L'Indic, November 1997
MY GILDED PRISON
J. C. Panek, L'Indic, November 1997
Let's face it: a lot of journalists would give anything to meet you today, especially English journalists. If you were a journalist, would you be proud and honoured to meet Morrissey?
(Laughs) "I would be very surprised! But pride or honour is a bit too strong, I think I'd simply be happy. A lot of people in pop music are very hard to interview because they have nothing to say. Today, the journalist's job is to convince the public these people actually do. Sometimes I read interviews, and when I happen to read it through, I don't learn anything from them because there's nothing to be learned from those bands or artists."
Are you thinking of someone in particular?
"Most of them!" (He repeats the words three times, looking almost pitiful). "It's quite symptomatic of the period we're living in. It's trendy to simplify everything. I won't take the time to make a list. It would be too long anyway" (laughs). "You know perfectly well who I'm talking about."
Are there some people you've met who have interested you, or impressed you, somehow?
"I am a great music fan. I've always been. I have met most of the people who impressed me, or that I just wanted to be introduced to. But I must admit that I absolutely don't have this need anymore. Sincerely, I think it's better to establish a physical distance. Why? Because then you keep away from the disappointment these meetings can bring. It's better to live with the image or the universe of someone you admire. Very often these people don't match up with the expectations you've rightfully awaited for... or hoped for. I perfectly know that acting like this prevents me from experiencing wonderful moments... or dreadful ones! These people must be very kind or interesting, but I don't want to run the risk of feeling bad about it in the end. Dreaming is much more pleasant than facing reality. Dreaming is a refuge, it's like being generous."
Listening to what you are saying, you really look like someone who's experienced many "disappointment crises" ...
"Not at all. The yearnings I had were too strong regarding how I actually was living or how I wanted to live. Basically, this is what I call 'the tragedy of the pop-fan'. You always think that the people you're listening to are as great in their life as they are through what they're singing or writing. But it's very seldom the case. Whenever you see them on the TV or on stage, they seem to be enormous and great. Whereas when you actually meet them in everyday life, they are very, very, very small..."
Then solitude too can be a refuge.
"I try to make it a refuge. I'm 38 today. I've been alone for a very long time" (silence). "I still consider that I'm living a... luxurious, lonely life." (silence)
But this notion of solitude is different whether you're 38 or you're 20?
"When you're young, you're afraid of being alone. Solitude is a burden and you try to escape from it. You always wonder when it's going to come to an end. Sometimes you can't get rid of it. At the age of 38, you use it in a different way. You've learned how to live with it, and you don't try to get rid of it by all means anymore. After all you may call this resignation, but I don't think it's harmful. You're not just standing there, in pain, asking yourself 'Why am I alone? Why don't I go out?' etc. You don't ask yourself these questions anymore. You adapt yourself. Living alone does not mean living in nothingness."
A lot of people think you live the life of an ascetic. Is it true, or is it the image you want to give of yourself in order to protect yourself?
"It is indeed the truth but then again I'm not non-social. I'm occasionally living a life, actually!" (laughs). "For example I enjoy sports. I'm not Oscar Wilde. I don't spend all my time in my garden handling flowers and asking myself many existentialist questions. I enjoy life! I'm not frightened by life. Furthermore, I'm not frightened by anything at all. So many things have been said about me, it would be useless to try to deny all these rumours. When I do, a new one appears, replacing the old one."
Sometimes these attacks can be very harsh. Do you feel persecuted?
(Amused) "The English media, mainly, are making an assault on me, taking some kind of petty revenge. This attitude is typically British. I am a victim but I don't act like one. Musically, I'm being totally ignored, fair enough; but they call me racist, they say I'm the devil... and they won't stop. They go on and on with these stories, and I find this attitude very suspicious. It's growing stronger every time a new album is released. The people who write such things must have no self-esteem whatsoever. The only good point in all this is that it makes me stand out from all who make music. Nobody has ever been as attacked as I have been. All I can say is: thank you very much. It's wonderful. No other British pop artist has ever taken so many heavy blows as I have. It gives me the feeling of being somewhat unique."
Your public appearances are more and more scarce. Do you think that you gave too much of yourself at certain periods in your life?
