This particular blog post has been brewing in my mind for a while. Since midway through last year in fact, when Morrissey’s blatant racism became inescapably clear.
A lot of the online discourse was directing anger not just at Morrissey, but at his fans as well. Admitting to any sort of ambivalence, shock, disbelief or unhappiness was apparently tantamount to condoning his views. A lot of people were just downright cruel, delighting in sending myself and other Mozz fans endless notices of the shitty stuff he was saying. As if we didn’t already know, as if we needed our noses rubbed in it. As though we were somehow responsible.
It was with huge relief that I stumbled across this interview with Billy Bragg.
“Billy Bragg, who toured with The Smiths in the ’80s and has had Johnny Marr play on a few of his albums, had a lot more to say when talking with The Big Issue:
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…
The Smiths expressed a lot of people’s own sense of disconnect with society and helped them to find their own identity, and he’s totally trashed that. I’m heartbroken for them because I’m a big Smiths fan, too. And I’m heartbroken for Johnny Marr because he’s genuine, a lovely guy, and he doesn’t deserve to have his legacy dragged through the dirt…
I have no sympathy for [Morrissey], no respect for him, but I have a lot of sympathy and respect for his audience.”
That was the first time I had seen someone speak about Mozz’s fans with kindness and compassion and respect. Who acknowledged the unique heartbreak of seeing your adolescent hero turn into human garbage. Who acknowledged that we have a right to our heartbreak and confusion and grief.
Because we’re all so vulnerable when we’re teens. So lost and looking for guidance, and also full of so much passion that needs an outlet. Billy Bragg nailed it when he said that Morrissey helped people discover themselves and express things that they didn’t yet have the words for. Those of who swooned with recognition when we heard “How Soon Is Now” are wondering what the hell happened to the man who wrote “I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does”. How did he forget about love?
I didn’t want to believe it when I heard it. I wanted to stick my head in the sand and believe in the Morrissey of my youth. But I can’t.
My position on The Smiths is that Morrissey is not The Smiths. The Smiths were also Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, and none of them deserve to have their legacies tainted by Morrissey. Marr in particular was integral to The Smiths’ success. Would they have been nearly as successful without his elegant, subtle and powerful guitar work? Absolutely not. So I can do and listen to The Smiths without guilt.
As a brief aside, if you haven’t checked out Johnny Marr’s solo work, do! You owe it to yourself. I’ve seen him live twice, he plays a lot of Smith’s material during his sets and it’s just such a fucking delight to hear it.
Morrissey’s solo work is….well…..damn. Deciding that I won’t support him going forward was easy. No more buying albums or concert tickets. But his past works? I love a lot of Mozz’s solo work. I have several of his albums. What do I do with them now? I’ve tried to listen to them, and it all sounds different now. I can’t hear them without thinking of the hateful things he’s said and done. It’s hard to let go but I have no choice.