Neil Gaiman took the opportunity to suck up to the television industry as if he’d be thrilled by an episode that condemned him for potentially murdering the people of Skye because he was too dim to read the Covid rules:
Not that they would target Neil with anything that would hurt or exclude him, because whatever his personal issues, he does marketing, networking, online engagement, works with a vast number of people & might be able to shaft your career. Things Morrissey can’t do, due to shyness, anxiety, depression, dysmorphia, and/or clear-eyed horror at its fakeness.
The show probably took its character arc from a hit piece in The LA Times, based on hit pieces in the British press. There’s an accumulating list of misquotes and misinterpretations and every article will pick at least three, along with UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN labels like xenophobe, racist, far right, right-wing, British nationalist, British nativist, controversial, reactionary, toxic, anti-immigrant, hard to love, dead to me, or HE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED.
Nearly everything about him gets edited out & the rest is conflated, hyped & chanted.
For a start, he is an immigrant, not to the USA, but to England:
… my sister and I growing up, never really felt we were Mancunians. My Irishness was never something I hid or camouflaged. I grew up in a strong Irish community. Of course, early on I’d be teased about it, I was called `Paddy’ from an early age. I mean, there I was, born, braised and bred in Manchester but I was still always called `Paddy’. And this was back in the 1960s when it was a bitter and malevolent slur. But that’s how Manchester people are – they’re extremely critical of everything and everybody. (Morrissey, November 1999, Irish Times)
His current band, that no one ever talks about because they’re too busy pining for the all-white one, has immigrants:
I remember seeing you in a Chivas USA shirt. You have a strong association with Mexico. How do you think their people are treated in America? Oh, like kings! No, sorry, that was a joke. 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. He will one day, of course… (Morrissey, August 2014, Hot Press)
He’s mentioned immigration in general only a few times in his career, and he’s never attacked people, or demanded that immigration be lowered, stopped or reversed. What he frets about is the tensions inherent in identity. Who we are, why we are, can we kick against it, can we get along? Always on the side of the less powerful, although in his eagerness to attack government policy, he can forget the social norm of expressing pity for its victims while doing absolutely nothing genuinely helpful. He laments that culture is becoming generic esp in music. And he rails against tyranny and injustice; we need structure to make our lives function, but it can also oppress and brutalise us:
The infantile panic with which American immigration officials shout loudly and humiliate gleefully is designed to exert strength, yet it trumpets cowardice and it fouls notions of patriotism… The US government proudly boasted Zero Tolerance and implemented the scheme with zero intelligence. (Morrissey, 2013, Autobiography)
But his overwhelming concern is the meat industry:
The fact that the slaughterhouse or abattoir exists is the most obvious example of human evil. The slaughterhouse is the dead end for humanity, and as long as it exists we can’t possibly have any hope for the human race. If you’ve seen abattoir footage then you cannot possibly think that humans are anything other than evil pests…
He has always felt his opposition to the meat industry is opposed by power:
… If your views threaten any form of establishment interests, you are usually ignored or silenced or said to be ‘ranting, I have never ranted in my life. (Morrissey, June 2015, The Huffington Post)
And he clearly believed fringe crank, Anne Marie Waters, founder of For Britain, when she said she was being smeared as a racist and a fascist because she was talking about sensitive issues to do with veganism, secularism, animal rights, feminism, and gay rights. And that somehow she would stop the violence and polarization that was driving politics in the 2010s as social media funneled us into warring silos:
I despise racism.I despise fascism. I would do anything for my Muslim friends, and I know they would do anything for me. (Morrissey, April 2018, Central)
Yes, he could have been more savvy, she is entirely a product of polarisation, but she’s essentially an unelectable YouTuber. At the time of writing (April 2021) he last mentioned her two years ago in April 2019, and he first and last wore the badge of her ‘party’ (which he apparently didn’t join or vote for) in May 2019.
The timing of the show was cynical.
The Simpsons had been called out for using racial stereotypes and discriminatory casting.
And for some grotesque reason a high profile television show decided to improve its image by taking pains – stars, songs, extras – to punch down at a low profile Indie singer. Which would have made a better plot.
To cap it The Sunday Times editorial, 25th April 2021, made it clear we hate it when our stars don’t give exclusive interviews:
Britpop was a 1990s musical style that favoured an ‘ironic’ or flattened version of working-class British life inspired by the 1960s – booze, birds and ‘having a good time’.
There is a myth that the movement had to save Union Jack iconography from Morrissey’s fascism.
To recap – in August 1992 Morrissey played 1 of 2 gigs at Finsbury Park, London with the band Madness, who allegedly had a strong skinhead following. While singing Glamorous Glue, Morrissey thrashed the Union Jack around the stage as the crowd reportedly yelled homophobic slurs at him and threw missiles. He refused to play the second gig. The NME interpreted this as Morrissey being racist.
In contrast, The Rolling Stones hired Hell’s Angels to be security at their gig in Altamont, San Francisco in 1969. While they were singing Sympathy For The Devil, a fight broke out and the Hell’s Angels stabbed to death an 18 year old black audience member, Meredith Hunter. This was interpreted by everyone as ‘the end of the 1960s’.
The Union Jack had always been used extensively in UK pop promotion.
In 1990 New Order released a song for the World Cup with the English football team. Its chant ‘En-ger-land’! became popular without any agonising about it encouraging England’s underbelly of football hooliganism and racism.
The 90s would see two more hit football anthems, Three Lions (Football’s coming home) by Baddiel, Skinner and The Lightning Seeds, and Vindaloo by Fat Les (We’re England, We’re gonna score one more than you, England!).
