m & m

Morrissey and Marr – pre severed alliance

In a recent interview with Krishman Guru-Murthy, Johnny Marr publicly distances himself from Morrissey’s more outspoken statements that have been widely interpreted as endorsements of racism and far right bigotry.

Wisely in my view, Marr has resisted the temptation to go any further by joining in the rising tide of venom towards his ex-Smiths partner.

To understand what he’s opting out of, you only have to read the scurrilous one star review of Morrissey’s latest covers album ‘California Sun’ in The Guardian. This makes it plain that there are now many who are no longer able the separate the man from the music.

The mood of zero tolerance was also evident when a lone complaint by a commuter in Liverpool led to posters for ‘California Sun’ being removed from the entire rail network.

I would be the first to concede that Morrissey has brought much of this unprecedented backlash upon himself. Publicly lending his support to ‘For Britain’ was for many the last straw. Prior to this, his comments against Halal meat and China’s abysmal record on animal rights could at least be defended on the grounds that they reflected his radical veganism. Now he seems to have bitten off more than he can chew.

Morrissey has a history of exaggerating for effect and knows that moderation doesn’t generate the required level of publicity. This is a man who likens animal slaughter to murder and once sang about a dream of Margaret Thatcher being guillotined.

Like all narcissistic populists, Morrissey works on the basis that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But these days, different rule books seem to apply to the worlds of politics and entertainment. The likes of Trump, Farage and Johnson revel in the controversies they provoke and gain support from a public who distrust those who take the moral high ground.

The princely manipulations advocated by Machiavelli in pursuit of power seem subtle in comparison. But while brashness and outspoken views appeal to the electorate, the evidence suggests that the mainstream masses are not so accommodating when actors, artists and singers enter the political fray.

The contrary public persona Morrissey has cultivated over his long career has now become a millstone. In the 1980s, he made a virtue of his nerdiness and outsider status when cheerily defending celibacy and suicide or in dropping his trousers to the queen. I was smitten from the moment I heard him sing the line in Handsome Devil: “There’s more to life than books, you know, but not much more”. His fay ways and studied aloofness were a large part of his original appeal but in his solo career his rampantly egotistical tendencies have been greeted with more and more suspicion.

flirtingAccusations of racism have dogged his career. The call to “burn down the disco, hang the bloody DJ’ in Panic was ridiculously interpreted in some quarters as a racially motivated rejection of ‘black music’. As a solo artist, three songs have been willfully misinterpreted as proof of his prejudices – ‘Bengali In Platforms’, ‘Asian Rut’ and ‘The National Front Disco’ . His appearance on stage at Finsbury Park draped in the Union Jack was seized upon by the NME as further proof of his sinister promotion of patriotism, the last refuge of the scoundrel to quote Samuel Johnson’s immortal words.

Being a diehard fan, this accumulation of circumstantial evidence never convinced me. I could understand where he was coming from when in ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’, he adopted a faux nostalgic position of recalling a time when you could stand “by the flag not feeling shameful, racist or partial”. After all, parading the union jack never did any harm to Oasis or The Spice Girls.

Moreover, as a Los Angeles resident, Morrissey has not been shy in speaking out about American politics. He trashed the Republicans and also criticised Barack Obama for not doing more to protect blacks from police brutality. To effectively endorse to principle that ‘black lives matter’ is hardly the action you’d expect of a racist.

But where he has crossed the line is in his open support of Britain First. Blogger Fiona Dodwell has pointed out that is admiration for the fascist organization’s founder Anne Marie Waters stems from her veganism and her radical feminism but this conveniently ignores the repellent hate-fueled policies of the organization she leads.

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Morrissey aligned right with his ‘For Britain’ badge

There are no convincing ways to spin this to show Morrissey in a good light. At best, it demonstrates his naivety and proves how out of touch with the British political scene he has become. At worst, it serves to confirm what many have long suspected, that he is a bigoted racist who is bent on promoting far-right views.

In a vicious article in The Quietus, music critic David Stubbs weighed into the debate in no uncertain terms. He wrote “if you’re capable of blithely setting aside his views, then there’s something badly missing in you. Morrissey has long since ceased to be worthy of cultural assessment, he no longer deserves to be part of the conversation. He has come to represent, along with the likes of Farage, Waters and [Tommy] Robinson, something nasty, reactionary and dangerous in our culture, a poisonous voice at this critical point in Britain’s island history”. This begs the question, if Morrissey is so unworthy of cultural assessment, why did Stubbs pen this piece at all and, equally, why have The Guardian written over 450 articles about him?

Such diatribe should be reserved for politicians in my opinion and ignoring him won’t make his, or anybody else’s, views go away. When faced with any form of dogmatism, a more effective and enduring response is to argue against it rather than to simply distance oneself from the debate.

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Johnny Marr on stage at La Rocca Malestiana Cesena, Italy

Fortunately, although Morrissey’s alliance with Johnny Marr was severed many years ago, the music the two recorded with The Smiths between 1982 and 1987 lives on. Last month, on a sultry summer evening, I was part of an audience charmed by Marr in the castle grounds of Cesena.

Many of Marr’s own songs are excellent but it was the six Smiths tunes in the set list, culminating in There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, that stole the show. Marr can’t match Morrissey’s voice or showmanship but he demonstrates how essential his inspired jangley guitar playing was to the Smiths’ sound.

Marr also played two songs by Electronic that go back to his collaboration with New Order’s Bernard Sumner. The first of these (Getting Away With It) he introduces as a disco tune from “Manchester – England – Europe”. His pro-European, anti-Brexit stance shows that, unlike his wayward ex-musical partner, he’s on the right side of history.

Morrissey is beyond help when it comes to learning about the value of diplomacy. As a long-standing misanphropist and low-functioning sociopath, he has never courted public approval but was accurate in 1994 when he sang “The more you ignore me, the closer I get” .

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