||Steven Patrick Morrissey
||22 May 1959
Davyhulme, Lancashire, England
||Alternative rock, indie pop, indie rock
||HMV, Sire, RCA, Reprise, Mercury, Attack, Sanctuary, Decca, Lost Highway, Major Minor
||The Smiths, The Nosebleeds, Slaughter & The Dogs, Nancy Sinatra
Steven Patrick Morrissey (born 22 May 1959), known as Morrissey, is an English singer and lyricist. He rose to prominence in the 1980s as the lyricist and vocalist of the alternative rock band The Smiths. The band was highly successful in the United Kingdom but broke up in 1987, and Morrissey began a solo career, making the top ten of the UK Singles Chart on ten occasions. Widely regarded as an important innovator in indie music, Morrissey has been described by music magazine NME as "one of the most influential artists ever," and The Independent has stated "most pop stars have to be dead before they reach the iconic status he has reached in his lifetime." Pitchfork Media has called him "one of the most singular figures in Western popular culture from the last twenty years."
Morrissey's lyrics have been described as "dramatic, bleak, funny vignettes about doomed relationships, lonely nightclubs, the burden of the past and the prison of the home." He is also noted for his unique baritone vocal style (though he sometimes uses falsetto), his quiff haircut and his dynamic live performances. His forthright, often contrarian opinions, especially on the subject of race, have led to a number of media controversies, and he has also attracted media attention for his advocacy of vegetarianism and animal rights.
Early life: 1959–76
Morrissey was born on 22 May 1959 at Park Hospital in Davyhulme, Lancashire to Irish Catholic parents who had emigrated to Manchester from County Kildare with his only sibling, elder sister Jackie, a year prior to his birth. His father, Peter, was a hospital porter and his mother, Elizabeth (née Dwyer), was an assistant librarian. Morrissey was raised in inner-city Manchester. His family first lived at Harper Street in Hulme before moving to nearby Queen's Square in 1965. In 1969, when many of the old streets and tenements were facing demolition, Morrissey's parents moved to a three-bedroomed house on King's Road in the suburb of Stretford.
As a child, Morrissey developed interests and role models that distinguished him from his peers, including female singers and pop stars like Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw, Marianne Faithfull, as well as Billy Fury. He was interested in "kitchen sink" television drama, Coronation Street's Elsie Tanner, actor James Dean and authors Oscar Wilde and Shelagh Delaney. The Moors Murders devastated and scandalised the city when the matter came to trial in 1966, and this collective trauma is said to have made a profound and lasting impression on Morrissey.
In adolescence, Morrissey has said his athletic ability saved him to a large degree from bullying. Still, he has described this period as a time when he was often lonely and depressed. As a teenager, he began taking prescription drugs to help combat the depression that would later follow him throughout his life. He attended St. Mary's Secondary Modern School and Stretford Technical School, where he passed three O levels, including English Literature. He then worked briefly for the Inland Revenue, but ultimately decided to "go on the dole."
Of his youth, Morrissey said, "Pop music was all I ever had, and it was completely entwined with the image of the pop star. I remember feeling the person singing was actually with me and understood me and my predicament." From 1974, he frequently wrote letters to music magazines like Melody Maker and the NME, giving his opinions on various bands. Morrissey would sometimes go to see bands at in Manchester, the first being T. Rex at Belle Vue in 1972. He was taken there by his father, fearing for his safety in the notoriously rough district. Morrissey has described the occasion as "messianic and complete chaos."
Early bands and published books: 1977–81
During the 1970s, the teenage Morrissey was president of the UK branch of the New York Dolls fan club. He articulated his love for the group in the documentary New York Doll: "Some bands grab you and they never let you go and, no matter what they do, they can never let you down ... the Dolls were that for me." Morrissey was an early convert to punk rock. Morrissey, then still with forename, briefly fronted The Nosebleeds in 1978, who by that time included Billy Duffy (later of The Cult) on guitar. They played a number of concerts, including one supporting Magazine, which was reviewed in the NME by Paul Morley. Morrissey also founded The Cramps fan club "The Legion of the Cramped" with another enthusiast for their music, Lindsay Hutton, but he progressively scaled down his involvement in the club over time because of the increasing amount of time he was devoting to his own musical career.
Morrissey wrote several songs with Duffy, such as "Peppermint Heaven," "I Get Nervous" and "(I Think) I'm Ready for the Electric Chair," but none were recorded during the band's short lifespan, which ended the same year. After The Nosebleeds' split, Morrissey followed Duffy to join Slaughter & the Dogs, briefly replacing original singer Wayne Barrett. He recorded four songs with the band and they auditioned for a record deal in London. After the audition fell through, Slaughter & the Dogs became Studio Sweethearts, without Morrissey.
The singer interrupted his music career at around this time, focusing instead on writing on popular culture. He published two works with Babylon Books: The New York Dolls (1981), about his favourite band; and James Dean is Not Dead (1983), about actor James Dean's brief career. A third book, Exit Smiling, which was actually written first (in 1980) and which dealt with obscure B movie actors, was initially rejected and remained unpublished until 1998.