"Absolutely. In the 80's, I gave out enormously to the English press. 10 years later, I endured a terrible life because when you're permanently asked the same questions, you're tired of always giving the same answers. Rather than interviews, I felt I had the impression that I was answering more to interrogations. The journalists were changing, but the questions were the same. That type: 'Are The Smiths going to reform? When are The Smiths going to reform? Have you met Johnny Marr recently?' ... You can imagine that in these conditions, you don't want to play the game anymore. I was asked vulgar questions or questions about my past, even if I had started a solo career. When the journalists were interviewing me, their only questions were always, always, always about The Smiths. At the beginning, I kept a lot inside of me. As I saw that I was only answering in a monotonous way, 'yes' or 'no' to what I was asked, I decided to stop everything. Frankly, today there's not one English journalist that I'm ready to meet because I already know by heart the questions. I know very well that it will bring me nothing."
There are nonetheless respectful newspapers in Great Britain?
"Not at all. They are all poisonous newspapers that only carry hate, a primal hate and beyond measure. And it's not because they are not supporting my records I'm talking that way" (laughs). "On that point, I absolutely need no revenge! Let's open our eyes."
By avoiding talking to the media, you play with mystery. That kind of mystery which is creating myths.
"I don't want to create a Morrissey myth. Things happen naturally, and I have no influence on them. I know that I'm not talking much to the media, but there are still my records. I also know that I sell few records, that radios don't broadcast my songs and that here, in the USA, MTV has never shown any of my video clips. Curiously, everybody knows about Morrissey. I've always decided to go on by my own means. With whichever record company I've worked with, no one ever came to tell me: 'Listen, Morrissey. We're going to work hard for your new single. We're going to do this, that... We're going to use all means.' Today, making a record or planning a tour is still a personal affair. Maybe that's the best way to last and to not disappear."
Don't you suffer when you don't sell more records?
"Compared to other bands, I don't sell many albums. I don't ignore it. I don't lie to myself. But do you have to sell tons of records to be happy? Do you have to sell tons of records to see your songs living? I'm not convinced. It's nonsensical. I do know that when someone buys one of my albums, this someone listens to it."
Are you aware of the feelings and behaviours you're provoking from your crowd?
"Yes, it seems very strong. It's very kind" (laughs). "I think it's because of the way I sing. Maybe they hear someone real and sincere talking to them. It's not true with all pop singers. Most of them are very artificial. They're just vulgar, affected persons. Many behave on stage as if they were practising before a mirror in their bedroom. As far as I'm concerned, I'm someone true and that's probably why my records aren't broadcast on the radio. What is fashionable today? All that is flashy, glittering and synthetic. I sing what I am and only what I am."
Do you want to be or do you like being misunderstood?
"I never wished to belong to any scene. But because of what I'm experiencing today, I tend to strengthen this attitude. I'm completely out of the world of indie music, of the mainstream, of the worldlinesses... I'm very far from that. It's not usual at all. Very few artists have that type of behaviour. I would even say that this principle has become a way of living. Charity festivals are not for me. I hate being invited to them. Everybody knows that I don't belong to this world, and that I don't want to associate my name with it. I put my honor in that. People can hate or adore me, I don't care! The most important thing is to be unique and to be out of mass events. The best worlds are unique. I am perfectly aware that it's a very difficult attitude to keep and that it's detrimental to me."
Will those life exigencies still be possible in five or ten years?
"I think that as far as I will be able to go, I won't depart from these rules. Each new year may be the last one. I don't want to be associated to this smiling pop family. This small world hides a real spirit of competition, where everybody fears and observes everybody else. I don't want to end like Mick Jagger, having to distrust all the supposed friendships around me waiting for any mistake. The pop family pretends to be happy. There is this clan, and this club, and we're lucky to be together and that's wonderful!" (Morrissey imitates a conductor with an ironic smile). "Frankly, no, thank you."
That's why you live now in Los Angeles?
"I don't live in Los Angeles !"
But yesterday, you declared during your gig: " It's nice to be home"?
"It was a joke" (laughs). "Sorry" (laughs). "The crowd has problems with my sense of humour. Seriously, I don't live in Los Angeles. I am currently homeless. I've sold my home in London and I don't know yet where to settle."
Do you seriously consider yourself a homeless person? (I show him the luxurious place around us).
