Hot Press – 4 May 1984

“Morrissey interview by Neil McCormick “The Secret Life Of Morrissey ” / “All Men Have Secrets And These Are Morrissey’s”. Cover photo. Topics: image, Ireland, Manchester and London, before the Smiths, love life, being a pop star, fans, suicide, death, religion, happiness, the Smiths.”

Transcript


Morrissey and Johnny Marr interviewed
New Musical Express, December 22/29th, 1984

The recording of the new Smiths LP has been one of the season’s better kept secrets.
Your appointed hitman would have liked it to stay that way a while longer, for it certainly would have made his task easier.
Having nursed an inexplicable grudge as swollen as his preconceptions about a group who’ve been within permanent earshot throughout 1984 he was quite prepared to jab at them blind, rough them over a bit, let them know they’d been here – you know the routine – as he was contracted to do.
Does that sound unfair? Come on! There must have been a point when you, too, yelled enough at the thought of another Smiths single, adding a further variation to Morrissey’s growing catalogue of misfortune.
I mean, the year ended almost the way it began – with a second Smiths LP almost the same as the first and full of all the 45s that preceded it. Add to that the ever present sight of Morrissey’s permanently pained expression in print accompanying more strained milkings of his hypersensitivity, and didn’t you at least once wish he’d fall under his own misery-go-round?
No? Well, OK wise guy you have obviously been paying closer attention than your friendly neighbourhood Hitman, catching all the shades and nuances he’s been missing; spotting things like Morrissey’s statements buried deep in a Melody Maker about how disappointed he felt when the IRA, for once finding a suitable target for their wrath, missed Thatcher.
Now this is hardly the sort of thing you’d expect from Morrissey’s perceived persona of either a beatific idiot – “Oh it’s true!” he will later tease – or the patron saint of poet sufferers everywhere. Well, maybe that’s true, too, but without the connotations of preciousness the description might carry.
Morrissey, thin and frailbodied though he may be, is obviously made of firmer stuff – not to mention funnier.
“I’m not totally averse to violence,” he says. “I think it’s quite attractively necessary in some extremes. I would say that violence on behalf of CND is absolutely necessary, because all sorts of communication via peaceful methods are laughed at and treated with absolute violence by the government. Therefore I think it’s now time to fight fire with fire and attack very strongly. I don’t think that is terrorism, it’s more a self-defense.
“Obviously CND care about the people and that’s why they do what they do. That’s patriotism. In some cases I think violence is profoundly necessary – when the consequences of no violence are frightening, then the consequences with violence.”

Their just finished third LP – second LP proper – is called, incidentally, Meat Is Murder after a song dealing with animal slaughter.




The Hitman’s resolve was softened before he got to hear Meat… however.
Playing the compilation Hatful Of Hollow, it quickly becomes obvious that he’s not dealing with a fey, fashionably unfashionable reed blowing in the wind as he lazily suspected.
Most immedicately apparent is the humour at the very conception of The Smiths, in the splendid contrast of the deadpan, doleful but surprisingly malleable Morrissey voice and his guitarist co-writer Johnny Marr’s extraordinary ability to compose songs almost entirely from middle eights. Better, once the similarity of the surface jangle of the two singles that did seem to repeat each other -“Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and “William, It Was Really Nothing” – dissipates, the variation of tempo and attack within the songs is readily remarked.
The humour is carried through in Morrissey’s words. He will construct a most poignant declaration of love from a comic book image – “Heavy words are so lightly thrown/But still I’d leap in front of a flying bullet for you” – and later compound it with something far more commonplace, devoting to both the furrowed intent the sentiment of the song (“What Difference Does It Make?”) deserves.
Unlike with Woody Allen, the humour in Morrissey’s work is not an apologia for being serious. One reinforces the other, creating a mood at once perfectly in keeping and at odds with Marr’s irrepressible tunes. What’s more he has written some of the most unashamedly lovely and erotic songs recorded this year. But with “William…” the ambiguity of some Smiths songs finally sunk in at the BBC, resulting in severely limited airplay and TV invitations.
This has not shaken their resolve any, as evidenced in their new LP Meat…, released on Rough Trade in February. The songs are so plump and richly textured that it’s difficult to catch what most are about on the few listenings permitted. One interestingly plumbs Morrissey’s schooldays – “the teachers were so brutal I really did think I’d get a purple heart when I left,” remarks Morrissey – and others, like the title song’s plea for vegetarianism, see Morrissey rewardingly looking to sources outside of himself for inspiration.

