The light that never goes out | Music | The Guardian
I should point out before I begin that I speak as a smiths fan. this implies some certainties, such as: “they are the most transcendental and consistent group that has ever emerged from the tangle of popular art forms”. I understand, on one level, that there are people who would disagree with this. , but I don’t understand it in my heart. I just don’t think you’ve heard hatful of hollow enough. however, i am able to maintain a balance when considering the smiths aesthetic, which is what kevin cummins’ book, the smiths and beyond, is all about. I admit, for example, that bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce seem like a pair of lanky.
if there was a meaningful way to talk about music, well, we wouldn’t bother listening to it. instead, for chat purposes, bands are talked about in terms of their lyrics or their appearance. So if you were to talk about radiohead, you could say,
“‘like a cat tied to a stick?’ what could that mean?” and if you were talking about kylie, you’d say, “nice robot. go ahead girl!” consequently, blacksmiths have been neglected in terms of their visual influence. his lyrics are so flashy, and vary so freely between sets of references, that the idea of evaluating them aesthetically seems like a criminal debasement to the world of the flesh, when in fact they belong in a much more cerebral place. like heaven
and yet the visual images of the band were much more complex and controversial than the standard indie uniform of grimy black clothes and badly cut hair. On a purely practical level, even 14 years (and five months) after their split, a once-Smiths fan can be spotted in the blink of an eye, especially guys (they’re more confident in the locker room that their peers – they spent their formative years, after all, being lampooned for dressing like morrissey. won’t grow into the kind of adult who would slavishly follow paul smith, or carhartt, or ever wear brown.) Plus, every accessory of core smith acts as a shorthand for some part. of the intellectual culture they embody. naturally, it is beyond mortal ingenuity to unravel this shorthand completely, but here is a sketch of some of the vital signs.
the meat are assassination badges and the like
This is the crudest example of the message becoming the aesthetic. The cover of Meat is Murder, a still from Emile Antonio’s 1969 documentary The Year of the Pig, shows a soldier wearing a helmet, on which the motto is carved. no one, as far as I know, rode a helmet, but the phrase itself made its way onto badges, jackets, body parts (via tattoo), everywhere. oddly enough, this is probably morrissey at his least lyrically sophisticated (note the crucial flaw in logic: “is death for no reason/and death for no reason/is murder”. well, you could kill someone for money, which would be a reason, and it would still be murder.conversely, last year a woman was headbutted off a cliff by a sheep in northumberland for no reason, which, at worst, was the version manslaughter sheep). however, given the mournful intensity of these songs, people were looking for some kind of moral significance, and this was the simplest and most accessible message. hence the labeling: people didn’t say “I’m vegetarian” (many smiths fans didn’t); they were simply declaring allegiance to mozza. words became shapes, much like the word “ho” is now simply a shape to denote eminem’s fandom, rather than a term meaning “i have no respect for women and would like to rape all of them “. /p>
according to biographer david bret, morrissey originally wanted to be surrounded by lilies, as a nod to oscar wilde, who scented his dorm room with it. they turned out to be too expensive, and they were scrapped in favor of gladioli and daffodils (which ended up being quite expensive too; morrissey once said of his flower budget: “i think i could have kept the dhss afloat…they’re virtually more important than the pa” system). Unlike Elton John (the second most famous flower fan in pop history), the message was not “look how much money I have to spend on ephemera” but rather “look how I refuse to be intimidated by notions of masculinity, yes, I will move fearlessly in the trappings of effeminacy.” This is a bold handling of gender ambiguity, unlike contemporary flirtations with makeup (Robert Smith of The Cure, et al), which was much more pantomime.
a common misconception about blacksmiths is that they all wore black most of the time, and that morrissey wore it all the time. Even without Cummins’ book (and one look will reveal shades of blue, orange, and flesh), there is countless evidence of Morrissey’s color sense. As anyone who has claimed to have picked up one of his cardigans during a concert can attest, Morrissey’s clothing palette stretched from green to dark pink. the confusion stems from the seminal lyric, “I wear black on the outside/because black is how I feel on the inside”. has had such a lasting effect on the teenage psyche that this year it found its way, in bastardized form, onto an American hip-hop record from the superstar princess, who wasn’t even born when it was written. think about how unusual that ability is: managing to project such a complete black aura that you don’t even have to wear black, but you still remain in people’s minds as a person with an all-black wardrobe.
speaking lyrically, the blacksmiths showered sympathy and humanity on the obese (along with the bespectacled, the disabled, the lonely, the bereaved, and the dead). However, the fashion for Smith’s fans was, of course, not obesity, but extreme thinness. Part of this was simple hero worship: Morrissey himself was skinny, as was guitarist Johnny Marr. there was a certain glamor to emaciation, too: it was the 80s, after all. while models were skinny, the era was not yet here when thinness was everything, when celebrities were famous solely for their thinness and in which the men also had to be thin. It’s important to remember this: It wasn’t all that long ago that a rejection of food still counted as a synecdochic rejection of consumerism in general.
T-shirts with Morrissey’s head
just like german gcse, no one realized how strange this decision was until it was over. other fans donned T-shirts that read “death to goblins!”, or depicted nice-looking cows (for inspirational rugs), or psychedelic octopuses, or anything, really, aside from a close-up of the singer. ‘s head, singing. you would never find anyone wearing t-shirts with thom yorke’s head or jarvis cocker’s head on. Morrissey’s head had an impact that went beyond its aesthetic appeal or its status as a blacksmith’s centerpiece. I think this is due to the grimaces he made as he sang, his strange pale intensity, his sacrificial posture in the face of the transport of emotions suggested by his frown. he looked like a saint having an orgasm. he would expand on that, only he feels disrespected.
