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|Jamming, 1984 |
Let me begin my dream, and let's be abrupt, not only for the moment. Can music reach the stillness? How much is worth all the fuss, the dressing up and the expectations? To consider the highest and the best here is to weigh up, in all seriousness, our favourite moments, transports of delight and the glory of melody sweeping in upon our daze, opening us to the prospects of a new thrill, transition and the winds of change. Surely nothing less? And therefore. Between the quality of the pop single that gleefully disrupts the balance of our days and the merit of the three minutes that entertains but leaves us unaffected lies the genius of the great pop record. We could hover just there, believing that the imagination must dance... what is sure?
Last year, amidst the mass of music that was all too much of a muchness, too tolerant and unobjectionable, there was The Smiths, thank Christ. Their second release of '83, This Charming Man, the follow-up to Hand In Glove, contained almost everything essential about the modern pop song, its go-full-tilt READY TO BURST panache having the agitating edge that is sudden, contorted in motion, its grace ingrained in its unpolished, unfinished surface.
No illusions. The Smiths are the first great aesthetic pop band since The Buzzcocks, at least, transforming our expectations of how much energy could be conceived in three minutes of song and dance. The Smiths, translating vision into sound, are not far from life, not just concerned with singing about beauty, sorrow and love but ultimately intent on capturing the first nervous bursts of them all in every three minutes.
They obviously knew the value of beauty and were aiming at the highest, recognising that alongside the problems of time and death and God should exist the image of the girl of our dreams, insisting that the imagination MUST dance, with a sudden sway.
This Charming Man let's not pretend otherwise, was heart-melting, fidgeting about, forgetting oneself. We've come so far since, what difference does it make? What happened next? I don't want to be too accurate. Trembling with pleasure, a twinkle of the eye and everything held back (just for the moment), another burst of speed, a clean pair of heels and away. Laugh? I didn't waste a moment. It was time to clip their wings, heckle and haggle, pull the rug from under them. Me and Morrissey met somewhere. It might have been a bus-stop.
"We seem to have some incredible depth of character. I believe that I have a great deal to say, so I would never shun an interview. Especially now in such desperate times! I think it is crucial to say as much as possible. I hate the way that people shun it all - it just foxes me."
Thinking aside... how concerned is it all? Don't be too accurate.
"It's not so much political as common sense. It just seems that sense is not very common anymore. Everybody is waiting to hear a voice saying something - either musically or politically. I just don't hear it. It's just like grinding out sausages; we never grind our sausages."
You seem quite close to perfection. I wanted to know just how close.
"To me, at the moment, it feels completely perfect. I feel that if the group was accepted by the entire universe tomorrow, it wouldn't surprise me. We do have everything. I think you must have that attitude or you will be swept under the door. I cannot think of any limits, I feel I'm a completely open book in every way. As a wordsmith, though, I feel as though I've just written a comma so far. I feel as though it has hardly begun. I believe that we've just started to chip away. It's more important than breathing."
So what makes you shout and jump and write and how close are The Smiths to real life?
"Most of my inspiration does come from outside music - especially literature and particularly Oscar Wilde. But I am incredibly fond of popular music. My first record was Marianne Faithful's "Come Stay With Me" which I bought when I was very young. I remember it had a profound effect on me, and from that time, I was totally obsessed with all aspects of popular music. I like Sandie Shaw and The Marvelletes. Within current music, I can only think of people who have chased their own tails, then crumbled."
I wasn't going to ask about your sex life, but...
"I think I try to be very unsexual/asexual about the way I write. I haven't pinned any gender on the table and been very forthright. I think by being completely sexless, it has caused some degree of attention, so people believe I'm totally obsessed with sex. It's a strange paradox - if I wrote about breasts, people would probably ask me about The Clash all the time. Because I've said publicly that I'm not interested in sex, people are always asking me about it.
So much rock 'n' roll is masturbatory in a way, very phallic at times - sex is almost completely linked with it. But I can't help that - it's just the history of the entire syndrome. I think it is very masturbatory because it is the height of glamour. It's just like somebody standing on stage saying, 'I'm up here, this is what I can do, you must worship me now'. I think that sex element does come into it."
So where do The Smiths fit in amongst the sex, the glamour and the star-spangled world of rock 'n' roll?
"We have a very traditional line-up. It's nothing special but it's very special. We are four individuals; we just simply open our hearts and open our mouths. If that isn't enough, we might as well go home. We don't have any metaphysical plan - there is nothing gimmicky that we want to rope people in with. We are four individuals, naked before the world - people will either react, or not.
It strikes me that many people who are stars are shallow individuals. It is rare that you get anybody up there who has incredible depth or value. It seems that there is a shallow veneer to so many people. I prefer to think of us as accessible rather than commercial. Obviously, we want to be very popular. We have this particular intelligence that means we will never get swept away with the mundane and moronic popular groups. There is an attitude that if you are strong-willed, then you will turn your back on the charts, television etc. But we want to utilise all those avenues. If you are weak, you will take those avenues, have a hit record, get swept away and people will dominate you. But if you are sure about what you do, it won't happen."