If an image of Morrissey left by recordings is of a freshly shorn back and sides schoolboy not sure whether to laugh or cry at his own awkward reflection, Morrissey in person is more assured. He turns up with Johnny Marr at the Hitman’s usual haunt – Konditerei Kopf – and immediately calls his bluff.
“I understand you neither like nor dislike The Smiths,” he inquires, peering from beneath the rim of a large hat. Suddenly feeling naked the Hitman blushes and responds with a question of his own.
Kopf: Rather than writing about yourself in the abstract, your new songs seem to isolate particular instances…
Morrissey: Yes, it is the first time that I’ve written in the third person, spectating on things, which is good for me. I needed to do that, for something I abhor in modern music is the “I” syndrome – “I” did this, “I” went here, “I” did that. Well, I hate that and try to avoid “I” as much as possible, though in turn I still try to write from an individual standpoint.
I still like the idea of songs being virtual conversation pieces – “tell me, why is your life like this?” dictating… ha ha, well not really. But I like the idea of being the sympathetic vicar.
Do you know Stringer Davis? He’s in a lot of Miss Marple films. He’s her good friend. Very sympathetically he’d listen to all her japes and problems. Well, like him.
Maintaining a conversational tone is difficult to pull off without sounding banal or stilted.
Morrissey: Well, that comes from using very basic language, very fundamental language. I try to dodge metaphors. I try to dodge being oblique or obscure. There’s no point. Time’s too precious.
People have to hear a record and instantaneously know what’s happening, though obviously lots of records that have appealed to me in the past I’ve never understood, but responded to with a gut reaction – good heavens, that voice. In which case what the voice was saying was immaterial. It’s just like the pangs of desire are in force, a spontaneous feeling, a sense of rejoicing, overflowing emotions.
Now I don’t want to do it. I appreciate it in others, but I think there’s enough people like that.
Very few people achieve a conversational tone in songs. Lou Reed springs to mind as one…
Morrissey: Trouble is there’s a gap of a decade between each good song.
Yours maintain a fine balance, humour emerging from the proximity of banality and profundity within the space of lines.
Morrissey: This is down to using fundamental language mentioned earlier. For me – and this sounds kind of chic – but for me one of the greatest lyricists of all time is George Formby. His more obscure songs are so hilarious, the language was so flat and Lancastrian and always focused on domestic things. Not academically funny, not witty, just moresely humorous and that really appeals to me.
I hate academic writing as regards themes. I mean writing about love in an academic way that it never should be. I do think that without wanting to sound like George Formby that a lot of what I write is humorous in a deadpan way. But nobody’s ever noticed or recognised the fact. Perhaps it’s not working! It’s certainly there, more so on this new record, but I thought “This Charming Man” was incredibly humorous in a lyrical way. Whether people see it or not I don’t know.
Maybe people were distracted by the constant use of words like “miserable,” “suffer,” and “ill” in your titles, suggestions planted that this is serious stuff, it can’t be funny.
Morrissey: That’s probably true. Then, I think the way I write is very Northern. I’m not in the least infected by London or the South, not that it’s possible to divide language by district – this word belongs to the West Country etc. – but I feel that mine is Northern…
What is it about the North that takes you back there?
Morrissey: The reasons why aren’t very tangible. It’s just a state of mind. It’s not because I’m terribly insecure and have to be stood in a pit in Salford in order to feel some sense of security. I don’t feel that. It’s more a lack of desire to travel. How it can be explained I don’t know. It’s not that I want a security blanket though.
But drawing on those ’60’s realist films for Northern Imagery, associating yourselves with them through stills on your sleeves – they always seemed to represent ambitions denied, dreams limited. (Not to mention this bleak peak in British cinema had been superseded by televison.)
Morrissey: I think that’s good in a way, because previous to the period films made in England about working class situations featured actors with brilliantly theatrical voices, the most fabulously eloquent English imaginable heard in this alley in the middle of Birmingham. Why those films we like were treasurable is because for the very first time people were allowed regional dialects, were allowed to be truthful and honest about their situation. And regardless of what colour the truth is, it’s always gratifying to have it.
Johnny Marr: And since we’ve been running the pictures on the sleeves I sometimes wonder whether those films wouldn’t have been ignored if it weren’t for Morrissey’s lyrics. I’m quite surprised at the interest they’ve stirred.
