? “The BBC is supposed to be a public company and we’re all supposed to have a share in it but it’s obviously a dictatorship and those people shouldn’t have that power”. (Jesus and Mary Chain, Smash Hits, July 1986)

Frank asks him if he finds Black music macho (tapping into a racist and a homophobic trope; black men as hyper virile, gay men as effete). Morrissey says it isn’t his world, and adds:

I don’t want to feel in the dock because there are some things I dislike. Having said that, my favourite record of all time is “Third Finger, Left Hand” by Martha and the Vandellas which can lift me from the most doom-laden depression.

Frank accuses him of being a nostalgic luddite (later the NME will accuse him of not wanting black people to prosper in the present, as if 1960s music wasn’t still being played). Morrissey jokes:

‘Hi-tech can’t be liberating. It’ll kill us all. You’ll be strangulated by the cords of your compact disc.’

Frank asks him about violence in Manchester and the lyrics of Never Had No One Ever. Morrissey explains they’re about feeling alienated because he’s Irish:

“It was the frustration that I felt at the age of 20 when I still didn’t feel easy walking around the streets on which I’d been born, where all my family had lived – they’re originally from Ireland but had been here since the Fifties. It was a constant confusion to me why I never really felt ‘This is my patch. This is my home. I know these people. I can do what I like, because this is mine.’ It never was. I could never walk easily.”

Despite this – the interview was the basis for accusations that ‘Bengali In Platforms’, was telling people from South Asia that they don’t belong in the UK. And it gave the NME its excuse for the 1992 homophobic hit piece.

The Frank Owen interview ends with Morrissey reminiscing about his time on the gay scene:

“If the Perry’s didn’t get you, then the beer monsters were waiting around the corner. I still remember studying the football results to see if City or United had lost, in order to judge the level of violence to be expected in the city centre that night. I can remember the worst night of my life with a friend of mine, James Maker, who is the lead singer in Raymonde now. We were heading for Devilles (a gay club). We began at the Thompson’s Arms (a gay pub), we left and walked around the corner where there was a car park, just past Chorlton Street Bus Station. Walking through the car park, I turned around and, suddenly, there was a gang of 30 beer monsters all in their late twenties, all creeping around us… The gay scene in Manchester was always atrocious. Do you remember Bernard’s Bar, now Stuffed Olives? If one wanted peace and to sit without being called a parade of names then that was the only hope… 1975 was the worst year in social history. I blame ‘Young Americans’ entirely. I hated that period – Disco Tex and the Sex-o-lettes, Limmy and Family Cooking. So when punk came along, I breathed a sigh of relief. I met people. I’d never done that before… I never liked The Ranch. I have a very early memory of it and it was very, very heavy. I never liked Dale Street. There was something about that area of Manchester that was too dangerous.”

Frank editorialised with some homophobic language:

‘You big jessy, you big girl’s blouse, Morrissey. But he’s right. It was dangerous and, with the increased media visibility of punk, the violence got worse. You see, punks were not only faggots, they were uppity faggots as well‘.

And an insinuation about cottaging that Morrissey found upsetting:

Because of the public-toilet disparagement, there are of course legal grounds to take action against Melody Maker, but Rough Trade are now making useful inroads with the press because of the Smiths, and they don’t want to cause a fuss, and I am still too green around the gills to ignore their reluctance. I could attempt to tackle Melody Maker myself, but without the label behind me, I am at sea. (Morrissey, Autobiography, 2013)

When it was published, Morrissey was denounced as a racist, then defended, in letters pages and comment pieces. Johnny Marr was angry:

next time we come across that creep, he’s plastered. We’re not in the habit of issuing personal threats, but that was such a vicious slur-job that we’ll kick the shit out of him. Violence is disgusting but racism’s worse and we don’t deal with it.” (NMW, February 1987)

No one noticed, or was outraged, by Frank Owen’s racist framing or the homophobia.