There was nothing wrong with Morrissey’s view. john lennon wore glasses because he needed them. With the Smiths, unsightly NHS glasses were never meant to correct vision. Indeed, Morrissey saw the wearing of glasses as shorthand for “indescribably ugly.” In a famous interview he gave to the nme, before he turned on him for his racist ways (more on that later), he said, “If you’re still living with your parents at 19, you’re considered a freak with glasses and clubfoot of repressed sexuality – which is absolutely true in all cases!” (“clubfoot” and “glasses” are basically interchangeable signs of undesirability). And Marr, who was generally shy about setting an agenda, was clear on one point: If the smiths could talk to anyone, it was those who couldn’t have sex, at least not while they had breath left in an alternative. . body. so the glasses were a badge, to show whose side they were on (the cauldrons) and whose they weren’t (the popular ones – the british answer to jocks/cheerleaders).
and yet, suddenly, the nhs glasses weren’t unattractive. They were weird and cheap, yes, but in a fan’s head these specs worked to enhance draw power, not detract from it. at the moment of identifying with an ugly thing, morrissey transformed it into a thing of pure beauty. which is one of the many fairy tale paradoxes involved in being him.
the hearing aid
even moz couldn’t turn the headset from a stigma into an accessory, though (although there might be something to the argument that while nhs glasses are easy to come by, you can’t get a flesh-colored headset without faking it deafness). This was the first, the slightest, and the silliest of Morrissey’s three major controversies (the last being the union flag matter, which has yet to be resolved; the other being when he openly suggested, and in several songs, that margaret thatcher should be killed. or executed, or murdered somehow. after the brighton bombing, a tabloid journalist asked her how she would feel now if the iron lady was shot by a smiths fan. obviously marry that person “, he replied with aplomb.)
Anyway, after wearing a hearing aid over pops in 1984, Morrissey was accused of mocking the grieving. it was true that there was nothing in the song (god knows I’m miserable now) that he gave any clue as to why he was using the device. However, it transpired that instead of an act of mockery, Morrissey was actually sending a signal to a deaf fan, which was great of him, because a lot of bands, who are into the aural sensation, wouldn’t admit it. . have a fan base among those who couldn’t hear.
quiffs, skinheads, terence stamp and other faces from a bygone era
the persistent quiffs in an age when no one else sported them can be attributed to the general atmosphere of counter-suggestion and defiance. Terence Stamp is obviously like a guy, and Morrissey on more than one occasion expressed her desire to be him (“I want to be Terence Stamp,” she said). and yet there is a gallery of faces that mozza did not necessarily identify with: the portrait of edith sitwell hanging in the background of concerts; Shelagh Delaney is a regular, as is 1960s pool winner Viv Nicholson; names of various players and times of the continuation days are frequently verified; Myra Hindley did indeed get her own song (Suffer Little Children). what they have in common, and this includes a lyrical fixation with boxing clubs and northern boys’ schools, is quintessentially English about her. even shitty quiffs could only be English (the Americans had better ointments and consequently more erect hair) and, furthermore, they could only be England from the past. All the images point toward this sense of crushing nostalgia that defined the Smiths’ sound and informed the awesome sense of loss that even the tiniest of their songs conveyed. the position was, naturally, English against encroaching Americanization, although it seems that none of this would have been said if the battle had not been lost. (Morrissey now lives in Los Angeles)
the union flag
clearly, while you may be exalting English over American, there’s room for misunderstanding, especially if you continue your solo career with a song called Bengali on platforms (“he just wants to embrace your culture,” he’d say, pounding the chorus on “life is hard enough when you belong here”). However, since song lyrics are notoriously difficult to pin down, it wasn’t until the Union Flag incident, in Finsbury Park in 1992, that it occurred to the world that Morrissey might, in fact, be racist.
he was supporting the madness; he wrapped himself in our national flag; he pelted her with so many coins in disgust that rumor has it he collected £28 at the end of the concert. The release of his single, The National Front Disco, cemented the view that he was a fan and it seemed, for a moment, as if Morrissey’s obsession with outsiderdom and all things English had gone terribly wrong: the name appeared on five pages in its apparent drift to the right. in 1993, he clarified: “the phrase ‘england for the English’ is in quotation marks, so those who call the song racist are not listening.” At the heart of his message was a looming challenge, current in the early 1990s, that everyone in the country, regardless of creed and color, was like houses on fire. but he dragged his feet when it came to explaining himself, and in the end he couldn’t have it both ways: a man so remarkably eloquent couldn’t flirt with uneducated right-wing ephemera. so it was his fault, really, but it’s terrible when you think that liam and patsy, geri halliwell, suede, these leagues of ridiculous braggarts masquerading as folk heroes, can prance around with a flag whenever they please because there’s no danger of that they might be saying something with an adult thought attached to it.
suffice it to say that it was mozza’s seriousness that destroyed him; that, and the fact that no one liked his solo stuff. but it is also because of this seriousness that there are no idle snapshots, cliché poses or forgotten accessories that could show a crack in the ideological armor of the blacksmiths. each image, like each letter, has integrity. They’re cute too, aren’t they? apart from those two at the end.
the smiths and beyond by kevin cummins is out March 7th via vision on for £12.99. For a 25% discount and the opportunity to purchase a limited-edition bound copy, visit www.vobooks.com. a smiths and beyond exhibition runs from 29th march to 18th april at proud central, london wc2, 020-7839 4942.