The Smiths: 1982–87
In early 1982, Morrissey met the guitarist Johnny Marr and the two began a songwriting partnership: "We got on absolutely famously. We were very similar in drive." After recording several demo tapes with future Fall drummer Simon Wolstencroft, in autumn 1982 they recruited drummer Mike Joyce. They also added bass player Dale Hibbert, who provided the group with demo recording facilities at the studio where he worked as a factotum. However, after two gigs, Marr's friend Andy Rourke replaced Hibbert on bass because neither Hibbert's bass playing nor his personality "meshed" with the rest of the group. Signing to independent record label Rough Trade Records, they released their first single, "Hand in Glove", in May 1983. It was championed by DJ John Peel, as were all their later singles, but it failed to chart. The follow-up singles "This Charming Man" and "What Difference Does It Make?" fared better when they reached numbers 25 and 12 respectively on the UK Singles Chart. Aided by praise from the music press and a series of studio sessions for Peel and David Jensen at BBC Radio 1, The Smiths began to acquire a dedicated fan base. In February 1984, they released their debut album, The Smiths, which reached number two on the UK Albums Chart.
In 1984, the band released two non-album singles: "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" (their first UK top-ten hit) and "William, It Was Really Nothing". The year ended with the compilation album Hatful of Hollow. This collected singles, B-sides and the versions of songs that had been recorded throughout the previous year for the Peel and Jensen shows. Early in 1985 the band released their second album, Meat is Murder, which was their only studio album to top the UK charts. The single-only release "Shakespeare's Sister" reached number 26 on the UK Singles Chart, though the only single taken from the album, "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore", was less successful, barely making the top 50.
During 1985, the band undertook lengthy tours of the UK and the US while recording the next studio record, The Queen is Dead. The album was released in June 1986, shortly after the single "Bigmouth Strikes Again". The record reached number two in the UK charts. However, all was not well within the group. A legal dispute with Rough Trade had delayed the album by almost seven months (it had been completed in November 1985), and Marr was beginning to feel the stress of the band's exhausting touring and recording schedule. Meanwhile, Rourke was fired in early 1986 for his use of heroin. Rourke was temporarily replaced on bass guitar by Craig Gannon, but he was reinstated after only a fortnight. Gannon stayed in the band, switching to rhythm guitar. This five-piece recorded the singles "Panic" and "Ask" (with Kirsty MacColl on backing vocals) which reached numbers 11 and 14 respectively on the UK Singles Chart, and toured the UK. After the tour ended in October 1986, Gannon left the band. The group had become frustrated with Rough Trade and sought a record deal with a major label, ultimately signing with EMI, which drew criticism from the band's fanbase.
In early 1987, the single "Shoplifters of the World Unite" was released and reached number 12 on the UK Singles Chart. It was followed by a second compilation, The World Won't Listen, which reached number two in the charts – and the single "Sheila Take a Bow," the band's second (and last during the band's lifetime) UK top-10 hit. Despite their continued success, personal differences within the band – including the increasingly strained relationship between Morrissey and Marr – saw them on the verge of splitting. In July 1987, Marr left the group and auditions to find a replacement proved fruitless.
By the time the group's fourth album Strangeways, Here We Come was released in September, the band had split up. The breakdown in the relationship has been primarily attributed to Morrissey's annoyance with Marr's work with other artists and to Marr's growing frustration with Morrissey's musical inflexibility. Strangeways peaked at number two in the UK, but was only a minor US hit, though it was more successful there than the band's previous albums.
Solo career: 1988–97
In March 1988, a mere six months after the Smiths' final album, Morrissey released his first solo album, Viva Hate. To create the album, Morrissey teamed up with former Smiths producer Stephen Street, Vini Reilly of Durutti Column (and formerly of the Nosebleeds), and drummer Andrew Paresi. Viva Hate reached number one upon release, supported by the singles "Suedehead" and "Everyday Is Like Sunday". Viva Hate was certified Gold by the RIAA on 16 November 1993.
Morrissey initially planned to release a follow-up album entitled Bona Drag after releasing a few holdover singles from the Viva Hate sessions. As such, he released "The Last of the Famous International Playboys," "Interesting Drug," and "Ouija Board, Ouija Board" over the course of 1989. The first two of these became top ten hits. However, by the end of 1989 it became apparent that he would not be able to put out an album of new material soon enough. Morrissey decided to scrap the idea of a full-length LP and release Bona Drag as a compilation of singles and B-sides instead. The album collected these early singles along with further non-album cuts such as "November Spawned a Monster," "Piccadilly Palare," "Disappointed" and the B-side "Hairdresser on Fire."
After a falling out with Stephen Street, Morrissey recruited the production aid of Clive Langer and songwriting services of Mark E. Nevin, of Fairground Attraction, for the studio follow-up to Viva Hate, entitled Kill Uncle. The album peaked at number eight on the UK charts. The two singles released in promotion of the album, "Our Frank" and "Sing Your Life," failed to break the Top 20 on the singles charts reaching number 26 and number 33 respectively. Morrissey released two non-album singles, "Pregnant for the Last Time" and "My Love Life." The band Morrissey assembled in 1991 for his Kill Uncle tour went on to record 1992's hit album Your Arsenal. Composition duties were split between guitarists Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte, who have been the core of Morrissey's band until the later stages of his comeback period. Your Arsenal was produced by former David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, and earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Alternative Album. The album peaked at number four on the UK charts, with two of its three singles, "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful" and "You're the One for Me, Fatty," both debuting in the Top 20 in the UK.