Tony Fletcher in The Smiths, A Light That Never Goes Out (2012) condemned Morrissey for his ‘no sex’ agenda:

[Frank Owen] dared suggest in writing that in years to come, Morrissey would be into “fisting and water sports”… “Morrissey is the biggest closet gay queen on the planet and he felt that I was trying to ‘out’ him by bringing this up…” If he wanted to play coy, that was his prerogative, although with Thatcherite policies coming down increasingly hard on homosexuality, many other artists had decided to “come out” in response. As Len Brown wrote, “It was a time when everyone – artists and journalists – seemed to be asking the question (politically and sexually) Whose Side Are You On?” To which Morrissey insisted on being individual … a card-carrying member of nothing but his own cult of personality’.

He took out Morrissey’s meandering qualifications to made it sound as if Panic was about a detestation of black modern music so strong that he couldn’t stop himself from harping on:

Not content to leave it there, Morrissey went on to express how much he detested the “black modern music” of Motown descendants Stevie Wonder, Janet Jackson, and Diana Ross, stating, per the lyrics to “Panic,” that “in essence this music doesn’t say anything whatsoever.” 

He ascribes Frank’s comments about readers to ‘Morrissey’s thinking’, accepts the racist assumption that Black music is about the body, pretends that British youth didn’t dance before Rave, took ‘by law’ literally and thinks it’s ridiculous to say that escapist music gets more airplay than morose Indie music.

Owen claimed to understand this thinking. “When NME and Melody Maker started putting black acts on the cover,” he recalled, “there was a huge backlash to it. I used to get letters all the time. And it wasn’t explicitly ‘We don’t want blacks on the cover,’ it was more like ‘This is our scene and what do blacks have to do with it?’ ” And so, in his Melody Maker feature, as a response to Morrissey’s own response, Owen tried to answer that question: “What it says can’t necessarily be verbalised easily,” he wrote. “It doesn’t seek to change the world like rock music by speaking grand truths about politics, sex and the human condition. It works at a much more subtle level—at the level of the body and the shared abandon of the dancefloor. It won’t change the world, but it’s been said it may well change the way you walk through the world.” Within a year or two, as acid house exploded (the kindling lit on the Haçienda dance floor) and the rave movement emerged in its wake, a large section of British youth would come to share Owen’s sentiment, the Smiths’ Johnny Marr and New Order’s Bernard Sumner among them. In the summer of 1986, though, Morrissey was still the voice of his generation, which was perhaps why he then dared issue the most ludicrous comment yet of a continually outspoken career: “Obviously to get on Top of the Pops these days, one has to be, by law, black,” which he followed up with an equally ridiculous claim of personal persecution.

He also thought it was suspect that Morrissey liked a sexist song that was released when he was seven years old.

Even the singer’s attempt to restore proceedings mid-interview sounded suspect. “My favourite record of all time is ‘Third Finger, Left Hand’ by Martha and the Vandellas,” he said, citing a (black) Motown single from 1966, “which can lift me from the most doom-laden depression.” And yet this was as stereotypically romantic, conventionally sexist, and thereby nonfeminist a song as had ever been written. It would have said nothing about Morrissey’s life when it came out, and said even less about his life and that of his fans twenty years later. He was in essence employing a double standard, based on what Owen correctly referred to as a “nostalgia … that afflicts the whole indie scene.”

And thought that Morrissey’s comments were a defence of ‘Panic’ rather than in response to Frank’s questions about Indie. While, Frank himself is still blind to the racist assumptions that shaped his division of pop into Black and Indie and thinks Morrissey caused the problem to ‘wind people up’.

As it turned out, Owen wasn’t particularly put out by Morrissey’s comments in defense of “Panic.” “I never thought Morrissey was a racist,” he said. “I always thought it was just a big put-on, that it was just a way to wind people up, the same way that punks wore swastikas.”