What is important? What is sure? You talk about the depth of The Smiths and I wonder.
"The records have to be memorable - it's not just an instant fad thing, the flavour of the month or whatever. If I thought we were going to be in vogue until February or March, then the whole thing would be repellent to me. It has to be memorable.
These terms like 'charming' and 'handsome' that we cling to - it is a positive calculation. So much music in recent years has been such an inverted, dour and depressing atmosphere thrust upon audiences. I just became so tired of the attitude that seemed to be riddled through groups and writers. I wanted to inject a new attitude into everything, that people don't have to be cool and monotonous any more - they can just relax, do anything they want, follow their hearts in every direction. There is that entire non-human feel with the use of synth in so much music now. The Smiths are an argument against that.
I cannot imagine what I would be doing if I didn't have this group. It is so essential to me. It's such an emotionally edgy thing. It seemed before that everything I wanted to say was just locked away. I just couldn't communicate with people. The Smiths is my mouth-piece and it's also my dream. It's such an immense gratification when we get so many letters saying exactly what I want to hear. People seem to be affected by the slightest lines and the slightest gestures."
Would it be fair to say that you write love songs (with a difference)?
"In many ways, they are love songs, though in my case they would be concerned with self-love. I would say that they were complete celebrations - even celebrations of sexuality if people want to take it that way. They are all concerned with making use of what you are and what you've got.
The 'classic love song,' for me, was never a love song - it was just a statement. We are probably writing classic love songs. They are very open about falling in and out of love, expectations, love and hate. Because they are so to-the-point, they can be quite brittle."
Do you not recognise a measure of obscurity in the songs, a kind of ambiguity?
"I get very annoyed when the word 'obscure' is brought into the whole context. I feel that I go to great pains to be very direct and precise. I don't want to be misunderstood in anything I say. I think it has been a trend in recent years to be very obscure and very surreal. The Smiths must be understood on every level, in every way."
You've talked before about tragedy.
"Most of the songs are about my own life, which has been quite tragic, so most of the songs are concerned with tragedy in some way. I treat tragedy in a very personal and real way. I speak from direct experience, as down-to-earth as I can. Ultimately it is very optimistic. I feel that I have been very explicit in all the songs I have written. I really have to write very personally, I can't hide behind things. I can't join in the short-sightedness of modern lyricists.
There seems that there is this messy, unwritten law that you cannot say certain things. I have to be open, but I find it impossible on a 'friendship' level. Because of that, it is all channelled into The Smiths. Because I was silent for so long, it is now quite easy for me, just to express everything.
I'm not interested in painting my personality in the songs - that sounds a little artificial. I'm totally immersed in the whole idea of this group - 25 hours a day. I'll stand by it to the death."
Does it all overawe you sometimes, the sudden sweep to success with This Charming Man, TOTP and the hungry attention?
"It doesn't overawe me because I believe that what we do is so special - therefore I expect us to attain the highest degree of success. We do expect more - when I see the songs that got higher in the charts than This Charming Man or when I think of the songs that will get higher than What Difference Does It Make?, there is no way I can sit back."
Your climb to acclaim has been almost meteoric and there's no pausing for breath. Is it all so sudden and splendid?
"Up to now, it has all been marvellous. The only tragedy for The Smiths has been that Hand In Glove didn't gain the attention it deserved. I won't rest until that song is in the heart of everything. It's been given another lifespan because it's been re-recorded for the LP. But it should have been a massive hit. It was so URGENT - to me, it was a complete cry in every direction. It really was a landmark. There is every grain of emotion that has to be injected into all the songs and it worked perfectly with Hand In Glove. It was as if these four people had to play that song - it was so essential. Those words had to be sung."
Persuade me (again).
"We want to reach as many people as possible. We've hardly begun. We try not to comply with any other attitude - whether it be the attitudes of groups on major record labels or on independents. We will appear on The Russell Harty Show and Cheggars Plays Pop. We think we can do these things and walk away with enormous credibility because we are very strong-willed characters and our belief is very deep-rooted. We just have immense strength - the musicianship is quite special. There is a great deal of depth that just hasn't seen the light of day, yet. It's self-evident really. It's all in those songs. Believe me."
Is there anything else? Don't be too accurate.
"Here's my bus. What difference does it make?"
I don't want to get carried away but. We've come so far and The Smiths burst into life, accidentally and out of context. I don't want to get carried away but. The Smiths breeze in, wasting no time with an acute sense of beauty. How can you resist? The secret is... don't give in to grief, be enraptured by a single smile and this is the year of The Smiths. Full of life and from birth (Sept. '82) to just a moment ago, they have been concerned with a complete lyricism and a constant flux of emotion. One eye on perfection and the other on the next nervous burst. Can we ask for more? Not yet.
I don't want to get carried away but. I had this dream. There was me and Morrissey at a bus-stop. We agreed on one thing. They were worth the fuss. But. I forget to ask. Can music reach the stillness? What happened next?