You say stay and never leave

Posted Tue 21 Jan
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He’s in a world of his own
He’s in a world of his own

The Smiths had three absolutely awesome tunes (Ask/Panic/I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish), to which I would always dance, many, many excellent tunes (Frankly Mr Shankley/How Soon Is Now/Girlfriend in a Coma/Heavens Knows I’m Miserable Now), lots of good tunes and lots of filler. Much like any other band, really.

Of course, I can’t deny, and never had, their place in my musical journey, nor that of, in fact, the whole of English (indie) music. But anyone who has known me for any length of time, and has had a discussion on music during that time, will know of my….antipathy to The Smiths.

He’d like the time to play with his mind
He’d like the time to go
He sees the things that pass him by
And the things that he never owned
Everyone has and he has not
So he lives in a world of his own

But this story has many strands, some of which, given they are almost three decades old, I can’t remember the origins. Worse, I can’t imagine how I got into the situation, as I remember other episodes from the time. How did I get entangled with Vicky of the huge hair and glasses, a die-hard Morrissey fan who wanted her and I to go to a Smiths convention? (Across the water, as they say.) Or with….Gerbil (real name lost in the haze of a warm summer, who left with her family for LA) who was of the everyone needs to leave him alone, he is too good for the world over-wrought teenage girl Moz fan variety. Now she lived off a lane half a mile from where there is a now a hotel, where we used to play in that river.

I could get over rabid fans, and have done for other groups, but there was something different in character about those who wandered around with gladioli in their hair.

He cries, he lies
He’s cool, he’s kind
He heads out on a Friday night,
He gets drunk and he starts a fight
And he loses his mind
And he loses his sight

So I avoided them. Until. Ah, until. It seems I now have a teenage daughter who is smitten with Moz, and considers ‘The Queen is Dead’ as one of the pinnacles of any modern four-man-beat combo. (And played me ‘The First of the Gang to Die’, which, to be honest, I think is a cracking pop tune.) And when things you dislike are seen through the prism of your children, it does change the character of them. Somewhat. A little.

But it piqued my interest, as now, decades later, would I feel the same? Could I now distangle the man, the fans and the tunes? Actually, yes. Until. Oh, until. El Moz went and released a book. An autobiography. However anyone sees him, this book would interest any passing indie fan, if only to feel superior and rake over the whole Smiths court case debacle, the NME love/hate/hate/hate/hate relationship. And read it I did, once my youngest had finished with it.

Because times are hard
And money is tight
Because he has the pressure
He has the blame
Life never changes
Forever the same

I was warned, though, that even my angsty teenage girl couldn’t get through it all, having to skip the extended rant against Joyce. To be honest, that is where it picked up. The whole first thrid of the book, a sub-Dickensian grim-oop-narth narcissistic polemic is awful. The man cannot write. Like other would-be poetical musos before him, there is a difference between a three-minute pop ditty and Ted Hughes. (No no no no, Jim Morrison was not a poet. No. NO.) His turn of phrase is awful, his meter off-kilter, and he badly needs an editor. I have no doubt there is a good story in there, but he can’t write it.

The usual suspects on the train raised eyebrows, other non-usual ones (ex-angsty teenage girls now in their mid-to-late 40s, acting like they were seventeen again taking up his defense) not appreciating me expressing the opinion he can’t write. At all. And there wasn’t much on The Smiths, which to be fair is fair, as it was only four or so years of his output.

He’s in a world of his own
He has a child but he doesn’t know
He wanted love, so he loved himself
And he’s at an all-time low
He’s in a world of his own
He’s in a hell of his own

But I read on. After the first third, comes the court case and his battle with obscurity. Media obscurity. Judging by the sales, he did well without the reviews, airplay and corporate ladder. The British Press turn against someone? Who would have thought it? The build-em-up, knock-em-down of the music press is well known, but the vitriol reserved for Moz, and the hatchet jobs they did on him, well, while I didn’t feel sorry for him (he’d rather be famous than righteous, or holy, any day, remember?) I do think he took it more than others. Probably as The Smiths Saved English Rock Music ™.

He watches the clock and watches the time
Watches life slip by on the assembly line
And the youth he’s never known

By way of an interlude, I can never make my mind up about ‘How Soon is Now’. I know what I said in my opening self-ἀπολογία, but sometimes I think it great, others, just, well, dull. And I attribute that to the million of copy-cat bands who ripped it off and used it as a basis for their entire career.

But time and distance haven’t really changed it at all. Only if you isolate yourself from all else. Once you start talking to others, the old creeping…and now irrational dislike returns, but more nuanced. And by nuanced I mean apologist, and not in the aforementioned ἀπολογία way. Though I do that. More knowledge just gives me more avenues to troll along.

But his music was always…wussy. No edge, really. Blunted by whimsy, and an oh-so-clever turn of phrase. But lacking that certain element that gives (for example) Dave Gedge more impetus. The book, unlike the music, is vile in places, farcical in others, but seemingly honest everywhere. While he does seem to have somewhat held back, there is enough to make it (almost) worth the strain of reading, if you are interested in him, or were around at the height of The Smiths.

He cries, he lies
He’s cool, he’s kind
He heads out on a Friday night,
He gets drunk and he starts a fight
And he loses his mind
And he loses his sight

For those who still wear their purple DMs, the…nostalgia he weaves through namedropping of other bands takes you back. Given I was an avid reader of the NME, the covers, the headlines, the interviews remind me of a youth I can’t really connect to anymore, just anecdotes around a middleclass Cambridge dinner table.

I guess I am feeding it all in my own little way too. It made me feel strongly enough to warrant a weblog post. (Well, that is a lie, I have so many in draft, but never get round to finishing them. I thought I would this one.) Why does he, even now, provoke such a reaction? In work, with those who are really only aware of him on a meta-contextual level (WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU NEVER DANCED TO THE SISTERS OF MERCY?!) have an opinion on him, such was his…exposure.

Because times are hard
And money is tight
Because he has the pressure
He has the blame

But, really, it is all about me, working through what I remember, felt and not even having an amusing sting in the tale.

Life never changes
Forever the same

In the end, I found myself liking Morrissey. Now that was unexpected.

Forever the same
Forever the same

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