28 years later it was the material for a grimly racist and homophobic ‘satire’ by David Stubbs in the Quietus:

…an unspoken racism meant that it was hard for those whose skin was not disco-coloured to get booked on the programme. So, Norrissey hatched a plan. He and the band turned up at the BBC studios one Thursday evening in Afro wigs, their skins applied with burnt cork, minstrel-style. “Hi!” they said, jively, to the man at the door, waving their hands in the sort of way that makes some wonder if Britain is Britain any more. “The name of this here group of ours is The Blackfaces and we’re here to play our new single ‘Strut Your Superficial Stuff’.” Naturally, they were immediately allowed on the show… Then came the moment of revelation, as the “Blackfaces” stopped playing, and rubbed away the dark cork on their faces… this had been the only way a white English group could be smuggled onto Top Of The Pops in the 1980s. They had paved the way so that other white English groups might follow, without wigs or make-up. A black day of the sort they weren’t used to for disco musicians but a breakthrough for England! (David Stubbs, the Quietus, 6 January 2014) 

David’s confirmation bias is so strong that he insinuates Morrissey is a racist for comparing Depeche Mode unfavourably to Barry White, and compared him to Donald Trump for using the words ‘no justice’, in a review written to champion his best friend, Linder Sterling’s unsuccessful band, Ludus.

In June 2018 music journalist Pete Paphides, gutted the interview to claim that Morrissey had ‘always’ been repugnant.

And accused Morrissey of ‘trolling’ for using the Attack reggae label in 2004 – nearly 18 years after the Frank Owen interview, and 12 years after Morrissey was accused of racism for holding a Union Jack for less than 3 minutes in front of a crowd who heckled that he was a “poofy bastard“.

Having failed to see that Morrissey talked about his own experiences of being from an immigrant family, that Frank was mainly trying to get Morrissey to talk about his sexuality and that Morrissey had said that black people had a history of oppression, Pete claims to have always kept the door ajar in case Morrissey’s views about race and identity were more nuanced…

but he can’t listen to most of Morrissey’s work because of what he was and continues to be.

David Quantick thinks that what Morrissey was and continues to be, is scum. And dates it from the Frank Owen interview.

Panic on the streets of London
Panic on the streets of Birmingham
I wonder to myself
Could life ever be sane again?
The Leeds side-streets that you slip down
I wonder to myself Hopes may rise on the Grasmere
But honey pie, you’re not safe here
So you run down to the safety of the town
But there’s panic on the streets of Carlisle
Dublin, Dundee, Humberside
I wonder to myself Burn down the disco
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music that they constantly play
It says nothing to me about my life
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music they constantly play On the Leeds side-streets that you slip down
Provincial towns you jog ’round Hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ
Hang the DJ
….

Side Note: The manufactured and imposed division between Indie and Black music was dubbed the hip-hop wars and played out for most the 1980s and early 1990s.

Frank Owen was interested in hip-hop and house music, but couldn’t get any of the music press in England to cover it, ‘they’d say, “What do you want to write about all these grungy Negroes in there?”https://daily.redbullmusicacademy.com/2013/05/frank-owen-interview

The hip hop wars was just something internal to NME, it really had little relevance to the scene itself… At NME you had a camp of diehard indie supporters on the staff, editors and writers who wanted to put The Go Betweens and The Shop Assistants on the cover. And there was a very vociferous, ideologically determined camp of “soul boys”—also editors and writers–who thought that only black music was valid, relevant, and progressive. They were very scornful of indie music and regarded it as retrogressive, even crypto-racist in so far as it didn’t engage with black culture. But to me the irony was that your indie fans, tending to be college educated, were more likely to have anti-racist, left-wing, progressive beliefs and attitudes than many of the white fans of black pop. It’s just that rap and R&B didn’t speak to them, it didn’t describe their lives. Being middle class, bookish, shy types, they didn’t like the overt sexuality, the materialism, and in rap’s case, the sexism… The indie faction at NME were more in touch with the magazine’s readership, but they didn’t have the strong ideological drive and discipline of the black music faction, so the latter were able to dominate the paper for a while. But eventually they were all ousted, probably I suspect because the owners of NME could see that pushing hip hop through front covers would alienate the readership and lose sales. At Melody Maker we just loved the fact that NME was tearing itself apart. (Mario Lopes, Publico, 11 July 2014) http://reynoldsretro.blogspot.com/2014/11/c86-and-all-that.html

Side Note 2: In 1990, as reported in the Melody Maker, a group of Black American DJs were told how to do ‘dance music’ by Tony Wilson and Keith Allen. Despite the DJs walking out in disgust, neither suffered any career consequences.

