Rock Sound, January 1993
THE UGLY DUCK
Rock Sound, January 1993
The England he loves so much ignores him. Europe, which he fears, tries to make trouble for him. Never mind, the United States is left to Morrissey. From the West Coast to the East Coast, the young Americans have welcomed as the messiah the ex-singer of the Smiths, master of an introverted glam revival since his splendid Your Arsenal. In the cosy comfort of a luxurious New York hotel, the first totally asexual sex-symbol of rock history has confided to us his last frustrations with the same frankness tinged with humour that livens up his spicy lyrics.
Q: Are you surprised in this three-month American tour of Morrissey mania ?
M: Not that much. In fact, I provoked this phenomenon of hysteria every time I played in the States. Since the very first tour with The Smiths. It's simply more impressive now because the audiences are bigger and bigger. The real new thing is that I'm not only famous in trendy big cities such as New York and Los Angeles. In the most remote parts of Texas or Wyoming, the frenzy is the same. And this is the sign that I really broke the surface, that I do exist.
Q: Was America the only place where you could realize it ?
M: I think so. Anyway, I don't go anywhere else. First because I don't like travelling. Then the Americans are the only ones who express a real desire to see me. To play elsewhere seems to me a waste of time and energy. I don't believe in the old assumption that you have to go and conquer hostile lands. It doesn't interest me to force people's hands or to taunt them.
Q: What effect does NY have to you - more than sixteen years after your first visit to this city where your idols in those days (NY Dolls, Patti Smith) were let loose ?
M: More depressing than in those days. It's simple, there's strictly nothing appealing in this city. It is meant to be a source of inspiration, a stimulating place for artists. But it desn't seem to me a reason to endure all of its sordid aspects. This city breathes selfishness, it seems totally in lack of generosity. It isn't even beautiful to look at. Actually, like so many young admirers of rock, I had a completely romantic, idyllic vision of NY. People fantasize about its sticky image. But NY in everyday life is only depression. The existence of the Max Kansas City isn't enough to make people forget the overflow of human misery this city carries.
Q: So you must miss England terribly ...
M: Even more! Every time I leave the country I have difficulties holding back my tears. I never want to go abroad. I need Britain for my personal stability. This is the only place where I can do absolutely nothing without feeling the least guilt. And to me it's the ideal life. Doing nothing gives me great pleasure. And believe me, I succeed wonderfully in it. One doesn't scamp (?) one's hobby ...
Q: Have you always had this passion for idleness ? Do you think you could have, as well, got there today at 33 without having done anything in your life ?
M: Exactly. I only have to look around me. The lives of many people I have known in Manchester haven't changed. The norm in life is rather that nothing moves. People themselves don't change. Chance only alters life's course. It's a mystery to no one that success generally falls accidentally on artists. And the great majority of them don't deserve this success. Most of the singers and bands in the hit parades have absolutely no talent.
Q: There's even so a certain justice. Posterity only keeps the names and works of the talented whether they had success or not in their lifetimes ...
M: I sincerely believe the word justice is totally unknown to the system. There are too many great artists who have never been recognized or respected, who have never sold the least record. There's no justice.
Q: What about you ? You've been lucky, have you been well treated ?
M: I certainly had my small piece of luck. But important is the day when luck decides to smile on you, that you know what you're going to do with it. That's why I don't feel I have been helped by anyone. Nothing's been easy for me. I even reckon I suffered more than the average artist. I've always been and still am subjected to the kind of treatment people usually keep to newcomers. In spite of my notoriety, of my sizeable past success, I'm still obliged to justify myself, to explain myself, to prove myself. My records aren't on the radio, my videos aren't on TV. This said, I've never been the kind of singer you discover on MTV or on FM. I don't belong to this system. Which is rather reassuring, besides.
Q: Does the bad press affect you ?
M: Yes, it does. Simply because the attacks against me in the press are always personal, never musical. They never talk about my voice, yet it's not bad, is it ? The problem is that it's too good to talk about. The press is only interested in my personality and private life. How, in those conditions, can it not cause me pain sometimes ?
Q: But if the press is so interested in you, it's because you expose yourself more than most rock artists.
M: That's precisely why I should be less their target than others, those who have nothing to say, those who give nothing of themselves. I innocently thought a bit of honesty would be at last appreciated in this absurd age. People always claim that they're true, sincere. But when you give it to them you become vulnerable. They're always hounding you when, basically, all they want is to criticize and hurt.
Q: But you yourself tried to become a rock journalist ...
M: And thank God I brilliantly failed ! Otherwise I'd still be a journalist. And there would never have been The Smiths. I wouldn't be here today. Or rather yes, I would. But the roles would be inverted. It's me who'd ask the questions. And you who'd be the singer ...
Q: But your voice, you've always had it. When younger, were you a "closet singer", did you sing on the sly in front of a mirror ?
M: Everyday. There hasn't been a single day where I haven't acted as the singer on the sly. I've always known I had a voice. But we're never sure of its worth as long as we have never been in front of a microphone and an audience. My first public performance provided me the biggest relief of my life. My years of secret rehearsals hadn't been in vain. I think there isn't any more powerful means of artistic expression than singing. The whole personality of an individual is revealed in their singing : the way they sing and, above all, the words they choose to sing.
Q: Is this confirmed when you meet your idols ? Do you try to meet them besides ?
M: Certainly not. From this point of view, I am absolutely not curious. I think encounters must be done naturally. To have a real exchange, the interest must be mutual. Otherwise it's just (??) for both.