Sentimental longing or arrogant bragging, both songs were celebrations of fandom.
Morrissey’s football song – from Your Arsenal, the same album as The National Front Disco – was ‘We’ll Let You Know’ – sinister, mournful, violent – it was anything but a celebration.
How sad are we? And how sad have we been? We’ll let you know We’ll let you know Oh, but only if you’re really interested
You wonder how We’ve stayed alive ’til now We’ll let you know We’ll let you know But only if you’re really interested
We’re all smiles Then, honest, I swear, it’s the turnstiles That make us hostile Oh-wah, oh-wah, oh-wah, oh-wah, oh-wah
We will descend On anyone unable to defend Themselves Oh-wah, oh-wah, oh-wah, oh-wah, oh-wah
And the songs we sing They’re not supposed to mean a thing La-la-la-la, la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la La-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la-la La-la-la-la
We may seem cold Or we may even be the most depressing people you’ve ever known At heart, what’s left, we sadly know That we are the last truly British people you’ve ever known We are the last truly British people you will ever know You’ll ever, never, want to know
Morrissey was excluded from Britpop not because he was the dark side, but because he reminded them that the dark side existed when they wanted to use the fig leaf of irony to enjoy the pride and thrill of being loutish, lustful and national.
I crave extremes. I want to be THAT famous, or THAT known. The only reason I’m in this is to make great rock’n’roll records, for the hell of it, and I’m concerned that everybody thinks I’m this politically correct, right-onwoman. (Louise Wener, January 1995, Melody Maker)
We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes. (Peter Mandelson, New Labour strategist, October 1998, Financial Times)
On the 4th of March 2012 Morrissey played a concert in Argentina in which his band wore ‘I hate William and Kate’ t-shirts and he said this about British colony, the Falkland Islands, then a source of renewed tension between Argentina and the UK (the nations had been to war over it in 1982):
You know of course the Malvinas Islands, everybody knows they belong to Argentina so please do not blame the British people, we know the islands belong to you… The government, the governments, never listen to the people, to their pain.
To be a national treasure you have to be likable. Is Morrissey likable any more? I’m almost loth to say that he isn’t, because to do so would be to play into the persecution complex he has been nurturing for the best part of his solo career. Even when he makes pronouncements that, broadly speaking, I agree with, there’s something about the way he makes them that makes me recoil. I’m not a royalist, but pictures of his band lined up either side of him on his recent Argentinian tour, wearing “We hate William and Kate” T-shirts, momentarily made me feel like becoming one. (Pete Paphides, music writer, The Guardian, March 2012)
Later that year he was appalled by the jingoism of the London Olympics, the winning bid being tendered by Boris Johnson, then London mayor, now (2021) the UK’s Prime Minister.
“I am unable to watch the Olympics due to the blustering jingoism that drenches the event. Has England ever been quite so foul with patriotism? The ‘dazzling royals’ have, quite naturally, hi-jacked the Olympics for their own empirical needs, and no oppositional voice is allowed in the free press. It is lethal to witness. As London is suddenly promoted as a super-wealth brand, the England outside London shivers beneath cutbacks, tight circumstances and economic disasters. Meanwhile the British media present 24-hour coverage of the ‘dazzling royals’, laughing as they lavishly spend, as if such coverage is certain to make British society feel fully whole. In 2012, the British public is evidently assumed to be undersized pygmies, scarcely able to formulate thought. As I recently drove through Greece I noticed repeated graffiti seemingly everywhere on every available wall. In large blue letters it said WAKE UP WAKE UP. It could almost have been written with the British public in mind, because although the spirit of 1939 Germany now pervades throughout media-brand Britain, the 2013 grotesque inevitability of Lord and Lady Beckham (with Sir Jamie Horrible close at heel) is, believe me, a fate worse than life. WAKE UP WAKE UP.” (Morrissey, August 2012, TrueToYou.Net).
Again it led to a wave of flack in the British press.
The Guardian wrote:
Far from providing a focus of national unity and good cheer, Morrissey, says the Olympics have created a situation in which “the spirit of 1939 Germany now pervades throughout media-brand Britain”.
As ever, he was also misquoted and paraphrased, this time to make him sound like a killjoy racist for NOT flag-waving.
Then in 2021 after Harry and Meghan gave an interview to Oprah Winfrey where they accused the UK press and the Royal Family of racism and after the Black Lives Matter protests had led to calls for a reckoning with the UK’s colonial past, some of the same people who took potshots at him in 2012 changed their tune – about royals and patriotism, not Morrissey, who they now believe is an unspeakable British Nationalist.
Here Piers Morgan is referring to his Olympic remarks:
A former colleague who did shifts on the newsdesk there in the 1990s recalls that there was a blacklist of people about whom the paper would not run stories, no matter how good the tale. Top of this list were foreigners and “lowlifes” – who included “anyone with a non-English name, Irish and the entire working class, unless a yuppie plumber”. There were no page leads about black people because page leads had to have an accompanying photograph and “photographers couldn’t take pictures of black people because you couldn’t see their features”.
