In (Partial) Defense of Morrissey
Posted on August 1, 2014
August 1, 2014
by John Gentile
Right now, this moment, there is a war going on in music. A war against what, you ask? A war against Morrissey.
To be fair, the conflict isn’t new—it has just recently intensified. Really, Moz hate goes all the way back to the Smiths’ Meat is Murder LP when Stevie M (Morrissey’s first name is Steven, FYI) put the sounds of cows getting killed in the background of the title track.
After what some people felt was an opening shot, the floodgates opened. “He’s a jerk!” “Don’t force your beliefs down my throat!” “I fucking hate that pompadour!” Moz himself has increased the conflict over the years by becoming even surlier and more steadfast in his beliefs. Of course, him making mean comments about Chinese people and cancelling so many tours doesn’t help matters much.
But, despite his drama queen attitude, despite his dispatches which sound like they were written by a lily dipped in ink, despite that he’s basically obnoxious, people keep coming back to Sir Moz in droves, selling out large theaters, opera houses and even arenas. Why? It’s because the man is a true artist.
If you ask a “hater” (for lack of a better term) why they hate Moz-bear, it almost always comes back to two things: Either 1) Morrissey is a jerk (i.e. he cancels tours, is a whiner, and said nasty things about the Chinese) or 2) His animal rights crusade is too overbearing.
I’m not saying there aren’t people that just plain don’t like Morrissey’s music—surely there are two or three of them, even though I couldn’t imagine not enjoying those dulcet intonations—but when people complain about him, it almost always goes back to those two sins. Well, I’ve got news for you. Neither are good reasons for discrediting him as an artist, and in many ways, are what makes him a great artist.
It doesn’t matter if Morrissey isn’t “nice.” Morrissey isn’t supposed to be nice. Right now, we live in an era where recording artists are heralded because “they’re really good guys.” How many bands in today’s punk scene get props because they are “good dudes?” Like, all of them. That being said, I’m not against people being nice. I recommend it.
An artist should not have their art judged on whether or not they’re “nice” because we’re not enjoying the artist’s company, we’re enjoying their art. They are related, but separate. For example, if we demand that our artists must be nice, then we gotta throw out all Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page dated and likely boned a 14 year old girl. Gotta toss out Chuck Berry. He filmed women peeing. That is gross and not nice. Joe Strummer? Better cut him out. He cheated on his wives-plural. Can’t listen to him. Judging an artist on his personal life, or even limiting the expanse of an artist’s being to a few select quotes, beliefs, or actions, is obviously foolhardy and really only robs the fan of experiencing the level of that artist’s greatness. And for what? Some amorphous moral stance that has little-to-no effect on anyone?
By contrast, Morrissey never portrays himself as a nice guy in his songs, and really, he’s the most honest one of all. Unlike so many other artists that treat lyrics as if all they ever needed to know they learned in kindergarten, he doesn’t shy away from detail, nor does he shy away from a focus on those terrible, impulsive feelings that we all get but rarely share with others.
Look at “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful.” That is a terrible, envious statement, but you know what? We’ve all had pangs of that at sometime or another. Or, how about “Hairdresser on Fire,” in which Morrissey acts like it’s the end of the world because he can’t get a haircut. (I think he might even be threatening arson because the hairdresser can’t fit him into the schedule?) It is the worst type of vanity, and you know what, I guarantee you that at some point in your life, you’ve been just as vain. I have.
Morrissey is brave and confident enough to expose a side of himself that almost no one else in music will—his ugly, hateful side. (Dylan did this, too, maybe. So did the Deviants, and the Fugs. The list is very short.) And not only does Morrissey do that, but he does it with self-referential wit and a heaping of style.
It doesn’t matter if Morrissey isn’t nice or says horrible things because we’re all adults and don’t need every single thing spoon fed to us as “you should do this, you shouldn’t do that,” right? Morrissey creates characters and expresses emotions that so few other artists have the guts to do so.
When people hate Morrissey because he says obnoxious things, in most cases, they’re unknowingly hating themselves. People are obnoxious. Moz is just one of the few people to admit it.
The other reason people poo-poo the Holy Mozary is because he never shuts up about being vegan. Remember when he complained from the stage of Coachella that “the smell of burning animals is making me sick?” What about when he demanded that an arena show not take place unless they served all vegan food? What about on his recent tour where he ended it not with a big crowd sing-along or 12-minute greatest hit blowout, but a nasty, revolting picture of a live vivisection?
Well, you know, Morrissey is basically as punx as it gets. I don’t agree with most of what he has to say, but the man has vision and is willing to put his career on the line to execute that vision.
You know who would distribute information about meat-eating and treatment of animals? Crass. Conflict. Subhumans. Flux of Pink Indians. The only difference between the message of Crass (as it relates to humane treatment of animals) and Morrissey is that Morrissey is informing 20,000 people at a time while your basic MaximumRockNRoll-covered hardcore band is informing (the same) 20 people at a time.
Who else at Morrissey’s level is willing to risk concrete dollars to make what he believes is the moral message? Do Springsteen or Billy Joel or even Pearl Jam or Queens of the Stone Age make such daring choices? What about punk bands that have become reasonably popular? Do the Gaslight Anthem, the Offspring, or even Bad Religion create messages as severely dedicated to a cause as Morrissey? Or do they just play the hits?
The fact is, and maybe I’m sorry to admit it, Morrissey wins at punx. He’s broadcasting his message of riotousness to the largest amount of people. On top of that, unlike your average basement punk band, he’s not just preaching to the choir. (Also, I’m not hating on basement punk bands. I know everyone can’t be as famous as Steve.)
Morrissey is not “nice” because niceness is not his function. His function is to express the human condition in all its garish flaws. He does that both through his music and with his statements. If anything, you can’t accuse him of being phony just to sustain popularity or make a buck. He’s saying what he truly believes. To me, that is gold and the mark of a true artist.
Oh, yeah… as for those four tours he canceled and then ended up blaming the opening act for his sniffles? That’s whack. He’s just being a big baby. What a prick. But that’s okay, Morrissey. I forgive you.