Sign of Judgement

Marianne Faithfull digs deep into the well of blues music. She has, in her latter day career, come redefine what it means to be a modern-day blues singer. She’s drawn on everything from traditional American blues and spirituals, European cabaret and chanson, the mid-century rock canon and, of course, compositions of her own. Any musical tradition that draws from the well of human sorrow is blues, and Faithfull pulls it all together. Who else would put so many seemingly disparate inspirations all side by side and make it sound so coherent? On Strange Weather she picked songs by Tom Waits and Bob Dylan along with Leadbelly and Jerome Kern, and while some of it may seem like a pretty loose interpretation of the blues, you can’t get much more blues-purist than Kid Prince Moore, an artist so obscure that the only evidence of his existence are his 17 known recordings. But, as Faithfull shows, all of these artists from different times and backgrounds share the same sorrow.

Shoplifters of the World Unite

This is certainly the call to arms you need to hear while browsing at Hot Topic. Morrissey encourages you to stick it to the man in the quietest, most unobtrusive way possible. Meanwhile, I would not be surprised to find that ‘shoplifting’ is some obscure north of England palare for acts of a homosexual nature. “A listed crime” you say? Well, no doubt, stealing is a crime, and if you were to confess that you’ve got a sticky set of five fingers, that would be a fine double entendre too. You could be stealing some nice boy’s virtue. Yes, indeed, this is some of the most thinly coded gay agitprop to be seen on English television in Our Year of the Lord 1987 (very much not a good year for gay people.) I’m sure that it was, to those that got it, discreetly incendiary. I suspect that Morrissey’s swaying hips are still enough to set gay sadboys’ hearts aflutter with validation. I mean, it works well enough for those of us who are merely sad and romantically discombobulated without the extra burden of needing code words for it. Morrissey’s brand of bedsitter emo – miserabalism – knows no sexual boundaries (because his fans don’t have sex and when they do they hate it, haha) which may be why he’s never publicly committed to having a sexual orientation. When he quipped that genitalia is a cruel joke, his words rang true. But really, it’s the heart that is a cruel joke, and the genitals are just its unruly henchmen. 

Shining Star

All critical consensus aside, I still unabashedly really love Never Let Me Down. Most critics have dismissed it as the nadir of cheesy eighties-ness, a career low for David Bowie. That’s exactly what I love though. It’s David Bowie trying to be the commercial artist he always could’ve been, if he’d been able to tone down his natural weirdness. The weirdness is still barely contained, but buttered up with all the trendy 80’s production gimmicks. I’m not the only one who suspected that the problem was just lazy production taking the sheen off of some actually pretty strong songs, and now there’s been some remixing done (for a box set, of course.) Listen to the same song with and without dinky 80’s canned beats, and at least chalk it up as a near-miss. 

Sheila Take a Bow

“Come out and find the one that you love and who loves you…”

On a gloomy day, it takes the Smiths to raise my spirits. There’s something uplifting in being a miserable misfit and yet bopping along anyway. There’s something about Morrissey’s weird confidence that he’s incurable. And he is incurable. In the beginning it seemed like a posture, because how seriously can you take a pretty boy who insists he’s antisocial and sad? Every young person thinks they’re antisocial and unlovable and permanently locked out of the normal-people party, and then they grow up and realize their juvenile angst was just that, juvenile. Not Morrissey though. He grew up and stayed the same miserable antisocial fuck he’s always been, just somehow truly incapable of whatever it is that makes you a functional adult. Whatever doors regular people walk through on their regular-person pathway of life, those doors are closed to Morrissey, and by extension, the people who relate to him. Being good looking and brilliant and acclaimed at what you do isn’t enough. You relate to Morrissey because you never grew out of that nagging feeling that there’s just some secret skill that you’re missing, some stroke of luck that hasn’t struck. Or maybe you just like animals more than people and enjoy feeling sorry for yourself a lot.

Shakespeare’s Sister

You’ll never take the 80’s emo kid out of me. Doesn’t matter that I’m chronologically a 90’s kid, a Smiths fan is something I decided to become circa 2009, and Morrissey can be as unpleasant an old bat as he wants. The Smiths are still the most authentic music of the decade. Because let’s face it, if you or I were any 80’s rock star, we wouldn’t be any of the cool people selling Pepsi on MTV. We’d be Morrissey, flailing about sadly in an ill-fitting cardigan. The songs that saved your life are the songs that saved your life. They’re the songs that speak to your misery, your dysfunction, your self-aggrandizement and your self-sabotage. We’re all losers who both hate and cling to our shitty personalities, our weird coping mechanisms, and identities as ill-fitting as our cardigans.

A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours

I love Morrissey’s references to boys with pretty white necks. It’s both sexy and self-consciously glib. And he has got quite a pretty white neck himself, which isn’t meant to be lost on anyone. The winking and nodding to pretty boys’ bodies – coming from a pretty boy who claimed that his pain is too grand for mere labels of sexual orientation – was naughty and subversive, and as telling as you wanted it to be. Morrissey will probably never ‘come out’ the way some people are still rooting for him to do, nor should he; the business of pinning down personal identity is dreadfully dreary when you don’t particularly care for any of the options. That does allow the singer to remain pliable and easy to project onto, hence the rabid devotion he still commands. The fact that he’s kind of a crappy person doesn’t matter very much to fans who’ve identified with the music for whatever reason. The singer may be a challenge to admire, but the songs remain impossible not to latch onto. We will probably forever be debating just how knowingly Morrissey’s music addresses depression-case gay boys, or romantic-pretender depression-case straight ones, or sad-sack wallflower girls. But there’s one thing that everybody in the fandom relates to: people who’ve learned about the world in cemeteries and libraries experience love differently, with sweaty palms and shaky knees, and being pretty is frankly no reprieve from it.