Meanwhile, over at The Sun (and the News of the World) there was a dread of “poofs” and “queers”, from the “gay plague” and “despicable” gay kiss in “EastBenders” of the 1980s to the “gay mafia” running the country in the late 1990s – when it demanded that all homosexual MPs be outed, explaining: “Their sexuality is not the problem. The worry is their membership of a closed world of men with a mutual self-interest.” (Liz Gerard, March 2021, Press Gazette)
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)
In a hit piece in The Quietus in May 2017 – the lead singer of Gene, Martin Rossiter, added Jimmy Savile to the list of Morrissey’s heavily edited word crimes, writing:
Talking about the Jimmy Savile abuse investigation, saying: “2013 enlightenment can’t be applied to dark and dim nights of 1972, otherwise every singer who ever slept with a 14-year-old would suddenly be behind bars – and that would take a lot of bars”
The full quote is this:
As for Jimmy Savile, he is dead. He’s unlikely to care very much what The Daily Mail thinks of him. Savile has won. He got away with it, and he was obviously never a villain in his own eyes. What remains is the question of complicity, because he could not have been so successful a predator without co-conspirators. Who are they, where are they? What are the names of the police chiefs who ignored Savile’s victims? Savile was a profiteer, and those who protected him are still here. However, I’m not sure if witch-hunts against aged Radio Caroline DJs is quite the point. 2013 enlightenment can’t be applied to the dark and dim nights of 1972, otherwise every singer who ever slept with a 14 year old would suddenly be behind bars – and that would take a lot of bars. Any move against the will of another is wrong, but Savile must have imagined himself to be the kids that he assaulted, and he thought them lucky – such was the ego. (Loaded, February 2013)
Later he said:
Hot Press: How did you react to the recent revelations that M15 confiscated a paedophile dossier naming VIP figures, drawn up by Barbara Castle?
Morrissey: I didn’t even raise an eyebrow. The fact that the dossier is supposedly missing is immaterial. People read it and know what it says, and they couldn’t possibly forget the names that they read. Similarly, the ‘royal’ family have determined that the file on the famous Profumo case not be opened or made available to the public until 50 years after Prince Philip’s death. Draw your own conclusions from that. What becomes farcical is the way the modern Conservative government dictate to the public about tax and recession and recycling, and we’re expected to listen and obey, whilst that same government apparently has a history of paedophilia which they go to excessive lengths to hide, whilst telling us how naughty everyone else is. Last week the Pope announced that 2% of priests, bishops and cardinals in the Catholic church are known paedophiles! And this was the fifth story on the news!And we’re asked to have faith in the Catholic church! The world has officially gone mad.
Hot Press: A 1978 radio interview has just been unearthed in which John Lydon accuses Jimmy Savile of being “into all kinds of seediness that we all know about but aren’t allowed to talk about”. What were your impressions of Jimmy Savile?
Morrissey: I’m naïve on the subject of child abuse. I can’t even imagine what it is. My brain doesn’t lock into it. So, I think the Savile case has profoundly changed British society and obviously depressed everyone, but we’ll soon have a sterile Hollywood epic with Johnny Depp in a blond wig holding a fat cigar. Jimmy Savile worked a lot at the BBC in Manchester, and on the club circuit in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the older members of my family would always heave a sharp intake of breath at the mention of his name. I never knew why. But I think Operation Yewtree is unsurvivable for Britain. Imagine what the rest of the world is thinking. Imagine what small children are thinking. Once again, there’s no concentration on the police commissioners who ignored reports from Savile’s victims. They’re just as guilty – why not smoke them out? (Hot Press, August 2014)
Morrissey isn’t ignoring victims, he’s questioning the system that allows predators (who don’t see themselves as predators) to thrive – police, governments, the Catholic Church.
It’s the same position he has on the UK child abuse scandal that involved grooming gangs of mainly Asian heritage, and a brief spate of London acid attacks reportedly committed by (mainly) non-white people on (mainly) non-white people.
His focus is on the government, the media and the police – not (as assumed by people who say they’re anti-racist yet immediately jump to the most racist conclusion) on slandering all non-white people, or even on the perpetrators, who are criminals being criminal.
London is second only to Bangladesh for acid attacks. All of the attacks are non-white, and so they cannot be truthfully addressed by the British government or the Met Police or the BBC because of political correctness. What this means is that the perpetrator is considered to be as much of a victim as the actual victim. We live in the Age of Atrocity. (Morrissey Central, September 2018)
Telford grooming gangs? Hardly worth a whisper in The Independent.(Morrissey Central, March 2018)
And he’s not wrong that the jails would be full of 1970s DJs and pop stars if all of them were prosecuted – Jimmy Page, David Bowie, Bill Wyman, John Peel… as well as those already convicted, Jonathan King, Gary Glitter…
The underage groupie scene was well-documented, and still celebrated right up until the Harvey Weinstein scandal:
IN THE EARLY 1970S, the Sunset Strip was a magnet for rock stars: Bowie, Zeppelin, Iggy Pop, Mott the Hoople, The Who. They all hung out in the VIP rooms of louche LA nightclubs like E Club, the Rainbow, and Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco. And with them, of course, came groupies. Scantily clad 14- and 15-year-olds like Sable Starr and Lynn “Queenie” Koenigsaecker sipped cherry cola, dropped pills, and evolved into pubescent dream girls for the platform-shoed rockers who could get anything and anyone they desired.
Decades before Drake dissed Tyga for dating 17-year-old Kylie Jenner, and R. Kelly faced multiple allegations of having sex with minors, the most visible rock stars in the world blithely made it with girls who were barely out of junior high school. It was all glorified in the pages of a glossy magazine called Star, which reveled in the underage groupie scene for five issues. Other publications, such as the rock ‘n’ roll bible Creem, flicked at the Sunset Strip doings without so much as a wagged finger. Hell, in 1973, a leisure-suited Tom Snyder devoted an entire show to interviews with some of LA’s highly desired teenage groupies. (Thrillist, March 2015)
This needs to start with Morrissey’s experience of immigration – which is erased in media narratives about him. His family were all Irish, apart from Morrissey and his sister Jackie, who were born in Manchester.
