Sounds, 4th June 1983
DAVE McCULLOUGH IS SMITTEN BY THE SMITHS
Dave McCullough, Sounds, 4th June 1983
Desperately scrambling for something "new," the music business and the music press don't (as is normal) realise that something new IS happening. It might appear quiet, low lying, polite and very obscure, but it isn't.
First there was punk (!), then post punk, the funny name groups like Echo and Teardrop, groups who used traits of psychedelia nicely. And who
only now, three years too late, are being (successively) ripped off by Tears For Fears et cetera. The funny names keep coming and they are
useless and way out of time. This year already you've had a new crop of groups, The Wake, The Smiths, The Box and a recharged Go Betweens, who present a new urbanity, a new sensibleness amid the attempts to shock and the attempts to block (the future). Music BEYOND punk rock.
Smiths say: "Don't mention punk in this piece. We feel that is far behind everything we're about. It's ancient history..."
This polite, sensible and unflash approach shouldn't hide these groups' true allegiance to '76 and all that, nor, especially in Smiths' case, the very IMPOLITE state of their art.
Smiths are no ordinary name in a paper.
Smiths look tremendous, they have the cool. Guitarist Johnny Marr plays a red Rickenbacker type machine gun in best early Jam fashion. He looks a HANDSOME Costello but denies the resemblance strongly.
Singer Morrisey [sic] has a history stretching back to '77 punk and writing for fanzines. He is reputed to be the "last great Devoto figure out of Manchester". He has the cool down to a tee, flinging flowers about on stage and writing lyrics which deal with sex as you've never heard apparent "confessors" like the mixed-up Marc Almond write about it. The subject of child molesting crops up more than a few times in Smiths songs. They are hilarious lyrics, more so because they will suddenly touch on the personal.
Smiths have a grand "Freebird"-like (!!) finale to their live set. This and the Costello and child molestation claims they will reject out of hand, this is all part of the Smiths plan. Gonna be huge.
Smiths are signed to Rough Trade, a nice angle this, not only because those Smiths' lyrics must therefore be brought into question vis a vis Will Geoff Travis APPROVE? but because it raises the question, will Rough Trade be able to make this exceptional new group the stars they can very likely be?
Morrisey is a wonderfully arrogant pig ("I crack the whip and you'll strip [sic], but you deserve it, you deserve it"). Quite simply, funnily, they KNOW the talent that the Smiths possess.
How good are you?
Morrisey: "I tremble at the power we have, that's how I feel about the Smiths. It's there and it's going to happen."
Are Rough Trade the best label for immediate stardom?
Morrisey, enigmatic smile on handsome face: "What we want to achieve CAN be achieved on Rough Trade. Obviously we wouldn't say no to Warners, but RT can do it too."
I know Factory wanted you. Wouldn't they have been cooler?
Johnny: "We'd be stuck in the 'Manchester scene' then. What we're thinking of isn't even in terms of national success. It's more like world wide..."
Morrisey: "Factory aren't really interested in new groups. Factory have been good, but they now belong to a time that is past. Look, we had a great social life, Factory has been great, but let's leave all that behind us now.
"Look, the quote that best sums up the Smiths is from Jack Nicholls' book Men's Liberation: 'We are here and it is now'. I feel really strongly about NOW. I don't want to wait around, I don't care about two years time, things have got to happen RIGHT NOW for the Smiths. And I think they will."
Let's sort this sexual thing out.
I get a traditionalism from Smiths that is almost HM (that Skynyrd finale). It's certainly an aggressive sexual stance they've got. Morrisey goes Oscar Wilde:
"I'm in fact very anti-aggression. Obviously I'm interested in sex and every song is about sex. I'm very interested in GENDER. I feel I'm a kind of prophet for the fourth sex.
"The third sex, even that has been done and it's failed. All that Marc Almond bit is pathetic. It sounds trite in print but it's something close to 'men's
liberation' that I desire."
The fourth sex! Excuse me, but I'm still in a metaphysical state about it. It will come. With every Smiths appearance it comes closer. Off stage, in bed, in bed alone. It's coming...
