While Britvic spread its juiceless pallor of misery over me from April to July 1985, a British band named the Smiths were, aptly, peaking.
I was looking for a job, and I found a job – heaven knows I’m miserable now
The singer, Stephen Morrissey, had the most melancholy voice I had ever heard. He was “sorrow’s native son”, in his own words. Maudlin, gloomy, but with acerbic, camp wit and poetic irony bursting through like a bright spring tulip.
And when the wardrobe towers like a beast of prey
There’s sadness in your beautiful eyes
The guitarist Johnny Marr played his post-punk riffs in an unusual arpeggio style, mixing strummed chords and running scales. I know this only because my friend Jono told me.
The music was almost always the background to the voice. You couldn’t look away from Morrissey. Sometimes he had a tree branch poking from his arse, on Top of the Pops. He made defeat sound almost alluring.
Cause I want the one I can’t have
And it’s driving me mad
It’s all over, all over, all over my face
A voice that was both lugubrious and self-parodying, but also rich and gorgeous.
On a hillside desolate
Will nature make a man of me yet?
With just the one album in my CD collection – ‘The Queen is Dead’ – I’m no Smiths expert. But I know that I loved them almost at first hearing, as it became clear that these songs mirrored many of my own feelings. The sheer bloody introspective heartache of being alive, as highs inevitably swung back into dark lows. A musical heir to Henry Miller’s literature.
I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour, And heaven knows I’m miserable now
One of Morrissey’s specialities was to make the return to sadness sound so reassuring. In that respect, my favourite is probably ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’. An almost perfect song.
Take me out tonight, O take me anywhere, I don’t care, I don’t care
And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten-ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure – the privilege is mine
Morrissey’s wit was all over the place. Anyone who can write a song called ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’ has my favour. A malcontent with a purpose, who wants to castrate Prince Charles in one song.
So I broke into the Palace, With a sponge and a rusty spanner
She said: “Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing”.
I said: “That’s nothing – you should hear me play the piano.”
And no shortage of the guts needed to risk the opprobrium of his home town, Manchester, in his song about the Moors Murders, ‘Suffer Little Children’.
But fresh lilaced moorland fields
Cannot hide the stolid stench of death
God help any carnivores. Morrissey was staunchly vegetarian, to the point where he struggled to be in meat-eating company
Heifer whines could be human cries
Closer comes the screaming knife
This beautiful creature must die
And the flesh you so fancifully fry
Is not succulent, tasty or kind
It’s death for no reason
And death for no reason is murder
After The Smiths’ short five years as a band, Morrissey knocked out some decent solo work. I used to enjoy him taking the piss out of Jonathan Ross now and again. He still makes music, but his political views have turned crustier, as the years pass.
In the end, for me, he was another artist who helped me to legitimise feeling sad, letting the sorrow and depression flow out, and the love, rather than the stiff upper lips advocated by my parents’ generation. We had a teacher at school, Doug Mason, who perennially advised “give it a rub boy” to address any sports field injury. That shit never leaves, is always standing guard outside my heart, trying to prevent the messy emotions escaping.
So I love Morrissey, and let his music play for hours on YouTube today.
The boy with the thorn in his side
Behind the hatred there lies
A murderous desire for love