Nannie remains of Moore Street, in Dublin, of astounding memory and continual disgust… from thereon self-deflationary battles with life’s important truths, plus the usual Irish companions of shame, guilt, persecution and accusation… We are stuck in the wettest park of England in a society where we are not needed, yet we are all washed and warm and well-fed…
Ernie was my true Uncle, my mother’s favourite… Throughout his short and angered life he ached, like most people, to find something of value to do, and he cursed Manchester, and he cursed England through mists of pain, and he cursed the Christian Brothers who had blackened his eyes once too often in the name of heavy-handed holiness. Ernie sank into the army for identity, but lost his, and returned home to Manchester unhappily…
Bustle and fluster pad out these Dublin days, but as each year passes my sister and I are less willing to leave Manchester. Ireland is our soaring past – ruddy and cheerful, yet somehow the past. My parents will never let go, and it is not difficult to understand why. All around us the Irish deputation mourn the loss of the land, and how British liberality hobbles in comparison to the hearty warmth of Dublin’s outstretched arms…
Sometimes Jackie and I are the refugees, as Rita flits in and out of her secretive social whirl. There is only ever a sense of change and of slipping away, but never a sense of security or stability. Tomorrow is already a jigsaw…
We had waved goodbye to Mary at Manchester Airport, a US emigree in her nineteenth year, and to never again be a Manchester lass. We all cry uncontrollably as Mary’s flight is called – a much loved branch hacked away. (Morrissey, Autobiography, 2013)
It’s easy enough to accept or reject someone who arrives in a country – it’s not so easy to cope with being accepted and rejected, as well as everything that’s been left behind, and what this means for who you are now.
In the UK even arts hacks are in the pulpit & punditry business. They expect clear moral commentary & when faced with none, they assume it must be in code. If it’s in code it must be socially unacceptable, ipso facto, Bengali In Platforms, must be a racist song.
Especially as it violates the norms of polite society by using the words Bengali, shelve your Western plans & when you belong here, routinely summarised as Morrissey saying that Asians don’t belong in the UK.
Further that it’s a terrible stereotype to say someone is friendly, might be wearing an unfashionable item, and might own a cornershop (with shelves) – because under the English class system what could be worse than being ordinary?
And if that fails to convince, even if it’s not racist, it’s patronising and condescending, as if a man who was mocked as a prat, as old-fashioned, as embarrassing, from the very beginning of his career could condescend to anyone.
So what’s in the song?
A gauche, eager innocent going somewhere new & trying to fit in.
Bengali, Bengali Bengali, Bengali No no no He does not want to depress you Oh no no no no no He only wants to impress you Oh…
Bengali in platforms He only wants to embrace your culture And to be your friend forever Forever
Similar to Half A Person:
Call me morbid, call me pale I’ve spent six years on your trail Six full years of my life on your trail
And if you have five seconds to spare Then I’ll tell you the story of my life Sixteen, clumsy and shy I went to London and I I booked myself in at the why W.C.A. I said I like it here, can I stay? I like it here, can I stay? Do you have a vacancy for a back-scrubber?
She was left behind, and sour And she wrote to me equally dour She said in the days when you were hopelessly poor I just liked you more
Harsh reality in the form of someone telling him life is hard & his plans won’t work out.
Don’t blame me Don’t hate me Just because I’m the one to tell you
That life is hard enough when you belong here That life is hard enough when you belong here Oh… Shelve your Western plans Oh… Shelve your Western plans ‘Cause life is hard enough when you belong Life is hard enough when you belong here
Similar to You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby:
If you’re wondering why All the love that you long for eludes you And people are rude and cruel to you I’ll tell you why I’ll tell you why I’ll tell you why I’ll tell you why
You just haven’t earned it yet, baby You just haven’t earned it, son You just haven’t earned it yet, baby You must suffer and cry for a longer time You just haven’t earned it yet, baby And I’m telling you now
An unsuitable object of desire – the platform boots
A silver-studded rim that glistens And an ankle-star that…blinds me A lemon sole so very high Which only reminds me; to tell you Break the news gently Break the news to him gently “Shelve your plans; shelve your plans, shelve them”
Like the platform boots dowdy Morrissey hadn’t dared to wear in 1970s Manchester:
Jon Daley walked along Great Stone Road towards the Hardrock wearing silver knee-length boots… So striking is he that a passing lorry slows down beside him and gruff voices call out in order to throw Jon off balance (well, this is the North) – a compliment of sorts, since it proves just how much you are getting at people, pinging their own self-doubts… my own slavishly dull school uniform is wretched compared to Jon’s intergalactic grace… Jon has no friends at all. (Morrissey, Autobiography, 2013)
And fame itself that pulls a Mancunian to London, to America, and makes them tour the world:
If you’re wondering why When all I wanted from life was to be Famous I have tried for so long, it’s all gone wrong I’ll tell you why I’ll tell you why I’ll tell you why I’ll tell you why But you wouldn’t believe me
You just haven’t earned it yet, baby You just haven’t earned it, son You just haven’t earned it yet, baby You must suffer and cry for a longer time You just haven’t earned it yet, Baby And I’m telling you now I’ll tell you why I’ll tell you why
Today I am remembering the time When they pulled me back And held me down And looked me in the eyes and said You just haven’t earned it yet, baby You just haven’t earned it, my son You just haven’t earned it yet, baby You must stay on your own for slightly longer You just haven’t earned it yet baby And I’m telling you now
Time that binds:
Bengali, Bengali It’s the touchy march of time that binds you
Morrissey’s attitude to time is bleak. It takes us from the safety of home, past early promise to failure & death. From My Hurling Days Are Done:
Time will mold you and craft you But soon, when you’re looking away It will slide up and shaft you Oh, time Oh, time No friend of mine
Mama, mama and teddy bear Were the first full firm spectrum of time Now my hurling days are done And there’s no one to tell and there’s nowhere to run
& what binds us? Family, friends, history, community, love. Morrissey is Northern, English & Irish Catholic. His work struggles with the themes of attachment to people and places verses the want for autonomy & control. And with the relationship between the country of his birth & his old country.