By 1994, Morrissey had suffered the loss of three people close to him: Mick Ronson, Tim Broad and Nigel Thomas. Channelling his grief, Morrissey wrote and recorded his second number one album in the UK, Vauxhall and I. Years after the release, Morrissey acknowledged that he felt at the time that it was going to be his last album, and that not only was it the best album he'd ever made but that he would never be able to top it in the future. One of the album's songs, "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get," reached number eight in the UK and number 46 in the US. That year, he also released a single "Interlude" in duet with Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees. Following the success of Vauxhall and I Morrissey began work on Southpaw Grammar in early 1995. When released in August, the album was a hit, reaching number four in the UK. However, both of its singles failed to chart in the Top 20. The nature of the album was different to past Morrissey releases. Musically, the inclusion of two tracks which surpass the ten minute mark, the near two and half minute drum solo courtesy of Spencer Cobrin which opens the track "The Operation" and the sampling of a Shostakovich symphony have led some to dub the album as 'Morrissey's flirtation with prog-rock.' Some critics were impressed by this apparent attempt at progression, while others dismissed the longer tracks as mere self-indulgence. With the exception of the single "Sunny" in that December it would be another year before Morrissey released a new album or single.
In 1996, Joyce took Morrissey and Marr to court, claiming that he had not received his fair share of recording and performance royalties. Morrissey and Marr had claimed 40% each of the Smiths' recording and performance royalties and allowed ten percent each to Joyce and Rourke. Composition royalties were not an issue, as Rourke and Joyce had never been credited as composers for the band. Morrissey and Marr claimed that the other two members of the band had always agreed to that split of the royalties as they had consented to an account of the royalties sent to Joyce during the band's existence, but initially the High Court and then the Court of Appeal found in favour of Joyce and ordered that he be paid over £1 million in back pay and receive twenty-five percent henceforth. As Smiths' royalties had been frozen for two years, Rourke settled for a smaller lump sum to pay off his debts and continued to receive ten percent. While the judge in the case described Morrissey as "devious, truculent and unreliable," he did not state that the singer had been dishonest. Morrissey claimed that he was "... under the scorching spotlight in the dock, being drilled ..." with questions such as " 'How dare you be successful?' 'How dare you move on?'" He stated that "The Smiths were a beautiful thing and Johnny [Marr] left it, and Mike [Joyce] has destroyed it." Morrissey appealed against the verdict, but was not successful.
Morrissey returned on a new record label in 1997 with the single "Alma Matters" in promotion of his album Maladjusted. Though the single was hailed by some as a return to form for Morrissey, the resulting album is considered both a commercial and critical disappointment. The album peaked at number eight in the UK album charts and its further two singles, "Roy's Keen" and "Satan Rejected My Soul" both peaked outside the UK Top 30. Morrissey would not release another studio album for seven years.
Despite the absence of any record deal, Morrissey undertook a world tour throughout 2002, with dates across the US, Europe, Australia, and Japan. Setlists consisted of material from his Smiths and solo years, and new songs that would later be recorded for his seventh studio album. It was during this time that Channel 4 filmed The Importance of Being Morrissey, a documentary which eventually aired in 2003. In June 2003, it was revealed Sanctuary Records had given Morrissey the one-time reggae label Attack Records to record new material and to sign new artists. You Are the Quarry was released in 2004. The album peaked at number two on the UK album chart and number 11 on the Billboard album chart in the United States. Guitarist Alain Whyte described the work as a mix between Your Arsenal and Vauxhall and I, and the album received strong reviews. The first single, "Irish Blood, English Heart," reached number three in its first week of sales in the UK singles chart. This was the highest placing chart position for Morrissey in his entire career at that point. Three other hit singles followed: "First of the Gang to Die," "Let Me Kiss You," and "I Have Forgiven Jesus." With the release of "I Have Forgiven Jesus," Morrissey along with McFly became the only artists to score four top-10 hits in the UK singles chart that year. The album has since sold over a million copies, making the album his most successful one, solo or with the Smiths. To coincide with the release of the album, Morrissey embarked on an accompanying tour spanning several continents from April to November. In August 2004, Morrissey was slated to headline a week-long set of shows on Craig Ferguson's The Late Late Show. Morrissey did not perform every night of the weeklong series due to a throat illness. He did, however, perform the following week. The performance at the Manchester Evening News Arena on Morrissey's 45th birthday was recorded and released on the DVD Who Put the M in Manchester? in 2005.
Morrissey's eighth studio album, Ringleader of the Tormentors, was recorded in Rome and released on 3 April 2006. Upon release, it debuted at number one in the UK album charts and number 27 in the US. The album yielded four hit singles: "You Have Killed Me," "The Youngest Was the Most Loved," "In the Future When All's Well," and "I Just Want to See the Boy Happy." Originally Morrissey was to record the album with producer Jeff Saltzman, however he could not undertake the project. Producer Tony Visconti, of T.Rex and David Bowie fame, took over the production role and Morrissey announced that the album was "the most beautiful—perhaps the most gentle, so far." Billboard magazine described the album as showcasing "a thicker, more rock-driven sound." Morrissey attributes this change in sound to new guitarist Jesse Tobias. The subsequent 2006 international tour included more than two dozen gigs in the UK, including concerts at the London Palladium. Morrissey was scheduled to appear at the 2005 Benicassim festival in Spain but pulled out at the last minute. In January 2007, the BBC confirmed that it was in talks with Morrissey for him to write a song for the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest. If an agreement could be made, Morrissey would be writing the song for someone else, rather than performing it himself, a BBC spokesperson claimed. The following month, the BBC ruled this out, and stated Morrissey would not be part of Britain's Eurovision entry.