"I just want something different. I want to make it easier for people. I'm bored with men and I'm bored with women. All this sexual segregation that goes on, even in rock 'n' roll, I really despise it..."
Smiths share with this year's best new groups an anti-boredom stance, an aura of breaking through to completely new territory. A sexual neutralism that rejects the Bowie/macho/wimp norms. It is hard to identify because it is so radically different. Everything I call the Smiths is wrong because I still place them in an old context: hard when they are soft, immoral when they are moral:
"... We do not condone child molesting. We have never molested a child."
Traditionalist macho, when they...
Morrisey: "... I just so happen to be completely influenced by feminist writers like Molly Haskell, Marjory Rose and Susan Brown-Miller. An endless list of them! I don't want to GO ON about feminism but it is an ideal state. It will never be realised beyond that because this society detests strong women. You just have to look at the Greenham women. This is a society that only likes women who faint and fawn and want only to get married. I'm not neurotic about it, but it is an integral part of the way I write."
Why the importance in carrying flowers?
Morrisey: "They're symbolic for at least three reasons. We introduced them as an antidote to the Hacienda when we played there; it was so sterile and inhuman. We wanted some harmony with Nature. Also, to show some kind of optimism in Manchester which the flowers represent. Manchester is so semi-paralysed still, the paralysis just zips through the whole of Factory..."
Your finale tells that "(Love Is Just A) Miserable Lie". Do you believe it, that people are totally separate, even from an ultimate state of love?
"Yes. Unfortunately. But there's an optimism in admitting it... Explain? Oh I could tell you of years of celibacy when I just couldn't cope with physical commitment because it always failed. I suppose I'm unnatural in the general scheme of things, because I have these feelings."
Morrisey is a self-publicising weirdo, in other words a lover.
"I want a new movement of celibacy. I want people to abstain... explain? Howard Devoto I know quite well and I know he formed a group in order to make friends (he'd never had any). I can only say I'm the same, and gather from that what ye will."
Johnny mentions the Ramones in passing. There is a Ramonish tint in Smiths that is only the beginning of what they are about. A nihilism, the
molesting scam that soon leads into a fierceness and a morality-despite-it-all that is more Fall-like.
Morrisey: "These are desperate times. But I don't think we should join in with the desperation. We should conquer it. I'm fed up with this depressive attitude people have."
What about your humour?
"There are many really desperate characters from literature who had amazing senses of humour. Stevie Smith wanted to kill herself at nine. That's wonderful. I can relate to that. Sylvia Plath, just before she killed herself, had this incredible sense of humour in Letters Home..."
Is having or not-having a job important in Morriseyland?
"Not in the least. Jobs reduce people. One of our lines goes 'I've never had a job because I don't want one' : jobs reduce people to absolute stupidity, they forget to think about themselves. There's something so positive about unemployment. It's like, Now We Can Think About Ourselves. You won't get trapped into materialism, you won't buy things you don't really want..."
Smiths are an anti-stance group in the grand Fall tradition. An Alka Seltzer to a binge of Heaven 17s.
Morrisey: "We're fed up with people who won't talk about the press, all this New Order crap. They probably REALLY haven't GOT anything to say. I believe that's the truth..."
Johnny: "We're unique because we really rate the press. Putting out papers every week when there is so obviously very little good music around except the Smiths must be really hard..."
Morrisey: "The British music press is an art form."
"There is always an exception to a rule, Dave."
Is it crucial being H.A.N.D.S.O.M.E. in Smithland?
Johnny: "We find it just finishes off the package nicely. It just so happens we're handsome. We didn't rope in good-looking chaps on bass and drums, it just happened that way..."
Doesn't this rule out 95% of the world from Smithland?
Morrisey: "Probably. But we genuinely want a handsome audience above everything else. I can predict that in six months time they'll be bringing flowers to our gigs..."
But what happens if you're ugly as sin?
Morrisey, waving a vague finger about: "Oh I'm sure they can arrange it somehow. They can, ah, learn to LOOK handsome. With great training of course!"
Of course. Expect a plastic surgery boom in '83.