The MORRISSEY Story Part 1
Morrissey (born 22 May 1959) has told his own story in his autobiography, titled, um, Autobiography (published in its first edition on 17 October 2013 by – which other imprint would be worthy? – Penguin Classics). Is its narrator reliable though? The mixed reviews in the press at the time of its appearance (some hailed it as the best rock memoir of recent years, others savaged it for narcissism and unnecessary vitriol) called that into question. But surely it’s always easiest to just let him speak for himself rather than try to interpret his words; certainly, the endless analysis of The Smiths’ songs’ lyrics is tedious enough, so here’s a selection of extracts from interviews given in the early years of The Smiths to tell the story up to and including the release of Shakespeare’s Sister:
On his birth
Q: When and where were you happiest?
A: 21st of May, 1959. 1
Of his given names
When The Smiths began it was very important that I wouldn’t be that horrible, stupid, sloppy “Steven”. He would have to be locked in a box and put on top of the wardrobe. l needed to feel differently and rather than adopt some glamorous pop star name, I eradicated Steven which seemed to make perfect sense. Suddenly I was a totally different person. Now when I meet pre-Smith people who call me Steven, I sit there and wonder who they’re talking about. I always despised the name Steven, though being spelt with a ‘v’ rather than a ‘ph’ made life slightly more tolerable. But it was very important that Steven be drowned nonetheless… “Patrick”. What use does one make of a middle name? Paddy? 2
On his family background
I’m self religious but not in the traditional overfed sense. I was raised in a severely Catholic atmosphere and that really turned me against religion. All the prophecies of doom, ‘you must brush your teeth or you’ll rot in hell and if you don’t get out of bed now it’s a mortal sin and you will die!’ I often find that Catholics are not very Christian. It’s this basic fear ‘Do as I say or I’ll chop your hands off for your own good!’ 3
Remembering the first record he bought
I can remember actually buying it. It was Come and Stay with Me* by Marianne Faithfull. I was incredibly young at the time and I remember that I, in protest because I really wanted the single, it was something like 8/6, we could survive for a week on 8/6 in those days, I remember rolling underneath the kitchen table and remaining under there for something like the weekend in protest saying ‘I must have this record, I must have this record’’. I was a very stroppy 6-year old. So eventually I was dragged down to a record shop on Alexandra Road called Paul Marsh and the record was bought for me. I still have the copy”. 4
* The single in question was released as Decca F12075 on 5 February, 1965.
About his childhood
I had quite a happy childhood until I was six or seven, after that it was horrendous. At the age of eight I became very isolated – we had a lot of family problems at that time – and that tends to orchestrate your life. I had a foul adolescence and a foul teenage existence. Except you couldn’t really call it an existence. I just sort of scraped through, escaping into films and books until the Smiths happened and allowed me to live again… I think if I’d led an acceptably frivolous teenage life I wouldn’t be singing in this group. I’m sure if you have a great time and get everything you want, all the friends you want, then you tend not to be so ambitious. If you’re deprived of certain things it makes you very resilient and you kick very hard for what you want. And I wanted something very special because I’d led such an un-special life previous to The Smiths. 5
On wanting to be famous
I say things which are important. I want them to be heard by as many people as possible. Therefore I want fame. 6
Regarding the formation of The Smiths
Before I joined the group I was in a serious medical condition… oh it’s not even interesting. The Smiths are like a life-support machine to me. I’m not embarrassed about it. For years I tried to form groups then one day I just sat back, I was in the garden or something… 7
It was just a very natural thing. Strange but natural. Most natural things are very strange. But there was no dispute or in-depth strategy, we just fell into it straight away. It was just perfect. 8
Naming the band
The name doesn’t mean anything, it simply serves its purpose. I think it’s very important not to be defined in any one category. Once you’re defined you’re limited and musically that petrifies me. 9
It’s the most ordinary name in the universe. We christened the group at a time when many were hiding behind long names like Eyeless in Gaza or Orchestral Manoeuvres… 10
Signing with an independent label
To me, personally, I see Rough Trade as just principally human beings. And when we first began to deal with them they said, do whatever you want and we will back it. Signing to a major to me initially just seemed like going back to school. There was this hierarchy and these people you had to go to: “Do you mind if I put this on the record sleeve? Do you mind if I wear this?”, which of course we never had any time for. 11
Regarding flowers at gigs