In Back To The Old House:
I would rather not go Back to the old house I would rather not go Back to the old house There’s too many bad memories Too many memories there
When you cycled by Here began all my dreams The saddest thing I’ve ever seen And you never knew How much I really liked you Because I never even told you Oh, and I meant to Are you still there or have you moved away? Or have you moved away?
In A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours (which is often added to his list of racist crimes):
A rush and a push and the land That we stand on is ours Your youth may be gone But you’re still a young man So phone me, phone me So phone me, phone me, phone me
In The Queen Is Dead:
Oh! Take me back to dear old Blighty, Put me on the train for London Town, Take me anywhere, Drop me anywhere, Liverpool, Leeds or Birmingham ‘Cause I don’t care, I should like to see my…By land, by sea.
Farewell… to this land’s cheerless marshes Hemmed in like a boar between archers Her very Lowness with her head in a sling I’m truly sorry but it sounds like a wonderful thing
In Mountjoy (an Irish prison where the British who ruled Ireland executed Irish Nationalists):
What those in power do to you Reminds us at a glance How humans hate each other’s guts And show it given a chance
We never say aloud the things That we say in our prayers Cause no one cares
Many executed here By the awful lawfully good But the only thing that makes me cry Is when I see the sky
Brendan Behan’s laughter rings For what he had or hadn’t done For he knew then as I know now That for each and every one of us We all lose Rich or poor, we all lose Rich or poor, they all lose
In This Is Not Your Country (about the troubles in Northern Ireland & often added to his list of racist crimes):
We’re old news All’s well And thirty years could be a thousand And this Peugeot ad Spins round in my head British soldier pointing a gun And I’m only trying to post a letter A short walk home becomes a run And I’m scared, and I’m scared, I am scared
Old news All’s well BBC scum You’ve got more than the dead, so zip up your mouth Zip up your mouth
& in Irish Blood, English Heart (sometimes adapted to Racist Blood, English Heart in articles featuring his list of racist crimes):
Irish blood, English heart, this I’m made of There is no one on earth I’m afraid of And no regime can buy or sell me
I’ve been dreaming of a time when To be English is not to be baneful To be standing by the flag not feeling shameful Racist or partial
Irish blood, English heart, this I’m made of There is no one on earth I’m afraid of And I will die with both of my hands untied
I’ve been dreaming of a time when The English are sick to death of labour and Tories And spit upon the name Oliver Cromwell And denounce this royal line That still salute him and will salute him forever
Only an Irish person would care about Oliver Cromwell, or be that angry at the Royals. They’re the villains of Irish history.
And it’s a sign of how complicated immigration can be that the English media singled out an Irish Catholic to demonise for holding a Union Jack (nicknamed the Butcher’s Apron by Irish Republicans) – leaving him more agonised about his background. The song’s right – life is hard enough when you belong here – because here won’t understand how you feel. And here won’t let you tell them.
As Sands starved to death in protest at being tagged a ‘criminal’ and not a ‘political prisoner’ by the Thatcher government, the Queen sat in her Palace and said nothing. If the Queen had any human feelings for the Sands family or other hunger strikers then she did not express them… The Queen also has the power to give back the six counties to the Irish people, allowing Ireland to be a nation once again. The fact that she has not done so is Fascism in full flow. What else could it be? Name one other European country that is controlled by its neighbour? (Morrissey, Hot Press, May 2011)
What these songs are doing is asking important questions without easy answers. What are we? How do we fit in? What’s allowed?
There’s really no doubt that Bengali In Platforms empathises with the man from Bengal. What it doesn’t do is put on a cod Indian accent & speak over him, or soothe him – & us – with nice slogans.
So why someone from Bengal & not Ireland?
He was a Loudon Wainwright fan, so could have taken a cue from East Indian Princess:
East Indian princess lives in a western dream Happy like a child, her mother is a queen You know she’s safe as a cow on a Calcutta street This English way of life has got that other life beat
And reading magazines, she sits in straight backed chairs She’s got a common welfare, she’s got a queen that cares She’s got meat on her bones, she doesn’t starve at least Not like the folks back home, not like the folks back east
Yeah, but this Indian is English, no matter how she tries You know the sari and the sandals, it’s just a bad disguise She got a mark on her forehead, she got a stud in her nose Yeah, but this Indian is English and I’m afraid it shows’
Cause you can see her at Wimpey’s and on a movie queue line Her river’s not the Ganges, it is the Serpentine East Indian princess, she got the western pain She got the western mind, that girl has gone insane
Or could have been inspired by film or tv. – A Passage To England (1972, 1975), My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and countless others from the 60s to the 80s.
