Piccadilly Palare

And now, a song about being a male prostitute. Why let the ladies have all the degradation? Morrissey based this on the historical reality that young  men used to congregate around Piccadilly Circus to sell themselves, before the place turned into a national tourist trap. The male hustlers and homosexuals developed their own underground slang, the better to disguise their proclivities from the law. It was, needless to say, a seedy and desperate subculture, but also in its own way a haven for people who saw no legitimate life path that they could follow, thanks to who they were. No need to romanticize the bad old days when things were worse, but also, there’s an element of romantic appeal to an isolated and sexually confused young outsider i.e. Morrissey and his  entire fanbase. You could fancy yourself an outlaw who thumbs his nose at petty mores, a member of an exclusive community, keeper of secrets.

Our Frank

Oh, give us a drink
And make it quick
Or else I’m gonna be sick
Sick all over
Your frankly vulgar
Red pullover

Let me leave you with this lovely chorus for a moment. Just really mull it over. Now raise your hand if Morrissey can come vomit on you any time he likes. Or not. He makes himself seem like a bit of an unpleasant dinner guest here,  but also, we can relate. Ever been with a dreadful date who wouldn’t shut up? That’s when you drink yourself into oblivion, and yes, possibly maybe get sick all over, which is the least charming and sexy thing you could do. Lesson; don’t give your valuable time to people who bring you down and have poor taste in pullovers.

Ouija Board, Ouija Board

No, I was not pushing that time!

A dire warning about messing about with the spirit world, lest whimsical weirdness interrupts your bucolic teatime seance. Morrissey is borderline batshit insane even on his best behavior, and the rock star necessity of shooting videos does not bring his best out. So has, notoriously enough, taken the art of video where most artists of his stature would fear to tread. His videos have consistently been embarrassingly ill-conceived, amateurish, and just plain batshit insane. In this case, he does keep his shirt on, which may or may not be a detriment, depending on what you’re expecting to enjoy. And, as tends to happen, the general weirdness does no service to the song, which is actually weird in a good way. I think you all know what a Ouija board is, and I expect you’ll agree that it’s an exceedingly dumb toy. It’s dumb if you believe in the occult and equally dumb if you don’t. And it’s definitely something you could imagine your pale, mopey, celibate, tea-drinking self doing alone in an isolated Tudor mansion in the middle of the woods on a misguided romantic whim. Inevitably, you will find that the spirits don’t care for your company any more than the living.

The Operation

Morrissey is known for a lot of things, but indulging in sprawling six minute experimental songs with drum solos is not one of them. Yet here it is, the sprawling indulgent drum solo and the nearly seven minutes. With what I’m understanding as a disapproving message about the perils of plastic surgery (could be anything though.) Coincidentally or not, in 1995 it seems that a lot of people were sick to their back teeth of Morrissey, and his experimental opus got a chilly reception. What followed was a lengthy fallow period, and of course, the triumphant comeback. But obscure mid-90’s Morrissey is still worth exploring, because extravagant minute counts aside, he never really left his topical discomfort zone.

November Spawned a Monster

I have watched this video far more times than would be healthy, and the words ‘too gay to function’ come to mind. Perhaps through same magical transmogrification Morrissey switched places with Shakira for a day, so while he’s writhing in the dirt half naked, she is sitting moodily on James Dean’s grave in a trench coat and hat. Or, simply, WTF? What the actual fuck, Morrissey? Though it may appear that the point is to parody other pop stars’ sexy-dancing-in-the-dirt-for-no-reason music videos, this came out in 1990, way before that particular style of high-gloss head-on objectification became de rigueur. Whatever the reasoning, this is clearly the apex (or nadir) of Morrissey’s lifelong spree of terrible music videos. Let me be clear – the guy makes the worst videos of any pop star of his stature, and this is the weirdest, most disturbing one by far. So much so, I haven’t even thought to say a word about the song…um…it’s good, it’s a good song, something about the ugly way the world sees disabled people and…ohhh god what’s with the chocolate bar…why?…that is oddly arousing…please stop…

Book Review: Autobiography

It’s fair to say that one of the most feverishly anticipated celebrity memoirs in recent times was Morrissey’s. Fans and detractors alike couldn’t imagine what the famously elusive Moz would have to say for himself. Having conquered the thing, I’ll say that how much you enjoy it doesn’t depend entirely on how much you love Morrissey, but it sure does help if you’re partial towards him.