Derrick May has had enough: ‘Ma-a-a-n,’ he says, ‘let me tell ya something. Dance music has been fucked up… I have to sit back and see some bullshit Adamski shit… that’s bullshit. On the charts! Number F-ing One! Okay?’ Tony Wilson rises to the challenge: ‘I’m sure The Rolling Stones and The Beatles sounded pretty shitty to the real R&B people but without The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, you’d never have even known you had R&B in America.’ ‘Well I don’t know about that,’ says Derrick… ‘They say it’s not a dictatorship, but it is. We can’t do anything unless you tell us to as much as we try… We – and when I say we, I mean blacks – we all do something and you’ll come behind us and turn it around and add somebody singing to it or some sort of little funky-ass or weak-ass chord line or whatever and get some stupid record company that doesn’t know jack shit about shit to put £50,000 behind it and you got a fucking hit because you stuffed it down motherfuckers throats. So, this group, y’know, has tremendous success and I don’t know what to say, man. I’ve just been busting my ass, it comes from the heart y’know… we as black people have always had to deal with the fact that we’ve had to be better because, since the beginning of time, we’ve had to walk into a white person’s house and clean a white motherfucker’s ass, okay? So don’t tell me.’ This is too much for Keith Allen. He says: ‘Listen Derrick, I might have white skin but I’m black for fuck’s sake! Look at me Derrick – look at me – I’m black.’ Nathan McGough joins in… ‘The whole Ecstasy and House culture from 1988 was like year zero, Pol Pot. The same way as ’76 with the Pistols and anarchy, year zero…’ Derrick May responds… ‘Our DJs are technically better than yours.’ ‘Bullshit. Let’s talk about DJs, right?’ says Wilson… ‘Your Detroit DJs didn’t have one record that was made in the last fucking six months and they wouldn’t play one thing under 130 bpm. They’re all stick-in-the-muds and they should get themselves fucked.’ The insults are starting to fly thick and fast… Egged on by Derrick May, another guy gets up and says white folks think too much about it all while blacks just do it. From where I’m sitting, this sounds a tad close to the ol’ natural riddim argument. But May’s well into it. ‘Yeah,’ he shouts, ‘that’s also the reason why white people can’t play basketball.’ Keith Allen responds in kind; ‘Yeah, but that’s the reason why black Americans don’t ride horses. You’ve got to remember the reason that white guys don’t play basketball is the same reason black guys don’t ride horses.’ Marshall Jefferson gets up and walks out in disgust.  (Steve Sutherland, Melody Maker, 4th August 1990) http://dewit.ca/archs/JD/New_York_Story.html

Johnny Rogan

In Morrissey & Marr: the Severed Alliance (Omnibus Press, London, 1992) author Johnny Rogan paraphrased & commented on a 10 page letter written by Morrissey on the 5th of August 1977 when Morrissey was 18 years old.

Even when seriously denouncing racial prejudice, he was wont to admit that he disliked Pakistanis. “I don’t hate Pakistanis, but I dislike them immensely”, he wrote in one letter of the time. It was a flippantly blunt adolescent observation. The basis of his aversion (they give off odorous aroma) was crudely stereotypical and completely out of step with his general philosophy. Then again he may simply have been indulging himself in an ironic joke, expressed in his characteristically haughty tone.

The letter has never been published, so we only have Rogan’s version to go on. Racists in the 1970s were highly unlikely to use Pakistani over the four letter offensive short form & it’s structured as a joke.

Morrissey in the 70s

It was only highlighted because of the “race row” in 1986 – when Frank Owen’s framing of Black pop as everything dumb & dancey went unchallenged while Morrissey was condemned for remarks about reggae & mid 1980s American soul.

In August 1992 the NME used it as part of their “evidence” that Morrissey was racist. A student protest, under a Union Jack on the outside of EMI’s offices, cited it as their biggest reason that Morrissey had a “case to answer”. To the NME. In an interview.

EMI, September 1992

The NME also used Morrissey’s sarcastic joke about Rogan to suggest he was no longer “gentle & kind” & his career had taken a wrong turn.