Or news, like the strike in Brick Lane:
Or he wanted someone who outwardly didn’t fit in, but inwardly was keen to join, to echo the dilemma in Dial A Cliche, also on the album Viva Hate, where the narrator could outwardly ‘be a man’, but he inwardly doesn’t feel it:
Further into the fog I fall Well, I was just Following you
When you said, “Do as I do and scrap your fey ways” Dial-A-Cliché “Grow up, be a man, and close your mealy-mouth” Dial-A-Cliché Dial-A-Cliché Dial-A-Cliché
But the person underneath Where does he go? Does he slide by the wayside? Or does he just die?
And you find that you’ve organized Your feelings, for people Who didn’t like you then And do not like you now
But still you say, “Do as I do and scrap your fey ways” Dial-A-Cliché “Grow up, be a man, and close your mealy-mouth” Dial-A-Cliché
“The safe way is the only way” “There’s always time to change, son” I’ve changed, but I’m in pain Dial-A-Cliché
Which seems connected to Morrissey’s own search for evidence that men are attracted to other men, while trying to avoid being attacked or shunned for it. Another identity crisis:
Partial disclosures of male closeness fascinate me, because it’s something that is nowhere in the life around me. All males are adversaries in muggy Manchester…
I represent filth. I am forbidden to live – by religion.
(of a PE teacher) he is obsessed with homosexuality – that it should be traced and uncovered, named and shamed. This tirade goes on and on for more years than could be thought possible, and I am not surprised that I am regularly the butt of his bombast… (Morrissey, Autobiography, 2013)
Or if we’re taking a creative leap based on words – the British have been accused of two genocides via famine, in Bengal and in Ireland. A person from Bengal and a person from Ireland would both be trying to belong to a country that tried to starve them.
We might find out if Morrissey’s notebooks ever become public – but it’s absurd to think that a racist would write a song about a friendly man, who wants to embrace your culture, cruelly being told to shelve his plans by someone who knows this news would make him ‘hate’ him & ‘blame’ him.
A racist song wouldn’t frame the person telling the immigrant to shelve his plans as blameworthy and hateful, and the immigrant as friendly and embracing.
And part of the wincing reaction to the song is probably because it makes you feel sorry for the rejected immigrant, without giving you the moral solace of the narrator being told he’s wrong.
All you get is the pain.
Which is closer to life than a tagged on comeuppance.
Asian Rut regularly turns up in the list of Moz crimes, though no one explains why.
Maybe they think the word Asian in the title is racist.
Or that Rut makes it racist. Rut can mean aggressive male sexual excitement, so could be connected to the idea that violence is a form of sexual rivalry. It might even make you wonder how very was the best friend. Or he’s stuck in a rut, a cycle of retribution that will lead to nothing but destruction.
The album it comes from, Kill Uncle, has an air of sardonic ennui, so as with Mute Witness, you could suspect that he was mocking the distress of the song’s protagonist, in this case the boy trying & failing to get revenge. But in context it’s more about the way fate mocks us.
The Asian boy is the hero so he gets the title.
& we don’t know if the narrator will get home, or if, having witnessed the crime, the English boys will get him next, or if he’s somewhere safe repeating a story he heard about that violent place that no one does anything about.
Another objection could be that the Asian boy is English too, but it’s a fight centred around group identity & it’s a drama, not a lecture.
Morrissey has described himself as both English & Irish Catholic, so he knows the way labels move around regardless of citizenship.
The family is young and amused asn all Irish-born but for my sister and I… we Irish Catholics know very well how raucous happiness displeases God, so there is much evidence of guilt in all we say and do, but nonetheless it is said and done… The Irish banter is lyrical against the Manchester blank astonishment. (Morrissey, Autobiography, 2013)
Or they could demand that art should be morally clear and respectable when dealing with a sensitive subject – but Morrissey felt he was battling against the class system, and heteronormativity to become a writer and a singer. He had no reason to credit society with making the right things taboo.
I pin so much prestige on James Baldwin that to risk approach places my life on the line: I’d hang myself at any glimmer of a rejection. History books overlook James Baldwin because he presented an unvarnished view of the American essence – as blunt and rousing as print would allow… His liking for male flesh gave the world a perfect excuse to brush him aside as a social danger, and he was erased away as someone who used his blackness as an excuse for everything. In fact, his purity scared them off, and his honesty ignited irrational fear in an America where men were draped in medals for killing other men yet imprisoned for loving one another. (Morrissey, Autobiography, 2013)
The essence of… (Moz Art)… came from an idea I had to take images that were the opposite of glamour and to pump enough heart and desire into them to show ordinaryness as a instrument of power – or possibly, glamour… to present cheerless and cluttered bed-sitter art in a beautiful and proudly frank way… Rules in all things, are simply laid down so that someone might break them. I had learned to guard my secrets carefully…. it would be the ache of love sought, but not found; buttoning your overcoat as you stand before an ash-slag fire as you ponder years of wasted devotion amid the endless complaint of boredom. (Morrissey, Autobiography, 2013)
He was also a punk fan, with its ironic subversion of pop culture – The Ramones singing a teenage tragedy song about the KKK, exposing the bad taste behind the clean-cut beehives.
But then Morrissey tends to put more agony into a song, life is ridiculous AND painful.
I am shocked, but then I fold into convulsive laughter. Some terrible moments are funny. (Morrissey, Autobiography, 2013)
Day oh so late Strangely the sun still shone Ooh Asian boy What are you on? Day oh so late Strangely the sun still shone Oh Asian boy What are drugs are you on?Oh… strange Tooled-up Asian boy Has come to take revenge For the cruel, cold killing Of his very best friend Tooled-up Asian boy Has come to avenge The cruel, cold killing Of his only friend
There’s peace through our school It’s so quiet in the hall It’s a strange sign for one Of what’s to come Tough and cold and pale Oh, they may just impale you on railings Oh, English boys It must be wrong Three against one
Oh … Brakes slammed and His gun jammed And as far as I could tell Brave Asian boy Was dealt a blow and fell I’m just passing through here On my way to somewhere civilized And maybe I’ll even arrive Maybe I’ll even arrive
Morrissey’s September 1986 interview with Frank Owen in the Melody Maker created four scandals –
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.
