“”A Suitable Case For Treatment”, Morrissey and Marr interview. Photos by Derek Ridgers. Topics: violence, upcoming Meat Is Murder album, schooldays, writing, Northern England, sixties, classes, sexuality, being poor, being miserable.”
Morrissey and Johnny Marr interviewed
New Musical Express, December 22/29th, 1984
of the new Smiths LP has been one of the season’s better kept secrets.
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.
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.