Q: Most of the artists you admire - The Kinks, Sparks, Ian Hunter, the NY Dolls - have known sooner or later a drop, a running out of inspiration. Do you worry about your own future ?
M: No one on this earth can aspire to eternal genius. I think bands such as The Kinks or Sparks have brought, even in a very short period, such a contribution to music that it would be frankly be inhuman to ask for more. How could they be as creative today, twenty years later ? For me, the problem is different. So many people said that it's already a miracle to have come as far as I have now. I think I manage rather well. But don't believe that I do this job as a challenge. The least of my worries is to try to find and blame people I don't even know. I just think I already have to my credit works I mustn't be ashamed of. But to say that I could maintain this quality forever ... it's impossible.
Q: If, when you were twelve, a Morrissey had existed, do you think he would have meant even more to you than Bolan or Bowie ?
M: Certainly. An extra little je-ne-sais-quoi ...
Q: And you, what do you bring to your fans ?
M: I'm a medicine and a poison. I know I have made life more bearable to many people, maybe even happier. But there are some as well who tell me : "you've saved my life and you've spoiled it !" What can I do ? I can't speak in the name of every individual on this earth. Everyone lives in one's own world. Some people have made of me a part of their lives. They can't manage without me ? They should throw my records away and avoid liking my songs for the rest of their lives ! I have a very clear vision of what's happening to me. It's not because some kids throw themselves at my feet that I think I'm God. It's necessarily fleeting. The day will come inevitably when everybody doesn't care at all about my fate. When this day comes, I will know very well how to accept it. I won't suffer and I won't throw myself out of the window. Unlike most pop stars, I'm not dazzled by the spotlights, by the glamour. They all think they're cleverer, more beautiful and more important than they really are. To me, it has always been the other way around. I always consider myself less clever, less known than what I am. Thus, nothing ever disappoints me. In two words, I'm not mad.
Q: There are two skinhead girls on the t-shirt you're wearing. All that is fuel to the people who blame you for flirting with an aesthetic, indeed even a certain ideology close to nationalism ...
M: What's on my t-shirt? Two skinheads. Period. Anyone has the right and would be right to say that I'm wearing a t-shirt with skinheads on it. As for the rest, I can't prevent people from raving. Since, in life, the great majority of people only believe their views don't matter much. I can't, all the same, go and talk face to face with every single person who'd decide to think certain things wrong or false about me. For instance, I don't make heavy metal and there will never be any ambiguity. In searching in every direction nobody would find any clue which could prove that heavy metal isn't reactionary, a simplistic music for morons. My case is different. It seems to me, whatever people think of me, that it's clear I'm not the last of the idiots, I'm a being endowed with a certain intelligence. And I defy any objective person to find in my lyrics or in my past the least indication in which I wish to harm any fellow being. I don't want to and I'd be truly incapable of it. What more can I say ?
Q: In Panic, you denounce the vacuousness of dance music. What do you think of rap "music" ?
M:I don't consider it music. It's just conversation. There's no melody and when there's no melody I have problems.
Q: It may not be your cup of tea but unlike rock, isn't it the only music which, to pick up your phrase, "talks to black people about their lives" ?
M: Probably, but I can't prevent myself from being disturbed by some of its aspects. All this speech of superiority and the male chauvinism it carries. And then I really don't think it's a rich, new music. It's the degree zero of music. I know that what I'm saying sounds really corny or old-fashioned, but I'm struck by the fact that it's enough for a rap group to break itself laboriously on a song with thinnest of melodies to make people call it a work of genius and hail the song to the pantheon of classics. I know as well that the same speech has been held about punk. Except that punk didn't last. It had the virtue to bring us The Ramones and, above all, to revitalize rock and shake the system. On the contrary, rap never fails to repeat itself. It must be assumed that its only use is to sort out the swingers from the fuddy-duddies. Blokes who suffer while listening to rap just because they're scared to death not to be hip - I see some everyday ! Sorry, but I'd rather be corny.
Q: Has it been hard to leave Manchester to live in London ?
M: On the contrary, I've been much happier now I don't live in Manchester any longer. Even if I almost never go out because of fans who harass me, I'm less anxious. I even have friends. But I have difficulties in dissociating Manchester from the youth I had there. Everything is depression and suffocation there. I had no friends, merely some hazy acquaintances. It wasn't life. No one had money. Manchester in the Seventies is summed up in these two words: no money.
Q: Is it important to have a band again ?
M: Yes, very. It changes everything, even if I'm the leader. And anyway, so was I at the time of The Smiths. Simply, today, it's clear and more official. I'm the foreman, it's me who wears the overalls. Actually, it's always a great happiness to be back with people from my background, as in The Smiths. I didn't feel at ease with the people who worked on my first solo albums.
Q: Though, you're rather looked on as an ugly duck than as a working class hero ...
M: But I deeply love these people. And it's even more frustration that so few acknowledge me as their spokesperson. Instead moving, of forcing fate, most of them only moan; some "if only" or some "I wish I could" but they do nothing. They get in the mould and follow their parents' way, which I didn't want.
Q: But isn't it exactly what they reproach you for ? To claim their failure can sound like contempt ...
M: But you only need to hear the tone of my voice when I talk, when I sing to know that there's no contempt in my words - only love. You only need to listen to my songs. Sometimes, you think there's nothing to do and that I will always be reproached for something. I will always be 'too much' something ...