I mean, it’s alright for people interested in film, but 16 and 17 year-old record buyers would probably have never thought about Salford in ’60-’64 if it hadn’t been for what we’re generally associated with. I sometimes wonder whether we’re the last dying breath of that ’60’s grim working class thing! I often feel like we’re that one solitary clog left in the middle of the Arndale Centre! [a modern Mancunian shopping mall, apparently].
But why is it important to hold onto that? Surely the same circumstances do not exist?
Morrissey: I think it applies overall that we treat what we do seriously and in non-glamorous terms. Pop music had got to the state where it had become very scientific. Romance was still a province in the heart of London, still the most glamorous place, still leaving on a jet plane etc. Because we never really did that we never understood those things. It’s not a matter of being down, depressing, miserable or morbid.
Granted, given the contrasting vigour of the music, but haven’t The Smiths succeeded, where the narratives of those films often represented crippled ambitions?
Morrissey: But they’re the roots of the group and you can’t really get away from that, regardless of what happens in your adult life.
Johnny Marr: To be honest I don’t think it’s a matter of rising above it. To lose the thread of it would be quite dangerous. It’s part of our lives. We can’t lose it. I don’t want to not be associated with it.
Combining your taste in films and the ’60’s as the source point of your music, your harking back to a golden age has never been adequately explained. Before I listened properly I suspected a Luddite tendency.
Johnny Marr: We’ve always had that thrown back at us: if it weren’t for Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker or the Sandie Shaw collaboration – well, again it was just lazy journalism.
The idea of taking that spirit of optimism and of possible change and trying to use it in ’84 I don’t see anything wrong with at all. But more important than that are the images we grew up with: smokey chimneys, backstreets, the impressions I get from Morrissey’s lyrics. It isn’t just nostalgia, it’s a Northern spirit, a working man’s spirit – and here I’m trying to not sound like Gary Kemp doing the working class bit. But we’re more about the working class values in the ’60’s than Rickenbackers and Brian Jones haircuts…
Certainly we don’t feel restrained musically in any way by the period. What I’m saying is we do not confuse roots with formula. The formula we’re prepared to slash away at, musically try things we’ve never done before. But the roots are the reason why we’re here. That’s something I’ll never get away from. I’m always aware of why we started and I think that’s a good thing. Those reasons are still valid.
Morrissey: … I find people who’re quite artistic and creative crawl from dreadful conditions, where people who’re cushioned in life tend not to produce anything dramatically artistic. To me popular music is still the voice of the working class, collective rage in a way, though seldom angst ridden. But it does really seem like the one sole opportunity for someone from a working class background to step forward and have their say. It’s really the last refuge for articulate but penniless humans.
One level of sophistication would deem that viewpoint somewhat passe, a cliche passed down with The Smiths.
Morrissey: Maybe it has, but what has replaced it petrifies me. It is totally lacking in sensitivity, nothing to do with people in their ordinary everyday lives…
The Smiths are probably the oddest expression of that working class rage, yet it obviously makes sense. Where do The Smiths stand in relation to those self appointed vents of working class spleen? Redskins? Seething Wells?
Morrissey: Well, I don’t want to be that extreme, though all the causes they stand behind I almost always agree with. I think audiences get bored with groups introducing strong hardcore politics into every song. You don’t have to be madly blunt in a political sense. To me that lacks a certain degree of intellect. And although we haven’t made any abrasively bold politcal statements in a lyrical sense, I think people can gauge where we stand.
Would your vanity tolerate total subordination to a particular line?
Morrissey: Yes, I think it would. But I’d get bored. I think things can be slyly slipped in through the backdoor.
The title track of your new LP Meat Is Murder seems to be pretty direct.
Morrissey: Hmm, yes, it is a direct statement. Of all the political topics to be scrutinised people are still disturbingly vague about the treatment of animals. People still seem to believe that meat is a particular substance not at all connected to animals playing in the field over there. People don’t realise how gruesomely and frighteningly the animal gets to the plate…
Ah, I see you’ve been shopping at Boots. They have a record in the country for testing out products on animals, murdering all these animals every single day. These people have to be attacked because they won’t recognise communication between the Animal Liberation Front and themselves. So… boycott Boots!