In early 2007, Morrissey left Sanctuary Records and embarked on a Greatest Hits tour. The tour ran from 1 February 2007 to 29 July 2008 and spanned 106 concerts over 8 different countries. Morrissey cancelled 11 of these dates, including a planned six consecutive shows at the Roundhouse in London, due to "throat problems." The tour consisted of three legs, the first two encompassing the US and Mexico were supported by Kristeen Young from February to October while the remainder featured Girl in a Coma. The final leg was a small scale European tour that saw Morrissey headlining the O2 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park, London on 4 July and culminated in Morrissey playing at the Heatwave Festival in Tel Aviv, Israel on 29 July.
After a show in Houston, Texas, on the first leg of the tour Morrissey rented out the Sunrise Sound Studio to record "That's How People Grow Up." The song was recorded with producer Jerry Finn rather than previous producer Tony Visconti for a future single and inclusion on an upcoming album. In an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live with Visconti, the producer stated that his new project would be Morrissey's next album, though that this would not be forthcoming for at least a year. However, in an interview with the BBC News website in October 2007, Morrissey said that the album was already written and ready for a possible September 2008 release and confirmed that his deal with Sanctuary Records had come to an end. In December he signed a new deal with Decca Records, which included a Greatest Hits album and a newly-recorded album to follow in autumn 2008. Upon signing with Decca, Morrissey released "That's How People Grow Up" as the first single off of his new Greatest Hits album. Despite lukewarm reviews, especially in the NME, the lack of airplay on British radio (except on XFM), and even the incredulity of fan sites, "That's How People Grow Up" reached the Top 15, reaching number 14 on the British charts. Reviews for the Greatest Hits compilation were very mixed; reviewers noted that the album only includes songs which reached the Top 15 in the charts, putting the emphasis on new songs, making the CD more suitable for new listeners than for old fans. The album charted at number 5 in the British album chart on its week of release. A limited edition of the Greatest Hits album also featured an eight-track live CD which was recorded at the Hollywood Bowl in 2007. A second single from the Greatest Hits, "All You Need Is Me," was released in March. In May 2008, Morrissey parted ways with his manager of five years, Merck Mercuriadis, in favour of a new contract with IE Music, however by September Morrissey left the group and acquired the services of Irving Azoff.
On 30 May 2008, it was announced that Morrissey's ninth studio album, Years of Refusal would have 12 tracks and be produced by Jerry Finn. On 5 August 2008 it was reported that, although originally due in September, Years of Refusal had been postponed until February 2009, as a result of Finn's death and the lack of an American label to distribute the album.
On 15 August 2008, Warner Music Entertainment announced the upcoming release of Morrissey: Live at the Hollywood Bowl, a DVD documenting the live performance that took place at the historic Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California, on 8 June 2007 on the first leg of Morrissey's 2007/2008 Greatest Hits tour. Morrissey greeted news of the DVD's release by imploring fans not to buy it. Originally due to be released 6 October 2008, the DVD has subsequently been delayed until 1 March 2009 by Warner Music according to HMV. This DVD has never been released.
In November 2008, Rolling Stone magazine named Morrissey one of "The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time." The list was compiled from ballots cast by a panel of 179 "music experts," such as Bruce Springsteen, Alicia Keys and Bono, who were asked to name their 20 favourite vocalists. Morrissey was ranked 92.
In February 2009, following persistent rumours over preceding months of an imminent Smiths reunion, Morrissey was once again forced to deny that any such reunion would take place. In an interview with BBC Radio 2, he remarked that "people always ask me about reunions, and I can't imagine why ... the past seems like a distant place, and I'm pleased about that." In a separate interview, with London radio station Xfm, Morrissey also stated that "chances were slim" that he himself would continue performing past the age of 55.
Years of Refusal was released worldwide on 16 February 2009 by the Universal Music Group. Upon release, it reached third place in the UK Albums Chart and 11 in the US Billboard 200. The record was widely acclaimed by critics, with comparisons made to Your Arsenal and Vauxhall and I. A review from Pitchfork Media noted that with Years of Refusal, Morrissey "has rediscovered himself, finding new potency in his familiar arsenal. Morrissey's rejuvenation is most obvious in the renewed strength of his vocals" and called it his "most venomous, score-settling album, and in a perverse way that makes it his most engaging." "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris" and "Something Is Squeezing My Skull" were released as the record's singles. The song "Black Cloud" features the guitar playing of Jeff Beck. Throughout 2009 Morrissey toured to promote the album. As part of the extensive Tour of Refusal, Morrissey followed a lengthy US tour with concerts booked in Ireland, Scotland, England, Russia. He had never before performed in Russia.
In April 2009, remastered editions of 1995's Southpaw Grammar and 1997's Maladjusted were released in the UK. These both featured a rearranged track listing with the inclusion of B-sides and outtakes, resulting in albums quite different to the original. They also featured new artwork and liner notes written by Morrissey. The reissues were available in the US from June that year.