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.
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.
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:
Despite his over-the-top fury at the Queen’s press – his 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.
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.
One complaint is that he never apologizes – but most of these scandals are slow-burners, by the time they’ve reached their final tagline, it’s years later and they’re wildly out of context.
It’s peculiar to keep harking back to insinuations from 1986 esp. if an apology is enough to make a person acceptable even for using direct slurs.
For a while it was believed Morrissey had dissed Stormzy via a video on Central (July 2919) – 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.
Later, when British Somali feminist and social activist, Nimco Ali, tried to use him as an example of excused bigotry, while she was being condemned as a homophobe for accepting a job as a government adviser on violence against women, she was dismissed:
It would seem more performative and tribal than anything else.
As if Morrissey’s real crime is not chatting to journalists down the pub.
On a side note – Stormzy’s 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 – and actual conspiracy theory – received support from newspaper The Voice.
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.
And aside from that, he wasn’t wrong. Sometimes reggae could be extreme.
It was associated with Rastafarianism, a religion that does believe (however literally) that white people are inferior and black people are destined to rule the world.
And with black power, which had its share of grifters, 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…
The black supremacy comment was conflated with his joke about Reggae being vile, and his ‘detestation’ of black modern music – defined by Frank Owen, as anything danceable in the charts, and summed by Morrissey as 80s Diana Ross, 80s Stevie Wonder, Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston.
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. (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.
“Most interviews I have been very displeased with because, obviously, you don’t have any control. You can be very merry in an interview and it can come across as being very dour. Or you can say something flippantly which will be written in blood in the music press and it sounds as though you’re deadly serious. You’re throwing yourself on the mercy of a journalist who can be friendly during the interview but can turn out to be something of a behemoth in print.” (Morrissey, 1983)
In November, 2017, Morrissey gave an interview in LA to Der Spiegel journalist, Juliane Liebert.
The way she framed the questions and the way she wrote up the answers would lead to Morrissey being accused of threatening to kill Trump, being a rape apologist, and hating refugees.
He’d been through all this before – the press taking his meandering thoughts about politics, or his lyrics, and turning them into inflammatory rows about child abuse, racism and violence, blaming him for the anger generated by their own journalese, when his main interests are animals, the misuse of state/media power, and music.
Signs of trouble (from the audio):
He directly relates news to mental health – & she doesn’t ask if or how it affected him.
He speaks very gently & gets written up as if he’s ranting.
She’s been told not to ask about politics – she asks anyway.
He tells her he’s exhausted by journalists saying he means something that he doesn’t mean, happily talking to him & then morally correcting him in print. Which is what she does.
He’s not sleeping. (She would write that he kept her waiting as a power move, when it’s far more likely he was too tired.)
She calls Jackie a stupid song & laughs when he says he tries to look good – which is when she should have been politely shown the door.
He reads 8 or so books at a time but has never heard of the BDS movement so he might have ideas but he’s got no grassroots experience.
He’s talking about political structures & she’s talking about Twitter shitstorms.
The vast bulk of the interview is about animals & music; his main purpose is getting abattoirs banned – he compares it to Auschwitz again (which always goes down badly because most people can’t imagine seeing animals as equal). He doesn’t like generic songs. Most of it is cut.
She asks him if he would kill Trump. He says he would. (It’s hypothetical, but in December 2017, he would claim that the American security services had questioned him about making death threats)
She asks if he’s been following #MeToo, he says, ‘to some extent, yes, but then it became a play.’ He says nothing about Weinstein at all. He talks about keeping perspective, clumsy courtships & later twists back on to the casting couch in general.
Other celebrities would make stronger points (most of them memoryholed).
She asks about Kevin Spacey being replaced in a film. He’d been accused of sexually assaulting a 14 year old in his bedroom after a party when he was in his 20s. Morrissey questions the circumstances based on music’s groupie scene. She mentions David Bowie who slept with 14 year olds in his 20s. He condemns all forms of sexual violence. But thinks this story doesn’t ring true (probably because of Bowie) and that Spacey might have been unfairly attacked.
The press/Twitter would claim that he was robustingly defending Weinstein and Spacey, callously blaming the victims, while in full possession of the facts of their cases.
The interview moves on to politics. She thinks bad leaders look like cartoon villains. He thinks the EU is the German Empire. (It does have the most clout.)
He talks about countries retaining their own identity – language, laws, common ground, things that people have fought for – it’s not really controversial, but multiculturalism is one of those buzzwords where you’re not allowed nuance – you must be wholly for or against – because that makes it quicker to write an opinion piece. (Dorian Lynskey, in The New Statesman, will write that this means Morrissey approves of the Nazis.)
After Labour was defeated in the December election of 2019, the left would start to grapple with identity in exactly the way (Irish Catholic English) Morrissey has always been grappling with it.
In parts of the left, there is an unattractive blind spot that misses the importance of collective attachment to an inherited landscape, both physical and emotional. That landscape is not immutable but it shapes a sense of belonging and context. For many Leave voters, particularly those who have traditionally voted Labour, the emotional landscape of “England” has offered a way to express communal values neglected during 30 years of excessive individualism, licensed by both left and right. (The Observer, January 2021)
He then takes a jab at Angela Merkel’s handling of the 2015 refugee crisis and said Berlin had turned into the rape capital of Europe (which is either hyperbole or a viral story he picked up from somewhere). He was blaming Merkel for the chaos, but it was taken as an attack on refugees.
