Morrissey and Other Moody Musicians Are In on the Joke

Morrissey, while a brilliant songwriter, doesn't really hide from the fact that he can be moody and difficult.
Morrissey, while a brilliant songwriter, doesn't really hide from the fact that he can be moody and difficult.
Photo by Brandon Marshall/Westword
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Morrissey is moody. This is not an insult. Rather, the former Smiths front man – who plays a twice-rescheduled gig April 14 on the Lawn at White Oak Music Hall – owns who and what he is, which is an enigmatic, occasionally difficult genius who rarely holds back on his opinions. This is, after all, a man who once called Cure front man Robert Smith “a whingebag” (whatever that means, it doesn’t sound complimentary); or said Elton John should “just go away”; or claimed he went through business managers “like people go through shredded wheat.”

Hell, even Morrissey has admitted that he doesn’t really do “nice” in another fabulous quote: “Don’t talk to me about people who are ‘nice,’ because I have spent my whole life in ruins because of people who are ‘nice.’”

So yeah, Morrissey sounds like an incredibly difficult, moody person. He’s also a brilliant songwriter and musician, and he is hardly alone in that regard. The music landscape is littered with those who are both incredibly brilliant and incredibly difficult.

Hell, the face of the most famous movement within '90s rock wasn't exactly Mr. Sunshine. Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide at the all-too-familiar age of 27, battled drug addiction and depression for much of his adult life. These things can take a toll on a person. Whether it was picking fights with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder for no good reason or driving Dave Grohl to quit the band after calling Grohl a “shitty drummer,” Cobain – while arguably the face and voice of his generation – wasn’t exactly a pleasant guy.

Of course, one must not necessarily face down depression and drug addiction to channel some of their lesser qualities. Take Bob Dylan, for example. He is arguably the greatest songwriter in the annals of rock music, and it makes sense that a genius of his caliber could be thought of as somewhat eccentric. Dylan, however, has gone the extra mile and almost seems to take pleasure in being difficult. Take the recent Nobel Prize fiasco, whereupon Dylan ignored organizers’ calls and emails after winning one of the world's most prestigious honors. He finally picked up the award last weekend, but wasn’t exactly thrilled about it.

Dylan, while brilliant, is a textbook misanthrope. Tell him the sky’s blue, and he’ll reply that it’s actually more baby blue. I’ve read his autobiography three times and I’m more confused than ever about who exactly this man is, something he seems to relish.

But this is where we must take our musicians with a grain of salt. While Cobain and Dylan, like Morrissey, are known for their proclivities, each seems to be in on the joke a bit. Simply put, sometimes people test others' patience for their own amusement.

There are perhaps no better examples of this than Liam and Noel, the brothers Gallagher of '90s Britpop phenomenon Oasis. Liam and Noel fought onstage, heckled one another from the crowd and didn't hold back on their opinions of everyone from Green Day and Radiohead to Brian Wilson and Jack White. Hell, both even went in on Bono for his charity work!

That said, in reading a smattering of some of the Gallaghers' best insults, it reads more like a pair of guys looking to draw a laugh as opposed to ruffling any feathers:

*** Noel, on Liam: "I read these interviews with him and I don’t know who the guy is who’s in these interviews, he seems really cool, because the guy I’ve been in a band with for the last 18 years is a fucking knobhead."

*** Noel, on Radiohead: "I’m aware that Radiohead have never had a fucking bad review. I reckon if Thom Yorke fucking shit into a light bulb and started blowing it like an empty beer bottle it’d probably get 9 out of 10 in fucking Mojo. I’m aware of that."

*** Liam, on Florence and the Machine: "I'm sure she's a nice girl, but she sounds like someone's stood on her fucking foot."

Point being, yeah, the brothers Gallagher are kinda dickish, but in a comical, entertaining way. Morrissey is very much the same. His quotes can sear a bit in their frankness, but he's so equal-opportunity with his opinions that no one should really take it personally.

Which brings us to Morrissey's kindred spirit, Kanye West. Like Moz, Kanye is an enigmatic type whose admirable work ethic is often overshadowed by his rants and hot takes. In fact, you could make the argument that no one cares more about their music than he does. This is both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, an artist of his caliber should be commended for putting his heart into his music and not simply mailing it in (as opposed to his mentor Jay-Z on all things post-Black Album). On the other, Kanye puts so much into his craft that he was recently hospitalized for what some termed a nervous breakdown.

This by itself certainly doesn’t qualify someone as moody, and actually puts a little sympathy in his corner. Still, Kanye has done himself no favors with his public rants and egotism, which have only further showcased his eccentric, moody personality. But, as with Morrissey, the brothers Gallagher and other eccentric types, there is an air of self-awareness in his public opinions. After all, quotes such as these are so full of lunacy, doesn't he kinda have to be in on the joke?:

*** "I am God’s vessel. But my greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live."

*** "I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph. I am a proud non-reader of books."

*** "I hate when I’m on a flight and I wake up with a water bottle next to me like oh great now I gotta be responsible for this water bottle."

The quotes go on, but the point remains. Kanye may be self-absorbed and prone to controversy, but deep down inside, he knows that the key to maintaining relevancy is to be loved or hated. Indifference is the enemy, and opinions such as those above help keep him relevant.

Call it a page from the Morrissey playbook, which might explain why Morrissey remains relevant despite putting out only one album this decade. Talent is certainly vital to success, and artists like Morrissey, Kanye, the brothers Gallagher and Bob Dylan have proven as much. But in the end, it's always better to be interesting.

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