"But I own nothing here" (laughs).
Could you write if you were happy?
"No, because you're too busy when you're happy. But I'm not particularly unhappy at the moment. Let's say I'm not entirely cheerful. But who can say such a thing?"
You've often declared that your career won't last eternally. But you're still here.
"I am the first to be surprised. In this world, things come and go, live and die. You get married, you divorce. You work, you get unemployed... For example, I'm very surprised of my success in Los Angeles. I have here a real audience, even if newspapers here have destroyed my last album. But the public is present."
You played yesterday at the Los Angeles Greek Theater, and I was surprised by the variety of the audience. It was of all races and of all ages. Nothing like your European audience.
"It's astonishing. There are American towns where we played in front of many young females, who wouldn't stop shouting and shouting again. In another town, there was a majority of Hispanic people. It's extraordinary and I'm happy to see that. I can also see people of my age come and listen. But what is very important to me is to see young people coming to see me. Why are they here? How were they introduced to my work? Why am I interesting to them? I make this conclusion: many people still love music and are not content with MTV or with what the popular press want them to do blindly. There are still intelligent people. The goal of music industry is, and will always be, to provoke an interest on the most little common denominator in order to get the widest success. All must be simplified, prepared, chewed. Some forget too often what we are all human beings with a reason."
Are you re-inventing the notion of the underground artist, your way?
"It's good to be indie in society. But when I take the American example, to be indie or alternative doesn't mean much anymore. You automatically get articles in big magazines, your video clip is broadcast on TV... That's not my situation at all. If indie music was not so popular, few bands would try to rush in that path. Today, the trend of the young musicians is to be more arty. They play music but show that they're not interested with it. It's a new hype. It comes and goes. "
Once again you have a new record company for the release of your new album. Does it imply that you haven't met the right persons, or can't just settle somewhere?
"I have never met the right people. Still, it's on Parlophone that I spent my happiest days. It was a very healthy period. I'm not sure if it's the case today. I won't have any hit single with the Maladjusted album. I won't sell millions of albums. There are too many people who can't see beyond Morrissey. It's 'no!' all the time! 'We won't play your single! We won't sell your record!' This is what I've been reported. It's so crazy when I see all the bullshit that is broadcast on television or the radio! All this crap which ends up in the top 20. Well, that's life... or death, it depends."
After Vauxhall And I, you had declared that you couldn't do any better than this. It matched your views on perfection. Would you say so regarding Maladjusted?
"I think it's a perfect album that reflects exactly what I am today. It's the perfect album until the next one!" (laughs)
Don't you mean to confuse your audience?
"Sincerely, no. I know some who would prefer it if everything was like a fairy tale, but it's not that way! They'll have to wait" (laughs). "I've read a letter recently and it was saying how shameful it was that I should produce myself with such a band of rockers, and how beautiful it would be if I performed on stage along with a symphonic orchestra. People would sit down and applaud as if they were at the opera. My answer is 'No, No, No!'"
There are an incredible number of sites that are dedicated to you on the internet. Does that appeal to you?
"We live in a modern world (laughs). Quite honestly, I don't consult them. Sometimes I come across people who have read what is written about me on the internet. Recently, someone told me that he had read that I was living in Brazil. I wish to make a denial, I don't live in Brazil" (laughs). "On that level, I just leave things as they are."
Just after Princess Diana died, Elton John has written this song you might know, "Candle In The Wind". If you had been asked to write a song for the Princess, would you have written "The Princess Is Dead"?
"No, I'm not that horrible. I wouldn't have written anything at all. I don't write about princesses. I wasn't fascinated at all by Lady Diana and I'm not capable of writing about something that doesn't interest me."
Childhood is a recurrent theme in your songs. If someday you become a father, what name would you give to your children?
"Morrissey 1, Morrissey 2, Morrissey 3..."
And if it's a girl?
(hesitates a few seconds) "Morrissette!" (laughs)
What kind of a father would you be?
"I'd be a terrible father, and very strict. I wouldn't let my children get out of the house."
Are you serious?
"Absolutely. I would enjoy it. They will be Oliver Twist-like. No food, no bed, no baths. The very minimum."
But we live in the 20th century!
"No matter! I like to revive things. It's my favorite hobby!" (laughs)