October 2009 saw the release of a 2004–2009 B-Sides collection, named Swords. The album peaked at 55 on the UK albums chart, and Morrissey later called the compilation 'a meek disaster.' On the second date of the UK tour to promote Swords, Morrissey collapsed with breathing difficulties upon finishing the opening song of his set, "This Charming Man," at the Oasis Centre, Swindon. He was discharged from the hospital the following day.
Following the completion of the Swords tour it was announced that Morrissey had fulfilled his contractual obligation to Universal Records and was without a record company. Shortly after this announcement, it was also revealed he had split with Front Line Management.
In July 2010, it was announced that EMI will reissue the 1990 album Bona Drag on its Major Minor imprint, resurrected specifically for the release. The release features six additional previously unreleased tracks, and was released on 4 October, entering at number 67 in the UK charts. The 1988 single "Everyday Is Like Sunday" was also reissued to coincide with the release on both CD and 7" vinyl formats.
2011 and future
In February 2011, EMI announced a brand new compilation – Very Best of Morrissey – would be released in April that year. The press release stated both the tracklist and artwork were chosen by Morrissey himself, and the single "Glamorous Glue" would also be reissued the same week with two previously unreleased songs.
In March 2011, it was announced Morrissey was now under the management of Ron Laffitte.
In June and July 2011 Morrissey played a UK tour, mainly consisting of small venues in the North of Britain; played Glastonbury Festival; and headlined the Hop Farm Festival. In July and August he toured touring venues in Europe and played two festival dates, Hultsfred Festival in Sweden and Lokerse Feesten in Belgium. During his performance at Glastonbury Morrissey criticised the UK Prime Minister David Cameron for attempting to stop the ban on wild animals performing in circuses, calling him a 'silly twit'.
Morrissey has stated to have completed a 660-page autobiography which he intends to offer to publishers. In July 2011 NME reported that It's scheduled to be released in December 2012.
On 14 June 2011, Janice Long premiered three new Morrissey songs in session on her BBC Radio 2 program, "Action Is My Middle Name", "The Kid's a Looker" and "People Are The Same Everywhere".
Image and politics
Music industry feuds
Morrissey has criticised singers like Madonna, Elton John and George Michael, generally claiming their lyrics are pointless and they are more interested in being celebrities than in their music. He has also had disagreements with The Cure's Robert Smith, who stated "If Morrissey says not to eat meat, then I'll eat meat; that's how much I hate Morrissey." Lol Tolhurst, another founding member of the Cure, has claimed he likes Morrissey's music; however, he also said Smith is "quite justified in his ire", alleging their feud was instigated by Morrissey:
"We had never met Morrissey or the Smiths at that point and Morrissey made a very uncalled for remark concerning Robert in the English press. I never understood why as we or Robert had done nothing to upset him that I could think of, but after that it kind of snowballed ... Especially as journalists love feuds!!"
Morrissey also once openly wished Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance author Johnny Rogan "ends his days very soon in an M3 pile-up." Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys co-wrote two songs inspired by Morrissey's public stereotyping as miserable and unlovable ("Getting Away with It" and "Miserablism").
In 1994, Morrissey was criticised by Manic Street Preachers' bassist and lyricist Nicky Wire, in regards to comments Morrissey had made about immigration and national identity in NME. Other targets of his disapproval have been Band Aid, rap and rave music, and teenage pop stars. He once stated he disapproved of reggae – a criticism he later retracted, stating he was being facetious and he grew up partly on the classic singles released by the British reggae label Trojan in the early to mid-1970s.
Attitude towards political leaders
Morrissey has always been politically outspoken, directing his criticism at figures ranging from Oliver Cromwell, the British Royal Family, former British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair and former U.S. President George W. Bush. He has criticised both the two main political parties of the United Kingdom, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party.
In a 1984 interview, Morrissey spoke of the then-Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher: "She is only one person. She can be destroyed. It is the only remedy for this country at the moment." Morrissey's first solo album, Viva Hate, included a track entitled "Margaret on the Guillotine", a tongue-in-cheek jab at Thatcher. British police responded by searching Morrissey's home and carrying out an official investigation, while Simon Reynolds, who had interviewed Morrissey for Melody Maker, was questioned about the tone in which Morrissey had made certain remarks about Thatcher.
At a Dublin concert in June 2004, Morrissey caused controversy by announcing the death of former US President, Ronald Reagan and stating that he would have preferred it if the then current President, George W. Bush, had died. In October 2004, Morrissey released a statement urging American voters to vote for Democratic Party candidate John Kerry for President, calling this vote a "logical and sane move". Morrissey opined that "Bush has single-handedly turned the United States into the most neurotic and terror-obsessed country on the planet."
In February 2006, Morrissey said he had been interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and by British intelligence after having spoken out against the American and British governments. Morrissey said that "They were trying to determine if I was a threat to the government, it didn't take them long to realise that I am not." During a January 2008 concert Morrissey remarked "God Bless Barack Obama" and ranted against Hillary Clinton after a performance of "The World Is Full of Crashing Bores."
