The Guardian’s smear of Morrissey was just one of many to appear over the last few years in the mainstream media. The hit pieces keep coming. But they never work. He’s too seminal, too necessary, too good. Here’s how I know:
I held the black little boombox, a gift for my 14th birthday, at an angle in my bedroom window. It was propped up by books, held in place with tape, the antenna snaked as far up between the panes of glass and the screen as it would go. I didn’t care that cold, Massachusetts winter air blustered in, I didn’t care that I had to keep adjusting the box to dispel the static, to keep it from crashing to the floor. My only concern was that WBRU came in clear. WBRU, the college radio station out of Providence, Rhode Island, played Morrissey, they played The Smiths, and I needed it like a starving man needs food.
My stomach was in knots most of the time. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere, not in my home, not in my school. In my family, I was extra—the child from the previous marriage who was always doing something wrong, had the wrong attitude, couldn’t meet expectations. The radio stations were full of New Kids on the Block and New Edition and cute people whose problems we’d only learn about later. It made me want to puke. Cyndi Lauper and JJ Fad and Madonna were cool and everything, but they sang “happy.” I couldn’t relate. Happiness was in some foreign realm, some alternate dimension, part of those confusing expectations I couldn’t comprehend. The day I heard “November Spawned a Monster” (Bona Drag) and “How Soon is Now?” (Meat is Murder) playing through the speakers I felt a kinship like no other. I could barely breathe, I felt so seen.
Day after day I left the radio in the window and put on extra sweaters and fingerless gloves and waited, patiently, for Morrissey songs to come on. “Shelia Take a Bow,” “Suedehead,” “Everyday is Like Sunday,” “This Charming Man,” “Still Ill,” “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” These songs were like morphine to a cancer patient. They calmed my pain, which was a tough task, because the pain was excruciating. I hurt all the time. There were the kids at school, who sucked. There were my parents, who sucked. There was my little brother, who I wanted to protect from everything, whom I feared would experience this same agony, which sucked. I couldn’t bear it.
One weekend I went to the Hanover Mall with my friend Carolyn and I told her what I wanted from Sam Goody, and she said “well yeah,” because she knew about The Smiths and Morrissey already and for some reason hadn’t told me. I was angry at her. How could she have kept this from me? But she didn’t know. She couldn’t have known. I forgave her as soon as I got the cassettes in my hand. This music became my constant companion. Morrissey made the world bearable in a way that no one else did. I couldn’t live without it. And gradually, as time went on, it was Morrissey’s music that saved my life, again and again. When no one understood what I was feeling, or how bad things were, Morrissey seemed to get it. I could lay on my bed with all the terror of my heart, unable to see through the tears, barely able to feel through the hurt, while Morrissey soothed, vocally and lyrically, and in a minor key.
The first time I saw him live, miles and miles away from that boombox in the window, long after I’d said my final goodbyes to that home, and that family that fractured and splintered for good, was at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island in New York. I was living in Philly with my Mom’s new family, and I’d made new friends at my new school. These friends were girls who loved Morrissey, and The Smiths, and wore Doc Martens and were about as miserable as I was, which made me happy. My mom drove us up to see the show. I think she sat in the car for the whole time, which wasn’t very long, because Morrissey for sure didn’t play all night, sigh. This was something like 1992 and he played “Angel, Angel Down We Go Together” and I wept like someone killed my cat. I wept like someone opened my heart and looked inside and said I love you I love you I love you with all the fury and ferociousness of the horror and beauty of this life. I choked on my tears and felt bliss. We all did, the whole crowd.
Morrissey is the one who makes boys do up their hair like that. Swoon. Morrissey is the one who consistently puts out good records year after year, because he has words he needs to write, and sing, and people who need to hear them. Morrissey is the one I can’t go more than a few days without listening to, whether it’s the old stuff, like how randomly my brain will start singing “Late Night, Maudlin Street” or because I heard that he’d covered Chrissie Hynde’s “Back on the Chain Gang,” with Boz Boorer’s delicious rockabilly tone, so different from Johnny Marr but just as complementary to the lyrical sound. Or because it turned out somewhere along the way I’d missed a record (there are so many) and I have to consume it instantly.
Morrissey is the one who reached out to young collaborators recently to sing with him on his new covers record, California Son. The Guardian, NME, and others all feel like they must hammer the greatest living crooner for not towing leftist party political lines. These outlets that want to slash Morrissey can’t even do it properly. After asking all the collaborators, from whoever that guy is from Green Day, to some other people who also aren’t half as good as Morrissey and should be grateful to be to be on the album (and probably are), there was only one singer, a b-list Canadian celebrity, who spoke out against him.
According to The Guardian, Canadian artist Ariel Engle of Broken Social Scene only became aware of Morrissey’s unpopular political views after she was paid for the studio session, when “…a friend emailed to question her involvement. ‘It’s a very weak argument to claim ignorance,’ she says,” reported The Guardian, “but it’s my argument. It’s not an excuse but it happens to be the truth.” So that’s it. That’s the crux of the controversy. A politically uninformed singer whose friend asked her why she’d perform on a record with someone whose political views she didn’t know about has said she was ignorant of those views prior to showing up and turning on her mic.
Morrissey’s political views may matter to Morrissey, they may even matter to some people who think that Morrissey’s political views have any bearing on anything at all, which maybe they do or maybe they don’t, but in fact his views are completely irrelevant to the music. Maybe he’s a Bernie bro, maybe not, maybe he hates everyone, maybe not, maybe he’s got a whole bunch of views that people don’t agree with, who doesn’t, but the man saved my life. And when Luis in Ant Man talks about his grandma’s jukebox that only plays Moz, and when you see the Latinx kids repping the look and feeling all the feels, and when the lyrics slay open your heart and let you live for real in a true and honest way, that’s what Morrissey is, that’s what his music is about. Maybe he doesn’t love me as much as I love him, and he for sure doesn’t know my name, but either way, when he sings he sings directly to me, and I know that I have weight in the world.