Morrissey: Wordsmith

Interview Hidzir Junaini + Aizyl Azlee + Johan Marikh
Hidzir Junaini
Image & Interview courtesy of
LAMC Productions

Never one to back down from controversy, Morrissey says what he means, means what he says and never shies away from voicing out against injustice. He’s been fighting to stop animal cruelty and rousing critical thought against establishments around the world in some pretty unconventional ways, and at 53, most would assume that pop poet Morrissey would be running on creative fumes by now. But as 2009’s Years Of Refusal proves, his articulate and dramatic vintage is still in its best years. It’s been a long, lightning rod career spanning an unforgettable tenure in The Smiths, a quarter-decade solo career and more than enough controversy to last a lifetime. But let’s look beyond the oft-regurgitated headlines into the man’s lesser-known passions – like his love for New York Dolls and deep-seated literary aspirations.

Many fans have said that seeing you live represented a life-changing moment. Do you remember a particular gig that did the same for you as a youth?
There were quite a few. I saw the Sex Pistols three times in 1976, and they were all that everyone said they were. I saw the Ramones in 1977, and Patti Smith in 1977, and both were jaw-dropping. In 1972, I had seen Lou Reed, David Bowie, Roxy Music, T.Rex and Mott the Hoople, and they were all very much an example of how you could make your mark without pandering to what was thought to be public taste. Now, we think of such artistes as mainstream, but back then, they were anarchic.

Does it ever get uncomfortable for you, though? Watching a Morrissey concert has become somewhat a religious experience for most of your fans.
I’ve been uncomfortable since the day I was born, so discomfort is nothing new. There is a large audience of music lovers who want to be treated intelligently, and I am appreciated, at least, for that. As we all know, the world of music has become meaningless and moronic and obsessed with the prize system. Suddenly it is ONLY about awards, and awards are given only to people who have nothing to do with advancing music or thought. Look for someone in music with any social commentary and you’ll… need a lot of spare time on your hands.

Earlier in your career, you seemed to feel awkward with your rock star celebrity status, but it’s obvious that you’ve embraced it later on with open arms. How has being a cult icon affected your life?
I don’t like the word ‘cult’ because it suggests that you don’t actually appeal in the greater world. I’ve had three number one albums in three different decades, so I’m also neither ‘alternative’ nor ‘indie’. I am just one of those pop artists that the media don’t know what to do with. I have never embraced rock celebrity status, and wouldn’t want to. To be called a celebrity these days is to be called an idiot. David Beckham is a perfect example of a celebrity.

It seems like you’re equally hated as you are loved by the masses and peers in the music scene, does that make you the most well-balanced person in pop?
It wouldn’t be difficult to be the most well-balanced person in pop! I think I’m appreciated and hated with equal gusto. At least it means that you are getting at something in people. A lot of people go out of their way to insult me, which is a victory, of sorts. I’m often flattered.

Which DJ/person would you like to hang today, metaphorically speaking?
Most are unpardonable, but mainly because they all now shout instead of speaking. It’s as if they are addressing a pack of mad dogs. Of course, whenever I hear myself on the radio I forgive the DJ of anything. I fall in love with anyone who falls in love with me. That’s only fair, isn’t it?

You’re an unabashed fan of New York Dolls and so are we! What did you love about the band?
I loved everything about them – their name, their appearance, the songs, the photo sessions, their irresponsibility and their total lack of regard for the music establishment. No one had ever been this way before. They were also very funny, and very tough. ‘Jet Boy’, ‘Trash’, ‘There’s Gonna be A Showdown’ and ‘Looking For A Kiss’ ought to have been huge hit singles.

Speaking of, you have a book called the New York Dolls published alongside James Dean is Not Dead, and Exit Smiling. How did these bouts of literature come about?
They weren’t intended to be books actually. They were essays. When I became known they were heavily distributed around England, which was embarrassing because they were just juvenile teenage rubbish. The James Dean essay was called James Dead is Not Dean, but was published as James Dean is Not Dead, which had me rather exasperated. Oh, well.

Still, did you ever want to reinvent yourself as an author instead of a musician?
Yes… I still do.

In a recent interview with the English press, you mentioned that people don’t really like you these days, and that you prefer the company of pets. How can this be since you still command such a dedicated fan base?
I think I meant that the British media don’t like me, and this is because simplicity is such an enormous trend in England, as it always was in America, so therefore anyone who is aware of such a thing as basic grammar is not trusted. For example, the only people in music who seem to count are the ones who say nothing.

There was a seven-year hiatus between Maladjusted (1997) and You Are the Quarry (2004). Why was that?
It happened because of what’s happening to me right now – no interest from any record label. There is nothing I can do about it, and I no longer worry about it. I don’t have management or any form of publicist, so this troubadour existence is too challenging for labels, I suppose. Whatever will be, will be.

What would be the current social issues that you pay close attention to now, and do these issues inspire your songwriting these days?
Like many people I’m currently preoccupied with Syria, and at the uselessness of the United Nations… who don’t appear to unite any nations. But whether it’s Assad in Syria, or the British so-called royals, all world leaders are dictatorships, and from what we’ve seen in the middle east, they will all not hesitate to turn the tanks onto their own people should anyone question their morality. It’s fascinating. It’s only my personal view, but I think the age of the President or the Prime Minister is dead. People everywhere have lost faith in politics, and rightly so. Something different needs to happen. I think we were all initially swept along with the Obama win, but he’s proven to be simply a set of teeth, and useless in every other regard. Time and time again we see the same scenario whereby political figures only see the public as electorate, and once anyone is elected they appear to hate the people. British politics, as the world knows, is a joke. Yet it’s rarely funny.

You once said that you don’t foresee yourself performing past 55. Is that still true?
Yes. I am slightly shocked to have gone as far as I have. This is my 30th year, and I’ve aged a lot recently, which is bit distressing for me, as it must be for everyone. The body changes shape and there’s nothing you can do about it. Do I continue as a modern day Andy Williams? I take one hour at a time. We will all probably be blown up by the Syrian government soon, anyway, so it hardly matters in the great scheme of things [laughs].

Morrissey performed at Fort Canning, Singapore on 8 May to fans who had been waiting decades for him to make an appearance. Check out what went down in the Reports section. Get further acquainted with the melancholic crooner at