In December 2010, he publicly supported Johnny Marr, who had stated that he forbade British Prime Minister, David Cameron, from liking the Smiths. Morrissey added "I would like to, if I may, offer support to Johnny Marr who has spoken out to the media this week against David Cameron. David Cameron hunts and shoots and kills stags – apparently for pleasure. It was not for such people that either Meat Is Murder or The Queen Is Dead were recorded; in fact, they were made as a reaction against such violence". In his statement, he also lambasted the British Royal Family, noting their continued violence toward animals (in their pursuit of hunting and their use of bearskin to make the hats of the British guards) and their utter irrelevance in British life. He referred to Prince William and his then-fiancée Catherine Middleton as "so dull as people that it is actually impossible to discuss them".
Accusations of racism
Morrissey has been accused of racism or of out-dated attitudes to race. In 1985 he stated that "all reggae is vile", a dismissal of the genre that some found to be racially charged. He later said that this was a tongue-in-cheek answer to "wind up the right-on 1980s NME" and that he was actually a fan of much reggae music.
Morrissey songs such as "Bengali in Platforms," "Asian Rut" and "The National Front Disco", whose lyrics relate to community relations in the UK, have been criticised by some as sympathetic towards racism. In a 2002 documentary, The Importance of Being Morrissey, the subject takes issue with those who have viewed his songs in this way, saying: "Not everybody is absolutely stupid".
Morrissey's performance at the first Madness Madstock! reunion concert at Finsbury Park, London, in 1992, saw him appear on stage carrying a Union Flag, often associated with nationalism and the British far-right. As a backdrop for this performance, he chose a photograph of two female skinheads. The British music magazine NME responded to the performance with a lengthy examination of Morrissey's attitudes to race, claiming that the singer had "left himself in a position where accusations that he's toying with far-right/fascist imagery, and even of racism itself, can no longer just be laughed off with a knowing quip."
In 1994, Morrissey rejected claims of racism, saying "If the National Front were to hate anyone, it would be me". He qualified that by saying that far-right rage "is simply their anger at being ignored in what is supposed to be a democratic society." In 1999, he lamented the rise of Austrian far-right politician Jörg Haider, saying: "This is sad. Sometimes I don't believe we live in an intelligent world". In 2004 was a founding signatory of the Unite Against Fascism pressure group.
In 2007, Morrissey said in an interview with the NME that British identity had disappeared because of immigration. He later claimed to have been misrepresented, and his manager described the NME article as "character assassination". In 2008, he made a donation of £75,000 to the organisers of the Love Music Hate Racism concert in London, after the withdrawal of the NME's sponsorship left the event facing a financial shortfall. A legal suit by Morrissey against the NME began in October 2011.
In 2008, Word Magazine was forced to apologise in court for an article by David Quantick that accused Morrissey of being a racist and a hypocrite.
In 2010, during an interview with Simon Armitage for The Guardian, Morrissey alighted on the topic of animal cruelty in China, saying "you can't help but feel the Chinese are a sub-species". This led to Love Music Hate Racism, to whom Morrissey had previously donated money, saying it would be unable to accept support from him again without a retraction. "When you start using language like 'subspecies'," said a spokesperson, "you are entering into dark and murky water".
According to the commentator Liz Hoggard: "Morrissey didn't help his case with an uneasy flirtation with gangster imagery: he took up boxing and was accompanied everywhere by a skinhead, named Jake ... the man who abhorred violence became strangely fascinated by it." Encyclopædia Britannica says that that Morrissey's 1990s albums, including Your Arsenal (1992), Vauxhall and I (1994), Southpaw Grammar (1995) and Maladjusted (1997) "testified to a growing homoerotic obsession with criminals, skinheads, and boxers, a change paralleled by a shift in the singer's image from wilting wallflower to would-be thug sporting sideburns and gold bracelets."
Despite accusations of racism in the United Kingdom, Morrissey maintains a large Latino fan base in the United States and in Los Angeles particularly.
Animal rights activism
Morrissey has been vegetarian since he was 11 years old. He has explained his vegetarianism by saying "If you love animals, obviously it doesn't make sense to hurt them." Morrissey is an advocate for animal rights and a supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). In recognition of his support, PETA honoured him with the Linda McCartney Memorial Award at their 25th Anniversary Gala on 10 September 2005.
In January 2006, Morrissey attracted criticism when he stated that he accepts the motives behind the militant tactics of the Animal Rights Militia, saying "I understand why fur-farmers and so-called laboratory scientists are repaid with violence—it is because they deal in violence themselves and it's the only language they understand."
Morrissey has criticised people who are involved in the promotion of eating meat, specifically Jamie Oliver and Clarissa Dickson Wright – the latter already targeted by some animal rights activists for her stance on fox hunting. In response, Dickson-Wright stated "Morrissey is encouraging people to commit acts of violence and I am constantly aware that something might very well happen to me." The Conservative MP David Davis criticised these comments, saying that "any incitement to violence is obviously wrong in a civilised society and should be investigated by the police." On 27 March 2006, Morrissey released a statement that he would not include any concert dates in Canada on his world tour that year—and that he supported a boycott of all Canadian goods—in protest against the country's annual seal hunt, which he described as a "barbaric and cruel slaughter".
In 2009 he abandoned a stage at the Coachella Festival in California because of the smell of cooking meat. He later returned to finish his set.
