We're Not the World
When Stephen Patrick Morrissey was born on a presumably damp day in Manchester, England, in 1959, no one could have known what a highly polarizing force and icon he'd one day become. Despised in some circles with almost the same degree of passion his devoted fans bestow on him, the celibate vegetarian who worshiped James Dean and the New York Dolls met guitarist Johnny Marr in 1982. The two formed the Smiths, arguably the most important indie band in Britain during the '80s. Their self-titled debut and its follow-ups, Meat Is Murder and The Queen Is Dead, were proclaimed masterpieces, and Morrissey, as front man, was able to take sizable credit for being the band's mastermind.
When friction between Marr and Morrissey grew so out of control it threatened to break into a fire, Marr walked away from the partnership. Morrissey embarked on a solo career in 1988, which continues today. Remarkably enough, his debut, Viva Hate, was commercially and critically well received enough to keep the razors away from the wrists of brokenhearted Smiths fanatics. His next records, Bona Drag and Kill Uncle, were considered subpar. The finely crafted and polished Morrissey veneer had begun to show some cracks.
The years that followed have found our hero in a bit of a rut -- many believe the Mozzer's glory days are over. Much like Brian Wilson, he will never be able to duplicate Pet Sounds-type success without his Beach Boys -- particularly Marr -- who was instrumental in crafting the ballads Morrissey crooned.
It may be true, but it's also not the entire point. Much of what made Morrissey Morrissey, aside from his infamous accented monotone, was his pointed political rhetoric and mystique. It was the '80s, after all, and Morrissey not only didn't drown in the sea of Generation Me and Less Than Zero excess, he refused to swim in it.
Not happy with Margaret Thatcher and the political climate she helped foster, Morrissey railed against anything and everything he perceived as unjust -- so much so, in fact, that a bitter Marr famously concluded that the singer needed "a good humping." But Morrissey's legendary flair for manipulating the media is what kept people interested. It's as though Michael Moore and Madonna had a sexy son with a pompadour.
Now that the pompadour's thinning and there's no Thatcher to kick around, Morrissey (attempting to bust out of his slump) has set his old tricks on a new target: America. In full comeback mode, the singer has decided once again to use his bully pulpit unapologetically. Between songs at concerts, Moz finds himself recommending movies (Fahrenheit 9/11) and presidential candidates (Kerry). He's done more Bush-bashing than Eddie Vedder and Bruce Springsteen combined -- ranting about America's "imperialist agenda" during a recent Chicago House of Blues show sponsored by a major credit card company. He went on to tell that same Chi-town crowd that the 43rd president has "brought so much shame to America, more than any other president in the history of this country." "Imperialist" isn't the only thing he's calling America. He's also been calling it home for the last seven years -- he lives in Los Angeles.
Morrissey's poetic lyrics -- once filled with romantic angst, social alienation and biting but subtle wit -- have become painfully, paint-by-numbers obvious on his new album, You Are the Quarry, most notably on the song "America Is Not the World." In it, Morrissey spouts a litany of other American embarrassments we should all be blushing over: 1) our ever-expanding waistlines; 2) the fact that we have never had a president who's gay, black or female; and 3) our steely blue eyes that display no love while scanning the world with a humorless smile. This is deep stuff. He continues, "America / it brought you the hamburger / Well America / you know where you can shove your hamburger!"
That's right. Moz wants America over a barrel with a Whopper crammed up its ass.
Can we stand for this? Could it be suggested that a purchased Morrissey ticket aids and comforts our enemy? Ann Coulter (conservative author, batshit-crazy lawyer) may even label such activity treasonous. So I call both G.W. and J.K. campaign headquarters to get their take.
I start with Dubya's camp in Arlington, Virginia. After being passed around for several minutes, I finally end up on the line with a man whose name is "Ummm Joseph." I give him some Morrissey background, and read him the lyrics to "America Is Not the World."
"That's despicable," he says. "Who is this guy again?"
"His name is Morrissey. He's a singer."
"I wouldn't let my kids go see him, that's for sure."
I ask Joseph if he thinks a good American would support a man with such views.
"I'm sure several people on the left would love the guy," he says. "You know, the blame-America-first crowd."
I chime in, "He's probably Janeane Garofalo's favorite artist!"
"Oh, boy. I bet you're right. Jeez."
I ask Joseph if he thinks buying a ticket to the show could be considered treason.
"It sure doesn't help," he says.
Does it aid and comfort our enemy?
"Anytime an American criticizes his own country in a time of war, look, I believe it sends the wrong message, yes."
"Morrissey is from England," I point out.
"He is? Well, who cares what they think?"
I phone Kerry's Texas headquarters, located in Austin, and get a man on the line who'd rather not have his name printed. We'll call him Commie Pinko. He's a younger guy who has even heard of Morrissey. He likes the Smiths but struggles for an answer when I ask what his favorite album is.
I fill him in on all the anti-American talk Morrissey's engaged in lately.
"I'm not going to say that Bush has brought shame to America," says Commie Pinko, "but I certainly would agree that he hasn't done us any favors globally."
"Do you think America looks out on the world with steely blue eyes and a humorless smile?" I ask.
"That's one way to put it, I guess," he says. "Bush seems to think he doesn't need the support of other nations to do what he wants to do."
"Do you care what England thinks?"
"I think it's important to have a dialogue with other countries," Commie Pinko says. "Not caring what anyone thinks and constantly acting like big-man-on-the-block is what got Rome into trouble."
"Nothing, I was just clearing my throat. Do you think America is too fat?"
"Obesity in our children is an epidemic," he says. "It should concern us."
"Do you eat hamburgers?"
With that Commie Pinko thanked me for my time and interest in the Kerry campaign and said his good-byes.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.