There had been reports of increased sexual assaults, which wasn’t surprising considering how many refugees were young men without any family support.
“Crimes committed by [asylum-seeking] immigrants saw a disproportionate increase last year — there’s nothing there we can gloss over,” said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière. He said when it came to violent crimes there were “about 90 per cent more immigrant suspects in 2016” than in the prior year. (Financial Times, April, 2017)
Morrissey’s stance on these things is macro, the refugee crisis shouldn’t have happened; because there shouldn’t be global inequality, we shouldn’t wage war & we shouldn’t destroy the environment.
In his roundabout way, it’s class-based socialism.
The destruction and abandonment of labor politics means that, at present, immigration issues can only play out within the framework of a culture war, fought entirely on moral grounds. In the heightened emotions of America’s public debate on migration, a simple moral and political dichotomy prevails. It is “right-wing” to be “against immigration” and “left-wing” to be “for immigration.” But the economics of migration tell a different story. (Angela Negle, American Affairs Journal, November 2018)
Liebert says he’s against all immigration.
Morrissey tries to clarify, no, he isn’t, with a squeal, but it’s too late.
Journalists are under no obligation to print everything & only have to prove you said those words, however they edited them. Interpretation, however unfair, is fair comment.
He reacted badly to the way it was sensationalised:
Der Spiegel released the audio, timestamping the most controversial passages, so that most people would miss the lead up and follow on.
He had talked about Trump, Refugees and Spacey and that was enough for everyone to declare that he had been caught lying.
He released a sorrowful video on his nephew’s YouTube account, in December 2017:
Suddenly, I was sympathizing with sexual harassment. I was apparently sympathizing with pedophilia, I was sympathizing with rape, I was sympathizing with everything that would persuade anybody on the planet to stop listening to me. Of course, none of those assumptions were true. I do not support anything like that. You can hear it even in the tone of my voice… However, this is the world we now live in with the print media. It seems to me that, in the first place, they get very angry or very excited if you stop to say something that people are listening to or that reflect the will of the people. They get very nervous. They won’t allow it. They shut it down and so forth… But also, it seems to me that, in England at the moment, the right wing has adopted a left wing stance, and the left wing has adopted a right wing stance, so everybody’s confused, and nobody seems to know what people mean. This shuts down free speech. This shuts down any open debate about anything. And consequently, we’re all in a mess, and we don’t know where we stand… So I fear that the campaign for Low in High School and for the surrounding singles was derailed and damaged purposely by the haters. They’re not listening to the music. They’re not listening to anything, really. They see my name, and they want to get rid of it as quickly as possible.And as I said, in many ways, they do succeed. There’s not really that much you can do about it.
It’s been argued that if he can’t explain himself in a way that chimes with popular debates in the press, then he deserves all he gets. But that means you’re limiting who can participate in the arts to people who are good at press and marketing, which would also restrict the type of art they’re likely to make.
And although he wasn’t part of the culture war – his political focus is relentlessly on animals, and anyone who thought he would become a pundit was sorely disappointed – he had picked up on a real problem.
The left was behaving very much like the right. Anyone who tells you that virtue signalling on Twitter is a good thing, is someone who depends on likes and RTs for their living or their self-esteem. It’s had a catastrophic impact on public life. Polarizing debates, hounding people for saying problematic things, or even for being friends with someone who has, pushing people to the right for solidarity, and rendering us incapable of understanding that good people can have different ideas and experiences from our own fiercely held tribal positions.
… One grandstands when one makes a contribution to public moral discourse that aims to convince others that one is “morally respectable.” By this we mean that grandstanding is a use of moral talk that attempts to get others to make certain desired judgments about oneself, namely, that one is worthy of respect or admiration because one has some particular moral quality—for example, an impressive commitment to justice, a highly tuned moral sensibility, or unparalleled powers of empathy. To grandstand is to turn one’s contribution to public discourse into a vanity project. (Justin Tosi, Brandon Warmke, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Summer 2016)
The internet… has encouraged us to hole ourselves up in ideological fortresses; to build moats around our value systems, to pull up our mental drawbridges; and to fire verbal arrows at anyone with a different perspective… with little room for uncertainty or nuance. The way we are pressured to “cancel” public figures we once admired is spiteful and reductive… It means many of us have a predetermined position on news stories even before they break. (Dani Garavelli, The Scotsman, October 2020)
While fluidity of identity, plurality, and multiplicity are always claimed on behalf of the VC members — partly to cover up their own invariably wealthy, privileged, or bourgeois-assimilationist background — the enemy is always to be essentialized. Since the desires animating the VC are in large part priests’ desires to excommunicate and condemn, there has to be a strong distinction between Good and Evil, with the latter essentialized. Notice the tactics. X has made a remark/has behaved in a particular way — these remarks/ this behavior might be construed as transphobic/sexist etc. So far, okay. But it’s the next move which is the kicker. X then becomes defined as a transphobe/sexist etc. Their whole identity becomes defined by one ill-judged remark or behavioral slip. Once the VC has mustered its witch-hunt, the victim (often from a working class background, and not schooled in the passive-aggressive etiquette of the bourgeoisie) can reliably be goaded into losing their temper, further securing their position as pariah/latest to be consumed in feeding frenzy. (Mark Fisher, Exiting The Vampire Castle, 2013)