In September 2010 he ignited a public controversy for describing Chinese people as a "subspecies" because of their treatment of animals. In an interview with British poet, playwright and novelist Simon Armitage he said: "Did you see the thing on the news about their treatment of animals and animal welfare? Absolutely horrific. You can't help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies." He later made a statement saying "if anyone has seen the horrific and unwatchable footage of the Chinese cat and dog trade – animals skinned alive – then they could not possibly argue in favour of China as a caring nation. There are no animal protection laws in China and this results in the worst animal abuse and cruelty on the planet. It is indefensible."
At a concert in Warsaw, Poland on Sunday, 24 July 2011, Morrissey caused more controversy when stating "We all live in a murderous world, as the events in Norway have shown, with 97 [sic] dead. Though that is nothing compared to what happens in McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Shit every day." in reference to the recent attacks of Anders Breivik in Norway on 22 July, which resulted in the killing of 69 people who were attending a Youth Labour Party camp on Utøya Island, and eight people working in and around a government building which was bombed. His statement has been seen by many as crude and insensitive.
Morrissey's sexuality has been a matter of conjecture, and this has been fuelled by many conflicting statements from the singer, none of which has ever explicitly stated his sexual orientation. Encyclopædia Britannica argues that he created a "compellingly conflicted persona (loudly proclaimed celibacy offset by coy hints of closeted homosexuality)" which has "made him a peculiar heartthrob." "Morrissey has always taken great pains to maintain the 'undecidable' nature of his sexuality." In 1983 he claimed to be "a kind of prophet for the fourth sex," on the grounds that he was "bored with men and ... bored with women." In 1984, he stated that he refused "to recognise the terms hetero-, bi-, and homo-sexual" because "everybody has exactly the same sexual needs." A 1984 Smiths article in Rolling Stone stated that Morrissey "admits he's gay," but Morrissey replied that it was news to him and the article used the term "fourth-gender" in its title.
The speculation was further fuelled by the frequent references to gay subculture and slang in his lyrics. In 2006, Liz Hoggard from The Independent noted, "Only 15 years after homosexuality had been decriminalised, his lyrics flirted with every kind of gay subculture"; for example, she claims that "This Charming Man" "is about age-gap, gay sex." Reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine claims lyrics to the Smiths single "Hand in Glove" contain very thinly "veiled references to homosexuality."
Throughout much of his career, he maintained in interviews that he was asexual and celibate. Johnny Marr stated in a 1984 interview that "Morrissey doesn't participate in sex at the moment and hasn't done so for a while, he's had a lot of girlfriends in the past and quite a few men friends." In 1986, Morrissey claimed that he was "dramatically, supernaturally, non-sexual." In a 1994 interview, he claimed that "sex is actually never in my life," and as such, he argued that "I have no sexuality." In 1995, he claimed "I'd like to have a sex life, if possible." In a 1997 interview, he revealed he had been in a relationship with someone for two years but that it had ended and the person in question had just stopped loving him. He did not reveal the sex of his partner or whether it was a sexual relationship. However, he did admit to caring deeply and he stated he had hoped he or she had shared similar feelings. In a 2006 NME interview, he stated he was no longer celibate, but he did not give any additional details. A 2006 article in UK paper The Independent stated the singer "... has even hinted at a late-blooming sex life." John Murphy of musicOMH has even speculated that the lyrics "Nothing entered me, 'til you came with the key" to Morrissey's 2006 song "You Have Killed Me" give reference to a sexual encounter he had.
Morrissey frequently tells interviewers who ask him about his sexuality the question is irrelevant to his music, or he gives an evasive or ambiguous response. While the debate over Morrissey's sexuality has become widespread on fan websites, including attempts to analyse the meaning of his ambiguous song lyrics, their attempts are often stymied because, as The Times critic Tom Gatti puts it, "Morrissey's music offers infinite capacity for interpretation" because "they are too flexible, too rich, too textured."
Legacy and influence
Morrissey is routinely referred to as an influential artist, both in his solo career and with the Smiths. The BBC has referred to him as "one of the most influential figures in the history of British pop," and the NME named the Smiths the "most influential artist ever" in a 2002 poll, even topping the Beatles. Rolling Stone, naming him one of the greatest singers of all time in a recent poll, noted that his "rejection of convention" in his vocal style and lyrics is the reason "why he redefined the sound of British rock for the past quarter-century." Morrissey's enduring influence has been ascribed to his wit, the "infinite capacity for interpretation" in his lyrics, and his appeal to the "constant navel gazing, reflection, solipsism" of generations of "disenfranchised youth," offering unusually intimate "companionship" to broad demographics. Journalist Mark Simpson calls Morrissey "one of the greatest pop lyricists – and probably the greatest-ever lyricist of desire – that has ever moaned" and observes that "he is fully present in his songs as few other artists are, in a way that fans of most other performers ... wouldn't tolerate for a moment. Simpson also argues that "After Morrissey there could be no more pop stars. His was an impossible act to follow ... [his] unrivalled knowledge of the pop canon, his unequaled imagination of what it might mean to be a pop star, and his breathtakingly perverse ambition to turn it into great art, could only exhaust the form forever." In 2006, he was voted the second greatest living British icon in a poll held by the BBC's Culture Show. The All Music Guide to Rock asserts that Morrissey's "lyrical preoccupations," particularly themes dealing with English identity, proved extremely influential on subsequent artists. Journalist Phillip Collins also described him as a major influence on modern music and "the best British lyricist in living memory."