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. Rogan’s book, which Morrissey was asked, but declined, to co-operate with (as Johnny Marr already had), is a well researched if slightly worthy account of the greatest British group of the ’80s. There seemed precious little in it for Morrissey to get upset about; indeed, members of his family have written to Rogan congratulating him on the book. Yet in an NME news story, 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. Asked in a more recent interview if he’d really meant that, he said no, what he really meant was that he hoped the journalist would meet his end in a hotel fire! 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, 22 August 1992)

Rogan either felt he couldn’t disagree with the NME (then the most powerful music publication in the UK) or he was influenced by the coverage, because in a letter to them he claimed he knew Morrissey was in trouble the moment he saw the Union Jack.

The moment Morrissey unfurled that Union Jack I knew he was in trouble. I assumed that the ‘Is Morrissey A Racist?’ debate was a discredited old chestnut, but now it’s back, bigger than ever… It’s the other trappings that I find irksome – particularly the Union Jack. Perhaps he regards the flag as a suitable prop to emphasise the sentiments of ‘Glamorous Glue’, but he well knows its other connotations. (Johnny Rogan, NME letters page, 29 August 1992)

Morrissey held the flag for less than 2 minutes, he scrunched it up & threw it away. There is absolutely no way a British Nationalist would interpret an effeminate Irish Catholic chucking away a Union Jack as a sign of support.

The people who threw missiles at him were calling him a “poof”. They started before he thrashed the flag about & they kept going long after. They weren’t interested in the flag at all.

Not to mention that any negative “connotations” were confined to squabbles on the hard left. To the vast majority of British people, it was just the flag.

Every year, including 1992, it was on prime time UK television at the Last Night of the Proms.

The Last Night of the Proms, BBC 1, 7.30pm Saturday 12th September 1992

It was on bunting, and party hats & respectable people wore it while raising money for charity.

The Mansfield Ladies Circle, 1991, concert to raise money for the Kings Mill Hospital Welcome Appeal

It was at every Royal Event…

Wedding of Charles & Di, 29th July 1981

It was on souvenirs.

1981

It was on record covers.

Single, April, 1992

It did not need to be reclaimed.

Bad Writer

Morrissey’s jokes can be cutting and unwise – but they’re nowhere near as spiteful or as unfunny, as The Quietus.

https://thequietus.com/articles/14213-morrissey-novel-extract

It reads as if their avowed anti-racism is sitting on a powder keg of repression because given half a chance to take a pot shot at the singer they’ve labeled a Nazi, they come out with horrors like this by David Stubbs, in January 2014:

However, these were the 1980s and an unspoken racism meant that it was hard for those whose skin was not disco-coloured to get booked on the programme. So, Norrissey hatched a plan. He and the band turned up at the BBC studios one Thursday evening in Afro wigs, their skins applied with burnt cork, minstrel-style. “Hi!” they said, jively, to the man at the door, waving their hands in the sort of way that makes some wonder if Britain is Britain any more. “The name of this here group of ours is The Blackfaces and we’re here to play our new single ‘Strut Your Superficial Stuff’.” Naturally, they were immediately allowed on the show.

To remind you – it was Simon Reynolds and Frank Owen, journalists at the Melody Maker, who divided pop music into white indie (which was intellectual) and black music (escapist, showbiz, works through the body on the dancefloor). Morrissey answered questions based on their escapist v. intelligent binary and (rightly) thought that escapist would get more airplay because it’s escapist.

“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… 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… What (black music) says can’t necessarily be verbalised easily. It doesn’t seek to change the world like rock music by speaking grand truths about politics, sex and the human condition. It works at a much more subtle level – at the level of the body and the shared abandon of the dancefloor. It won’t change the world, but it’s been said it may well change the way you walk through the world. (Frank Owen, Melody Maker, Steptember, 1986)

Not content with racist jokes based on a faulty memory or no research, he went on to make homophobic jibes…

Stephan Partick Norrissey looked at himself longingly and bashfully in the bedroom mirror. He was 12, and in the throes of a shy infatuation with the boy who stared back at him… In the thrill of the moment, he wondered what his own genitals looked like – he averted his eyes when at the lavatory… He relished the warmth of his own backside…  In 2013, in a ceremony that broke down new barriers in terms of civil partnership, Norrissey married the one man who had kept faith in him, adored him quietly from afar, been his companion in times of loneliness, his only true friend – himself… some were sordid enough to wonder how they would manage to consummate the relationship. They need not have feared – for if anyone was able to insert himself up his own rectum, it was Norrissey.

