Hello. I haven’t gone. Just fancied a break.
Whenever I’ve decided to go on hiatus before, I’ve usually said so in advance, but I decided to do so again this time might come across as a little needy, actively encouraging regular readers to ask if I was okay, to tell me that when writing this place becomes a chore then it’s time to take five – precisely the advice I’ve offered to my peers, as it goes. (oh, and thanks to those of you who did take the time to contact me anyway to make sure I wasn’t laying dead in a pool of Jack Daniels and my own bodily fluids.)
Truth is, I wasn’t suffering from writer’s block, nor did I feel the blog had become a task to be completed, several times a week. Actually, I just couldn’t be arsed to write anything for a while.
Anyway, now I’m back and I thought I’d kick off with something light.
I’ve made no bones in the past of my utter adoration of The Smiths, late as I was to the whole party (did Smiths fans ever got to parties…?), but I did write a few months ago about how I had reached the end of my tether with the bequiffed professional grump, in light of some rather dubious opinions he had aired.
And lo and behold, he’s been at it again. I’m not going to give any more column inches to what he has actually said this time, but when I go on to Twitter and see my old mate Rich – a die-hard Morrissey fan if ever there was one, and, lest I forget, the man who properly switched me on to The Smiths back in 1986 (see, I told you I was late to the party) – has done a triple-linked tweet @Morrissey explaining why he was wrong, then suffice it to say Stephen Patrick must have crossed a line.
Now, I’m not going to criticise Rich for his continued adoration of Morrissey, despite all his faults. If I’m honest, I’d expect nothing less; after all Rich is my longest serving, and therefore most faithful friend, and if he can see past and forgive me for all of my oh-so-many faults, then I’d expect nothing less than for him to extend the same courtesy to the man who has by far had the greatest impact and influence on his life.
I mean, I’ve never written a lyric anywhere near as good as How Soon is Now? (though I have written a lot that are considerably better than Roy’s Keen. Just wait until I get round to telling you about the song about self-abuse based on both Bohemian Rhapsody and a Purple Ronnie card that I both wrote and performed live. Actually, now that I write that, it sounds fricking incredible).
I think the reason I’m so had-it-up-to-here with Morrissey is the sense of utter betrayal. When I was a teenager, assembling and honing my political position and societal standpoint which, let’s be honest, leaned ever-so-slightly to the left, and living in a leafy area of Cambridgeshire where I was most definitely in the minority, Morrissey was a beacon, a guiding light. His position was stoically working class (I can’t pretend I was anything other than middle class, but I empathised), anti-establishment and anti-royalty, sexually and gender ambiguous (okay, I never got fully on board with this to the extent where I wanted to dip a toe in, but still…) and to see the message he sends out now just feels like…is treasonous to strong a word? Duplicitous? I dunno.
See, I don’t understand how someone can go from being in one political position to being at almost the polar opposite a few years later. I appreciate there is the idea that as one gets older you become more right-wing, but it’s not something that has happened to me. In fact, I sit with Elvis Costello when, back in 1989, he said when introducing Tramp the Dirt Down on a BBC Late Show Special:
“I’m not some little kid that they can say “There, there, now, you’re just these young little teenagers that are having their moment of protest. I’m a man. I’m 35 years old. And I’m fucking sick of it, with what’s going on in this country.”
Part of me wants to attribute Morrissey’s recent statements to having a new record to promote, wanting to stir up a bit of controversy. But that’s no excuse with aligning yourself with unsavoury knucklescrapers.
Take his recent comeback single, Spent the Day in Bed. Something niggled at me when I heard that, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. But the other day, it finally clicked into place. It’s that line:
“Stop watching the news, because the news contrives to frighten you.”
Isn’t that an ever-so slightly more articulate way of saying “Fake News”?
Remember when Ben Elton went from co-writing revolutionary landmark comedies The Young Ones and Blackadder, and doing vitriolic stand-up routines routinely attacking “Mrs Thatch” and being universally adored by the Left and the Youth, to being pilloried and lambasted for selling out by writing musicals with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sun City stalwarts Queen? That’s what this feels like.
To paraphrase: Morrissey is the music world’s Ben Elton.
And I’ll be honest: vowing not to buy another record by Morrissey is not that tough an ask, given that I haven’t truly loved anything he’s released for, oh I don’t know, at least ten years now, probably longer.
Still there’s a part of me that won’t let go.
In the back of my mind there’s not just The Smiths that I have to thank him for. There’s the other cultural references he gave me way back then, things I may never have discovered for myself, things which are as important to me now as they were back in the day.
Oscar Wilde. Shelagh Delaney. The Primitives. Keats and Yeats.
The Sandie Shaw/Smiths collaboration was over long before I had tuned in to the Mancunian four piece, and it wasn’t until The South Bank Show documentary which focussed on them that I really became aware that she was more than just a woman who didn’t wear any shoes and who won the Eurovision Song Contest sometime in the 60s.
So here’s some songs by Sandie that I love, and which are included in a cheap Best of (although it is careful not to call itself that) album on the Hallmark label (the words of Nigel from Half Man Half Biscuit on 24 Hour Garage People ring in my ears: “That’s sure to be good!”) that I recently picked up.
And my absolute favourite by her, not least because of the horns which come parping in towards the end, like they’ve wandered in from Tom Jones recording It’s Not Unusual in an adjacent studio:
See? Keeping it light.
Morrissey can still sod off, mind.