The first disclaimer; if you’re looking for hard biographical data, you won’t find it here. If you need a biographical refresher course, there are plenty of biographies written by professional biographers. Morrissey isn’t interested in petty specifics, he’s interested in conveying what it feels like to have been Morrissey all those years. Apparently it wasn’t fun.

Second disclaimer; this is not an easy read. It’s not a book you can grab on the fly and cram a page or two in while you await the bus. To the surprise of no one, Morrissey writes like what he is – a writer. The books reads more like a novel than your usual barely coherent rock star tell-all. It’s verbose, dense with wordplay, rich with run-on sentences that spin out – masterfully – for pages. There are plenty of mean, wickedly funny sketches of  weird personalities, with as much attention given to wacky Manchester neighbors as major stars (though plenty of celebrity names are dropped throughout.) Especially striking is Morrissey’s opening salvo; an epic, impressionistic flowing recollection of growing up in hardscrabble Manchester, no place for a soft-hearted boy. Even if you’re not charmed by the author’s personality or his music, if you’re a lover of good writing, you should be deeply satisfied by his writing ability.

If you are generally prepared charmed by Morrissey, you’ll be charmed and frustrated with him in turn, for the personality is out in full force, and not to sugercoat it, it’s not a very nice one. There is, of course, the famous wit and the wry self-deprecation, which has carried the day since Morrissey first arrived on the world stage. He knows he’s difficult and not socially adept and not at all suited to the role of rock god, and knows enough to wring black humor from his many tales of awkwardness and ineptitude. On the other hand, as success hangs heavy, he doesn’t know what to make of himself. The triumphant comeback of the aughts seems to leave Morrissey befuddled, as he recounts strings of venues sold-out to adoring crowds young enough to be his offspring. The dogged underdog self image can’t be shaken. Morrissey thinks he’s eternally put-upon; he sees himself as a hapless bystander in the narrative of his own life. The many documented instances of Morrissey instigating drama, starting feuds, saying offensive things on purpose and just generally being an asshole – those things are documented, but not by him. He doesn’t seem to understand that he’s not the victim in every situation, or that some things may be his fault. For instance, the description of the infamous court battle wherein Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke sued for an equal cut of Smiths’ profits goes on for page after petulant page. You may or may not agree that ‘the other two’ Smiths deserved equal profit, but one thing is clear – in Morrissey’s eyes those two were non-entities from the very beginning.

Those not already carrying the Morrissey torch may slam down the book in frustration, probably at around the halfway point. The deeply impassioned, especially those with a literary bent, will find it worth slogging through the occasional self-serving bits. The deft writing and ever-present humor should carry you through. And it is, in its own way, an unusually revealing memoir. Now we know what it feels like to be Morrissey, or at least imagine being stuck with his company; sometimes pleasant, sometimes aggravating, always one of a kind.

The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get

No two ways about it – this song is extremely creepy. Hovering around the object of your desire in the hope that somehow you’ll win them over with your relentlessness – it’s called ‘stalking’, and it’s usually remedied with a restraining order. Morrissey is hardly the first person to write a song about being a stalker, and although I suspect he’d be a pretty sad and harmless one, it’s a fine addition to the genre. Now obviously, there’s a lot to be said about how romanticizing pathological behavior is not real productive in terms of fostering a healthier social environment. Rather harmful, in fact. **Insert feminist rant about the pathology of male entitlement here** But romanticize these things we do, and if we’re being honest, we strongly relate to the sentiment. And if the person delivering the sentiment we relate to has great hair, the more deeply the sentiment is felt.