He also jokes about fat women, because, satire…

An outsider, engulfed by modern superficiality yet destined to be adored by everyone except bitter, fat female journalists

And implies that if Morrissey wanted Jimmy Savile arrested, he should have gone to the police himself, as if it’s unreasonable to think that people who knew about Savile should have done something.

Now, rumours were rife about Jimmy Savile – the things he got up to – evil, disgusting things – but which no one dared to inform the authorities about. Norrissey, however, wasn’t intimidated by Jimmy Savile’s showbiz status – his image as a cigar-toting, yodelling big shot cut no ice with him. He would inform the police.

David Stubbs’ era of music journalism was racist, sexist, homophobic, and turned a blind eye to Savile – the fact that they tired to make it sound ‘positive’ and ‘fun’ doesn’t make it less bigoted.

Their excuse for the venom was Morrissey’s anticipated novel, List of The Lost.

When it arrived there was a glut of bad reviews and a bad sex award.

As soon as it was published last week, the internet erupted with the sound of a thousand contemptuous guffaws. (The Guardian, October 2015)

Even his autobiography, published in 2013, had been denounced, his memories questioned, and his left-wing crimes listed.

This kind of pretentiousness has been taken at face value for so long by the more credulous members of the pop media that it’s no surprise that Morrissey regards himself as an artist… Sixties Manchester was not heaven on earth. Nor was it the Dickensian dump Morrissey would have us believe. Whores did not tout for business in leafy Stretford and as for his memories of miserable schooldays, and teachers who liked to punish miscreants, these are overgrazed pastures. But this is the picture he wants people to see, of how the forces of repression turned him into the mardy little pup who never grew up, and there was nothing he could do about it… In three decades of unloading his misery on a world he finds too cold to take part in, few people have escaped his wrath. The royal family exists as a kind of dictatorship, judges are bent, patriotism is a joke, last year’s Olympic Games was barely a step away from a Nuremberg rally (didn’t you see those jackboots?), and the Krays, being working class, were misunderstood. And don’t forget, boys and girls: ‘meat is murder’... Shamefully Penguin fell for this ruse, and lent a spurious respectability to a mucky exercise. They must know they will never be allowed to forget it. (The Spectator, October 2013)

Not just a bad person, he was now a bad writer.

Black Music

Morrissey’s September 1986 interview with Frank Owen in the Melody Maker created four scandals –

1. Reggae is vile – conflated with a joke answer to a questionnaire in the NME in February 1985.

2. Reggae is racist – he’s racist for saying that reggae can be racist, despite it being influenced by Rastafarianism whose principles were defined (1977, Leonard Barrett) as including: the White person is inferior to the Black person, Jamaica is hell; Ethiopia is heaven, in the near future Blacks shall rule the world.

3. That he thinks there’s a ‘black pop music conspiracy’ to stop white Indie bands getting on Top of the Pops – actually all he was saying is that television and radio producers (almost none of whom were black in those days – or even now) prefer escapist music.

And – 4. that Morrissey hates black music.

vis-à-vis:

Frank wrote: “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. [There is no evidence for Frank’s assertion that’s it’s about hanging black DJs, and he’s being cavalier if thinks hanging imagery would only be widening a musical divide.] “Hang the DJ” urges Morrissey. So is the music of The Smiths and their ilk racist, as Green claims?

Morrissey said: 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.”

Frank wrote: But it does, it does. What it says can’t necessarily be verbalised easily. It doesn’t seek to change the world like rock music by speaking grand truths about politics, sex and the human condition. It works at a much more subtle level – at the level of the body and the shared abandon of the dancefloor. It won’t change the world, but it’s been said it may well change the way you walk through the world.

