Manchester Evening News, August 1997
Kevin Marrinan, Manchester Evening News, 11th August 199
On the day his new album is released, a brief encounter with the enigmatic star
There was no mistaking the worried expression on Morrissey's face as he walked over the neat garden and down towards the heavily padlocked black ornamental gate. He wouldn't have been the first super-rich resident on this exclusive side of town to discover someone from the nearby council estate loitering outside their property, so his anxiety was for good reason. Having waited many years for this moment, I refused to be intimidated by his piercing gaze and confidently stood my ground, looking straight ahead and wondering if it was obvious I really was from the nearby council estate.
As we peered at each other through the rusty iron bars of the garden gate, I thought about the anonymous telephone call I'd received that afternoon, saying there was a chance of meeting Morrissey if I moved fast. Now, only half an hour later, here I was at a secret address and about to meet the "devious, truculent and unreliable" man with a reputation for chewing up journalists before spitting them out and stamping on their pencils.
On this warm, sunny afternoon near Manchester, Morrissey was, in fact, softly spoken and polite. In conversation, he was a man of few words, but each one is carefully chosen, polished, then delivered with the kind of accuracy Stephen Hendry would give his right arm for.
His famous wit and much celebrated one-liners did not disappoint, but most unnerving was the way he would cut dead the topic of conversation without saying a word. I knew it was time to change the subject when his expression changed slightly and his eyes looked down to the floor.
My time had finally come. Outside, in the summer heat, a cat spied on us from the shade of a tree.
As I prepared to launch my first question, Morrissey suddenly became agitated and displayed the first signs of his mistrust of the British press.
"What's that ?" he asked, pointing to a highly suspicious little black wallet in my hand. After a quick examination of the contents, a small notepad and a press card, I asked about his new album, Maladjusted, out today.
"I'm afraid it will probably sink without trace."
The first single was quite well received.
"Yes, and I'll be happy if those who do buy the album, treasure it."
The title track, Maladjusted, opens the album with a screech of distortion and Moz crooning: "I want to start from the beginning." [sic]
It's the sorry tale of a "working girl, like me," who, in true Morrissey style, is feeling a bit cheesed off, "with my hands on my head, I flop on your bed, with my head full of dread, for all the things I've said."
Hmm, does this mean Manchester's most famous big mouth has decided to repent for all those nasty things he's said over the years about certain people he knows ? Not a chance.
As we discussed the lengths some people will go to get close to him, I make the mistake of saying he must know how Sandie Shaw felt when he turned up at her door.
"She's a very cold person. No feelings at all."
She made some good pop records, though, don't you think ?
"She has lost the ability to feel anything."
I wouldn't know. Has she upset you ?
"It's because she had too much success when she was young. And no success after that. That's what caused it."
The UK pressing of Maladjusted is missing a track that's on the American release. Sorrow Will Come In The End drags the listener into the dark and deeply worrying thoughts of a man out to get his bitter revenge from someone who's "pleaded and squealed".
Suggestions that Morrissey's recent experience in the High Court inspired lines such as "legalised theft, leaves me bereft, I get it straight in the neck, somehow expecting no less," and "a court of justice, with no use for truth, lawyer, liar," have been dismissed by his record company. A few months ago, I read these lyrics to ex-Smiths drummer, Mike Joyce. Mike had just won a £1 million settlement from Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr in the High Court. He laughed off the song's content, saying, "Morrissey will probably say it's about his cat."
If I were Morrissey's cat, I'd be worried. Heavy strings serve to add to the chill of the words spoken - not sung - by Morrissey as he resolves: "I'm going to get you. So don't ever close your eyes, don't ever close your eyes."
This was delicate, and had to be approached carefully. The last thing I wanted to do was upset Morrissey.
Who knows what could happen if I did ? My clever strategy was not clever enough. When I asked if he'd seen a letter that appeared in the national music press recently, which suggested that one of the songs had been dropped from the album because it referred to the court case, he ignored my point and made his own.
"They make up all the letters themselves."
Not all of them. I had one published a few years ago.
"Yes, all of them. Any good letters that arrive in the post go straight into the bin."
That must be why mine survived. So they write their own, instead ?
"That's right. It's all made up by the journalists. They're not real letters sent in by the readers."
Morrissey had that look on his face again. The one that told me I should change the subject, or go home. The Smiths were the darlings of the music press. Every interview was used as a vehicle to display Morrissey's unique charm and unending wit.
As a solo performer, Morrissey has had to deal with the critics in a way The Smiths never encountered.
"Yes, things have changed. I suppose it's because we all move on. When you're young, you tend to believe in things more. As the years pass, the cynicism takes over."
Maybe the press has less to write about these days, and they resent not having you to brighten up their lives ?
"They're just interested in the latest fad. Pages full of nonsense about Oasis and whoever else happens to turn up on the day.
"Manchester, especially, is crammed with the stuff. It's all very strange and a complete mystery.
"They're horrible to me all the time. Nothing good ever appears."
The release of Maladjusted, and the tour planned later in the year, means that Morrissey is once more up for discussion.
Only those of us whose lives were changed by The Smiths, and who have grown alongside his solo work, can ever begin to understand why this "working girl" inspires such passion. No amount of bad press or stories about his alleged exploitation of those around him will change that.
A taxi crawls up the driveway, Morrissey announces, "I'm off to Paddyland," and is gone.
The cat looks across at me standing alone on the path. He knows I had a lucky escape.