It’s not a gimmick. As long as we’ve been in existence we’ve used the flowers and it’s interesting that in recent months quite a few groups have also begun to do exactly what I do. Like Echo and the Bunnymen and Big Country! The flowers actually have a significance. When we first began there was a horrendous sterile cloud over the whole music scene in Manchester. Everybody was anti-human and it was so very cold. The flowers were a very human gesture. They integrated harmony with nature – something people seemed so terribly afraid of. It had got to the point in music where people were really afraid to show how they felt. To show their emotions. I thought that was a shame and very boring. The flowers offered hope. 12
Well, I think old George [Orwell] (he smiles) has been slightly overheated. Things haven’t changed that much. There’s no reason why we can’t look forward to 1984 with absolute optimism and determination. 13
I see it in terms of incredible change. We’ve done a lot of work this year and achieved a great deal, much more than we’ve been given credit for. It’s been a most thrilling year and as four individuals, we are closer than ever. Although everything written in the press has been strong, it has become quite difficult to live with. I’ve been quite aware for a few months that many journalists were trying to prise Johnny and I apart in some way. We’ve weathered that and we’ve weathered the most difficult backlash, which occurred in the beginning of the summer. I feel we’re quite impenetrable. 14
About writing songs
My lyrics are only obscure to the extent they are not taken directly from the dictionary of writing songs. They’re not slavish to the lyrics rule book, so you’ll never catch me singing ‘Oh baby, baby yeah’. My only priority is to use lines and words in a way that hasn’t been heard before. 15
On the press and on controversy
I did anticipate it – and when it arrived, I wasn’t ready for it in the least. I was quite confused. I was very distressed by that but I was only distressed because nobody would actually let me comment on it. It appeared in national newspapers the length and breadth of the country – Morrissey does this and Morrissey says that and Morrissey believes – and nobody asked me a thing. Nobody knew what I believed or why the lyrics were there. So that was the only distressing element. But I’m glad the record got attention, ultimately… this is the world we live in. It’s not a reflection of me, it really reflects the absolute and barbaric attitudes of the daily press and so I don’t really feel that I was in the dock, I feel that they were really. And in essence they were just really saying how narrow-minded and blunderous they were. Some of the reports in newspapers in Portsmouth and Hartlepool (all the places that really count) some of the reports were so full of hate, it was like I was one of the Moors Murderers, that I’d gone out and murdered these children. Some of them were so full of hate that one just had to do something, but not read them. It was incredible. 16
Concerning the photograph selected for the sleeve of Shakespeare’s Sister
Pat Pheonix embodies the personalised personification of statuesque perfection. She is not, I might add, directly related to Shakespeare. In this shot, Pat, as galvanic Elsie Tanner [character from soap opera ‘Coronation Street’, 1960 – 1984], gazes poetically towards a murky Weatherfield skyline and notes, “hell hath no fury as a woman’s corns.” 17
1 Greenstreet, Rosanna. “The correspondent questionnaire”, The Sunday Correspondent, The Sunday Correspondent Limited, 21 October 1990.
2 Van Poznak, Elissa. “Morrissey”, The Face, EMAP, February 1984.
3 Unknown author. “Message Understood”, Rorshach Testing, privately printed, November 1983.
4 Haslam, Dave. “Up the garden path with Morrissey”, Debris, private press, November 1983.
5 Black, Bill. “Real charmers”, Sounds, United Newspapers, 19 November 1983.
6 Miles, Catherine. “Morrissey of The Smiths”, Him Monthly, Millivres Limited, September 1983.
7 Carroll, Cath. “Crisp songs and salted lyrics”, NME, IPC Media, 14 May 1983.
8 Deevoy, Adrian. “Flower Power”, International Musician, Northern and Shell, October 1983.
9 Unknown author. “The Smiths”, ID, Vice, February 1983.
10 Birch, Ian. “The Smiths”, Smash Hits, EMAP, 10 November 1983.
11 Haslam, Dave. “Up the garden path with Morrissey”, Debris, privately printed, November 1983.
12 Worrall, Frank.” The cradle snatchers”, Melody Maker, IPC Media, 3 September 1983.
13 Unknown author. “Message Understood”, Rorshach Testing, privately printed, November 1983.
14 Young, Russell. “Morrissey’s Year”, Jamming, privately printed, December 1984.
15 Black, Bill. “Real charmers”, Sounds, United Newspapers, 19 November 1983.
16 Jones, Allan. ”Trial by jury”, Melody Maker, IPC Media, 16 March 1985.
17 Bitz column. “The Smiths: cover story”, Smash Hits, EMAP, 31 July 1985.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Mar. 18
TRACIE (Tracie Young) The House That Jack Built (Respond KOB701)
WAH! (Pete Wylie) Hope (WEA X9880)
FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD Welcome To The Pleasuredome (ZTT ZTAS7)
JOBOXERS Is This Really The First Time (RCA BOXX5)
The SMITHS (Morrissey) Shakespeare’s Sister (Rough Trade RT181)
Sal SOLO Music And You (MCA MCA946)