It was music journalists who framed it as an Indie v. Black issue, as if no black person could ever make Indie music, and as if they (or any artist) can have total control over the direction of their art at every stage of their career.

The Melody Maker itself was often scathing about black music.

Mid-eighties Soul-By-Numbers can be so tiresome. You’d have to be a dolt to think that more than 20% of today’s claptrack claptrap merchants know how to make artifice bearable. (Paul Mathur, Melody Marker, 22 February 1986)

The Soul-By-Numbers comment was in a review of Charelle’s High Priority.

80s Whitney Houston wasn’t happy with her music:

“Sometimes it gets down to ‘You’re not black enough for them. You’re not R&B enough. You’re very pop. The white audience has taken you away from them.’” This was Whitney Houston, reflecting on the first significant setback of her career, when she was booed at the 1989 Soul Train Awards.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jul/07/not-black-enough-the-identity-crisis-that-haunted-whitney-houston

Mariah Carey wanted to break free:

I always resisted their push to make me fit in a neat adult contemporary category… I created an alter-ego artist… I was playing with the style of the breezy-grunge, punk-light white female singers who were popular at the time. You know the ones who seemed to be so carefree with their feelings and their image. They could be angry, angsty and messy, with old shoes, wrinkled slips, and unruly eyebrows, while every move I made was so calculated and manicured… I wanted to express my misery – and I also wanted to laugh. (The Meaning of Mariah, Mariah Carey, 2020)

Prince thought Morrissey had a point:

I like what Morrissey said about how, isn’t it funny how all the acts go to number one? They go on the cover of Rolling Stone after one release. It took me four albums. The record companies, they have become like carjackers. (Prince, The Independent, June 2011)

And while Morrissey could be sniffy about Prince’s music in the past, when he thought Prince’s veganism was being censored, he wrote a robust defense of his life and work:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/apr/25/prince-far-more-royal-than-the-queen-says-morrissey

Morrissey’s main point has always been – that the culture is curated and he doesn’t like the process:

There are no bands or singers who become successful without overwhelming marketing. There are no surprise success stories. Everything is stringently controlled, obvious and predictable and has exactly the same content. We are now in the era of marketed pop stars, which means that the labels control the charts, and consequently the public have lost interest. It’s rare that a record label does something for the good of music. We are force-fed acts such as Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, which at least means that things can’t possibly get any worse. It is sad, though. There’s no spontaneity and it all seems to be unsalvageable. (Morrissey, Thrasher, July 2015)

It wasn’t about black music v. indie – it was about art v. commerce, blessed v. cursed.

He was treating 80s black pop stars as peers, loving/hating their work the way he did with everyone’s work.

It’s often insulting, but there’s no racist pattern:

You were chosen to compile a new Ramones compilation. But didn’t you write a letter to Melody Maker in 1976 where you said they didn’t have much talent?
Morrissey: No, I didn’t say that! I said they had NO talent! Once I had posted the letter I went home and played the album again and it hit me like lightning. It’s great to be wrong occasionally. When Melody Maker printed the letter I felt so disgusting. I should have been killed in a canoe accident. So ashamed! I deserved a spike in the forehead». (Morrissey, La Repubblica, October 2014)

Do you like jazz?
“It’s boring. I like something spirited.”
Something like gospel?
“‘Oh Happy Day’ sung by hundreds of people who are living in dire poverty in Birmingham, Alabama? No thank you.”
Heavy metal?
“Even soft metal I find repulsive, because it completely bypasses the cranium for the loins. The loincloths. I don’t like anything that insults the intelligence.”
Have you ever been to a rave?
“Rave is the refuge of the mentally deficient. It’s made by dull people for dull people.”
Classical?
“I have a lot, but I don’t understand a great deal of it. I don’t understand the musical terms, but I’m learning. I think it’s something I’ll manage to perfect over the next thirty years. Right now I like Jaqueline Dupré – she’s a cellist. But I like anything that’s basically sad.” (laughs) “I don’t like marches.” (Details, December 1992)