Do you ever get the urge to talk so directly about sexuality, champion gay rights in the same way you’ve done with Meat Is Murder?
Morrissey: No, not really. That can be very dull. The age of consent doesn’t interest me, nor that kind of self advertisement.
But as far as sexuality is concerned I do feel very strongly about it. Therefore I have a very non-sexual stance, seeing people as humanist. There’s so much segregation in modern life the last thing we need is a massive chasm between the sexes, which gets wider as the year passes.
All the so called liberators spout excessive hatred. On the one side feminists scream men are the enemies, they’re killing us, on the other extreme it’s the Tetley bittermen machismo thing. I refuse to recognise the terms hetero-, bi- and homo-sexual. Everybody has exactly the same sexual needs. People are just -sexual, the prefix is immaterial.
The prefixes preclude too much. Would you say your humour partly arises out of the human comedy of coupling?
Morrissey: Yes. But it’s not entirely ridiculous. People need their bonds.
One memorable couplet from your new record: “A double bed, a stalwart lover for sure/These are the riches of the poor.”
Morrissey: That came from a sense I had that, trite as it may sound, when people get married and are getting their flat – not even their house, note – the most important thing was getting the double bed. It was like the prized exhibit; the cooker, the fire, everything else came later. In the lives of many working class people the only time they feel they’re the centre of attention is on their wedding day. Getting married, regrettably is still the one big event in their lives. It’s the one day when they’re quite special…
Isn’t that a mite condescending?
Morrissey: Yes it does sound condescending, but it’s a fact I’ve observed.
I do know people who have no money, marry and live in very threadbare conditions and have threadbare requirements. I’m glad I’m no longer in that situation myself. It sounds very snotty but what can I say?
Being from a large family, wasn’t one of your first urges to get a place of your own in order to get some space?
Morrissey: That’s a very familiar pattern. I tried to do a lot of things but they didn’t actually work until I had money, mainly because I didn’t make any attempt whatsoever to thrive in very horrendous hovels. I couldn’t really face the gasfire that didn’t work, the eight blankets on the bed, or the frost on the windows. I wasn’t quite that resilient.
Do you want to be rich?
Morrissey: Yes! I do but more importantly I don’t want to be poor. I suppose anybody who’s made a good record feels this, but I feel like we deserve it because we work hard. There’s a lot of imbeciles in this business who are obviously richer than I am from making records that have no degree of human value. So, yes, I do want to be rich.
What’s the point, having told Jim Shelley in Blitz that you really didn’t have much to live for?
Morrissey: Well, then I just think of money – yes, there’s one reason to go on! Ha ha. Of course I’m not serious. These are separate things.
What did you say that to Jim for? Effect?
Morrissey: Well, I was serious and what was remarkable to me was that everyone laughed! Which was quite a hammer blow!
The trouble is with me, people get the punchlines confused, they find the punchlines rooted in the depression! But I did really feel like that at the time. Then I didn’t really seem to have any reason for being. For me life was never easy, but it wasn’t even acceptable until the release of “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”. I liked that record and good times seemed to happen to me then. I’ll look back on them as pleasant days.
But before then I’d never felt it. I was making records that though successful weren’t really quite clicking with me. It was like I’d still had this hangover from the years of nothingness, of being on the dole, having to live in that horrible atmosphere of communicating with the DHSS, people saying why are you writing this absurd song. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” seemed to me an enormous release…
Weren’t you digging your own grave with all those interviews of that period, for which you seemed to step into the professional, long suffering sensitive Morrissey role?
Johnny Marr: Whose opinions were exactly the same every day. The impression I got was he didn’t seem to be allowed to say he felt different today, as long as he had these rigid personal policies he’d adhere to exactly, be in the same frame of mind every morning. Knowing Morrissey, I knew it was unreal. It’s unreal to expect that of any human being anyway.
Morrissey: It had got to the point where I was this totally separate character from the group. I was never asked about them or the music. I’d feel there was always this desire to create a caricature of me – a repressed priest, insane pseudo axeman, or whatever… But with “Heaven Knows…” everything fell into perspective. Previous to that I was just running around trying to keep everybody happy.
And everybody was happiest with you being miserable?
Morrissey: Exactly. The more you did it, the more people allowed you to.

On the subject of Morrissey’s misery, then, consider the case closed.
So have we been listening to the real Morrissey without his professional strait jacket? I dunno.
But I think so.


Published by Nick Stuckenborg

Archivist. Cinematographer.

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