Cultural historian Julian Stringer notes that the Smiths and Morrissey were a product of and a reaction against Thatcherism, and that their rise to fame "can be seen as the only sustained response that white, English pop/rock music was able to make against the Conservative Government's appropriation of white, English national identity; and that being the case, it is not really surprising that the response is utterly riddled with contradiction". Other scholars have responded favourably to Morrissey's work, including academic symposia at various universities including University of Limerick and Manchester Metropolitan University. Gavin Hopps, a research fellow and literary scholar at the University of St. Andrews, wrote a full-length academic study of Morrissey's work, calling him comparable to Oscar Wilde, John Betjeman, and Philip Larkin, and noting similarities between Morrissey and Samuel Beckett. The British Food Journal featured an article in 2008 that applied Morrissey's lyrics to building positive business relationships. A major book of academic essays edited by Eoin Devereux, Aileen Dillane and Martin Power, Morrissey: Fandom, Representations and Identities, which focuses on Morrissey's solo career, was published in 2011.
A Los Angeles Times critic wrote that Morrissey "patented the template for modern indie rock" and that many bands playing at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival "would not be there – or at least, would not sound the same – were it not for him." Similarly, the critic Steven Wells called Morrissey "the man who more or less invented indie" and an artist "who more than anybody else personifies" indie culture. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic writes that the Smiths and Morrissey "inspired every band of note" in the Britpop era, including Suede, Blur, Oasis, and Pulp. Other major artists including Jeff Buckley and Radiohead have also been influenced by Morrissey. Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, who recorded a 2005 EP of Morrissey covers titled Colin Meloy Sings Morrissey, acknowledged Morrissey's influence on his songwriting: "You could either bask in that glow of fatalistic narcissism, or you could think it was funny. I always thought that was an interesting dynamic in his songwriting, and I can only aspire to have that kind of dynamic in my songs." Brandon Flowers of the American Rock band The Killers has revealed his admiration for Morrissey on several different occasions and admits that his interest for writing songs about murder such as "Jenny Was A Friend of Mine" and "Midnight Show" traces back to Morrissey singing about loving 'the romance of crime' in the song Sister I'm A Poet. Flowers quoted "I studied that line a lot. And it's kind of embedded in me."
In addition to the numerous pop culture homages to Smiths songs, bands Suede, The Ordinary Boys and The Boy Least Likely To chose their names based on solo Morrissey songs.
Israeli-American poet and singer Doron Braunshtein dedicated to Morrissey the song "Morrissey", performed in Hebrew, which appears on Braunshtein's 2011's CD "Michelle Obama".
Notes and references
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- Morrissey, Steven Patrick, James Dean is Not Dead, Babylon Books, 1983.
- Morrissey, Steven Patrick, Exit Smiling, Babylon Books, 1998 (reprint).
- Morrissey, Steven Patrick, The New York Dolls, Babylon Books, 1981.
- Turner, Jeff; Bushell, Gary; Morrissey, Steven Patrick (introduction), Cockney Reject, John Black Publishing, 2005.
- Visconti, Tony; Morrissey, Steven Patrick (introduction), The Autobiography, Harper Collins Entertainment, 2007.
- Willians, John; Thomas, Caron; Morrissey, Steven Patrick (introduction), Marc Bolan: Wilderness of the Mind, Xanadu, 1992.
- Bret, David, Morrissey: Scandal and Passion, Anova, 2007.
- Brown, Len, Meetings with Morrissey, Omnibus, 2008.
- Campbell, Sean and Coulter, Colin, eds., Why Pamper Life's Complexities? Essays on The Smiths, Manchester University Press, 2010.
- Devereux, Eoin; Dillane, Aileen; and Power, Martin J., eds., Morrissey: Fandom, Representations and Identities, Intellect Books, 2011.
- Goddard, Simon, Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths, Ebury Press, 2009.
- Goddard, Simon, The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life, Reynolds & Hearn, 2006.
- Greco, Nicholas P., "Only If You Are Really Interested: Celebrity, Gender, Desire, and the World of MORRISSEY", McFarland and Co., 2011.
- Hingley, Martin; Leek, Sheena; Lindgreen, Adam, "Business relationships the Morrissey way", British Food Journal, Vol. 110, No. 1, pp. 128–143, 2008.
- Hopps, Gavin, Morrissey: The Pageant of His Bleeding Heart, Continuum, 2009.
- Rogan, Johnny, Morrissey, self-published, 2007.
- Rogan, Johnny, Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance, Omnibus, 1993.
- Simpson, Mark, Saint Morrissey, SAF UK 2003; Touchstone US, 2006.
- Sterling, Linder, "We Are Your Thoughts", Linda Works: 1976–2006, JRP Editions, 2006.
- Stringer, Julian, "The Smiths: repressed (but remarkably dressed)", JSTOR, Popular Music, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 15–26, January 1992.
- Sørensen, Jesper, Alle dage er som søndag, Rosenkilde, 2009.
- Woods, Paul A., ed., Morrissey in Conversation: The Essential Interviews, Plexus, 2007.
- Woronzoff, Elizabeth, "'Because the Music That They Constantly Play, It Says Nothing to Me About My Life:' An Analysis of Youth's Appropriation of Morrissey's Sexuality, Gender, and Identity", monograph, Simmons College of Arts and Sciences Graduate Studies, February 2009.