“It is actually fraudulent, and the exact opposite of erotic. Edith Piaf was seven inches high, always wore a modest black dress, and sang without stage sets or lights, and her voice roared above the wind, with the most incredible powers of communication. I’d like to see McDonna (Madonna) attempt that.” (Billboard, July 2011)

The Face: “If I put you in a room with Robert Smith, Mark E. Smith and a loaded Smith and Wesson, who would bite the bullet first?”
Morrissey: “I’d line them up so that one bullet penetrated both simultaneously (chuckle). Mark E. Smith despises me and has said hateful things about me, all untrue. Robert Smith is a whingebag. It’s rather curious that he began wearing beads at the emergence of The Smiths and (eyes narrowing) has been photographed with flowers. I expect he’s quite supportive of what we do, but I’ve never liked The Cure… not even ‘The Caterpillar’.” (The Face, July 1984)

“Fire in the belly is essential, otherwise you become like Michael Bublé – famous and meaningless.” (Billboard, July 2011)

Alternative Nation: You’ve talked about American politics quite a bit before, but your music focuses on politics in the UK and that region. Do any politically-charged songs made in America really connect with you and bring your spirit into this country? Morrissey: Of course there has been a great deal of rousing political songs about the American condition … most famously Buffy Sainte-Marie singing “Moratorium”, Bob Dylan’s “The Time’s they Are A-Changin’”, Edwin Starr singing “War”, Joni Mitchell singing “here in good ol’ God Save America / the home of the brave and the free / we are all hopelessly oppressed cowards “… bits of Melanie Safka I thought were very cutting, ​Phil Ochs, Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit … and of course I’m not inspired by rap but I can see how ‘Fear Of a Black Planet’ or ‘Mamma, Don’t You Think They Know?’ jumps ahead with everything Nina Simone was doing with ‘To Be Young, Gifted And Black’… I think rap has scared the American white establishment to death, mainly because it’s true. James Brown once sang “Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud”. No pop artist would ever be allowed to say that today … they’d be instantly dropped from the label. If Billie Holiday approached Capitol Records in 2015 they wouldn’t entertain her for a second. Also, yes, I feel that I bring my spirit to America, and I feel very much a part of it and I’ve played in most cities big or small. America has been so important to my musical life, and the audiences have always been incredible. I’ve always felt privileged even though I know I’ve been locked out of mainstream considerations. That’s life! Me and Billie Holiday, good company, at least. (Morrissey, Alternative Nation, June 2015)

The Frank Owen interview is still selectively quoted, conflated, paraphrased, and used to attack him.

On a Side Note: For a while it was believed Morrissey had dissed Stormzy via a video on Central (July 2019) – nothing came of it; we don’t even know if he knows about it – but while Twitter was anticipating a feud and taking Stormzy’s side, no one felt the need to mention the 3 years Stormzy spent using homophobic language.

& his effective PR distressed fellow Grime artist, Wiley, so much that he accused his own manager of being part of a Jewish plot to replace black artists in their 40s with black artists in their 20s. This mid-life crisis conspiracy theory received support from newspaper The Voice.

https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/the-voice-publishes-inflammatory-interview-with-wiley-1.502053

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/jul/24/wiley-accused-of-antisemitism-after-likening-jews-to-ku-klux-klan

Reggae is vile

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

BEST GROUP: James
MALE SINGER: Pete Burns
FEMALE SINGER: Tracey Thorn
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
CREEP OF THE YEAR: Sade
MOST WONDERFUL HUMAN BEING: John Walters
TV SHOW: ‘Victoria Wood As Seen On TV’
RADIO SHOW: Richard Skinner
FILM: ‘The Dresser’
SOUL ACT: Nico
REGGAE ACT: Reggae is vile
INSTRUMENTALIST: Johnny Marr
BEST DRESSED: Linder
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… https://unherd.com/2021/02/was-michael-x-a-gangster-or-a-madman/

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. https://w1nnersclub.com/celebrity/shabba-ranks-advocates-crucifixion-of-gay-people/

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”. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/jamaican-reggae-songs-hatred-7907197.html https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/06/jamaica-music-anti-gay-dancehall-homophobia

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.