Ahead of Morrissey’s short UK tour this month, we ask why the singer has such enduring appeal
If you’re a Morrissey fan, there are a few responses you get used to. The first few are normally to do with flowers and vegetarianism and sometimes the Union Jack, but the single most abiding question? ‘Why?’.
It’s kind of valid – although Morrissey has been a central part of the cultural landscape since the 1980s, it can be hard for people to understand why this 23 year old girl in front of them is such a huge fan. He’s been dogged with controversies, too – allegations of racism, fallouts with journalists and ex bandmates and managers and record labels and pretty much anyone he ever comes into contact with in any respect. So why, 30 years on from the formation of the Smiths, are people still flinging themselves at stages for the chance to touch him?
For me, the music of the Smiths and Morrissey captures something that nobody else has quite been able to. A profound melancholy, something smart and funny and dry and, maybe most importantly, biting. Not only has Morrissey always been a classic outsider figure but he’s revelled in it. And for others who don’t fit in, that’s a hypnotic, intoxicating thing.
George, 22, a long term Morrissey fan and writer who first saw Morrissey in 2009, agrees. ‘Morrissey takes everything we naturally dislike about ourselves – unconventional looks, unsociable tendencies, jealousy, obsession v and turns them into heroic characteristic. Liking myself is very easy when I can look at the things I hate about myself and go “well, Morrissey has these things too”.’
I spoke to Preston, lead singer of the Ordinary Boys, about his long-running relationship with Morrissey. ‘Having an older brother is cheating. Learning vicariously from all his mistakes. Knowing which hairstyles to avoid. For my 12th birthday my older brother, Alex, bought me Morrissey’s ‘Boxers’ on 12’’ single. There is something about the music-listening part of a young brain that visualises lyrics more than the lazy adult brain bothers to do. I can still see the spray of sweat from the shining red glove. That was it for me. Morrissey presents his world, his characters, his opinions, with such credence that it becomes very difficult not to believe in it all. He kind of becomes a surrogate father figure. I’ve changed my mind about so much music in my life – but never Morrissey.’
But it doesn’t always stay this idyllic. I spoke to Angela Rutledge – once such a big fan that she ran a website about him. She travelled the world, attending every show, and catalogued her experience on the (now defunct) site. It was a big thing for her – ‘my whole identity was tied up in being a zealous Morrissey fan’ – that eventually lead to her appearance on Mastermind with Morrissey as her specialist subject. Her ultimate goal? To be in Morrissey’s inner circle.
‘I guess I thought the more I worked on the website the closer it would bring me to Morrissey. It was only after I finished reading Feel by Chris Heath, a book about Robbie Williams, that I realised that the relationship between the fan and the artist is one that ultimately doesn’t favour the fan.’
But, for some people, therein lies the appeal. Morrissey’s rich and bombastic world is just close enough that we can feel the vicarious thrill of being near it, but distant enough that we’re never fully sated, never bored of the queues and the waiting and the mystery. He’s a true anti-hero, an untouchable idol whose tragic life is both relatable and romantic, glamorous but still, somehow, just like ours. For George, this is his true appeal.
‘When I saw Morrissey in Manchester in 2009 I naively believed it might be his last gig. I’ve since discovered that, at every gig, he seems like he’s going to die of something very dramatic and terminal soon. And that’s probably the enduring appeal – that he continues to live this life of drama and tragedy and pathos, and our insatiable appetite as fans is to catch just another snippet of that life through one more concert or album or song.’
Morrissey plays Plymouth Pavilions on Tue 15 Sep, Hull Arena on Fri 18 Sep and Eventim Hammersmith Apollo on Mon 21 Sep.